Friday, October 05, 2007

Pangle on Locke:

Last night Thomas Pangle gave the 4th Annual Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture on America's Founding Principles at the James Madison Program at Princeton. I missed it because I was teaching, but my dad saw and enjoyed it. Pangle has done some interesting research on John Locke. On page 132 of The Spirit of Modern Republicanism, Pangle observes what's key about Locke's teachings is his concept of "the state of nature," as described in his Second Treatise on Government. And such concept is entirely alien to the Bible or the way traditional Christianity had been understood until Locke's time. Rather, Hobbes had just recently coined the concept. It's true that Locke invokes the state of nature to argue against Hobbes; but he does so using a Hobbsean, not a biblical or classical concept! Likewise when Rousseau hit the scene, he argued against both Hobbes and Locke, but again did so using the rubric of "the state of nature." This a-biblical (perhaps anti-biblical) "state of nature" was thus a common ground to which these three Enlightenment philosophers held; they just differed on how to properly understand the concept.

Locke did invoke the "Judicious Hooker" for authority. And Hooker was the Anglican heir to Thomas Aquinas (the man who synthesized Christianity and classical political philosophy). However, as Pangle notes, there is nothing in Hooker's (or Aquinas' or the Bible's) teachings that looks anything like the state of nature Locke describes in his Second Treatise. Ultimately, Pangle concludes that Locke invoked Hooker to "establish his credentials." During a time when one could be executed for heresy, it's not surprising that Locke would attempt to cover his heretical butt with Christian bona fides.


Judy said...

I just searched Thomas Hooker on the State of Nature in google and this page came up. To my surprise I saw Thomas Pangle's name: my professor!! HE is awesome!! Just wanted to say that :)

Jonathan said...


Thanks for checking in. You are lucky to have Pangle as a prof. (an experience I never had).


Jon Rowe