Reason, wrote John Locke, is man’s “only Star and compass.” It will bring those who but consult it to the table of amity, where they will consent to create a more peaceful society. Reason is Locke’s nisus, the perfective urge and final cause of his treatises on civil government. And yet the nature of that reason, as Locke presents it, often appears ambiguous and even contradictory. It is, moreover, fundamentally at odds with his views as an empiricist.
For all that, Locke’s own reasoning, in the First Treatise, is acute in its application to Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. Men, Filmer asserts, receive absolute patriarchal authority from Scripture over their families; monarchs therefore rule over their subjects by the transmitted authority of Adam—the first monarch. Locke makes quick work of this claim: “If it were a delegated Power,” this absolute patriarchal authority, “it must appear in Scripture: but there is no ground in Scripture to affirm, that Adam’s Children had any other Power over theirs, than what they Naturally had as Fathers.” All men must, therefore, be “Slaves and Absolute Princes at the same time,” writes Locke, and so there will be as many kings as there are fathers.
Read the rest in The Agonist.