Thursday, November 11, 2004

Modern philosophy and the “ends of government”:

The following is an email from reader Dave Hauser, a student at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, which has a strong Straussian tradition and several professors who studied under Allan Bloom. He is responding to my last post where I discussed a passage from Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, where Bloom speaks of the proper ends of government. Justin Katz thinks that Bloom wrongly implies that life and liberty are subordinate to property (you can find the passage in my last post, linked above). Here is the email:

I just wanted to add something to your Declaration debate. I think Bloom described property first, in the statement posted earlier, in order to follow the line of thinking covered by John Locke in the 2nd Treatise. Locke (and Bloom) certainly do not hold material property over human life and liberty, but used it to justify a man's control over his own life. I think the main reason why property is stressed is Locke's complex argument for Hobbesian natural rights had to be protected from charges of atheism from people at the time. Hobbes was ostracized by society for preaching a doctrine that is extremely divergent from Christian beliefs and his message was never openly accepted in good circles. Locke understood this and had to work his expanded rights doctrine into English society by using cunning rhetorical devices in order for it to be accepted by the general public. He begins his Treatise by following "the judicious" Richard Hooker in saying that man is God's property before making the Hobbesian turn away from classical Catholic rights theory and stating that man is his own property and he cares for his own life and liberty above all else. I think Bloom is trying to emphasize the important role that property played in the Locke's radical treatise and the respectability it gained in conservative circles for justifying property through God and, later, nature.

Just throwing my two-cents in. I think you are dead on with Bloom's stress on the lowering of ambitions in the commercial republic. Keep up the good work.