Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Eric Mack on John Locke

Libertarian philosopher Eric Mack is for my money one of the most interesting rights theorists writing today. To anyone who has read my own writings on private property (this, for example), his influence on me will be evident (though I have sometimes developed Mack’s views in directions of which he would not approve!) Though I am no longer a libertarian myself, I always learn something from reading his work. This month Continuum is releasing Mack’s book John Locke, part of a new series of volumes on Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers. It looks to be very interesting indeed (as does the series as a whole).

While you’re waiting for it, you can tide yourself over by reading this other guy’s book on Locke – a book which is very critical of Locke, while Mack’s promises to be more positive. Lockean vs. ex-Lockean – let the battle begin!


  1. That is indeed very interesting, although I never knew Locke counted as one of the "Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers." He seems solidly in the tradition of Classical Liberalism to me. Hmm, I'll have to check out the article by "that other guy." Thanks.

  2. Yes, Locke is definitely not a conservative (though he is certainly very conservative compared to modern liberals), and definitely not a libertarian either as that term is usually understood. But "libertarian" is used in various senses, one of which is as a synonym for "classical liberal." And even more radical libertarians tend to think of themselves as continuing (even if modifiying) the classical liberal tradition. So, for these reasons, it's plausible to hold that Locke fits into the series.

  3. Private property is actually pretty simple to understand.
    You have item A that I want, I have item B that you want.
    I agree not to take A if you don't take B.

  4. When I was in college (decades ago), a girl in our group said something like (you have to supply the syrippy passive-aggressive voice) "With my Native Anerican ancestry, I just don't understand the 'private property' concept."

    I considered (but sadly did not) replying, "With my Native Anerican ancestry, I find I've never really had a problem understanding 'private property.' ... Say, may I borrow "your" car keys for a while?"

  5. "let the battle begin!"

    You mean they're going to locke horns?

  6. I never knew Locke counted as one of the "Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers." He seems solidly in the tradition of Classical Liberalism to me.You are correct for most part, Matt; though I suspect Lockean rights' talk offends Donkeycrats as much as his insistence on "tabula rasa" offends traditional papists. Or at least the KOS sort of liberal will go on and on about rights for all peoples--except the Due Process rights of a non-liberal.

    Contemporary conservatives, however, now use about any classic by a dead white dude to buttress their failing cause. That said, Locke did possess one typical right-winger trait: hypocrisy. He advocated liberty and justice for all, except for the native americans. When Locke's employer Shaftesbury wanted to seize the lands of some natives (in Virginia I believe), JL had no problem writing up some agit-prop. more or less claiming since the natives were not really fully humans, the seizure was justified, and indeed Shaftesbury succeeded.

    Hobbes was Locke's master, really, however offensive the Hobbesian schema may be to some in theology business.

    1. bs. feser had already and properly answered that comment, you just spawned more of your typical bs. sorry for the late comment tho.