Locke in America

The Moral Philosophy of the Founding Era

Jerome Huyler

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 Quarterly
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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.

About the Author

Jerome Huyler, a freelance writer, received his Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research and has lectured at New York University, Iona College, and SUNY-Purchase.

Additional Titles in the American Political Thought Series