Paul Sigmund on Whether or Not John Locke was an Individualist

Thanks to the vast scholarship on Locke over the last half century and to the availability of so many original sources, we probably know more about Locke’s thinking than about the thought of any other great political philosopher. A review of the literature demonstrates that there is such a thing as progress in understanding of the classic texts of the history of political thought. In the last fifty years we have learned that Locke was not a covert Hobbesian or an apologist for unrestrained accumulation of property. The arguments that he was a hedonist, materialist, atomistic individualist, collectivist, deist, secularist, advocate of majority tyranny, and naive believer in human perfectibility have been refuted. His views on women and race have been seen as more nuanced than at first appears; distinctions have been made between his original intentions and later interpretations that invoke his name; and many disagreements of the past have given way to a new scholarly consensus because of access to new sources. We have a greater understanding of the continuities and discontinuities with the past represented in his thought, viewing him neither as the central figure in the quasi-Hegelian march of liberalism through history nor as the subverter of the Western tradition. More recently Locke scholarship has made us aware that Locke’s religiously based belief in the possibility of understanding, by the use of reason, God’s intentions for human moral conduct, individually and politically, provides a unity to his political thought, which modern secular commentators had seen as fully of contradictions.

Paul E. Sigmund, The Selected Political Writings of John Locke (New York: Norton Critical Edition, 2006), p. xvii, cited by John D Mueller, “Were John Locke and the Founders “Lockeans”—or Scholastics?” (lecture presented to the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, NC).

EDIT (16:34 19 Aug 2016): You can find a video excerpt and audio version of Mueller’s talk here.

James Madison: Philosopher of Social Theory?

I’ve been reading Thomas G West’s volume Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class and Justice in the Origins of America (Rowan & Littlefield, 1997). As I read the chapter on voting requirements and property rights in the American Founding, I found a striking quote by Madison on the nature of theory:

It would be happy if a state of society could be found or framed in which an equal voice in making the laws might be allowed to every individual bound to obey them. But this is a theory which, like most theories, confessedly requires limitations and modifications. And the only question to be decided in this, as in other cases, turns on the particular degree of departure in practice required by the essence and object of the theory itself. (West 122, cf. Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison, 407)

Considering that the Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper was favorable to the political thought of Hamilton, and that most neo-Kuyperians and Reformational philosophers are interested in the nature of theorizing, perhaps this might serve as a stepping stone towards a comparison of American Federalist and Dutch Reformed political thought?

Craig G. Bartholomew: Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction (2017)

It won’t be available until next February, but it looks like a good addition to any enthusiastic Kuyperian’s library. Here’s the description:

Abraham Kuyper was, by any standard, one of the most extraordinary figures in modern Christian history. He was a Dutch Reformed minister, a gifted theologian, a prolific journalist, the leader of a political party, the cofounder of the Free University of Amsterdam (where he was professor of theology), a member of the Dutch Parliament, and eventually prime minister of the Netherlands. Kuyper’s remarkable legacy lives on today in the tradition of Dutch Calvinism that he developed. As his writings become more widely available, this tradition continues to find new adherents attracted by his comprehensive vision of Christian faith. But what defines the Kuyperian tradition? Renowned South African theologian and philosopher Craig Bartholomew has written the first systematic introduction to this tradition. Drawing on Kuyper’s entire corpus, Bartholomew has identified the key themes and ideas that define this tradition, including worldview, sphere sovereignty, creation and redemption, the public square, and mission. He also goes beyond Kuyper to show how later thinkers developed these ideas. They include, among others, Herman Bavinck, J. H. Bavinck, Gerrit C. Berkouwer, and Herman Dooyeweerd. Widely known but little read, Kuyper is now receiving the global recognition that his fertile and influential thought deserves. Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition is an indispensable guide to one of the most significant schools of thought in the modern age.

Claudia Jefferies and Andy Denis: “Was the School of Salamanca proto-Austrian?”

An interesting-looking critique of Murray Rothbard’s reading of late Medieval economic thought:

In this paper we challenge Murray Rothbard’s interpretation of the School of Salamanca as proto-Austrian. We argue that Scholasticism is in goals and methods profoundly different from any modern school of economics, and that it is mistaken to use the Austrian school as a standard against which the Salamancans are to be appraised. Further, Rothbard’s interpretation is vitiated by a misconception of the specificity of the Austrian School: while the Salamancans bequeath a lasting heritage for 21st century economists, it is a broad contribution, one for many schools, and not at all one specific to the Austrian standpoint. Finally, the natural law tradition, which has been correctly identified as a continuity between early modern, classical and Austrian thought, far from an anticipation of scientific thinking in the Salamancans, constitutes a residue of religious thinking in the Austrians.

Gregory Baus: Dooyeweerd’s Conception of Societal Sphere Sovereignty

Abstract: Abraham Kuyper’s conception of societal sphere sovereignty has received various interpretations. Herman Dooyeweerd’s interpretation of sphere sovereignty develops Kuyper’s conception in terms of its being rooted in and motivated from a distinctly Christian religious orientation, and results in a view of society that is neither individualistic, nor collectivistic. In this paper Dooyeweerd’s philosophically elaborated account is examined in terms of his notions of a basic creational diversity; modality and individuality structures; societal communities; sovereignty over-against autonomy/decentralization, and subsidiarity; distinct inner structural principles, the intrinsic limit of state power, and non-individualism. A consistent application of Dooyeweerd’s conception of sphere sovereignty to the question of the status of education as a sovereign sphere, and the propriety of its tax-based support, results in the conclusion that, according to Dooyeweerd’s view, the state does not properly possess the competence to fund schooling through taxation in any form.

You can find several version of Baus’ paper here.