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Freedom of conscience, political liberty, and the foundations of liberalism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

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Title of host publicationFreedom and the construction of Europe
DatePublished - Mar 2013
Pages134-154
Number of pages21
PublisherCambridge University Press
Place of PublicationCambridge
EditorsQuentin Skinner, Martin van Gelderen
Original languageEnglish
ISBN (Print)978-1-107-03307-8

Abstract

This essay considers the problem of adiaphora, its character, and its intellectual consequences, through a triangulation of the positions of Robert Sanderson, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke. It argues, firstly, that Sanderson’s treatment of that problem disclosed difficulties for subsequent thought – not least upon questions of authority and liberty of conscience – which were addressed in their turn by Hobbes and Locke, and that the ways in which they did so were consequential for the history of liberalism. Liberalism is a doctrine that attempts to reconcile the claims of politics with the claims of religion within a framework of social unity and concord. The views developed by Hobbes and Locke are represented in this essay as exemplifying two competing and contrasting visions of the terms on which this reconciliation between politics and religion might be effected. The essay argues, further, that Hobbes did not quite succeed in escaping the difficulties which Sanderson’s treatment of the problem of adiaphora exposed to light and to this extent left the antagonism between the claims of politics and the claims of religion unresolved, that Locke succeeded where Hobbes failed, but that he did so in terms that modern liberals reject emphatically. It concludes that the unthinking presumption that modern liberalism is the inheritor of Locke’s success is simply a tissue of illusions. Modern liberalism is, rather, the inheritor of Hobbes’s failure. The argument advanced here, then, suggests ways of thinking anew about the positions of Sanderson, Hobbes, and Locke; and about the place of Hobbes and Locke in the history of liberalism.

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