The Anxiety of Freedom: Imagination and Individuality in Locke’s Political Thought

Uday Mehta, The Anxiety of Freedom (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992).


Against what he describes as the “all but canonical” reading of Locke as a narrowly political theorist, concerned with erecting institutional fences to prevent naturally free, rational, interested individuals from violating one another’s basic rights, Mehta argues cogently (though less originally than he seems to believe) that for Locke the disturbances of the natural condition proceed from a “cognitive” source, the common human propensity for madness, rooted in the natural power and disorderliness of the imagination. Far from presuming the effective naturalness of the rational agency required for membership in political society, Locke regards this quality as a human construction, the product of a “fundamental and massive” pedagogical effort. Recognizing the centrality of Locke’s concern over the mind’s susceptibility to madness, Mehta reads Locke’s political thought in the light of his educational thought; prior to the designing of liberal institutions as the “technology” of designing liberal individuals.

–From Peter C. Myers in the Journal of Politics (May 1994).