Koen Crolla's Reviews > Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration

Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration by John Locke
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's review
Sep 16, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: pol-and-soc
Read from November 26 to December 31, 2010 — I own a copy

Say what you will about the theology of Richard Dawkins and other Gnu Atheists, but there is no sense in which the theology of actual religious people is more sophisticated.
In the first of his Two Treatises, Locke argues against Robert Filmer's justifications of monarchy through divine right, largely on biblical grounds, and like Filmer himself, he uses literalist readings when convenient (and from whichever version and language is most so), and argues from (what he imagines to be) the spirit of the text when not. Many have decried Filmer's Patriarcha as bad theology, but then holding up Locke as an example of good theology just because his conclusions are more palatable is nonsense.
The second Treatise is slightly better; here, Locke outlines his own theories of legitimate government and society, on largely secular grounds. It's more coherent than many contemporary theories, but for a modern reader, none of it will be too revolutionary.

The Letter Concerning Toleration is the usual no-true-Scotsman, holier-than-thou onanistic back-patting, and even less interesting.

Ultimately, none of it is really worth reading anymore. If you're reading it because you're interested in theories of government and civil society, you've probably already formulated more sophisticated frameworks for yourself than Locke did (shoulders of giants, presumably), and there will be little to interest you here. If you're reading it for historical context, you'd be better off reading about Locke than actually reading Locke, and be spared his questionable and largely impenetrable grammar.
An annotated version would probably be more interesting, but this edition just exists as a vessel for the essays of Ian Shapiro (the editor) and his friends, which are the expected Kool-Aid circle-jerk. The stereotype of the Soviet revisionist looking for proto-Marxists in every well-regarded historical figure is well established, but American capitalists are at least as eager to do the same.

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