The Social and Political Ideas of Some English Thinkers of the Augustan Age, A. D. 1650-1750: A Series of Lectures Delivered at King's College, University of London, during the Session 1927-28

By F. J. C. Hearnshaw | Go to book overview

IV
JOHN LOCKE

THE political theory of John Locke has been so frequently analysed in the past fifty years, and the arguments of his Essay on Civil Government have been so carefully scrutinised from the Lectures on Political Obligation to the brilliant essay by Professor Laski,1 that it is an impossible task to add anything new to what has already been said on the subject. Nor shall I attempt to add one more to that growing number of epitomes of Civil Government which form the stock-in-trade of the class text-books on political ideas. I shall merely try to suggest one or two lines of thought concerning those general conceptions which formed the background of Locke's political reasoning, and which seem to be of significance when one is trying to place the man in his true setting in the history of the modern world. A recent penetrating article2 has reminded us of the dangers of a merely abstract analysis of a thinker's work, apart from its concrete setting; and it would seem that a careful reading of Locke's journals and letters would suggest to any future historian of Western political theory some interesting ideas concerning the material in terms of which Locke attempted to answer the problems that confronted him.

In the century and a quarter preceding Locke's birth three great revolutions had shaken to fragments man's intellectual world and brought to chaos the neatly ordered hierarchy of purposes and beings of the mediæval system. The religious revolution had destroyed for ever the Catholic conception of the Church as an unquestionable and divine trustee of truth, and had let loose in the world the spirit of critical individualism. But the full significance of the Reformation only slowly dawned

____________________
1
Political Thought in England. from Locke to Bentham.
2
"The Philosophical Significance of Biography", by A. K. White, in Journal of Philosophical Studies, vol. i, No. 4.

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