“A ‘Non-Lockean’ Locke and the Character of Liberalism”

Nathan Tarcov, “A ‘Non-Lockean’ Locke and the Character of Liberalism,” in Liberalism Reconsidered, ed. Douglas MacLean and Claudia Mills (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983).


Misunderstanding of Lockean liberalism helps to stimulate not only the historical search for non-Lockean elements in the American tradition, but also the dissatisfaction with liberalism. Not everyone can be satisfied by an understanding of man as an asocial individual dedicated solely to the unlimited accumulation of property and by an understanding of society as an aggregate of such individuals and an arena for the pursuit and compromise of their interests. Critics from the right reject liberalism to find a place for churches, families, and moral virtue. Critics from the left reject it to find a place for community and the common good. Liberalism cannot be all things to all men, but it does not have to refuse satisfaction to those who reject its “Lockean” form. Indeed, a reexamination of John Locke’s own liberal political theory suggests the possibility of a broader, deeper, and loftier liberalism.