Thursday, April 28, 2005

Sullivan, Zuckert, Hobbes & Locke:

Andrew Sullivan has an outstanding article in the New Republic about the GOP and Fundamentalism.

Dan Drezner takes issue with Sullivan's historical analysis of Hobbes & Locke (quoting Sullivan):

Doubt, in other words, means restraint. And restraint of government is the indispensable foundation of human freedom. The modern liberal European state was founded on such doubt. In the seventeenth century, men like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke looked at the consequences of various faiths battling for control of the moralizing state--and they balked. They saw civil war, religious extremism, torture, burnings at the stake, police states, and the Inquisition. They saw polities like Great Britain's ravaged by sectarian squabbles over what the truth is, how it is discovered, and how to impose it on a society as a whole. And they made a fundamental break with ancient and medieval political thought by insisting that government retreat from such areas--that it leave the definition of the good life to private citizens, to churches uncontaminated by government, or to universities that would seek and discuss competing views of the truth.

Drezner writes, "Well...... I know Sullivan has the Ph.D. in political theory, but I would take issue with his interpretation of Hobbes."

Sullivan's analysis of Hobbes & Locke is exactly as he learned it while getting his Ph.D. under Harvey Mansfield (it's a Straussian interpretation). Here is Allan Bloom from "The Closing of the American Mind":

"Hobbes & Locke, and the American Founders following them, intended to palliate extreme beliefs, particularly religious beliefs...In order to make this arrangement work, there was a conscious, if covert effort to weaken religious belief, partly by assigning -- as a result of a great epistemological effort -- religion to the realm of opinion as opposed to knowledge. But the right to freedom of religion belonged to the realm of knowledge." p. 28.

When Bloom refers to "knowledge" he means those "self-evident" Truths upon which we were founded. And one such Truth was that we had unalienable rights of conscience. Because folks differed as to the content of their religious beliefs, respecting the rights of conscience in turn required consigning religion to the realm of "opinion" which government could not touch.

On another note of interest, Drezner also writes:

[Why not discuss Hobbes' big-government social politics, or the importance of faith in Locke's derivation of property rights?--ed. Because I'm trying to keep this post under 5,000 words.]

Regarding the role of "faith in Locke's derivation of property rights" Michael Zuckert, another Straussian, and a very prominent Lockean scholar, would argue that faith played a very little role.

Let me briefly state how I understand Zuckert on Locke. Of course, Locke tied rights to God (as those who would point to the importance of "religious faith" in Locke's theories would note) but Locke first and foremost argued that "reason" and not "faith" had to justify all Truth, or at least all "public Truth." Indeed, the notion that rights come from God was not something one takes on faith, but must be vetted by reason. And Locke argued that in order for Christian teachings to be acceptable, they had to be justified by reason. But he also argued the Christian religion (or at least, his understanding of it), by in large, could in fact be justified this way, hence his book, "The Reasonableness of Christianity."

Zuckert would argue that those who would take from context all of Locke's references to Christianity and the Bible in his political arguments miss a big point: Locke didn't believe that Revelation was the ultimate guide to Truth; Locke was a Humanist who elevated Reason over Revelation and held Revelation to be true only insofar as it was Reasonable.

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