JOHN LOCKE: PHILOSOPHER OF AMERICAN LIBERTY — Mary-Elaine Swanson (1927-2011) — Foreword: David Barton; afterwords: Gerald Christian Nordskog and Ronald W. Kirk — Nordskog Publishing: May 2012 — Trade paperback: 403 pages — ISBN: 978-0-9831957-3-3-51995
What could 21st-century Americans — luxuriating in their BMWs, iPads, and largely unhindered freedom to worship God in their own individual ways — owe to a mild-mannered 17th-century Christian philosopher?
In terms of their physical, political, and religious liberties, just about everything.
In John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty, the late Mary-Elaine Swanson has done such a thorough job of proving how the Christian political philosophy of John Locke so completely permeated the thinking of American colonists in the pre-Revolutionary War period, that for anyone to assert otherwise would expose to the world either his ignorance of history or a deliberate intent to defame one of the greatest thinkers of all time.
Indeed, to attack Locke, as some latter-day “progressive” academics seem to be fond of doing, is to assault the fundamental propositions of freedom upon which the United States of America is based (which, as an aside, is probably their true aim).
Without Locke’s clear and percipient reasoning, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution would almost certainly never have existed — that’s how crucial he was and still is to a right understanding of what the Founding Fathers had in mind in their deliberations.
Swanson divides her book into five sections:
“Part One: The Life and Times of John Locke”
For a man who never actively sought fame or adventure, Locke nevertheless spent much of his life involved with both, spending years in exile to avoid the wrath of an absolute monarch.
“Part Two: The Glorious Revolution: Locke Adapted”
The time had come to implement Locke’s ideas on how to enlarge the common Englishman’s freedom, supposedly assured long before but neglected over the centuries as kings grew ever more powerful. Only by counterbalancing the monarch with an effectual Parliament, Locke reasoned, could liberty for everyone be secured.
“Part Three: The American Revolution: Locke Adopted”
Nowhere else in history have John Locke’s ideas on “life, liberty, and property” been so thoroughly implemented than in America. Thanks to those wonderful and courageous New England clergymen — whose education included a grounding in the Christian political theories of “the great Mr. Locke,” as he was often referred to — average Americans had been raised to expect freedom as a matter of course for nearly a century after Locke first articulated his ideas. Swanson thoroughly demonstrates how “Lockean” the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution are, right down to some of the wording. (It’s amusing that Thomas Jefferson, when someone wrote him years afterward asking why he had “borrowed” so much from Locke’s works, in effect replied that he wasn’t trying to be original.)
“Part Four: The French Revolution: Locke Abandoned”Voltaire said he admired Locke’s principles, but he really didn’t.
The people of France had a golden opportunity to throw off the shackles of absolutist monarchical oppression and establish a free republic conforming to Lockean ideas but — perversely and foolishly — elected to pursue the utopian chimera of absolute equality rather than individual liberty, with horrific results. Swanson disabuses the reader of the absurd notion — promulgated by the current generation of political philosophers — that John Locke should be lumped together with such atheistic Enlightenment philosophes as Rousseau and Voltaire, the fathers and grandfathers of communism and fascism. Even to suggest that Locke, a sincere Christian and a Puritan to boot, has anything in common with those thinkers is simply ridiculous.
“Part Five: The Modern Secular State: Locke Repudiated”
Swanson brings us up to date in this last section, documenting how the chimera of absolute equality, the utopian poisoned apple that spiked the French Revolution, has had a resurgence in the United States that almost exactly parallels the decline in social and governmental adherence to Locke’s fundamental principles. In other words, magistrates, prelates, and politicians chafe at the common sense ideas of Locke, which in the aggregate check unlimited expansions of power, instead preferring to engage in social engineering with the aim of inaugurating their own utopias. To abandon Locke, however, is to abandon liberty.
Swanson has helpfully included three Lockean documents written decades after his death:
A. The Virginia Declaration of Rights (June 12, 1776)
…by George Mason, one of Locke’s greatest admirers.
B. The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)
…by men who understood the freedoms stemming from Locke’s “…the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God…”
C. The [French] Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (August 26, 1789)
…by the Marquis de Lafayette, an avid student of Locke’s theories and the most American Frenchman who ever lived.
John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty is not a superficial treatment of its subject, but a thoroughgoing examination of how the ideas of a man dead for nearly a century would exercise a profound influence on the lives and welfare of people as yet unborn.
That’s not bad for a mild-mannered 17th-century Christian philosopher who preferred study to adventure.