The Calvinist origins of Lockean political economy

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Criticisms of John Locke as a ‘bourgeois’ or ‘possessive individualist’ have been hotly contested since their appearance in the 1950s and 1960s. Locke's defenders have countered that his economic thought was governed by doctrines of charity, community and the public good. This project of recovering a kinder, gentler Locke has brought with it an emphasis on the centrality of Grotius and Pufendorf to seventeenth-century discussions of natural law. Still, the emergence of the ‘Grotius-Pufendorf thesis’ may have eclipsed other sources of Locke's political economy. I will suggest that Locke's writings on trade and economic accumulation are better understood in light of a seventeenth-century economic discourse of pamphlets, tracts and sermons rooted in the practical theology of Calvinism.

Keywords: Calvinism; Charity; Civil society; Distributive justice; John Locke; Money and Banking; Natural law; Origins of neoclassical economic theory; Political economy; Private Property; Seventeenth-century economic discourse; luxury; spoilage; the public good

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, 214 Stiteler Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215, USA.. Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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