Locke in America
The Moral Philosophy of the Founding Era
Books on John Locke abound, but until now none have captured the real Locke. By removing the layers of misperception that have clouded the philosopher's portrait for decades, Jerome Huyler reveals a startling new image that suggests a much stronger link between Locke's thought and the American Founding.
Huyler contends that authors as accomplished as J.G.A. Pocock, Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, Thomas Pangle, and Joyce Appleby have largely misread or ignored Locke's influence on the Founders. Building upon and critiquing their pioneering works, Huyler argues that the American revolutionaries, the Federalists, the Antifederalists, and the Jeffersonian republicans were all committed to a set of moral and political beliefs which were readily available and clearly articulated in Locke's writings.
“The text thoughtfully engages current scholarship. The book breathes new life into the role of John Locke. And it provides a valuable perspective on the intellectual discourse of the revolutionary era.”
—Journal of American History
“An admirable contribution to Lockean scholarship and to the historiography of the American founding.”
—William and Mary QuarterlySee all reviews...
“An important work of historical scholarship and interpretation. It makes a genuine contribution to the ongoing debate about Locke, liberalism, and the nature of the American founding.”
—American Political Science Review
“Huyler’s book is distinguished by the excellence of its critical encounter with Locke scholarship. Indeed, the analysis of this scholarship is generally ingenious, and often brilliant.”
—Review of Politics
“Huyler should be recognized for creating a provocative, often compelling, book that will aid scholarly inquiry into the many issues he has examined.”
“With more thoroughness than his predecessors, Huyler reveals an exceptionally comprehensive philosophy; everything Locke did is shown to have been relevant to everything else. Huyler is especially convincing on the integral relationship of Human Understanding to the Two Treatises.”
“An engaging, lively, and ambitious book.”
—Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences
“Huyler carries his new and persuasive interpretation of Locke onto the battlefield of American historiography and plants the flag of Lockean liberalism, rightly understood, atop the high moral and ideological ground of the founding of the American Republic. His passion is evident, but appropriately restrained. He treats the victims of his critique—and it’s a long and distinguished list—graciously and fairly. He also writes well, with flashes of eloquence.”
—Steven M. Dworetz, author of The Unvarnished Doctrine: Locke, Liberalism, and the American RevolutionSee fewer reviews...
Huyler demonstrates that recent debates and controversies over the Founding—especially those pitting classical liberalism (i.e., Lockeanism) against classical republicanism—have obscured the fundamental influence of Locke's ideas. In these debates, classical republicanism defines a belief in civic virtue, active political participation, and an overriding concern for the many over the one. By contrast, Locke is portrayed as a thinly disguised Hobbes, promoting a liberalism of narrow self-interest, possessive individualism, and greed that ultimately leads to civil strife and a fragmented polity.
That is a false opposition and a false view of Locke, Huyler contends. He portrays, instead, an essentially moderate Locke, a seventeenth-century moralist who advocated an individualism that actually fits well with classical republicanism and that opposes certain elements and institutions which we too casually identify with liberalism and with Locke. In fact, Huyler argues, vigilant civic virtue and participation are absolutely essential to Locke. Far from being selfish and isolated individuals, Locke's citizens have every motive and incentive to associate and work together.
As Huyler persuasively shows, the "Lockean way of life"—a moral code that combines social cooperation with equality, individual rights, rational independence, and industrious self-improvement—was extolled in the eighteenth-century's most popular literary works and was central to the Founders' thought. After this book, our views of Locke and the Founding will never be the same.