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

By John Perry | Go to book overview
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7
Locke and Loyalty in
Contemporary Political
Theology
Three Ways of Making the Turn

It is an arresting fact that neither reason nor faith has come close
to conquering the human spirit. There was a time (in the age of
Augustine, for example) when faith was expected by many to spread
inexorably; there was also a time (the Enlightenment) when the
gradual and inevitable triumph of reason was anticipated. Both
expectations have been disappointed.

—Glenn Tinder, The Political Meaning of Christianity

While in his twenties, the young Locke read and then later retold a fascinating story from China:

We have recently heard reports of a city, situated in the East,
among the Chinese, which after a prolonged siege was
driven at last to surrender. The gates were thrown open to
the enemy forces and all the inhabitants gave themselves up
to the will of the triumphant victor. They had abandoned to
their enemy’s hands their own persons, their wives, families,
liberty, wealth, and in short all things sacred and profane,
but when they were ordered to cut off the plait of hair which,
by national custom, they wore on their heads, they took up
their arms again and fought fiercely until, to a man, all were
killed.1

This is one of the earliest hints in Locke’s work that he was starting to take seriously these sorts of commitments: commitments that can lead people, seemingly against all reason, to choose death over a haircut. This story is the sort of Antigone that Locke would have written: one with a clear villain and without all the inconvenient

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