On the Use and Abuse of John Locke for Life
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On the Use and Abuse of John Locke for Life: A Voegelian Interpretation of Modern Liberal Economics. (2023). The Political Science Reviewer, 47(1), 143-177. https://politicalsciencereviewer.wisc.edu/index.php/psr/article/view/744


Eric Voegelin’s thought offers several specific criticisms of the economic implications of Lockean liberalism. First, Lockean liberalism is a modern ideology and, as such, accentuates those elements of reality, especially the desire for material comfort, that make the ideology appealing. This harms the long-term viability of the ideology and the welfare of societies organized by it. This essay argues that recent criticisms of Lockean liberalism in the scholarly literature would be supported by a Voegelinian analysis of economic matters in three ways. First, Voegelin argued that there is more to life than material concerns and that economic goods must be situated within a broader constellation of values than Lockean liberalism allows. Second, progressive uses of Locke to justify class-based economic arguments distort Locke’s text in an ideological manner to do so. And third, conservative uses of Locke to justify spontaneous economic growth post–Industrial Revolution distort the circumstances of contemporary reality to do so. Both the progressive and conservative readings of Locke exemplify the problems that result from relying on a simplification of reality. The cumulative effect of Locke in liberal societies today, therefore, is harmful because his thought prioritizes economic matters above all else and encourages construed distortions of Locke’s arguments to facilitate both progressive and conservative priorities whose respective discord with reality make them unsustainable. This essay concludes by arguing that Voegelin’s use of the term entrepreneur could help to remediate the dilapidated nature of liberalism at present.
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