The Pretenses of Loyalty: Locke, Liberal Theory, and American Political Theology

By John Perry | Go to book overview
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5
“All at Once in a Bundle”
The Blurring of the Just Bounds

Men usually take up their religion in gross, and assume to themselves
the opinions of their party all at once in a bundle.

—John Locke, An Essay on Toleration


1. A Plural People

We usually describe the condition for which liberalism is necessary as pluralism: we are Christian, Muslim, traditional, progressive, black, white, gay, straight, atheist, theist, Egyptian, and Irish. But even this oversimplifies matters, for we are pluralistic within ourselves. We are, as Amartya Sen says, a people of “a plurality of commitments.”1 What is required for a people of such plural commitments to live together in peace?

For much of human history, it was taken for granted that difference, or at least religious difference, was a threat to peaceful coexistence in the city. Minority groups were allowed to exist but only when sufficiently ghettoized. In Charles Taylor’s words, “No ancient polis or republic existed in which the religious life was not bound up with the civic. It seemed axiomatic to them that religion must be one with the state. Anything else would threaten to undermine the allegiance of the citizens.”2 Locke saw it differently. He believed that peaceful coexistence was possible and, indeed, that attempts to enforce uniformity themselves caused violence. The ancient republics, on his account, were thus better than sixteenthcentury England, and the peace of Cleves or Amsterdam was better still. However, to return to our question, what is required for such a

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