“John Locke and the Theological Foundation of Liberal Toleration”

Joshua Mitchell, “John Locke and the Theological Foundation of Liberal Toleration,” Review of Politics 52 (1990), 64-83.

Locke’s doctrine of toleration is best understood in the context of his larger argument about the political significance of Christ. Christ, Locke argues, separated the spiritual and political realm. His argument for separating the two realms, his basis for insisting that magistrates be tolerant of religious heterodoxy, is essentially theological. This claim is further developed by exploring Locke’s thoughts of the unconcealment of foundation of moral duty which Christ was purported to have brought about. The bearing this unconcealment has on Locke’s thoughts of the necessity of toleration is also explored. Finally, some comparisons between Locke and Hobbes’s understanding of the significance of Christ are made, with a view to providing a new theoretical approach to their thought.