Was Leo Strauss Wrong About John Locke?

James R. Stoner, Jr., "Was Leo Strauss Wrong About John Locke," Claremont Review of Books (December 2002).


Was Leo Strauss wrong about John Locke?  Surely that he was has been the consensus among historians of political thought, though their reasons are sometimes at variance.  The Cambridge school, influenced by the work of John Dunn, interprets Locke’s work in the light of the Calvinism in his family background. Though attacked by spokesmen for the Church of England, Locke quickly gained admirers among dissenting clergy, for his psychology, his politics, and of course his program for religious toleration, and the proponents of the Calvinist interpretation explain why: His discourse closely tracks the theological language of his Calvinist contemporaries.  Richard Ashcraft, meanwhile, seeks to restore Locke’s reputation as a revolutionary by tracking his role in English politics under the Restoration, albeit at the price of reducing the Two Treatises to a tract for the moment. James Tully would likewise save him from the charge of being a capitalist apologist, insisting Locke merely offered a defense of Whig landholding, with the responsibilities as well as the privileges embedded in the English law of estate. All these interpretations dismiss or disregard Strauss’s account of Locke as an atheist in the mold of Hobbes and Spinoza who succeeded by his mastery of the art of esoteric writing in concealing his unbelief; as the most successful, because most prudent, proponent of the modern doctrine of natural rights, which revolutionized politics around the world; and as the theorist who prepared the way for modern capitalism by his vigorous defense of unlimited acquisition.

Claremont Review of Books