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John Locke: ‘Father of Liberalism’

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

On this day in 1632, one of the greatest champions of liberty and  someone often referred to as the “Father of Liberalism,” John Locke, was born.  Although Locke’s philosophy played a crucial role in the American founding, there is still much that we can learn from his writings today.  Here are 5 things to remember about Locke on his birthday:

  1. Locke offered one of the first and most recognized theories of private property. To this day, many still refer to Locke’s definition when discussing what private property is.  This comes from Locke’s Second Treatise on Government: “Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person; this nobody has any right to but himself.  The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.”
  2. Thomas Jefferson thought so highly of John Locke that he referred to him as one of “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences.”
  3. Locke was more than a philosopher. He had a degree in medicine from Oxford and served many years as the personal physician of Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury.  In one instance Locke performed a surgery on Lord Ashley’s liver, which was later credited as “lifesaving.”
  4. Locke is often turned to when the topic of toleration arises. Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration was one of the primary influences on religious freedom and  America’s separation of church and state saying, “The Business of the laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of the commonwealth and of every particular man’s goods and person.  And so it out to be.”
  5. Two Treatises of Government, arguably Locke’s most famous piece of work, was originally published anonymously because of the radical positions that it took. This is not surprising when considering that the signers of the Declaration of Independence risked their lives by signing a document that was so heavily influenced by Locke.

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Kyle Hanby

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