Voegelin, Locke, and the Anglo-Saxon Tradition

Meeting Index

Eric Voegelin Society Meeting 2008


Copyright 2008 Joanne Tetlow, J.D., Ph.D.


I.        Introduction


          That Eric Voegelin did not care for John Locke as a philosopher is an understatement. In summarizing his chapter on Locke in the History of Political Ideas, Voegelin writes,


If we consider this grotesque perversion of human values; if we remember further certain other details such as God the proprietor; the profane remarks on the Lord's Supper, the bland admission of passion as the determining factor of the social order, the refusal to introduce any positive ethical principles into the public sphere for the restraint of passion, and if we consider Locke's conscienceless unawareness of the enormity of his performance, we arrive at the conclusion--which the attentive reader has probably drawn by now for himself--that Locke was suffering from a severe spiritual disturbance. I say advisedly from a spiritual disturbance, not from a mental; Locke was not a clinical case, and his disease does not come under the categories of psychopathology. His is a case of spiritual disease in the sense of the Platonic nosos; it belongs in the pneumatopathology of the seventeenth century of which Hobbes was the masterly diagnostician. In Locke the grim madness of Puritan acquisitiveness runs amuck. [1]


When I read this, I realized Voegelin could be thoroughly wrong. A casual reader of Locke would know that he did not suffer from nosos, or "ignorant soul. It would be easy to ignore Voegelin on Locke on the basis of this quotation alone, but that would be engaging in Voegelin's knack of dismissive judgment. After reading Voegelin on Locke and the Anglo-Saxon tradition, I wonder about Voegelin's arrogance. Does Voegelin really believe he has the ontological weight to disparage the English experience? He calls Hooker's defense of the Church of England as a visible society correlative to the Church of Rome, a "cheap trick, whose "delightful nonsense can go too far, as Hooker "knows that others might take him up on his game. [2] Hooker's "cheap trick and "gentlemanly irresponsible style, [3] and Locke's view of God as a "manufacturer who does not want his property to be damaged, [4] reminds one of Voegelin's similar slights of Calvin's Institutes as a "gnostic koran, and Marx as an "intellectual swindler. It appears Voegelin, too, is ideological. This erroneous interpretation of Locke may call into question other Voegelin opinions.


          Voegelin's chapters on Locke and Hooker were written during the early 1940s when the prevailing view of Locke was an individualistic capitalist, a view Voegelin fully accepts; which was continued in C.B. MacPherson's book, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (1962). Much has changed in Locke scholarship during the last fifty years with particular attention paid to his religious writings, so I cannot fault Voegelin completely in this regard. But, it shows that Voegelin relied on secondary literature, perhaps too heavily. His misinterpretation of Locke could have been remedied had he read Locke's works as a whole in context.


In this paper, I seek to defend Locke and the Anglo-Saxon tradition from Voegelin's derisive critique. I believe Locke's theological political theory, even understood as Anglo-Saxon common sense ratio, is sufficient to ground a liberal political order. It is not clear, however, that this is what it is--common sense ratio; it may be closer to nous than Voegelin wishes to admit. It may be some minimal form of nous (quasi-nous), because of its connection to the post-philosophical differentiation of Christianity. The experience of the divine is present in common sense ratio, albeit compact, according to Voegelin; however the expression of that experience can be in basic Christian terms universally intelligible and authoritative, and this could be considered some sort of nous, but not necessarily explained in the complex matrix of German phenomenalism. Voegelinian scholar David Walsh believes that the transcendent source of the liberal foundation is "incapable of adequate articulation even if it were attempted or desired. [5] According to Walsh, it is the openness of each individual to the divine which can only be expressed symbolically and analogically that sustains liberalism. [6]   More will be said about this in my concluding section V.


As background to Locke, I consider Voegelin's analysis of the weaknesses and pitfalls of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, which are well-taken in many respects, but his baseline disagreement with Locke is not. In short, contra Voegelin, Locke's political theology is a translation of Protestant Christianity into democratic ideas, and not "deformed existence and reason. It may be called a civil theology as Ellis Sandoz does in A Government of Laws; [7] but I view it as Christianity proper applied to the political. Compact or not, natural reason coupled with Scripture can instantiate "spirit and the opening of the soul toward truth and its realization in concrete existence. This was Locke's project. How to deal in his concrete existence with the particular problems of the English polity during the mid-to-late seventeenth century. All of Locke's writings are occasional, rather than systematic; and thus, carry with them a host of assumptions he could make about English politics and society. Historical context is crucial for a more reflective and correct interpretation of Locke, whose so-called "easygoing philosophical habits [8] reflect the particularized issues he addressed not as an abstract philosopher sitting behind a desk in the ivory tower of academia; but, as a political practitioner, [9] who followed his own "historical method by combining and relating existing theological and political ideas into a new form of political theory. 


          I will first proceed with Voegelin's view of the Anglo-Saxon tradition based mostly on his comments about Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594, et., seq.). Much of what Voegelin says about England , the island nation, can be generally accepted. I will only note areas of concern, so that I can move onto Voegelin's account of Locke and my different view based on a more complete consideration of Locke's writings.


II.       Richard Hooker and the Anglo-Saxon Tradition


           Voegelin calls the epoch of the Protestant Reformation the "Great Confusion, because it broke the intellectual and spiritual order of Western civilization without creating a new order in its place. Pleonexia is the term Voegelin uses to describe the disorder and conflict of the age without Church and Empire. It is the pluralism and factionalism of pleonexia "that upset Hooker's lovely idea. [10] Voegelin sardonically calls Hooker's idea of a Christian commonwealth a lovely idea. Defending the Anglican Church from Puritan revolt, Hooker sought to persuade his unsatisfied co-religionists that a nationalized Christianity must be one society consisting of the Church of England and the Commonwealth. Anglicans were part of the "visible church included in the universal Catholic Church as a distinct society, something the Puritans could not claim, because "a society is a number of men belonging unto some Christian fellowship, the place and limits whereof are certain.'[13] [11] According to Hooker, the proper form of the visible church is the Anglican establishment not the Christian assemblies of free congregations. This rules out sectarianism in England .


          Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity reveals the mental character of Anglo-Saxons. The break with Rome by Henry VIII was possible, because the English nation already had achieved autonomy from the continent. A closed national polity before the Reformation meant that England 's experience would be more centralized and institutionalized than that of Germany , Switzerland , Holland , or France . As a result, Hooker could claim a Christian commonwealth on the same status as the Roman papacy. Since the Norman Conquest, the formation of the English nation as peculiar was considered a strength. Voegelin sees the English body politic as closed, autonomous, and secularized. He summarizes the English national character as follows:


The sheltered existence of the centralized polity had made possible the national style of treating political questions in the legal terms of statutes and decisions; and the same sheltered isolation had minimized English participation in the great European debate of the high Middle Ages so that a treatment of politics in terms of metaphysical principles had never been a national concern. And finally, we must take into account that England entered its period of continuous political debate precisely at the time when the antiphilosophism of humanists and reformers had ruined the standards of political theorizing. [12]


I think some of Voegelin's observations are correct. Various statutes, including the Act of Supremacy (1534) were enacted by the Crown to solidify the Church of England (Anglicana Ecclesia) as separate from the Roman Catholic Church. According to Voegelin, this step "establishes what today we call a totalitarian government, and "the actual secularization of spiritual power. [13] Thus, "The idea of the commonwealth as a closed, world-immanent, secularized polity had become clear. The church is an aspect' of the commonwealth, and the symbols of faith are defined by the king in Parliament. Nonrecognition of royal supremacy in matter of faith is high treason. A dangerous development that began in the thirteenth century has now reached its grotesque end. [14] This is what Hooker was defending against the Puritan revolutionaries. And, in that respect, Voegelin applauds Hooker's defense of an established political, social, and spiritual order. The antiphilosophism and fanaticism of the Puritans was worse than the closed English polity.


          However, the English polity was not a totalitarian government nor was it secularized. Voegelin asserts that, "Even the great Hooker, at the end of the century, had not yet understood the connection between secularization and the destruction of spiritual freedom. [15] Really? Was Hooker not aware of the dilemma and tension between an established Church and individual conscience? This was the crux of the debate during Hooker and Locke's time. It was the very issue which occupied English intellectual, social, and political life during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There was nothing inherently secularizing about the Anglican establishment. A Christian commonwealth that balances civil order and religious freedom is not secularized. The spiritual substance was not lost; it was the focus of concern during this early modern period.


          As for the English commonwealth being totalitarian, I point to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of the law, which Voegelin acknowledges more positively; namely, the Magna Charta (1215)--the "rights of free Englishmen--the English common law derived democratically from societal customs, mores, and juridical principles of due process and equity; and "the ancient constitution of time immemorial. Compared to the continent, the English monarchy had been shielded from absolutism by a historical experience of liberty under the law.


          Worse yet, though, are Hooker's opponents--the Puritans. Voegelin supports Hooker's fight again the anticivilizational forces of Puritans, or "viciously ignorant louts. [16] It should be kept in mind that Voegelin's "viciously ignorant louts were those who settled New England , and formed the American identity for decades. To this day, the Puritan origins of America remain embedded in the national character. This "anticivilizational revolt of the rabble, [17] who, as the elect are indoctrinated to believe that their interpretation of Scripture is infallible, pushes the Puritans away from the societal order into a self-referential movement that is "psychologically ironclad and beyond human help.[31] [18] According to Voegelin, in the Puritan "we recognize the pathological type that fills the ranks of the modern politico-religious mass movements down to Communism and National Socialism. [19]


          All of what Hooker was dealing with in the sixteenth century gives insight to Locke's context. Voegelin's mention of Hooker's philosophy of law reinforces this key feature of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Locke's religious thinking can be rightly called "legal theology. Approvingly, Voegelin describes Hooker's counter to Puritan Scriptural fanaticism as restoring a philosophy of law "in which divine law received its proper place by the side of several other laws. [20] A Puritan "law of private reason [21] creates public disorder. Voegelin interprets Hooker as articulating the Thomistic distinctions of law (eternal, divine, natural, and human), yet going "beyond Thomas in differentiating realms of being and corresponding bodies of law. He restricts the meaning of natural law to the order of inorganic and organic being and uses the term law of reason for the designation of order in specifically human nature. [22] Incidentally, the "law of reason and the "law of nature are phrases used interchangeably throughout Locke's work. Hooker's philosophy of law serves as a natural basis for government in contrast to the Puritan doctrine of the " kingdom of God . [23] Voegelin acknowledges Hooker's defense of the existing English political and social order through a "philosophy of historical existence where history is understood "as part of the constitution of being as ordained by God. [24]


          To summarize, I agree with Voegelin that the English polity was a closed commonwealth; however, this could account for why the Tudor monarchy, save Queen Mary, was able to sustain Protestantism from the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Certainly, a strongly Protestant England furthered the stability of the Reformation on the continent amidst Catholic France and Catholic Spain not to mention nearby Ireland . Also, Voegelin's observation about the legal character of the Anglo-Saxon tradition is hugely important for Hooker, Locke, and America . Constitutionalism is part of the success of the liberal political order in England and America . Finally, for Voegelin to say that the spiritual substance was lost in a secularized, immanent English polity at the time of Hooker is difficult to comprehend. I trust what follows about Locke will revise Voegelin's interpretation.


III.      John Locke: the bte noire of modern political thought?


With the chapter subtitle "The Victorious Puritan Voegelin states that, "As in the cases of Hobbes and Spinoza, this nucleus is the new postmedieval anthropology. Locke's conception of man does not have a systematic center, however, like that of the two other philosophers, but is rather comparable in its diffuseness to that of Grotius. [25] According to Voegelin, Locke's success "is the evocation of the victorious Puritan bourgeois in politics; out of a deep personal and environmental affinity (his father, a lawyer, who fought in Cromwell's army) he grasped the essence of the type that determined the following centuries of English politics. [26] Locke's political theory can be accounted for by the new type of modern man he espouses--the bourgeois proprietor. 


          The segments which follow correspond to Voegelin's succinct analysis in the History of Political Ideas. It will be obvious that I am revising Voegelin's critique by providing historical and theoretical evidence to show he was wrong about Locke. As I indicated, I can hardly fault him on the matter of secondary literature as most of what I have relied upon has been published in the last twenty years. However, there was opportunity for Voegelin to amend his view of Locke in his later writings, but he remained attached to Leo Strauss's perspective articulated in Natural Right and History (1953)--that Locke was a capitalist, hedonist, and a radical deviation from Hooker. [27]


A.  God's rational creature


          In Voegelin's mind, John Locke had the unfortunate place in history of living in a post-Cartesian world. Man received a "new postmedieval anthropology [28] in this epoch. Locke's man as a rational creature seeking "clear and distinct ideas as postulated in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding ("ECHU) is a deformed existence. Speaking about truth in propositions, which Locke does throughout the ECHU, presents a deficient account of man's being. Voegelin's philosophy of consciousness rests on engendering experiences as expressed in symbols of intelligible truth.


But, Locke's problem had an earlier origin than Descartes. As Voegelin writes in a 1968 letter:


From the Stoics to Locke everybody in philosophy operates with koinai ennoiai, that is with philosophical symbols which have separated from the experiential matrix which they had in Plato and Aristotle. Clearness and distinctness' as criteria can become an epistemological' problem only, when the experiential certainty of faith has sufficiently weakened to make the cognitive value of the ideas' a problem at all. [29]


Granted that Locke may have inherited an earlier problem of the separation of "thinking from "being, and that he did not write in Voegelin's ontological language as a way of resolving that issue; nevertheless, Locke did conceive the epistemic experience to be one of sense and reflection. [30] Locke wrote in "Draft A of the ECHU  that,


As all our owne knowledg is noe thing but our owne Experience, The foundation of all our beleife is ultimately grounded in Experience too. Soe that at last the clearest best & most certain knowledg that man kinde can possibly have of things existing without him is but Experience, which is noe thing but the Exercise & observation of his senses about particular objects. & therefor Knowledg & Faith too at least resolve them selves into & terminate some where or other on Experience either our owne or other mens.


As Ian Harris comments, "Locke had vindicated the intellectual respectability of sense, of beginning with particulars and so of the way of discovery.[102] [31] This experiential basis for probability allowed Locke to set faith in Protestant terms. Locke assumed without argument that revelation belonged to probability rather than certainty. [32]


Locke was not contemplating an "experiential certainty of faith as Voegelin meant, because that phrase was linked with "enthusiasts, who, "in their Minds being thus prepared, whatever groundless Opinion comes to settle it self strongly upon their Fancies, is an Illumination from the Spirit of GOD, and presently of divine authority. [33] Voegelin may admonish Locke for formulating his noetic interpretation in objective propositions, but this criticism must be mitigated by the theological and spiritual assumptions Locke was living within. England was a Christian society. Atheism was the great threat. Any move away from orthodoxy was perceived as the way towards spiritual and moral wickedness. Sectarianism had riveted the nation during the English civil wars, and was still undermining sound theology and political stability. These were the issues for Locke. He was working in "the consciousness of concrete men [34] by addressing the particular issues that motivated him to write the ECHU, namely, human understanding of morality and revealed religion.


In contrast to the Catholic claim of papal infallibility, Locke's Protestantism required a different epistemic foundation. Not only can the Aristotelian "essence or "substance not be known, but in all matters of human understanding limits were needed to quash man's natural hubris and presumption. Divine revelation and faith were eternal verities not subject to human senses. This is not to say that Christianity has no experiential basis. Locke presumed this. He was attempting to establish an intellectual grounding for "faith and "reason in order to quell the divisive rhetoric of "enthusiasts, who overstepped epistemic boundaries, and to counter Catholic claims of universal knowledge based on Aristotelian logic.


To Locke's credit, in the ECHU, he is engaging in an inductive methodology beginning with the particulars of ethics, natural philosophy, and science, to find universal truths in the form of propositions. Ian Harris explains Locke's purpose of the ECHU as procedural, introducing a new way of dealing with epistemic issues: "Locke had espoused the way of discovery. That is to say, he assumed that knowledge was to be gained by considering particulars in the first instance. On this basis it would be possible to make statements of wider import. This applied to both ethics and to natural philosophy, though in differing ways. [35] Starting from particulars was seen as possibly undermining religion. Hobbes was accused of epicureanism for relying on sense experience. [36] Locke wanted to show that the "particulars of concrete ideas and experience did not undermine morality or religion.  And so, he writes:


The Idea of a supreme Being, infinite in Power, Goodness, and Wisdom, whose Workmanship we are, and on whom we depend; and the Idea of our selves, as understanding, rational Beings, being such as are clear in us, would, I suppose, if duly considered, and pursued, afford such Foundations of our Duty and Rules of Action, as might place Morality amongst the Sciences capable of Demonstration: wherein I doubt not, but from self-evident Propositions, by necessary Consequences, as incontestable as those in Mathematicks, the measures of right and wrong might be made out, to any one that will apply himself with the same Indifferency and Attention to the one, as he does to the other of these Sciences. [37]


Locke is not replacing an existential experience by an epistemic proposition. He is presuming that man's cognitive thinking has something important to do with being human, and although the ECHU is specifically addressing the nature, extent, and limits of human understanding, Locke is not, thereby, saying that spiritual experience does not matter. He assumed that in order for faith to be real, there had to be an experiential basis. The spiritual hold on a man's being was not cognitive propositions alone. In fact, Locke believed "thinking was so integral to "being that he wrote ECHU so that man's "conduct would conform to God's law. Thus, "How short soever their Knowledge may come of an universal, or perfect Comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secure their great Concernments, that they have Light enough to lead them to the Knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own Duties. [38] This is not a new postmedieval anthropology.


          B.       God's Private Religion.


          Voegelin rightly is concerned about the modern relegation of religion to the private sphere as if it had nothing to do with politics and wider society. Locke's theory of toleration is considered part of this modern evacuation of the public spirit. Voegelin writes that, "Through the privatization of religion, Western society has deprived itself of the formal public instruments of resistance against the rise of creeds that are incompatible with Christianity and in further consequence with the body of civilization that has been built on its foundations. [39] I quite agree with Voegelin that a private religion and a private church have devastating effects on the spiritual truth which must undergird the public order. Despite its laudable goals, toleration has had the inevitable consequence of secularizing the political. According to Voegelin,The toleration society has not only lost its public organs of resistance against inimical creeds but also has deprived itself of organs of public spiritual life in general. [40] Ideological evocations during the twentieth century can be attributed to the suppression of public spirit resulting from tolerationism. Locke, Milton, Spinoza, and others articulated theories of toleration to avoid sectarianism at the expense of public spirituality. This is Voegelin's view.


          Consideration of Locke's historical context immediately reveals that privatization of religion was no where in sight. That was not the problem Locke was grappling with. Post-Reformation England had been addressing the fundamental question: "If the Catholic Church was no longer sovereign over spiritual matters, who was? the Anglican Church? If the Anglican Church was not solely sovereign over the spiritual realm, how can other Protestant sects be accommodated? Except for the Interregnum, England 's answer was that state sovereignty would extend to spiritual matters, i.e., the Anglican Church, and other Protestant sects. The Church could not assume the powers of the state, because coercion is not a part of true Christianity.


 Locke believed a Protestant consensus was possible theologically and politically if the fundamental articles of faith were the basis for agreement. If a theological consensus could be forged, then political order would follow. Locke did not have to argue the pre-eminence of theology to politics, it was self-evident. A theological consensus, though, did not require a comparable ecclesiastical consensus. The unity of theology could permit the diversity of ecclesiology. So long as the theological center was strong where it needed to be, ecclesiastical freedom on non-essential issues could be granted. Only if the theological core is solidified can ecclesiology represent diverse forms of public worship. As a society, the "church acts by consent possessing its own freedom to form a community of believers according to its own doctrinal confession. For Locke the basic substance is the same--Protestant Christianity--but the form may be varied so long as the public good is not undermined.


Historian Mark Goldie notes that, "Locke did not defend sectarian diversity as a virtue in itself; [41] he "understood the toleration of sects not as a self-sufficient policy but as complementary to comprehension. [42] Accordingly, he "was not disposed to celebrate toleration, in the sense of unlimited division and plurality, as a self-sufficient good. He stood in the tradition of Reformation eirenicism: toleration was a preliminary tactic in the search for the Peace of the Church'. [43] It is a mistake to interpret Locke outside of this Anglican context. Locke's tolerationism can only be grasped as correlative to his desire for comprehension and a stable, peaceful Anglican Church. The public-private distinction in Locke relates to this situation, not the typical trope that Christianity is privatized in Locke. The historical context shows clearly that Locke's constant use of the term "public worship and "private in A Letter concerning Toleration (1689) refers to this phenomenon of a public church, i.e., the Anglican Church alongside a limited toleration of private houses of worship for Protestant sects, Jews, and Turks. As Locke queries, "If we allow the Jews to have private houses and dwellings amongst us, why should we not allow them to have synagogues? [44] Locke was advocating the natural right of all religions, save Catholicism, to public worship consistent with the civil good. If Jews and Muslims had the right of freedom of pubic worship, certainly Protestant sects such as Quakers and Anabaptists should. Locke's reference to England as a Christian commonwealth illustrates the public character of Christianity and the Anglican Church. The issue was whether non-Anglicans and non-Christians could have public institutions of worship not whether religion was private.


Also, the anti-Catholic context is important. Divine right monarchy and divine right episcopacy went hand-in-hand. Whether a particular church government was ordained by God was a source of profound contention between Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Independents throughout seventeenth-century England . During the Westminster Assembly in the early 1640s, Erastians [45] such as theologian John Lightfoot and jurist John Selden, both of whom influenced Locke, stood against the Presbyterians' claim to divine right. Both Lightfoot and Selden were Hebrew scholars who argued that the Jewish State controlled the Church in the Old Testament and correspondingly Parliament should rule the church. Erastians were most concerned about the basis not the form of church government. So long as no single form of church government was deemed the "eternally valid one, [46] Lightfoot, Selden, Locke, and others were tolerant of Presbyterianism and other sectarian systems. The main goal was to avert papacy and ensure that church authority never became absolute and arbitrary. Locke's Erastian approach is seen in his theorizing from the standpoint of the magistrate vis--vis the church rather than vice versa. There is only "one state, and many churches; the civil power was not constituted by God to enforce ecclesiastical law. Ian Harris remarks about the state in his theory of toleration:

Locke treated it as devoted only to man's temporal interests in order to place the punishment of ecclesiastical deviance beyond the magistrate's authority.[19] Thus Locke was able not only to dismiss conscience in civil matters but also at once to indulge it in religious ones and to uphold civil society. This feat required that civil government be secular in its ends. Government was not Christian, in the sense of not existing for the purpose of defending Christian doctrine with its law and force. This, of course, was not to say that Christian doctrine did not support civil society, merely that civil society did not exist to support it. [47]

"Secular did not mean void of public spirit. It meant "temporal purposes, rather than "eternal concerns. It is a distinction, not separation of the human from the divine. 

C.       God's Property.

          Voegelin complains that "it never occurred to Locke that positive social obligations might belong to the public sphere.[4] [48] Thus, "Man is a proprietor who watches over his own property and recognizes his duty not to damage anybody else's, and God is formed in his image. [49] If man is a proprietor, then God must be a proprietor. Voegelin thinks this is what Locke means when he states that, "Men being all the Workmanship of one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker; All the Servants of one Sovereign Mater, sent into the World by his order and about his business, they are his Property, whose Workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one anothers Pleasure. [50] Voegelin reprimands Locke for making man into a means of economic production in his chapter on property. The only thing more appalling than seeing man's anthropology in terms of labor is the invention of money in the state of nature creating inequality of property. Voegelin concludes that, "The preservation of the inequality of property is, on the contrary, the avowed purpose of the Lockean system of government. [51] The passion for property is Locke's spiritual disturbance. If that were true, I might agree with Voegelin.


          In the First Treatise of Government Locke alludes to a subsequent discussion in the Second Treatise about paternal power, private property, and inheritance. [52] It is a huge mistake to read these chapters in the Second Treatise alone without consulting their relation to the First Treatise and Filmer's interpretation of Adam's representative capacity. Locke's theory of property in the Second Treatise is related to Filmer's claim that Adam received private dominion from God to rule over all things. In refuting Filmer's claim of monarchy by Adamic inheritance in the First Treatise, Locke referring to inheritance of private property says that, "But in the State of Nature become again perfectly common, no body having a right to Inherit them: nor can any one have a Property in them, otherwise then in other things common by Nature, of which I shall speak in its due place. [53] That due place is Locke's chapter five in the Second Treatise.


          Filmer's divine right theory rested on biblical interpretations of Genesis, which Locke opposes by a literalist hermeneutic of the text. Using the argument of "express words of Scripture, and natural law reasoning, Locke takes on Filmer on his own terms--the paradigmatic account of an infralapsarian Adam as the original divine ruler. Locke's view of property is important theologically and politically, because he asserts "that God gave the World to Adam and his Posterity in common; it is impossible that any Man, but one universal Monarch, should have any Property, upon a supposition, that God gave the World to Adam, and his Heirs in Succession, exclusive of all the rest of his Posterity. [54] All men were given dominion over the earth by God; and thus, "Man has a Property in his own Person. [55] Every man, whether father or proprietor, has his own paternal power or private property; neither is derived from an Adamic inheritance. The central claim that political power does not originate in Adam is argued scrupulously by Locke in the First Treatise. Theology, biblical hermeneutics, and the Law of Nature all play a role in Locke's denial of Filmer's divine right theory in the First Treatise. The entire Second Treatise is Locke's alternative to Filmer; all of Second Treatise, including the chapters on property and paternal power must be read in this context. Voegelin not once mentions the First Treatise.


          Historian Tim Harris points out "that Locke did not write his Two Treatises, as a defence of a conservative revolution on behalf of the propertied classes, but as an advocacy of popular rebellion against Charles II. [56] Inalienable rights were being violated by the government of Charles II, and would most certainly be gone if James took the throne. As Charles II's intolerance toward dissenters increased after his dissolution of the Oxford Parliament in 1681, the last of the three Exclusion Parliaments, Locke's call for protection of life, liberty, and estates can be seen as an attack on the Caroline administration. Even so the real threat was the succession of a Catholic king. Popery and arbitrary government went hand-in-hand, and ever since James VII of Scotland converted to Catholicism in 1678, a new spectre of doom laid over the English commonwealth. While the life, liberty, and estates of nonconformists were being violated by Charles II, this would be nothing compared to what might happen under a popish successor. The papacy was the quintessential exemplar of how absolute, arbitrary power tends toward natural corruption and can be utterly self-serving and abusive. Thus, Locke's Second Treatise as an Exclusion tract was directed simultaneously against the absolute, arbitrary power of Protestants and Catholics, namely, Charles II and his brother, James.


          D.       God's Polity.


          Little is new in Locke's contract theory and theory of limited monarchy. According to Voegelin, "The theory of consent as the basis of civil society can be traced in direct lineage from Locke back through Hooker and Thomas Aquinas to Seneca and Cicero. [57] So, why then, has Locke's political philosophy been so important and influential if it a merely a reinstatement of ancient and medieval political theory? Voegelin believes what is alluring is Locke's incorporation of the new postmedieval anthropology with commonplace theories of consent and limited monarchy. In contrast, I believe Locke's political theory had its own longstanding intrinsic force, because his formulation in the Two Treatises rests on a view of God and law supportive of a limited government rather than absolutism. God as the supreme lawgiver, or legislator, necessarily limits what civil power may do. By use of theology and reason, Locke articulated a theory of government that was consonant with both. Locke's Christianity provides the background presuppositions from which he could articulate a more natural account of political theory. It is those underlying Christian beliefs about God's sovereign authority over man expressed in the laws and covenants of natural and divine revelation that support Locke's Two Treatises. An aspect largely unrecognized is Locke's covenant theology explicit in his later The Reasonableness of Christianity, As Delivered in the Scriptures (1695) and his final work, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul  (posthumous 1705-1707). Although Locke's covenant theology is not explicit in his political theory, it is the scarlet thread running through it. Here is a brief summary:


          The Anglo-Saxon penchant for law is evident in Locke's covenantalism.  "Law is a symbol of God's mediation with man. It represented his justice, goodness, and grace. God mediated who he was through the law of nature, the Mosaic law, and the law of the Gospel. Locke embraced the Platonic realization that the divine substance had to be found in the Law, not a Philosopher-King. Divine revelation was positive law, a communication with man that could not be doubted or subverted by the subjectivity of Platonic innate ideas or Puritan enthusiasm. The law had a hardness, an exactitude, that appealed to Locke. It served as a foundation for theology and political order. The law was the carrier of the divine moral substance as fully revealed in Christ's fulfillment of the Old Testament covenants and law. In this way, Christianity surpassed the Greek understanding of revelation by knowing that divinity was instantiated in the person of Christ, who at a minimum was the perfect Philosopher-King.


In the New Covenant of Grace, Christ is not emptied of political power, rather it is a dispensation different from the Jewish theocracy of direct rule. Christ's kingly authority is not immediately represented in the polity. To the contrary, the eternal, spiritual Kingdom of God symbolizes the universality of Christ's political authority, and the reality that particular societies can form governments according to their own self-understanding so long as certain absolute principles are adhered to.

Locke believed Christ possessed all the attributes of what is "political. In the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), Locke describes Christ as the King, Ruler, Judge, and Legislator. Locke conceives Christ as representing all that is political, viz., lawmaking, executing, decreeing, commanding, promulgating, judging, ruling. Locke says that Christ "inculcates to the People, on all occasions, that the Kingdom of God is come. He shews the way of Admittance into this Kingdom, viz. Repentance and Baptism; and teaches the Laws of it, viz. Good Life, according to the strictest Rules of Vertue and Morality. [58] Christians receive Christ "for their King and Ruler and should live "in a Sincere Obedience to his Law and "be his Subjects and "live by the Laws of his Kingdom. Furthermore, all mankind will be judged at the last day by "the Law of that Kingdom, which is "that Eternal Law of Right, which is Holy, Just, and Good and "of Eternal Obligation. [59]   All of this is highly political.

Locke's view of Christ's indirect politicism in the temporal order is the background for Christ's direct politicism in the mediation of divine "law. The Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace are central to Locke's theology in the Reasonableness and Paraphrase forming the foundation for his political theory. As Locke says, a commonwealth is not a form of government, the latter is created by the first enactment of positive law. A commonwealth is a "compact or "covenant representing the union of wills, it is a natural living thing where "the law of the commonweal, the very soul of a politic body, the parts whereof are by law animated, held together, and set on work in such actions as the common good requireth. [60] The "law is symbolic of the divine substance which constitutes the soul of the body politic, and the "public good is the symbol of the purpose of the compact.


Thus, obedential politics rests on the eternal moral law, a consistent truth in all divine covenants. Christ's ratification of the moral part of the Covenant of Works--the law of nature and the law of Moses--confirms the bedrock nature of law in the Covenant of Grace, and Christ's fulfillment of the eternal law as articulated in the New Testament furnishes mankind with a complete and final morality. God universalized Christianity to all mankind. Christ, the second Adam, reincorporated the original universality of the first Adam's Covenant, but this time with a divine positive law that was clear, plain, and direct. The Dairy Maid and Day-Labourer as well as the elite can comprehend the Gospel message of salvation. What the law of nature lacked Christ provided in his divine grounding and promulgation.


          This theological account of Locke's compact may have struck Voegelin as banal and flat like the rest of his thinking; but, one thing is certain, Locke's anthropology is biblical. The whole thrust of my paper has been to show that Locke's anthropology is not what Voegelin imagines. Locke's view of man is biblical. Reason and revelation indicate that man is a rational creature of God designed for a particular purpose. The spiritual substance is vitally present in the public sphere.


IV.      Revised Voegelin on Locke


          This paper is a request that a "Revised Voegelin on Locke be considered and adopted, perhaps not as I have proposed; but, at least it is clear that serious and substantive amendments are necessary.


There is much about Locke that could have appealed to Voegelin. Locke's man is a questioner. That is why he insists on a way of discovery by investigating the particulars through sense and reflection, whether it is nature or Scripture. Locke is not a gnostic, because of the epistemic limitations he places on knowledge; and he rejected dogmatism or ideological religion. He also was firmly opposed to Calvinism, and any theological or philosophical extremes. Locke's legal, covenantal theology has much to recommend as a stabilizing, institutional force in political society. And, Voegelin's "ignorant louts, the Puritans, comprised many of the Enthusiasts Locke opposed. It could be said that Locke's is a noetic interpretation. As Voegelin writes, "A noetic interpretation arises, not independently of the conception of order of the surrounding society, but in a critical argument with the latter. Wherever noesis appears, it stands in a relation of tension to society's self-interpretation. [61] In fact, Locke was in such tension, at least with the political rulers, that he fled to Holland sometime in late August 1683, after having composed the Two Treatises of Government, and after having been spied upon since the Rye House Plot had been revealed in June 1683. [62] I doubt that Voegelin would concede nous to Locke, but Locke was standing against absolutism of Charles II and Catholic monarchs on the continent. He did have a common sense ratio core, and I would argue a noetic one as well.


Overall, Voegelin misinterpretation of Locke is explained by his dislike of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Despite his praises of Hobbes as the greatest English thinker, Voegelin "cold-shouldered the Anglo-Saxons, and particularly Locke, because they were too basic and uncomplicated.


V.       The source of a liberal political order: Ratio or Nous


The universality of Christianity and its democratizing ideas of the common man understanding spiritual and moral truth through an obediential covenant with God as the grounding of a political order falls into Voegelin's compact rationality category. As such, Anglo-Saxon common ratio has proved sufficient for a liberal polity so long as it is part of a larger Christian orientation. However, as I mentioned in the introduction, Locke's common sense ratio can be considered quasi-nous by virtue of its connection with Christianity, which, according to Voegelin, is a more advanced differentiation than philosophy. How is this possible?


Voegelin defines nous as the "directional factor of knowledge, which is present in the tension of consciousness toward the ground. [63] Referring to Aristotle, Voegelin states that, "By nous he understands both the human capacity for pursuing the knowing quest for the ground and the ground of being itself, which is experienced as providing the directions for the movement of the quest. [64] Emphasizing the participatory noetic experience of luminosity of consciousness, Voegelin insists that objective propositions cannot be the noetic exegesis, which is "the reality of participation itself. [65] Voegelin could accuse Locke of "literalization of symbols by his reliance on propositions, but Locke was not a dogmatist in either theology or politics. Any Christian, including Locke, is aware of the tension of existence between the "temporal and "eternal. Although not stated in Voegelin's terms, the search for the divine ground and understanding of the tension of existence is clear enough.


But, for Voegelin, knowledge is participatory, and Locke's ratio does not speak this way. It is possible what Locke means by "experience is similar, and even without ontological language, Locke could be describing a phenomenon not that far askance from Voegelin's high-powered philosophy of consciousness. This claim is buttressed by the differentiation of Christianity itself.


In the Ecumenic Age, Voegelin describes St. Paul 's vision of the resurrected as nous, that is, a theophanic experience reaching from a pneumatic center to a noetic periphery. [66] This is an equivalent experience of existential order with the nous of Platonic-Aristotelian myth and philosophy. Voegelin observes that, "The Pauline symbols of the propheteteuon, the pneumatikos, and the teleios are the equivalents of the Aristotelian spoudaios. The symbols are equivalent, but the dynamics of existential truth has shifted from the human search for the divine gift (charisma), from man's ascent toward God through the tension of Eros to God's descent toward man through the tension of Agape. The Pauline pneuma is, after all, not the philosopher's nous but the rendering in Greek of the Israelite ruach of God. [67] Voegelin classifies the Pauline experience as a more differentiated truth of existence, because the "pneumatic depth in divine reality beyond the Nous had been articulated. [68] Eschatology, or the vision of the resurrected, was not present in the Greek experience of nous; and thus, St. Paul 's movement in reality is an advance, because "theophanic events do not occur in history; they constitute history together with its meaning. [69]  


Locke as a Christian was indwelled by the Holy Spirit--pneumata--and thus, experienced nous, or at least, quasi-nous. In the Paraphrase, Locke presents a more spiritual ecclesiology following the words of St. Paul and describing the church as a "mistical body. [70] However, it must be said that Locke interprets St. Paul 's phrase "Walk in the Spirit as conduct "by the light that is in your minds. [71]   Spirit is intellectual; it is "the law of the mind. [72]   In the struggle between flesh and spirit, the "Spirit is that part of a man which is endowed with light from god to know and see what is righteous, just, and good. And which being consulted and hearkend to is always ready to direct and prompt to that which is good. [73] St. Paul exhorts the church at Rome to renew their mind meaning transformation of the inner man by the Spirit of God. Hence, Locke associates the Spirit of God with the mind. This Spirit is given equally to the people of God--Jews and Gentiles. Locke links the Spirit with Sacred Scripture saying that, "In the school of Christ all was to be built on the authority of god alone and the revelation of his Spirit in the Sacred Scriptures. [74] Though the mind is integral to the force of the Spirit, Locke does not rationalize Scripture. Clearly natural reason is insufficient to know the mind of Christ. In St. Paul's Corinthian explication, Locke notes "that a man by his bare natural parts not knowing the mind of the Lord could not instruct, could not judg, could not correct a preacher of the gospel who built upon revelation as he did and therefor twas certain that he had the mind of Christ. [75] The mind of a spiritual man can understand divine revelation by the Spirit of God. In the Paraphrase, the linkage between the Spirit and Scripture is to prevent the Spirit from operating independently of the biblical text. It is a hermeneutical control for those enthusiasts who want to interpret the Spirit of God subjectively apart from Scripture. Relating reason, the Spirit, and Scripture gave Locke an objective, fixed standard by which to measure interpretative action.


Since Christianity is an advance in differentiation from Greek philosophy, and Locke contemplated St. Paul 's vision of the resurrected, or was conscious of eschatological perfection, his apparently reductionist reason may be more than common sense ratio. Perhaps this accounts for Locke's enduring influence; he saw the democratization and universality of Christianity in the quasi-nous experience of the common Christian man.


In this regard, Christianity can do the work, because Christian morality is the bedrock of liberalism. For Locke, the Christian doctrine of Jesus as the Messiah expressed in the divine law of Scripture was fully adequate for political order. Philosophic Christianity is an add-on, a strong touch of intellectual flourishing, but not essential.     


[1] Eric Voegelin, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 25, eds. Jrgen Gebhardt and Thomas A. Hollweck, vol. 7, History of Political Ideas: The New Order and Last Orientation (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 151-152.

[2] Eric Voegelin, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 23, ed. James L. Wiser, vol. 5, History of Political Ideas: Religion and the Rise of Modernity (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 83-85.

[3] Ibid., 106.

[4] Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas: The New Order and Last Orientation, 147.

            [5] David Walsh, The Growth of the Liberal Soul (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 257.

            [6] Ibid.

[7] Ellis Sandoz, A Government of Laws: Political Theory, Religion, and the American Founding ( Columbia and London : University of Missouri Press , 2001), Sandoz writes that, "It will be argued that Locke's Second Treatise of Government is less a work of political philosophy than one in the genre of civil theology. 52. 

[8] Eric Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation, 141.

[9] Locke encourages gentlemen to look to historical texts and to gain experience in politics. The art of governing cannot be learned theoretically. Although Locke had considerable involvement in the affairs of state with Shaftesbury, and serving as Secretary of an embassy to the Elector of Brandenburg at Cleves (1665-6), Secretary to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina (1671-5), Secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations (1673-4), Commissioner of Appeals in Excise (1689), Member of the Board of Trade and Plantations (1696), and was intensely involved in the recoinage issue with numerous correspondences in 1696 with parliamentarians Edward Clarke and John Freke, he did not write about this part of politics. John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Reading and Study for a Gentleman (1703) in John Locke: Political Essays, ed. Mark Goldie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 352.  See Mark Goldie, chronology in John Locke: Selected Correspondence ( Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2002), xxxiv-xxxvi.

[10] Voegelin, History of Political Ideas: Religion and the Rise of Modernity, 89.

[11] [13 Ecclesiastical Polity III.i.14.](Wiser's note). Ibid., 85.

[12]   Ibid., 73.

[13]   Ibid., 74.

[14] Ibid., 78.

[15] Ibid., 73.

[16] Ibid., 92.

[17] Ibid., 94.

[18] [31 Ibid., I:I45-55.] (Wiser's note). Ibid., 96.

[19] Ibid., 98.

[20] Ibid., 99.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 100.

[23] Ibid., 102.

[24] Ibid., 104.

[25] Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation, 140.

[26] Ibid., 141.

[27]   See Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1953), chapter 5, pt. B on Locke, 202-251.

[28] Ibid., 140.

[29] Eric Voegelin, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 30, ed. Thomas A. Hollweck, Selected Correspondence: 1950-1984 ( Columbia and London : University of Missouri Press , 2007), Letter to Gregor Sebba, dated March 27, 1968 , 568.

[30] Ironically, Voegelin cites Locke as the first person to use the word "consciousness in English. Ibid., Letter to Jrgen Gebhardt, dated September 9, 1976 , 811.

[31] [102 Draft A, s.33, pp.62f] (Harris's note). Ian Harris, The mind of John Locke: A study of political theory in its intellectual setting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 148

[32] Ibid.

[33] John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975), bk. 4, chap. 19, Of Enthusiasm, 6, 699.

[34] Eric Voegelin, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 6, ed. David Walsh, Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics ( Columbia and London : University of Missouri Press, 2002), 345.

[35] Harris, The mind of John Locke, 132.

[36] Ibid., 135.

[37] John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, bk. 4, chap. 3, Of the  Extent of Humane Knowledge,  18, 549.

[38] Ibid., bk. 1, chap. 1, Introduction, 5, 45.

[39] Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation, 143.

[40] Ibid.

            [41] Mark Goldie, "John Locke, Jonas Proast and religious toleration 1688-1692, in The Church of England, c.1689-c.1833: from toleration to tractarianism, eds. John Walsh, Colin Haydon and Stephen Taylor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 160.

            [42] Ibid., 162.

            [43] Ibid.

            [44] John Locke, "A Letter concerning Toleration in John Locke: Political Writings, ed. and intro. David Wootton (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2003), 431.

[45] The term "Erastian is derived from Thomas Erastus' Treatise of Excommunication, where it is argued that the Presbyterian system has no Scriptural warrant. Weldon S. Crowley, "Erastianism in the Westminister Assembly, Journal of Church and State 15, no. 49 (1973): 53.

            [46] Ibid., 63.

[47] [19 Whitgift (1851-3), vols. I, pp. 21-2; Vol. III, pp. 313 and 360; Hooker (1977-82), VIII.iii.6; VIII.iv.7; VIII.i.2] (Harris' note) Harris,  The mind of John Locke, 115.

[48] [4 The correctness of this statement may be questioned considering Locke's development of restrictive rules for the acquisition of property in the state of nature, which may be interpreted as social obligations. See for an elucidation of this point Of Civil Government, I3, n.3](Voegelin's note). Eric Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation, 147.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Locke, Second Treatise, chap. 2, Of the State of Nature , 6, 271.

[51] Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation, 151.

            [52] Locke, Two Treatises, bk. 1, chap. 6., Of Adam's Title to Sovereignty by Fatherhood, sec., 66, 189,  bk. 1, chap. 9., Of Monarchy, by Inheritance from Adam, sec., 90, 208. See sec., 87, 206 for a similar allusion to his chapter on property in Second Treatise; sec., 100, 214. See Peter Laslett, introduction to Two Treatises, by John Locke, 50.

[53] Ibid., bk. 1, chap. 9., Of Monarchy, by Inheritance from Adam, sec., 90, 208. See sec., 87, 206 for a similar allusion to his chapter on property in Second Treatise; sec., 100, 214. See Peter Laslett, introduction to Two Treatises, by John Locke, 50.

[54] Locke, Second Treatise,  chap. 5, Of Property, 26, 286.

[55] Ibid., chap. 5, Of Property, 27, 287.

            [56] Harris, "Lives, Liberties and Estate, 228.    

[57] Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation, 140.

            [58] John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity As Delivered in the Scriptures, The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke, ed. John C. Higgins-Biddle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), chap. 8, 50.

            [59] Ibid., chap. 11, 117-9.

            [60] Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Preface, bk. 1, bk. 8, ed. Arthur Stephen McGrade, bk.1, sec., 10.1, 87.

[61]   Eric Voegelin, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 6, Anamnesis, ed. David Walsh, "What is Political Reality, 343.

[62] The Rye House Plot of 1683 arose from lack of any legal or political options as to how to keep James from the throne. This plot which was "to assassinate Charles II and the duke of York as they returned from Newmarket in March 1683 was the Whig demise, and the cause of death for Shaftesbury who died "five months before the plot was uncovered in 1683 while in exile in Holland. Other plotters such as Lord Russell was executed and the Earl of Essex committed suicide while in the Tower. Algernon Sidney, involved with the Rye House conspirators after Shaftesbury fled to Holland , was executed in 1683 for his Discourses Concerning Government, a Whig exclusionist treatise in opposition to Filmer's Patriarcha. Philip Milton, "John Locke and The Rye House Plot, The Historical Journal 43, no. 3 (2000): 649-650. See Locke, Selected Correspondence, 74.

[63] Voegelin, Anamnesis, ed. David Walsh, "What is Political Reality, 347. 

[64] Ibid., 347-348.

[65] Ibid., 381.

[66] Eric Voegelin, Order and History, Vol. 4, The Ecumenic Age (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1974), 244.

[67] Ibid., 246.

[68] Ibid., 250.

[69] Ibid., 252.

            [70] John Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul to the Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, 2 vols., ed. Arthur W. Wainwright (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987). Locke, Paraphrase to 1 Corinthians, sec., 9., no. 3, chap. 12.12-30, 1:233. Locke's paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12.12 is: "For as the body being but one hath many members, and all the members of the body though many yet make but one body, soe is Christ in respect of his mistical body the church. Ibid.

            [71] Locke, Paraphrase to the Galatians, sec., 11, chap. 5.13-26, 1:153. The verse Galatians 5.16 reads: "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fufill the lust of the flesh. Ibid., 1:152.

            [72] Ibid., 1:153, n. 16*.

            [73] Ibid., 1:153, n. 16.17c.

            [74] Locke, Paraphrase to the 1 Corinthians, sec., 2, no. 3 <b> , chap. 2.6-16, 1:174, n. II.6*d.

            [75] Ibid., sec., 2, no. 4, chap. 3.1-4-20, 1:177, n. 16*b.