The Political Writings of John Locke

Religious beliefs

Some scholars have seen Locke's political convictions as deriving from his religious beliefs.[47][48][49] Locke's religious trajectory began in Calvinist trinitarianism, but by the time of the Reflections (1695) Locke was advocating not just Socinian views on tolerance but also Socinian Christology.[50] However Wainwright (1987) notes that in the posthumously published Paraphrase (1707) Locke's interpretation of one verse, Ephesians 1:10, is markedly different from that of Socinians like Biddle, and may indicate that near the end of his life Locke returned nearer to an Arian position, thereby accepting Christ's pre-existence.[51] In fact, historian John Marshall suggests that Locke's view of Christ ended, "somewhere between Socianism and Arianism."[50] Locke was at times not sure about the subject of original sin, so he was accused of Socianism, Arianism, or Deism.[52] But he did not deny the reality of evil. Man was capable of waging unjust wars and committing crimes. Criminals had to be punished, even with the death penalty.[53] With regard to the Bible Locke was very conservative. He retained the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.[21] The miracles were proofs of the divine nature of the biblical message. Locke was convinced that the entire content of the Bible was in agreement with human reason (The reasonableness of Christianity, 1695).[54][21] Although Locke was an advocate of tolerance, he urged the authorities not to tolerate atheism, because he thought the denial of God's existence would undermine the social order and lead to chaos.[55] That excluded all atheistic varieties of philosophy and all attempts to deduce ethics and natural law from purely secular premises, for example, man's "autonomy or dignity or human flourishing".[56] In Locke's opinion the cosmological argument was valid and proved God's existence. His political thought was based on "a particular set of Protestant Christian assumptions."[56][57] Locke's concept of man started with the belief in creation. We have been "sent into the World by [God's] order, and about his business, [we] are his Property, whose Workmanship [we] are, made to last during his, not one anothers Pleasure."[58] Like the two other very influential natural-law philosophers, Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf, Locke equated natural law with the biblical revelation, since in their view both had originated in God and could therefore not contradict each other.[59][60] "As a philosopher, Locke was intensely interested in Christian doctrine, and in the Reasonableness he insisted that most men could not hope to understand the detailed requirements of the law of nature without the assistance of the teachings and example of Jesus."[61] Locke derived the fundamental concepts of his political theory from biblical texts, in particular from Genesis 1 and 2 (creation), the Decalogue (Exodus 20), the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), the teachings of Jesus (e.g. his doctrine of charity, Matthew 19:19), and the letters of (Paul).[62] The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) puts a person's life, his or her honourable reputation (i.e. honour and dignity), and property under God's protection. Freedom is another major theme in the Old Testament. For instance, God's actions in liberating the Israelites from Egyptian slavery in the Decalogue's prologue (Exodus 20:2) were the precondition for the following commandments. Moreover, Locke derived basic human equality, including the equality of the sexes ("Adam and Eve") from Genesis 1:26–28, the starting point of the theological doctrine of Imago Dei.[63] To Locke, one of the consequences of the principle of equality was that all humans were created equally free and therefore governments needed the consent of the governed.[64] Only when Locke had derived the fundamental aspects of his concept of man and ethics from the biblical texts – life, equality, private property, etc. –, did he examine as a philosopher which consequences they had in the abovementioned way. Following Locke, the American Declaration of Independence founded human rights on the biblical belief in creation: "All men are created equal, (...) they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, (...) life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Locke's doctrine that governments need the consent of the governed is also central to the Declaration of Independence.


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