- The Biblical Politics of John Locke
Closely argued and united around a few key ideas, the five chapters of Biblical Politics offer a survey of Locke's interest in Scripture (1); an analysis of Locke's view of original sin from his reading of the early chapters of Genesis (2); a summary of the importance of Genesis and of Adam in seventeenth-century political theory, especially that of Robert Filmer (3); and a close analysis of the role of Adam in Locke's 1690 Two Treatises of Government (4 and 5).
Kim Ian Parker finds Locke attentive to Scripture, while testing out his own rational assumptions. His main goal is to show how Locke believed that the biblical fall of Adam, when properly interpreted, did not impair reason in the successors of Adam, as a strict Augustinian might hold. Parker makes Locke out to be a truly Enlightenment figure, who freed political humanity from subservience: 'Locke courageously sets human freedom on a par with the freedom of God.' Socialization, not the God of Eden, makes men dumb.
Parker has mastered the large bibliography of secondary material on Locke. He also quotes Locke's manuscripts and marginalia. With rare exceptions, Parker notices and quotes without agreeing or disagreeing with the secondary material. For example, he mentions but does not assess W.M. Spellman's John Locke and the Problem of Depravity (1988), a book which repeatedly crosses Parker's chosen territory of how fallen Lockean human nature is. Disagreements with previous authors may or may not be unpleasant, but they clarify one's own opinion.
Locke is not a systematic thinker in the sense of having a core set of ideas that are worked out, over the years, across a series of topics. He has eclectic interests whose explanation, by his own rules, requires different kinds of probability. When Parker gives Locke's comments on a topic over his lifetime, he might have better stressed the different genres used. In particular, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) occupies different generic space from Locke's Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), and a difference space again of course from Locke's tentative remarks in letters to continental philosophers and theologians. At the same time Parker's familiar use of so many works of Locke stimulates the reader to further work.
Parker's knowledge of the common latitudinarian ideas so dominant around 1700 could be deeper. There is a wealth of sermon material on Adam's fall. While Locke was, like any intellectual of this day, deeply interested in Scripture, he is not an innovator in interpretation. The work of Spinoza, Richard Simon, and others is of an entirely different critical order. Lastly, some fundamental distinctions might have been better drawn [End Page 258] here about the various meanings of the word 'reason.' Parker's book does not complicate my working rule that on the 'reason' continuum, Locke and the latitudinarians occupy a less rigorous position than do contemporaries like Spinoza and John Toland, though I was hoping for new insight.
Arguments about so many aspects of Locke's Two Treatises will go on. But no one attempting to discuss their relationships with Scripture will be able to do so without Parker's thoughtful, useful essay, based on wide reading yet tightly focused around his principal thesis. [End Page 259]
Gerard Reedy, Marymount College, Fordham University