Catholic Political Thought & John Locke: Part I

by Joe Hargrave

It is becoming fashionable in the now and unfortunately familiar leftist-traditionalist alliance to gang up on the political ideas of John Locke as the source and origin of all that is anti-Catholic in Anglo-American politics. Articles in the Distributist Review, books by certain prolific authors, and blog posts appearing on certain sites, all have produced the equivalent of a picture of Locke with devil horns and perhaps a long, thin moustache to twirl while he’s tying hapless girls to the railroad tracks. There’s certainly no denying that Locke was himself opposed to what he thought Catholicism was. But sometimes, even the enemies of the Church are sharing her premises in spite of themselves.

Catholics, for instance, tend to forget that it was the great mind of St. Robert Bellarmine that opposed the would-be autocracy of the Stuart monarchy in Britain in the person of James I (as I understand it, St. Robert put the king to shame). This is the same dynasty whose deposition at the end of the same century would be justified by Locke in his famous Second Treatise of Civil Government (ST). It seems rather natural and unsurprising, then, that Locke’s arguments against divine kingship and for the social contract would borrow from and in some cases replicate the thought of St. Robert. For instance, the latter, in De Laicis, ch.6, writes:

Divine law gives this power [to rule] to no particular man, therefore Divine law gives this power to the collected body. Furthermore, in the absence of positive law, there is no good reason why, in a multitude of equals, one rather than another should dominate. Therefore, power belongs to the collected body…

[I]ndividual forms of government in specific instances derive from the law of nations, not from the natural law, for, as is evident, it depends on the consent of the people to decide whether kings, or consuls, or other magistrates are to be established in authority over them; and, if there be legitimate cause, the people can change a kingdom into an aristocracy, or an aristocracy into a democracy, and vice versa… (emphasis added)

And this is Locke, from the ST, Sec. 95:

Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent… when any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.

Thus we have a clear example of a Catholic author, one of the greatest in history, arguing for government by consent long before Locke had written anything on the topic. Other examples, such as Francesco Suarez of the Salamanca school, could also be brought forward, but this ought to suffice for now. In my next post I will examine Locke’s views in much greater depth; for the remainder of this post, however, I want to focus on few other theorists to set the stage.

Beginning with Machiavelli, and reaching a fevered pitch in the works of Thomas Hobbes and Jean Jacques-Rousseau, opposition to the Church from the early-modern political philosophers derived almost entirely from the obstacle that the Church posed to the consolidation of national power, as well as the loyalty of citizens to the state. In book 1, Chapter 12 of his Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli blames the Church exclusively for Italy’s relative weakness:

This is that the Church has kept and still keeps this province (country) of ours divided: and Truly any country never was united or happy, except when it gave its obedience entirely to one Republic or one Prince, as has happened to France and Spain. And the reason that Italy is not in the same condition, and is not also governed by one Republic or one Prince, is solely the Church…

This more specific and local concern of Machiavelli’s, however, is dwarfed by the invective that Thomas Hobbes displayed for the Catholic Church. In the final chapter of Leviathan, after having mocked the Church by comparing it to a fictional kingdom of faeries, he writes:

To this and such like resemblances between the papacy and the kingdom of fairies may be added this, that as the fairies have no existence but in the fancies of ignorant people, rising from the traditions of old wives or old poets: so the spiritual power of the Pope (without the bounds of his own civil dominion) consisteth only in the fear that seduced people stand in of their excommunications, upon hearing of false miracles, false traditions, and false interpretations of the Scripture.

It was not therefore a very difficult matter for Henry the Eighth by his exorcism; nor for Queen Elizabeth by hers, to cast them out.

Of course, readers must know that the aim of Hobbes was to justify an absolute monarchy; throughout Leviathan, this explicit contempt for the Church is on display as the chief obstacle to uniformity and consensus under the great monarch – whether from the clergy itself, or from the universities, which Hobbes charged with perverting the “pure” Gospel with the vain philosophy of Aristotle. The Church demands loyalty to Christ before the king; in the Hobbesian view, it is the king and not the pope who must decide what loyalty to Christ consists of.

Rousseau is even more clear in his view of the Church as an obstacle to civil unity, and the source of all division and dissention in society. First I will note that in book 4, chapter 8 of The Social Contract, Rousseau pays direct homage to Hobbes as the foundation of his treatment of civil religion:

There is a third sort of religion of a more singular kind, which gives men two codes of legislation, two rulers, and two countries, renders them subject to contradictory duties, and makes it impossible for them to be faithful both to religion and to citizenship. Such are the religions of the Lamas and of the Japanese, and such is Roman Christianity, which may be called the religion of the priest. It leads to a sort of mixed and anti-social code which has no name…

Of all Christian writers, the philosopher Hobbes alone has seen the evil and how to remedy it, and has dared to propose the reunion of the two heads of the eagle [church and state], and the restoration throughout of political unity, without which no State or government will ever be rightly constituted.

Rousseau, like Hobbes, believed in a sort of “original” Gospel that was later corrupted by the Catholic Church, undoubtedly as a justification for their “exorcism” of the Church from the state. But his real motivation is obvious; speaking directly of the Catholic Church, of this “third sort of religion” contra the “pure” Gospels and a pure civil religion a la ancient Rome:

All that destroys social unity is worthless; all institutions that set man in contradiction to himself are worthless.

Rousseau surmises his view of the place of the Church within society on the following note – a note which, I am sorry to say, is shared by almost everyone on the left today, even among many Catholics:

But whoever dares to say: Outside the Church is no salvation, ought to be driven from the State, unless the State is the Church, and the prince the pontiff.

Insidiously, today the left argues for the banishment of the Church from politics on the grounds that we have a “separation of Church and State”, when in reality it was the very presence of the Church that for so long guaranteed, if not a true “separation”, a clear recognition of the differences between the temporal and spiritual authority, with the latter keeping the former in check. It was the Papacy that dared to correct kings and restrain their limitless ambitions throughout the Middle Ages, and for this it became intolerable to those who dreamed of total authority and absolute government.

As we see in the writings of St. Robert, moreover, and as we would find in other Catholic writers of the era, the power of the king is not unlimited. This is not merely because the Church has rights which must be respected by all human authority, but also because the Church, especially after the synthesis with Aristotelian thought, acknowledged the social contract, the notion that men are equal with respect to their natural rights, and that while authority ultimately flows from God, particular governments exist legitimately only through the consent of the governed.

It ought to be clear by now that John Locke, in opposing absolute government, the “divine right of kings”, and other authoritarian pretensions, shares very little in common with Hobbes or Rousseau on these points. It ought also to be clear that he shares a great deal more in common with St. Robert than many are typically willing to acknowledge. In my next post, I will show how the political thought of Pope Leo XIII, which is based on this tradition, overlaps with the political thought of Locke in the ST in several crucial areas. Stay tuned!

Link to Part II

Link to Part III

53 Responses to Catholic Political Thought & John Locke: Part I

  • This is great! You have completely justified and crystallized in much better argument what I only had a faint and difficult top explain inkling was the case; I thank you!

  • From my grossly minimal knowledge of philosophy: I think Locke viewed man as inherently good. Hobbes man as inherently evil. I think that the Founding Fathers were closer to Locke’s world view than Hobbes. I think the drafters of the Constitution feared big, powerful central government run (I assume) by Hobbesian man, I guess.

    In view of Church teaching on man’s fallen nature and Original Sin, I’m not sure who is “correct.” I am sure I am a sinner (far worse than anybody here) and only grace, prayer, and Christ can save me. But, that has little to do with political society or the economy.

    I think (look out below!) if Rousseau were alive today he would believe (as you wrote) that the Obamma regime and the demagog party are “an obstacle to civil unity, and the source of all division and dissention in society.” Just disagree with them and see what happens.

    I agree in large part (government has a limited role: I am not a complete ‘laissez-faire’ person) with the reviewer of the Ferrara book that, “Liberalism, both political and economic, that has destroyed Christian civilization and brought the entire Western world to the brink of total ruin.”

    Evidence: LBJ’s Great Society spent $1 trillion in 1960’s dollars on poverty programs. After all that the unemployment and poverty rates were unchanged. Obama has in two years borrowed $3 trillion more than $trillions in tax receipts and . . . no economic growth . . . 10% unemployment . . . millions of foreclosures . . .

  • Joe,

    You are very well read and very well studied. I have a background in political science, but not so much in political philosophy. My educated guess would be much of what you say is probably correct. Personally this has provoked me to study more of these writers. I suspect the truth is probably so where in the middle though.

    The only thing I would caution Catholics to consider is this. Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau & others were very active Freemasons. If we take seriously what the Church teaches us regarding Freemasonry these folks deep and thorough involvement in it should greatly concern us. That is not to say they didn’t get certain things correct or write/speak some truth. We shouldn’t throw the baby (the truth) out with the bath water. This leads me to ask an old question for me.

    How much of thought of the Enlightenment, liberalism and Freemasonry is true? How much of this thought is compatible with Catholic Social Ethics, i.e. a Catholic view on the State, government, etc. There is where your post(s) are very helpful Joe.

  • I might add that the Church doesn’t quote one time from Bellarmine or Suarez in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church or in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church. That doesn’t seem to me to be a very strong endorsement of their thought on our topic.

    How many times is either Bellarmine or Suarez quoted in any Papal social encyclical?

  • There is a deep, deep incompatibility between Lockean political thought and Catholic social thought. That incompatibility lies at a level much deeper than the level at which Joe is working. Once Joe’s series has run it’s course, I’ll post some of my work in this area, which has been a focus of mine over the past few years.

  • I might add that the Church doesn’t quote one time from Bellarmine or Suarez in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church or in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church. That doesn’t seem to me to be a very strong endorsement of their thought on our topic.

    You are correct in noting this, David. Bellarmine is a relatively minor figure in the history of Catholic political thought, closer to a Giles of Rome than a Thomas Aquinas in terms of enduring influence. As for Suarez, it is generally agreed that he perverted Aquinas’ doctrine of natural law, like much of the Salamanca school. Like I said, I’ll defend these claims down the road when Joe finishes his series.

  • David,

    All I can say with regard to the Compendium is, “so what”? As far as I know not a single political philosopher is quoted by name in the compendium. It’s a compendium of papal encyclicals, not works of political theory. I could be wrong I suppose, but if there are political philosophers mentioned there let me know.

    It’s unfortunate that St. Robert, one of the 33 people in history to be named Doctor of the Church, is dismissed by MJ as a “minor figure”, but as the next post will show, Pope Leo XIII, no minor figure he, and the originator of CST as we know it today, was certainly in his tradition.

    “Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau & others were very active Freemasons.”

    Are you certain about that? I don’t think any of them were confirmed masons, to be honest with you – not that it matters really.

    The point here isn’t to put a halo on Locke’s head. The point is to show that there is a tradition in Catholic political thought that is closer to many Lockean conceptions than is typically realized. This will help many Catholics who have been struggling to reconcile their Catholicism with their patriotism, especially in an era during which a lot of statist ideas are being put forward as the nominally “Catholic” position.

    Of course, I don’t see the “deeper level”, though I would call the level at which I am working the “relevant level.”

  • Let me guess, you are going to argue that Rerum Novarum adopts a Lockeian theory of property. I agree that Rerum Novarum does trade on Lockeian ideas in some areas; in other parts, though, it articulates a more traditional Thomist account of property that is incompatible with the Lockeian account. Why? Well, as in any encyclical, there are a variety of influences in the text, and the text must be read as a whole, and then in conjunction with the rest of Church’s teaching.

    I have a question for you, though, about the very great difference you seem to think there is between Locke and Hobbes. What keeps Locke’s state of nature from devolving into Hobbes? How is Locke’s anthrolopology at bottom any different from Hobbes? (I am guessing that this may have something to do with the deeper but apparently irrelevant level that MJ Andrew was referring to.)

  • The Thomist account is not incompatible with the Lockean account. If it were, Leo’s encyclical would be contradicting itself. In fact, in the one place in RR that Leo cites Aquinas on property, he may as well have cited Locke from the First Treatise – a point I will cover in the next post, if you will give me time and not jump the gun.

    “as in any encyclical, there are a variety of influences in the text”

    Some which are repressed and forgotten for convenience.

    ” and the text must be read as a whole, and then in conjunction with the rest of Church’s teaching.”

    So you assume I don’t read the text “as a whole”? Well, I suppose the readers can judge for themselves. As for the rest of the Church’s teaching, it’s obvious that there are competing schools of thought on non-dogmatic issues.

    ” What keeps Locke’s state of nature from devolving into Hobbes?”

    I’ve addressed this, actually. But it is related to your second question:

    “How is Locke’s anthrolopology at bottom any different from Hobbes? ”

    To put it in the simplest of terms, Hobbes’ view of man was deterministic, while Locke’s was not. And that’s a huge difference. It’s one of the major differences between Calvinism and Catholicism, for instance. Anyone who starts from the premise that men are created free and with reason by God is going to have to share some Catholic premises.

    Yes, freedom is corrupted by original sin, but it is not blotted out by it. And that’s dogmatically defined by the Council of Trent. Hobbes on the other hand, like Machiavelli, has a view of man as steeped in total depravity, much like Luther and Calvin.

    Nowhere is this more evident than in their different views on the state of nature. Have you ever compared Hobbes and Locke on that score?

    I’m not saying that Locke is a crypto-Catholic. But I am saying that we have a political tradition in this country that is very Lockean, and that Catholics have a tradition that overlaps with the Lockean one in several key areas. That doesn’t make them identical. Obviously we would reach a point at which the Lockean and the Catholic would have to part ways. But its a lot later than the Catholic and the neo-Hobbesian.

  • Of course, I don’t see the “deeper level”, though I would call the level at which I am working the “relevant level.”

    You don’t see a any deeper than the superficial similarities in general conclusions on where political legitimacy rests? The surface similarities to which you point are, indeed, relevant to a discussion of Lockean political thought and Catholic social thought only if such an analysis digs under the surface, revealing the deep incongruities between the two models. This deeper ground is relevant–indeed, more relevant insofar as upon it rests the conclusions between which you attempt to detect similarities. At this deeper level is the intelligibility of the good, practical rationality, natural rights, the epistemic status of natural law, and the justification for governance. That’s where there is little to no convergence between Locke and the Catholic social tradition. That seems to me to be awfully relevant to the assimilation project you are attempting.

    I have a question for you, though, about the very great difference you seem to think there is between Locke and Hobbes. What keeps Locke’s state of nature from devolving into Hobbes? How is Locke’s anthrolopology at bottom any different from Hobbes?

    I know you addressed this question to Joe, and I am curious, myself, as to how he will answer it. In his post, Joe tries to distance Locke from Hobbes, but a close examination of Locke’s Questions Concerning the Law of Nature (Joe so far has referred sparingly only to Locke’s Second Treatise, which itself does not help Joe’s cause), one is struck how very similar Locke and Hobbes are on questions of epistemology and natural right, which ground their respective political philosophies. In fact, Locke was dogged throughout his career by accusations of being a Hobbesian, and the verdict is still out among the very best Locke scholars as to the degree to which Locke took over Hobbes’ project (Locke even lies in some of his works about having never read Hobbes, yet he quotes the latter without citation on multiple occasions).

    To put it in the simplest of terms, Hobbes’ view of man was deterministic, while Locke’s was not. And that’s a huge difference.

    This is a very simplistic way to look at it. The sections on freedom and determinism in Locke’s Essay tell a very different story. Locke accepted determinism of the will but without Hobbes’ mechanistic explanation of human behavior.

  • The Thomist account is not incompatible with the Lockean account. If it were, Leo’s encyclical would be contradicting itself. In fact, in the one place in RR that Leo cites Aquinas on property, he may as well have cited Locke from the First Treatise – a point I will cover in the next post, if you will give me time and not jump the gun.

    Considering that the First Treatise is a negative account of natural right, directly primarily against Filmer, appealing to it does not give us Locke’s positive account of private property, which is what you would need to justify your claim about Leo XIII. Furthermore, Thomas and Leo XIII give a derivative account of the right to property where Locke gives an account of it as an absolute, natural right. I am very curious, indeed, to see how you could possibly assimilate these two accounts of private property.

  • It’s unfortunate that St. Robert, one of the 33 people in history to be named Doctor of the Church, is dismissed by MJ as a “minor figure”, but as the next post will show, Pope Leo XIII, no minor figure he, and the originator of CST as we know it today, was certainly in his tradition.

    Careful with your selective quotation. I said that Bellarmine is a minor figure in the history of Catholic social thought. Bellarmine’s honors of Cardinal, Doctor, and Saint are much deserved in light of his furious work on behalf of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

  • Joe,

    I’m sorry, but Thomas’ account of property *is* fundamentally incompatible with Locke’s account of property. Now, you can emphasize aspects of Thomas’ account that bear a certain resemblance to Locke’s, and vice versa, but at bottom the accounts are incompatible–for many of the reasons that MJ Andrew implies in his comment above.

    From this fact it does not follow that Leo’s encyclical is “contradicting itself.” Rather there are tensions *internal* to the encyclical that need to be addressed. And I do look forward to your presentation–I’m not trying to rain on your parade here. I’ll wait and hear you out.

    I also am not persuaded by your account of the difference between Locke and Hobbes on the state of nature. What has always troubled Locke scholars (as MJ Andrew, again, points out) is that Locke *appears* to distance himself from Hobbes without providing us with sufficient philosphical warrant to conclude that he in fact *has* distanced himself from Hobbes. I’m not saying that Locke is just a Hobbesian–I’m not a Locke scholar–but I am saying that the relationship between Locke and Hobbes is far less cut and dry than you present it as being. I know enough to know this.

  • MJ Andrew,

    Do you think that Leo XIII *consistently* offers a derivative account of private property in RN? I am not so sure that he does.

  • MJ Andrew,

    Do you think that Leo XIII *consistently* offers a derivative account of private property in RN? I am not so sure that he does.

    I have a similar worry about RN as you. I tend to look at it not so much as the Pope being inconsistent so much as vague and, at times, sloppy with his terminology. The latter papal encyclicals, I think, do a nice job of cleaning up RN’s positions on property and labor, and further developing them. This is not to take anything away from RN, for it is the cornerstone of Catholic social thought and the most innovative and creative encyclical in the tradition. Plus, I don’t think the later developments are intelligible without the light of RN.

  • Joe – I am not the enemy here. I am just making some observations.

    Yes of course Locke, Hobbes, & Rousseau were Freemasons. Do a Google search with Freemasonry & one of their names. One might also add that their thought was significantly promoted through the Lodge network(s). Leo XIII and numerous other Popes claimed that Freemasonry is Satanic therefore should any Catholic be such a vocal cleerleader of Freemason like Locke? Is Lock’s thought closer to Freemasonry than Catholicism? Once again I refer folks to Leo XIII’s encyclical letter on Freemasonry, HUMANUM GENUS. In this encyclical he addresses many of the items discussed in this post and comments, i.e. the State, human nature, Naturalism, political doctrines, etc.

    No less than 13 “Church Writers” are quoted in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, including Augustine & Aquinas.

    MJ – Anybody who drink beer and plays guitar is a hero of mine. I look forward to your future posts on this topic.

    Team American Catholic – I don’t know what planet I’ve been on, but I just discovered Evangelical Catholicism and Joe’s blog. Both sites are very good.

  • Joe – I have one simple (or not) request of you. I am making a honest request. Please realize that I am from Missouri. Show me the Papal social documents (i.e. encyclicals) which reference St. Bellarmine or Suarez. We must think with the mind of the Church (& our Holy Fathers). Show me please.

  • David,

    While I disagree with Joe on many issues, let’s not get too much into who is or who is not a Freemason. One most explore issues beyond such affiliations; a person who is a Freemason can still give good political thought, even if other elements of their thought is wrong. Catholic thought generally recognizes the truth in error, and so one is capable of engaging those in error and see some elements of truth nonetheless remain, sometimes important chunks of truth.

    Also, the history of Freemasonry is more complex than most people know; there is not just “one” Freemason tradition. Joseph de Maistre, of all people, was a Freemason — and yet one of the strongest opponents of the Revolution and supporters of ultramontanist thought. Joseph’s thought was not always correct, but highly influential with key figures at Vatican I.

    Now as for Locke, the problem is more than he was a mason; the problem is with the general system. Of course elements of truth are found in it, and sometimes a good which needed to be discerned — but, as is also clear, he often absolutizes a relative good, and thus turns it into an idol, and that is a big problem.

  • MJ,

    “You don’t see a any deeper than the superficial similarities in general conclusions on where political legitimacy rests?”

    Of course I do. I was being sarcastic. I said in the post I would be examining Locke and Leo in the next post.

    So, at that time, your, and WJ’s, and David’s, and all others questions will hopefully be settled, issues addressed, problems solved, and all that.

    I’m thinking it will be up on Monday. And yes, I have answers to all of them :)

  • Also, don’t assume that I can’t use the First Treatise to my ends :) I can, and, I will.

  • Also, as I understand it, much of the dispute has been over the extent to which Locke was replying to, and not agreeing with, Hobbes as opposed to Filmer.

    That Locke was not a Hobbesian is evident to those who, well, read them. One was justifying absolute government, and the other was justifying the exact opposite.

    Yes, I’m aware that in other works besides their political writings, it is argued that they may have had more similarities. I’m also aware that because of this, and for other reasons, many commentators see a contradiction between the Second Treatise and these other works in which Locke more resembles Hobbes.

    But I don’t see how that is relevant. The point here isn’t to defend Locke’s views on everything.

    As I am going to argue in part III, the whole point of this is to establish the common ground between a Lockean tradition among American libertarians and conservatives (which is, really, a Second Treatise tradition, and not necessarily a “whole of Locke’s thoughts on every topic” tradition), and the Catholic political tradition.

    Perhaps that clears things up a bit?

  • Your follow-up comments are very helpful. Thank you. I look forward to this discussion.

  • I may actually finish part II sooner than I thought. I may have it up soon.

  • The best Catholic critiques of John Locke come from Patrick Deneen and Peter Augustine Lawler.

    I highly recommend this talk for a good critique of Locke.

    I don’t think Locke was right about everything, but I don’t think the fact that he had some of his principles screwed up means that the United States is irrecoverably flawed, or that liberalism is per se “incompatible” with Catholic political philosophy or Catholic Social Thought. After all, political liberalism is not the work of one man alone (John Locke) as much as some would like to have us think.

    The American Founding is notpurely or even essentially Lockean. The American Founding was heavily influenced by classical political philosophy and perhaps more significantly, puritanism. One cannot ignore these influences in evaluating American government.

  • I don’t disagree, Zach, but at the same time, I think in most of the contemporary conservative/libertarian arguments I hear for private property, there is a strong influence of Locke. That’s coming up in part III of my series. Part II is up now. Go read it!

  • Yes of course Locke, Hobbes, & Rousseau were Freemasons. Do a Google search with Freemasonry & one of their names.

    Actually I did just that and was not able to find any reliable evidence that any of the three were Freemasons. Frankly the whole issue seems like a distraction.

  • Blackadder – I have to go teach RCIA, but I will provide some links for your review. The evidence of Locke’s Freemasonry is very strong… In his own writings he wrote about the Masonic rite(s). By no means am I saying this is all there is to this discussion, but it’s not a distraction. One of the primary means (or vehicles) to promote Enlightenment thought (& liberalism) in Europe and the Americas (North, Central & South) was through the Masonic Lodge network. Now folks like to ignore the topic of Freemasonry, but considering more Holy Fathers have written against it than any other organization in the history of the Church one should not consider it a distraction especially when the man we are talking about was a Freemason. I might add what the evidence clearly shows as well is that Locke’s thought was specifically and throughly promoted throughout the Masonic Lodge network as well. This is not a distraction, but directly related to the topic…

  • John Locke’s association with freemasonry rests on a letter he allegedly wrote to the Earl of Pembroke on May 6, 1696. That letter is spurious.

    “Letter to Pembroke, 6 May 1696
    A spurious letter discussing a fabricated document on early freemasonry. The forgery has been exposed by several authors: J. O. Halliwell, The early history of Freemasonry in England (1840); G. Soane, New curiosities of literature (1847; includes a reprint of the Gentleman’s magazine article); S. Gibson, “The philologist and the forger” (1920); and J. R. Clarke, “John Locke and Freemasonry” (1965). The letter is again reprinted (without explicit rejection) by C. E. Jones, “John Locke and masonry : a document” (1966)

    A36

    “Copy of a small pamphlet, consisting of 12 pages in octavo, printed at Franckfort, in Germany, in 1748, entitled, Ein Brief vondem beruehmten Herrn Herrn Johann Locke, betreffend die Frey-Maureren … that is, A letter of the famous Mr. John Locke, relating to Free-Masonry …” // IN: The gentleman’s magazine. Vol. 23 (1753):417-420.

    A37

    “A letter of the learned Mr. John Locke to the Rt. Hon. Thomas Earl of Pembroke, with an old manuscript on the subject of free-masonry.” // IN: The pocket companion and history of free-masons. Containing their origine, progress, and present state … The second edition. Revised, corrected, and greatly enlarged throughout, and continued down to this time in all its parts. … London: printed for R. Baldwin; P. Davey and B.Law; and J. Scott. 1759. 12o. Page 250-259.

    The Companion was compiled by Jonathan Scott.

    A38

    “A letter from the learned Mr. John Locke, to the Right Hon. Thomas Earl of Pembroke, with an old manuscript on the subject of free-masonry. 6th May 1696.” // IN: The spirit of masonry in moral and elucidatory lectures. By Wm Hutchinson … London, printed for J. Wilkie and W. Goldsmith. 1775. 8o. In the appendix (17, [1] p. at end)

    C 83

    A39

    “A letter of the celebrated John Locke, Esquire, to the Right Hon. ***, Earl of ***, with an old manuscript, on the antiquity of free-masonry.” // IN: Ahiman rezon abridged and digested: as a help to all that are, or would be free and accepted masons. … Published by order of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, by William Smith … Philadelphia: printed by Hall and Sellers. 1783. 8o. Pages 1-11.

    New

    A39A

    A letter of the famous Mr. John Locke, relating to Free-masonry : found in the desk or scritoir of a deceased brother. – [St. Peter Port,] Guernsey : Toucan Press, 1981. – [4] p.

    Photocopy of Locke #A36, with a typed imprint.”

    http://www.libraries.psu.edu/tas/locke/bib/ch0o.html

  • Very quickly here are just a couple links which discuss Locke’s involvement with Freemasonry. These links are from Masonic sources. By no means is this all there is, but it’s a start. Google books also provides many references in various books on exactly this topic.

    Refer to the section under John Locke
    http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/freemasonry_enlightenment.html

    Go into the body and this specific topic is discussed there as well.
    http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/Davidson.html

    A very interesting article regarding Locke being a Freemason, but also its relationship with Catholicism.
    Whence came the Moral Law in Freemasonry?
    http://www.freemasoninformation.com/2010/09/whence-came-the-moral-law-in-freemasonry/

  • Locke was also an active member of the Royal Society.
    http://www.transitofvenus.co.nz/explorations/fmrs_aod.html

    Let’s talk about the Royal Society connection to Freemasonry, which even the Catholic Encyclopedia recognizes.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09771a.htm

    “Like the Royal Society, of which a large and most influential proportion of the first Freemasons were members [36]”
    [36] Begemann, “Vorgeschichte,” II, 1910, 127 sq., 137 sq.

  • David,

    One of the links you provide says that Locke has been claimed as a Mason based on a letter he wrote but admits that this is “weak evidence.” The other says he was a Mason based on the same letter. From the link Donald cites, it appears that the letter in question wasn’t even written by Locke.

    I urge you to please forget about this Masonic conspiracy mongering nonsense. It poisons the mind.

  • I don’t think Locke was a Freemason, for what it’s worth. I don’t think Masonry really became the menace we know today until the 18th century.

  • Joe is brilliant as normal. He actually brings up a very important and insight point above in his last comment. I shall explain why below.

    Was there/is there a Masonic conspiracy? What does the Church history show us? I will use the old Catholic Encyclopedia as our primary reference point, because it’s a source I assume we all trust.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09771a.htm

    Freemasonry has been condemned in no less than 17 Papal documents and its current condemnation of the organization stands per Cardinal Ratzinger when he was asked as the Prefect of the CDF. Two of those documents were in the 18th century, the first was in 1738. The modern Lodge began approximately 21 years before that point in history. It was only after 1738 that Catholics were forbidden admittance into the Lodge… If Catholics became active members of the Lodge at the point in history forward they incurred excommunication.

    The evidence from Masonic source(s) themselves show that Locke was a Freemason. Masons themselves believed/believe Locke was one of them and they heavily promoted his thought along with other Enlightenment thinkers throughout their history. I would encourage folks to read the ENTIRE paragraph in its context that Blackadder is referencing above in his comment.

    http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/Davidson.html

    The Leland Manuscript whose authenticity is questioned above (by Donald’s link) is actually believed by Masons to be authentic. It’s actually referenced in the Master Mason Edition of the Holy Bible which is given to all Master Masons. This manuscript was also validated by Albert Mackey who was one of the foremost experts in Masonic history. Perception is reality.

    Here’s the critical points that one must consider in Locke’s case. One cannot be anachronistic, which means to project a more recent period into the past.

    1. Locke was not a Catholic. He was an Anglican/Puritan. The Papal pronouncements came long after his death and they were not aimed directly at non-Catholics.

    2. He was allegedly a Freemason before the Church condemned the organization. Catholics could be members of the Lodge in his era and remain in good standing with the Church.

    Thank you Donald, Blackadder and Joe for the correction. I am 110% pure Hillbilly. My mind runs slower than all of you high-speed folks.

  • As a side-note I noticed that Leo XIII condemned Freemasonry in no less then in 5 Papal pronouncements (2 encyclicals). Refer to the above linked Catholic Ency. link on Masonry (Freemasonry) in Part VIII Action of state and Church authorities.

    It would be an interesting study to compare those docs with other social docs of Leo XIII. To understand Leo’s thought we have to study more than just Rerum Novarum (RN), but also his thought on Freemasonry, liberalism, modernism, and his promotion of Aquinas studies. We must also put his thought in the historical context of which he was living in Italy at that time.

  • I do thank Joe for his work here. There is clearly a stream in Catholicism that rejects the American project on a disordered understanding of its founding including the influence of Locke (see Cardinal George and I believe David Schindler.)

    I suspect that if one detaches oneself from the philosophical prejudices of those mentioned above, one can find that the American experiment in self-government, private property etc. is consistent with Natural Law and with CST.

  • Phillip – you are correct my friend about David Schindler. Add to that list of outstanding Catholic scholars the following names: Tracey Rowland, Thomas R. Rourke, Kenneth R. Craycraft Jr., Robert P. Kraynak, & James Kalb to cite just a few.

  • Once again, as Michael pointed out, one can point to superficial connections between Locke and CST but that is as far as it goes. The different ordering of goods is, in itself, fundamental. Just because you can find both saying X is a good does not mean they will nonetheless therefore be the same. Locke reorders the goods, and that reordering is where Locke harms society.

    Let’s take this out of the realm of politics and into the realm of epistemology. This should help to show the error of Joe’s methodology.

    Locke’s epistemology is often called “sensism.” For the sake of time (serious things are going down in my life, but I still need to think of things outside of them), here is what the CE said about Locke’s sensism:

    Locke derives all simple ideas from external experience (sensations), all compound ideas (modes, substances, relations) from internal experience (reflection). Substance and cause are simply associations of subjective phenomena; universal ideas are mere mental figments. Locke admits the existence, though he denies the demonstrability, in man of an immaterial and immortal principle, the soul.

    Now, one can, from that, see the nominalistic undercurrent in his thought. Moreover, it is clear his emphasis is on the senses and our knowledge comes from them.

    So somoene like Joe can go aha! Locke is with the Catholics! Catholics also accept the senses as a source of data! Locke is fine after all! Happy times!

    Anyone see the problem?

  • Yes. It is amazing such smart people can be so wrong. What comes to mind is a transcript I read of an interview with David Schindler after Centesimus Annus came out. He discussed how CST condemned capitalism. He mentioned no qualifications in that statement. This after CA had noted that capitalism, properly understood, was compatible with CST.

    Ideology of any kind can blind people to the truth. Even outstanding Catholic scholars and prelates.

  • Phillip,

    Do you have that reference about Schindler saying that CA “condemned” capitalism handy? (I’m not questioning you, I just want to read it.)

    Of course, Novak interpreted CA as saying that the Pope *endorsed* capitalism, which amounts to the same distortion of the encyclical.

    It all turns on what means by “capitalism,” and whether our current system most closely approximates capitalism1 or capitalism2.

  • Would have to look it up. Came across it while Googling something else. Having read CA in a Social Justice class just shortly beforehand I was struck by the clearly incorrect tone. So I am pretty sure that was Schindler’s position. In more recent readings of his he is more reticent in his condemnation. I believe because he has gotten the point.

    I disagree somewhat whether we are in capitalism1 or 2. I think there are those that are applying that condemned in CA and those who applying that which is “endorsed” in CA. And then, as always, there is a mix of the two.

  • That Locke was not a Hobbesian is evident to those who, well, read them. One was justifying absolute government, and the other was justifying the exact opposite.

    I see you’ve got the other posts up now (I was away during much of the weekend), so I’ll save my comments for a later post on this very matter. However, the comment of yours above deserves a rejoinder. The best Locke scholars (no doubt a subset of those who read Locke) are not in agreement on how Hobbesian Locke is. Some think he is continuing and enhancing Hobbe’s project. Others think there are some crucial divergences between them. What is clear, however, is that Locke accepts the foundation of Hobbesian political philosophy, namely purely voluntarist nature of all law, the absence of moral right and wrong in the state of nature (and thereby the denial of any intrinsic good), and the baseless grounding of absolute rights in the individual. Bellarmine, indeed, would balk at this. Your claims about their divergence are about details of where the sovereign will resides. While that is, indeed, a difference, it is not a fundamental difference between their models of government and accounts of political legitimacy.

  • MJ,

    I know all that. So can I have an opinion of my own, or must it absolutely conform to what the best Locke scholars say? I’ve read the best Locke scholars. They all admit that Locke is difficult to interpret, that he has contradictions, etc.

    I don’t think it’s clear at all that there is a total absence of right and wrong in the state of nature according to Locke. As far as I can see, Locke only argues that in such a state men have a right to act on what they think is good.

    Now you may think Hobbes says the same thing, but I think there is an important difference – for Hobbes morality may as well not exist in a state of nature, without force to make it binding. For Locke, I think it can be argued that what is good intrinsically has to be embodied in a political community. It exists, but cannot function.

    That’s why I point to Locke’s discussion on charity in the First Treatise in Part II. The moral obligation to charity doesn’t come from the state (nor is it “grounded in the individual”) but from God. What Locke says about charity is almost identical to what some Catholic saints have said about it. Where does Hobbes talk about this? I don’t think he does, but I suppose I could have missed it.

  • Moreover, in the First Treatise, Locke declares that it is God who gives men the right to private property! I cover this in Part II.

  • Henry,

    I think you read part II, you will have to conclude, if you’re honest, that Leo and Locke’s agreements are far more than “superficial”, though I wouldn’t say they go all the way down to the philosophical core. How could they? Locke wasn’t a Catholic, after all.

    The point is that Locke was operating within a tradition that was Catholic. Hobbes explicitly rejects this entire tradition. Locke does not. He appropriates from it, and insofar as he does, he naturally comes into agreement with CST, at least as it was taught by Leo and a few others.

    I didn’t make these points in the posts because they’re just irrelevant. Locke’s political theory works as well – even better with, hence all of the confusion – natural law as it would with Hobbes’ philosophy. Locke was often writing for different reasons, with different emphases, and none of this really matters today outside of the academy. What’s important is that the libertarian/constitutionalist/conservative resistance to Big Brother has appropriated a great deal from Locke, specifically from those parts of his corpus that are obviously rooted in Christianity, and this moreover converges well with CST on many points.

  • Now you may think Hobbes says the same thing, but
    I’ve read the best Locke scholars. They all admit that Locke is difficult to interpret, that he has contradictions, etc.

    Then you know that the relation between Locke’s and Hobbes’ thought is not so cut and dried as you assert.

    I think there is an important difference – for Hobbes morality may as well not exist in a state of nature, without force to make it binding. For Locke, I think it can be argued that what is good intrinsically has to be embodied in a political community. It exists, but cannot function.

    For both Hobbes and Locke, this is no such thing as an intrinsic good in the state of nature or in civil society. For both Hobbes and Locke, what is “right” in the moral and legal sense is what the will of a sovereign declares. Something is good and/or right because the sovereign will has declared it so. That’s why Locke declares that there is no good or law apart from the sovereign will (and, thus, there is no natural law in the Catholic sense). If there is an intrinsic good, then there is a good such that it is unqualifiedly and unconditionally so. When you say “intrinsically has to be embodied in a political community,” you contradict yourself since, on that view, the good is conditioned by the existence of a civil society and, consequently, is not intrinsic. This is exactly where Locke and Hobbes are in lockstep, and, incidentally, why the foundations of each thinker’s political philosophy is utterly incompatible with the foundation of Catholic moral and social thought.

    That’s why I point to Locke’s discussion on charity in the First Treatise in Part II. The moral obligation to charity doesn’t come from the state (nor is it “grounded in the individual”) but from God. What Locke says about charity is almost identical to what some Catholic saints have said about it. Where does Hobbes talk about this? I don’t think he does, but I suppose I could have missed it.

    It seems to me that you are unclear about what Locke is doing in the First Treatise and about its relation to the Second Treatise. The First Treatise is not Locke’s political philosophy. His positive political philosophy is in the Second Treatise. In the First Treatise, Locke is working with Filmer’s assumptions about absolutism, divine right, and the biblical record in order to show where Filmer’s own account fails. Solely for the sake of argument, Locke adopts some of Filmer’s positions, none of which are actually Locke’s own positions. In the Second Treatise, Locke presents his own philosophy, and if you read carefully in light of Locke’s Essay, you find that Locke’s appeal to God is just smoke and mirrors. He presents two arguments for the foundations of political society. One, which is known as the “workmanship argument” and which argues from God’s creative power and intention, is intended to placate those with religious sympathies. But Locke subtly refutes this argument in the Second Treatise and explicitly rejects its premises in the Essay. Also, if you read his earlier work, Questions Concerning the Law of Nature, you see that God plays no role in the foundations of his political thought. The second argument, which is Locke’s real argument, leaves God out and builds a moral philosophy and doctrine of right for civil society out of epistemological empiricism (just like Hobbes!). This argument draws from regularities in the natural world, taking brute facts about human nature and constructing out of them moral precepts. Thus, Locke commits the old is/ought fallacy, which Hume, Kant, and Mill deliberately avoid committing in their respective political philosophies.

    Like you said, Locke is a tougher read than he initially appears to be! It seems to me that all this talk about “convergences” between Lockean political philosophy and CST is really just about superficial similarities that, when closely examined, reveal deep incongruity and incompatibility.

  • Mj:

    I think you’re mostly right when you criticize Joe here. I did have one question

    That’s why Locke declares that there is no good or law apart from the sovereign will (and, thus, there is no natural law in the Catholic sense).

    My understanding was that wasn’t entirely true. The law of contract would still hold i.e. if the will of the sovereign was against the social contract, the social contract would break and the people would be justified in rejecting the will of sovereign and the sovereign himself. So there would still be some good outside the will of the sovereign, right? Help sort me out if I’m missing something.

  • MJ,

    “Then you know that the relation between Locke’s and Hobbes’ thought is not so cut and dried as you assert.”

    I think I said that I was deliberately simplifying in the comments above, for the sake of moving on. So yes, I know. But what you do in this post is a stretch in the other direction, towards over-complication.

    “For both Hobbes and Locke, this is no such thing as an intrinsic good in the state of nature or in civil society”

    You speak of cut-and-dried assertions, but this seems like one to me. This is yet another one of those points, in fact, on which there isn’t much clarity. In fact I’m not even sure what it means to say that there is “intrinsic good in the state of nature.” The state of nature is usually just a device employed to illustrate why governments are necessary. They’re never really strictly historical accounts.

    That said, it is rather evident to me that Locke’s state of nature is not full of and always beset by innumerable evils as is Hobbes. It simply isn’t as desirable to a rational person as a political community. So I don’t really see where Locke specifically rejects the idea that outside the state there is no good at all. Perhaps some quotations would help?

    “That’s why Locke declares that there is no good or law apart from the sovereign will (and, thus, there is no natural law in the Catholic sense)”

    Where exactly does he say that? In sec. 135, he says,

    “Thus the law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make for other men’s actions, must, as well as their own and other men’s actions, be conformable to the law of nature, i.e. to the will of God, of which that is a declaration, and the fundamental law of nature being the preservation of mankind, no human sanction can be good, or valid against it.”

    I mean, am I blind or illiterate here, or is he saying the exact opposite of what you claim he is saying? The law of nature – identified here with the will of God – exists prior to the establishment of any sovereign. Good exists before and therefore apart from and outside of the state. The state is established to preserve certain goods, i.e. rights, that are in a stateless society hard for any individual or family to secure. It seems pretty simple, but you’re making it complicated.

    “If there is an intrinsic good, then there is a good such that it is unqualifiedly and unconditionally so. When you say “intrinsically has to be embodied in a political community,” you contradict yourself since, on that view, the good is conditioned by the existence of a civil society and, consequently, is not intrinsic.”

    Well, that line is ripped out of context, since I said right after that the good does exist – it just can’t function in the way it should in a stateless society, i.e. a state of war (which for Locke was not the permanent condition of a stateless society, but for Hobbes, is).

    I mean, is this really hard to understand? Good exists because God exists, all good flows from God. But we live in a fallen world in which we cannot live out consistently good lives without obtaining for ourselves a measure of community and security. And that is probably the main reason why both Locke and Leo believe that political society is divinely ordained, it is willed by God that we should create them, precisely so that we can lead good lives.

    “This is exactly where Locke and Hobbes are in lockstep, and, incidentally, why the foundations of each thinker’s political philosophy is utterly incompatible with the foundation of Catholic moral and social thought.”

    You haven’t shown that. You’ve just asserted it. Locke employs certain concepts of Hobbes’, but he clearly blends them with natural law, as we saw in sec. 135, and there are a few others that I could pull up as well.

    “It seems to me that you are unclear about what Locke is doing in the First Treatise and about its relation to the Second Treatise.”

    I’m really not. How about you read part II of my post before making further claims on that.

    ” The First Treatise is not Locke’s political philosophy. His positive political philosophy is in the Second Treatise.”

    Yeah, I know. Since you’re up to date on all the latest Locke scholarship, I’ll let you take on Jeremy Waldron, who I cite in part II on this. It really is irrelevant that they were written for different purposes. Unless we are to believe that Locke is just a flat-out moron, or so opportunistic that he really did argue two radically different things in two different works (without clearly stating that he had changed his views and for what reasons), then we have to assume that he somehow saw what he said about charity and what he said about property to be completely compatible.

    Indeed, in the FT he says about property almost exactly what he says in the ST – that justice entitles a man to the fruits of his labor (industry). But he makes the point to add the obligation of charity. Why he doesn’t mention it in the ST, we aren’t sure. But Waldron’s book that I cite makes a plausible argument about the compatibility of these conceptions.

    “Locke’s appeal to God is just smoke and mirrors”

    It’s really irrelevant, since he invoked God for the same reasons Catholics do – as the source of morality, of authority, of nature, etc. And really, unless we also argue that his appeal to charity was a boldfaced opportunistic lie to get one over on Filmer (and really why all of these harshly uncharitable assumptions?), then he had to take his appeal to God somewhat seriously.

    As for the rest, again, I’ve acknowledged and everyone acknowledges that there are some contradictions between Locke’s political philosophy and his epistemology. You seem to think that the latter is what he “really” held, while the former employed a bunch of ideas that he didn’t really believe in to dupe everyone.

    Well, the rouse worked, because he uses Christian natural law to make a pretty good case for private property, government by consent, the right to overturn unjust governments, and all the rest. I mean, I’ve said this about many atheists/naturalists – they’re always inconsistent in their moral and political philosophies because they want the holy bathwater without the divine child.

    So maybe Locke was an atheist or a Deist or some variety of that. In order to make a coherent argument to present to the world, he had no choice but to bring God into it. Maybe he realized how futile his epistemological project was, forcing ought out of is, and decided to bring back God (the ST was written after the questions, wasn’t it?) Or maybe he thought his audience wouldn’t grasp his efforts and so he put God in to “placate.” Whatever he did, I think he created an argument that worked, and in the end I’m not even sure he himself knew what he believed for certain – though of course I am speculating.

    Some of the best thinkers in history have some pretty bad contradictions. But there’s a lot we can learn from them nonetheless. As for your claim that the similarities are superficial, I think it’s bogus – because even if Locke was placating natural law, he used it well enough for whatever reasons to make the convergences far more than “superficial.” In fact I recently discovered that some of the men who drafted Rerum Novarum were consciously employing Locke in the arguments. I’ll find that info for you if you like.

  • Hmm. I appreciate that post Don but I think it belongs over on the Part III discussion! :)

  • Quite right Joe, and I have shifted it to part III. :)

  • I’m posting an addendum to address some of these disputes about Locke and natural law.

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