Monday, January 1, 2018

Law & Liberty Review on Democratic Religion

The book being reviewed is "Democratic Religion from Locke to Obama," by Giorgi Areshidze. The review is by  and you can read it here

A taste:
Locke was not historicist. He based liberalism squarely on a doctrine of natural, not historical rights. Very astutely, Areshidze remarks that the argument for religious toleration made by Locke in his 1689 Letter on Toleration differs from his argument in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which he was writing at the same timeThe Letter “bases toleration on a religious argument about the sanctity of human conscience” as each individual searches for “religious truth.” The Essay “grounds toleration on the limits of human knowledge”—on a form of skepticism. The Letter rests on an appeal to the prevailing opinion of the time, relying on Biblical exegesis; the Essay relies on reason alone. One book is “popular,” the other “philosophic.” 
Not that the Biblical exegesis Locke propounds in the Letter fully comports with the prevailing Christian orthodoxy of his time—or indeed with the teaching of the Bible itself. Mutual toleration among Christians is alleged to be “the chief characteristic of a true church,” although the New Testament attests to love, not toleration. When Locke does testify to the fact of Christian lovingkindness, he makes it serve toleration and good works. 
Crucially, in enlisting the support of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Locke accurately quotes Paul as to sins not to be tolerated by Christians—“works of the Flesh,” generally—but leaves out such Pauline sins as “seditions and heresies”—works of the mind, as it were. It was dissenters’ public declarations of such spiritual sins that persuaded Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin to enlist governments in the task of suppressing the full range of un-Christian acts; Aquinas went so far as to urge the death penalty for heretics. (Perhaps glancing back at Rawls and Obama, Areshidze describes this as a “nearly uninterrupted Christian consensus”—bad news indeed for Rawlsian liberals.) 
To this Locke replies in the Letter that coercion can never genuinely persuade, and that only a persuaded soul can enter Heaven through the strait gate. But in the Essay Locke admits that, on the contrary, beliefs are indeed formed by a mixture of coercion and consent. There, he argues not from the Bible but from what later writers would call epistemology: the Bible speaks of “knowing” God, but what is knowledge?

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Astute analysis. Locke's philosophical pretensions in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding--that we are merely the sum of our thoughts and experiences--preclude a coherent theory of natural law, the "law written on the human heart."


Locke’s notion of natural right appears to be much closer to the traditional view as restated by Hooker than to the revolutionary view of Hobbes. Closer inspection would show that this appearance is deceptive and must be traced to Locke’s peculiar caution. To indicate with utmost brevity the main point, Locke says on one hand that, in order to be a law, the law of nature must not only have been given by God, it must in addition have as its sanction divine “rewards and punishment, of infinite weight and duration, in another life.” On the other hand, however, he says that reason cannot demonstrate that there is another life. Only through revelation do we know of the sanctions of the law of nature, or of “the only true touchstone of moral rectitude.” Natural reason is therefore unable to know the law of nature as a law. Yet Locke contends that there is “a law knowable by the light of nature, that is, without the help of positive revelation. If there is to be such a law this law must therefore consist of a set of rules whose validity does not suppose life after death or a belief in life after death.

Fortunately for the American Founding, they simply ignored this contradiction, and lumped Locke in with Rev. Hooker and the Thomistic [traditional] natural law tradition.

Again, the whole discussion of the "real" Locke is academic, not historical.