Launching Liberalism

On Lockean Political Philosophy

Michael P. Zuckert

In this volume, prominent political theorist Michael Zuckert presents an important and pathbreaking set of meditations on the thought of John Locke. In more than a dozen provocative essays, many appearing in print for the first time, Zuckert explores the complexity of Locke's engagement with his philosophical and theological predecessors, his profound influence on later liberal thinkers, and his amazing success in transforming the political understanding of the Anglo-American world. At the same time, he also demonstrates Locke's continuing relevance in current debates involving such prominent thinkers as Rawls and MacIntyre.

Zuckert's careful reconsideration of Locke's role as "launcher" of liberalism involves a sustained engagement with the hermeneutical issues surrounding Locke, an innovator who faced special rhetorical needs in addressing his contemporaries and the future. It also involves highlighting the novelty of Locke's position by examining his stance toward the philosophical and religious traditions in place when he wrote.

“Arguably one of the most subtle, intelligent, and compelling accounts of Locke’s political philosophy and its bearing o the American Founding.

—American Political Science Review

“This collection is not only a set of important essays on Locke, but also a major contribution to our understanding of how Locke’s thought informs American political thought, both at the founding and as a critical voice in key contemporary debates in political theory. This now constitutes the most learned and philosophically profound presentation of Lockean thought that has appeared in the past generation.”

—Thomas L. Pangle, author of The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke

Zuckert argues that neither of the dominant ways of understanding Locke's relations to his predecessors and contemporaries is adequate; he is not well seen as a follower of any orthodoxy nor of any anti-orthodoxy of his day, either philosophical or theological. He found a path to innovation that was philosophically radical but which was also able to connect with prevailing and accepted traditions. That allowed him to exercise a practical influence in history rarely, if ever, matched by any other philosopher.

Zuckert illustrates that influence by showing how William Blackstone used Lockean philosophy to reshape the common law and how the Americans of the eighteenth century used Lockean philosophy to reshape Whig political thought. Zuckert argues that Locke's philosophy has continuing philosophic and political force, a proposition he demonstrates by arguing that Locke presents a form of political philosophy superior to that of the liberal theorists of our day and that he has solid rejoinders to contemporary critics of liberalism.

About the Author

Michael P. Zuckert is professor of government at the University of Notre Dame and author of Natural Rights and the New Republicanism and The Natural Rights Republic.