John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture: Religious Intolerance and Arguments for Religious Toleration in Early Modern and 'Early Enlightenment' Europe

By Harris, Tim | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2007 | Go to article overview
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John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture: Religious Intolerance and Arguments for Religious Toleration in Early Modern and 'Early Enlightenment' Europe


Harris, Tim, The Catholic Historical Review


John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture: Religious Intolerance and Arguments for Religious Toleration in Early Modern and 'Early Enlightenment' Europe. By John Marshall. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp viii, 767. $110.00.)

This book is about much more than its title would suggest. A history of ideas written very much in the tradition of the Cambridge school (the author studied under both Mark Goldie and John Pocock), Marshall's account is predictably big on context - some 466 pages of it! A powerful piece of scholarship - brilliantly conceived, breath-taking in scope, and rich in historical insight - it will be of interest to a wide variety of scholars across a range disciplines (history, religion, political science, philosophy, history of science, literature, and queer studies), and to both Europeanists and Americanists alike.

Marshall's premise is that in order to understand why the likes of Locke, Bayle, and other members of the emerging republic of letters of the 1680's and 1690's came to develop the particular arguments they did in favor of religious toleration, we must first understand both the practices of and intellectual justifications for religious intolerance that they were reacting against. Marshall takes us on a fascinating journey, where he first unfolds the horrors of religious persecution in early modern France, Piedmont, England, Ireland, and the supposedly tolerant Netherlands, before proceeding to unpack patristic, medieval, and early modern arguments for why those who refused to adhere to the state religion could not be tolerated. Heretics and schismatics were viewed as intrinsically seditious and treasonous (because disobedient toward authority), unable to control their lusts (and thus probably libertines and sodomites), and willfully obstinate; unless compelled to conform or silenced for good, they would spread their poison, or so it was feared, and threaten both the salvation of ordinary people's souls and the peace of the commonwealth. Thus like a cancerous growth, heresy had to be removed to prevent the whole body from becoming diseased. Although there were some early proponents of greater religious toleration - and Jews and Muslims, because not Christians, were freed from the charge of heresy - arguments for intolerance, as endorsed by both Catholics and Protestants, held the day; indeed, most western European societies were becoming less tolerant as the seventeenth century progressed.

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