Acton Institute Powerblog

How John Locke Influenced Catholic Social Teaching

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locke3Joe Hargrave argues that John Locke and Pope Leo XIII have more in common than you might imagine:

It isn’t often that John Locke is mentioned in discussions of Catholic social teaching, unless it is to set him up as an example of all that the Church supposedly rejects. After all, Locke is considered one of the founders of a liberal and individualist political tradition that was rejected by the papacy in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, a closer examination of both Locke’s Two Treatises of Civil Government (FT & ST) and the papal encyclical that set modern Catholic social teaching in motion, Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (RN), reveals that Locke was not a pure “individualist” as many have assumed, nor was Rerum Novarum a categorical rejection of all things “individual.” Rather, both Locke and Leo XIII craft their basic political arguments — especially with respect to the right to private property — based on the same assumptions about natural law, natural right, and Christian obligation.

Though it is evident from the texts themselves, the agreement between Locke and Leo is also a historical fact.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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