John Locke and the fable of liberalism

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This article explores the ways in which John Locke was claimed by liberalism and refashioned in its image. It was Locke's fate to become the hero of what I term 'the fable of liberalism', the story liberalism recounts to itself about its origins and purposes. Locke is a pivotal figure - perhaps the pivotal figure - in this stony, because he put into currency conceptions which contributed centrally to the emergence and spread of liberal ways of thinking about politics which continue to ramify. It was Locke who established that the legitimacy of a political authority was a necessary condition of obedience to it and that its legitimacy was a product of the consensual route by which it came into existence; it was Locke who established that the route by which it came into existence determined the ends for which it existed and, with these, the scope of its authority. All this was explained in an exemplary way by Locke (the story goes), and he remains the great exemplar for understanding and conducting politics legitimately even today. This article puts question marks beside the Locke who emerges from this story. It substitutes a new and very different Locke in his place.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-622
Number of pages26
JournalHistorical Journal
Issue number3
Early online date15 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018
EventBalzan-Skinner Prize Fellowship - Cambridge, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Jan 2012 → …

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