“The Family in John Locke’s Political Thought”

Jacqueline Pfeffer, “The Family in John Locke’s Political Thought,” Polity 33 (2001), 593-618.

What might attention to Locke’s political thought contribute to contemporary debates about the family? I consider the original Lockean understanding of the role of family in civil society as presented in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and Some Thoughts Concerning Education. The education recommended to parents in Some Thoughts Concerning Education aims at teaching children, within the bounds of their understanding, principles of acquisition and management of property that echo those outlined in the famous fifth chapter of the Second Treatise and that are crucial to the operation of Lockean political society. Attention to these echoes reveals connections between Locke’s philosophies of politics and education. Drawing upon these connections and upon Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration, I outline the disposition that a contemporary Lockean might take towards the family and its role in the liberal polity and also the judgment that might be adopted by a Lockean liberal toward traditional, egalitarian, and libertarian arguments about the family.