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The ideological commitment of Locke: freemen and servants in the Two Treatises of Government

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It would be good to end the controversy over Locke's ideological orientation. In the most well-known of recent commentaries on Locke's political thought his ideological placement ranges across the spectrum. Ashcraft believes Locke's thought is that of a radical left-wing revolutionary; Macpherson argues that the Second Treatise provided a conservative justification for the class rule of the rising bourgeoisie; and Gough finds that Locke stands mid-way between the two extreme positions in politics, ‘his position is not, however, exactly mid-way between these two extremes, but inclines somewhat toward the left’. Each of these analyses rests largely on a particular interpretation of Locke's view of the franchise in the Two Treatises of Government (1690), and this kind of ideological analysis is historically problematic. Yet the premise seems plausible: the authoritarian, arbitrary rule of an absolute sovereign is the position of the far right in seventeenth-century England, and egalitarian popular democracy is the position of the far left at this time. Given this structure, Locke does stand between the extremes, but he is inclined towards the right. This is the position argued for in this essay: Locke's seemingly radical arguments were designed to reinforce socially conservative beliefs. Presenting the evidence for Locke's ideological commitment may help illuminate some other unsettled, secondary, points of interpretation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Lambuth University.

Publication date: 1992-04-01

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