Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Putting Locke in a Locke Box-or at least his image

David Brooks and Stephen Hayward are worried about the undue influence of guys like Limbaugh and Beck. Hayward writes, “We've traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.”

Peter Lawler, on the other hand, appears to take a broader look at the conservative movement as a whole:

In general, I wonder whether the Founders=Locke=good and the Progressives=Germans=bad narrative has run its course or needs a lot of supplementing at this point. A lot of younger conservatives see that part of our problem today is our promiscuous libertinism, and that it might be caused by our inability to keep Locke (or the spirit of calculation, contract, and consent) in a "Locke box." Increasingly, all of life is being turned over to a self-indulgent view of "autonomy," and that really does erode both a proper understanding of love and a manly spirit of self-government.

Anyone familiar with Claremont Review will recognize that Lawler is taking aim at the “narrative” which is popular there. For people at Claremont are more concerned with the growth of government than with the Culture Wars. Postmodern Conservatives see the latter problem as being more worrisome as every aspect of our lives becomes more and more Lockean.

Thomas G. West, who has popularized the Founders=Locke=good storyline, would and has contested Lawler’s portrayal of Locke. But I wonder if the Straussian distinction between intention and influence comes into play here. Regardless of Locke’s intention, his influence or role in the history of political philosophy is that his thought represents autonomous individualism. And it is the influence which has to be put into the ”Locke box.” (A similar argument could be made for Machiavelli and ‘Machiavellian’.)

1 comment:

  1. Lawler discusses this point further here: