- Paperback: 410 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; Revised ed. edition (February 17, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691059705
- ISBN-13: 978-0691059709
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,762,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Natural Rights and the New Republicanism Revised ed. Edition
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"This exemplary work of historical reconstruction dramatically transforms our understanding of the genealogy of early American political thought. No one who deals with the eighteenth-century Anglo-American political tradition will be able to avoid the unsettling challenge of Zuckert's original and painstakingly documented reinterpretation, for this is one of those rare scholarly achievements, at once capacious and meticulous, that forces all of us back to the drawing boards."--Thomas L. Pangle, William and Mary Quarterly
"This is a work of careful scholarship and vast erudition.... By illustrating how Lockean and republican ideas came to be blended, Zuckert forcefully recounts the origins of the American republic."--Richard Vernier, The Journal of American History
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"Zuckert has written a very fine book. It makes sense--and good sense--out of the political thought of Locke's predecessors and establishes both the distinctiveness of Whig thought and the radicalism of Locke's departure from it."--Wilson Carey McWilliams, Rutgers University
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Pocock’s form of the “republican synthesis” has been summarized by Garrett Ward Sheldon as “a complex and intricate theoretical formulation drawn from the writings of several nonliberal philosophers, including Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, and James Harrington. It constitutes a body of ideas about man’s nature and the just society that moved from Ancient Greece to Rome to Renaissance Italy to eighteenth-century England and finally to America. The primary components of this paradigm are that man’s nature is essentially political, requiring an economically independent citizenry that participates directly in common rule, thereby developing and expressing its unique human nature and maintaining a virtuous republic”.
Although the “republican synthesis” and Lockean liberalism are both supportive of a representative government, there are important differences. The clearest is that the former is a much more communal view of politics, as opposed to Lockean individualism (or Lockean selfishness). Among academics, which is the better interpretation is one of the biggest controversies about the history of 17th and 18th-century Western political thought.
Zuckert attempts to restore the traditional view that John Locke was the primary influence on English and Americans Whigs by the time of the early 18th century. This is the focus of the book, especially in the prologue, chapter six, and chapter ten. In the process, he writes a book that is an excellent history of political thought in England from the early 17th century to the early 18th century.
Zuckert writes that at the beginning of the 17th century all Englishmen, whether leaning towards the monarchy or the parliament, were Christian Aristotelians. This was a combination of the teachings of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. This was followed by a split into a new form of the doctrine of the divine right of Kings, on one hand, and various pro-parliamentary contractarian arguments, the most important of which was what Zuckert calls John Milton’s “Christian contractarianism”. He finds this to be very distinct from Locke’s contract doctrine.
During the Interregnum and in the early years after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, natural law philosophers like Nathaniel Culverwell and Richard Cumberland wrote. Natural law is the knowledge of correct behavior which is “endowed by nature, God, or a transcendent source, and which can be understood universally through human reason". Natural law predates government. 16th-century English writer Richard Hooker also became an authority and Locke often referred to Hooker in support for his assertions.
But most important, according to Zuckert, was the Dutch political writer Hugo Grotius, also a natural law theorist. (Grotius remains to the day important in theories of international law). Grotius was the dominant influence on Whig thought until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and beyond, and it was Grotius, not Locke, that was used to justify the Glorious Revolution. Grotius used the sources of natural law in Roman law and Roman Stoicism along with moral teachings of Aristotle to create a new theory of natural law, rejecting the former political thinking that combined the teachings of Aristotle with St. Thomas Aquinas.
By the late 17th century in England, there were three major branches of political thought besides the natural law thought of Grotius. Christian Aristotelianism continued, especially from a continuing interest in Richard Hooker. There was the new philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. There was also the thought of Locke and the German writer Samuel von Pufendorf.
Locke differed from Hobbes in his theory of natural rights. Natural rights are "those rights that are not dependent on the laws or customs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable.” Natural rights are derived from what is known of natural law. The terms natural rights and natural law are sometimes used interchangeably. Zuckert does not do so.
It is controversial where natural rights philosophy originated. Zuckert writes: “Some place it as far back as the Roman law or the medieval counciliarists, while others find seventeenth-century sources like the Levellers, Grotius, Hobbes, or Locke to be more likely.”
All rights are for Locke are based on his very broad definition of property. Although both Grotius and Locke were Whigs, Locke’s political writings are a critique of Grotius. Locke dropped all Aristotelianism from his political thought. Also, Grotius’ conception of natural law does not require a divine origin. For him, it is based on a general consensus among humans. Locke’s natural law is known through God. By the mid 18th century, Locke had replaced Grotius as the most prominent influence on Whig thought.
Zuckert’s “new republicanism” as used in the title of his book is a combination of Locke and older Whig thought. This is exemplified by Cato’s Letters, written by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon between 1720 and 1723. Like Locke, Cato’s Letters were hugely influential in both in England and her American colonies. Zuckert argues that supporters of the “republican synthesis” wrongly present Trenchard and Gordon as anti-Lockean when the opposite is true. Chapter ten is devoted to this.
The Declaration of Independence is the American political document that is most clearly Lockean. Government is a human-created system for securing rights. Rights are known through Creator-given rationality and they predate government. Large-scale implementation of natural rights philosophy was unique to post-revolution America. Zuckert argues against the idea that American political thinking was more than just a continuation of classical thought, as expressed by Pocock, or a continuation of English Whig thought.
Zuckert also argues against the “old” idea that since Locke inspired both the Glorious Revolution of 1668 and the American Revolution, both were understood in the same way. The English Declaration of Rights of 1669 has analogies to the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. Again, however, the American commitment to natural rights was unique.
The difference between the two documents can be seen by examining the five chief doctrines of the Declaration of Independence: “(1) equality; (2) government as artifact; (3) natural rights as the foundation and end of politics; (4) consent; (5) the right of revolution."
On the subject of revolution, Declaration of Independence declares that there is a universal right to “alter or abolish” a government that does not protect “safety and happiness”. The Declaration of Rights, after listing the ways that King James had allegedly broken English law, concludes that he had abdicated the throne, which is therefore vacant. This can be interpreted that there is a right of revolution when the government acts “utterly and directly contrary to the known laws and statutes and freedoms of realm." However, Zuckert writes that there is an important difference. The Declaration of Independence relies on the public’s judgment that their natural rights have not been violated, while the Declaration of Rights has the narrower standard that the historical precedent of a particular country has been violated. Revolution will not happen frequently, Locke writes, but will result when there is “a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way.”
The Declaration of Independence declares that “all men are created equal”. Although “no great consensus exists on what it means or in what respect equality may be true”, Zuckert is certain the term equality meant something different for 18th-century Britains. The Declaration of Rights talks of “all the estates of the people of the realm” instead of individuals, and the three estates of commons, clergy, and nobility are themselves unequal. Equality in the Declaration of Independence means that all human beings were equal in the state of nature before government existed. At that time, neither nature nor the Creator gave individuals authority over each other. The assumption of the Declaration of Rights was that God or nature intended “the better sort” to rule.
The Declaration of Rights does not suggest that government was designed by human beings. It is silent on the subject. Therefore even Tory and Anglican believers in the divine right to rule could accept it as well as English Whigs. According to Locke, government is constructed by human beings within the limits set by God or nature.
The Declaration of Independence states that government is formed by the consent of the governed. There is some question of whether Locke thought of consent as an actual historical event. 20th-century philosopher Bertrand Russell believed that he did think this, and there is evidence for that from Locke’s argument that one consents to economic inequality when one accepts a system of currency. However, Zuckert describes consent as “a kind of moral account of the origin, or, perhaps better put, a rational reconstruction of the origin” of government. Whether or not it was a historical event, consent needs to be ongoing. This is in contrast to some other social contract theorists, who argued that an agreement between governors and the governed is binding on future generations. The Declaration of Rights stated that some powers of the British government, such as the ability to tax, require the consent of those represented in Parliament. However, according to Zuckert, there is more of an emphasis on individuals as the sole source of political power in the Declaration of Independence.
The rights in the Declaration of Rights are not natural rights. They are the “ancient rights and liberties” defined in “the known laws and statutes and freedoms of this realm.” No matter how ancient, they are not universal like natural rights. They are restricted to precedents in English law. Unlike natural rights, these rights do not apply equally to all English people. Some of the rights listed in the Declaration of Rights apply to institutions rather than individuals. In contrast, all rights in the Declaration of Independence are individual rights. They are also rights of a different kind. Zuckert explains: “ the difference is captured most commonsensically perhaps in the distinction between ‘rights’ and ‘what is right’. The American Declaration speaks exclusively of the former, The English Declaration speaks exclusively of the former, the English Declaration speaks at least some of the time of the latter.”
Unlike the Declaration of Independence, there is no suggestion in the Declaration of Rights that government exists for the sake of securing rights and only for that reason. Rights are important, but they do not predate the English government and so they cannot be the reason for the existence of the government. All rights as described by Locke predate government. Locke uses the language of rights and property almost interchangeably. Property is defined very widely. It includes life and liberty as well as the possession of material things. Property is needed to fulfill the right of self-preservation.
A resolution passed by Parliament regarding King James speaks clearly of a contract between rulers and rules. King James had broken “the original contract between King and People”, and thus could be replaced. A theory of social contract is part of the Declaration of Independence, but social contract theories had a long history.
Although Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government” was intended to “establish the throne of our great restorer, our present King William, to make good his title”, Zuckert argues that Locke’s theory of government has almost nothing in common with the official justification for Glorious Revolution as presented in The Declaration of Rights, but is completely compatible with the Declaration of Independence.
Locke definition of equality is worth quoting at length. People were equal in the state of nature, before government, in the sense that no one had formal authority over another. Natural equality is “that equal right that every man hath to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man."
In many ways, however, individuals are not equal, even in the state of nature. It “cannot be supposed to understand all sorts of equality: age or virtue may give men a just precedency: excellency of parts and merit may place others above the common level: birth may subject some, and alliance or benefits others, to pay an observance to those to whom nature, gratitude or other respects may have made it due.” For me, this paragraph seems to undercut Locke’s idea of independence and equality in the state of nature. There are relationships (alliances)and people that should be deferred to for a number of reasons. The verb “subject” in the above quote suggests a requirement. However, Locke means there was no authority in either a governmental or quasi-governmental sense.
Zuckert writes: “Natural equality and natural liberty are almost identical. Human beings are naturally equal in their original freedom; their natural freedom implies their original equality”.
Locke writes in “Two Treatises” that he intends to distinguish the political power of the magistrate over a subject from four other power relationships, “that of a father over children, a master over his servant, a husband over his wife, and a lord over his slave.” Chapters 4 to 8 of the “Second Treatise” are devoted to how all these relationships can be justly created out of the state of nature. They are thus all treated as human-created relationships and are distinct from one another.
“Man is a political animal” in Aristotle’s famous phrase. In his political theory, there was never a time when human beings lived as individuals in the state of nature. Since this is very different from the basis of Locke’s philosophy, Zuckert uses it to argue against Pocock’s idea that classical ideas dominated the thought of American revolutionaries.
Historically, Aristotle is correct. Human beings never lived as individuals. Human beings were originally organized into hunter-gather bands of about 30 to 50 people. Locke’s state of nature is, therefore, best viewed as a thought experiment about what kind of government individuals with rational and enlightened self-interest would form if they somehow found themselves in an anarchic state of nature. This kind of thought experiment is probably what Locke originally intended.
I agree with Zuckert that Aristotle’s Politics wasn’t very influential on American revolutionary –era thought. However, something of Aristotle’s idea that government should be a balance between the one, the few, and the many remained. This conception worked well in English thought with the one monarch, the few aristocrats represented in the House of Lords, and the many represented in the House of Commons. In America, there is one elected executive (the President), an elite upper house (the Senate), and a lower house meant to be more closely reflective of the view of the majority (the House of Representatives). In the early United States, the Senate was a more elite body than it is now. It was consciously viewed as the protector of private property against majority interests. It was also separated from the public by being elected by the state legislatures, rather than by the direct elections we have now. Interestingly (and weirdly), the government of Utah wants to return to this. It passed a resolution calling for a repeal of the direct election of senators.
Even if American revolutionary-era thought can’t be considered neo-classical, there is no question that Americans were highly interested in classical writers. Donald S. Lutz did a very thorough sampling of American political writing between 1760 and 1805 and ranked the 37 most cited thinkers. Classical writers include Plutarch at #5, Cicero at #11, Livy at #20, Tacitus at #23, and Plato at #25.
There is also no question that Locke was very important. In the above rankings, Locke comes in at #3. The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson with some editing by others and adopted by the Second Continental Congress, does sound very Lockean. Thomas Jefferson also recommended Locke’s Two Treaties of Government as essential reading for a college student and others. He wrote that it was “perfect as far as it goes”, meaning, I think, that it was perfect as theory, but that one also needs to read about practical politics and political history. Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, writes about the origin of government in Lockean terms, although he doesn’t use Locke’s name. John Adams wrote that he had studied Locke as a youth.
Zuckert cites two studies of colonial libraries in which Locke’s Two Treatises on Government appeared in 38% of libraries, compared with 37% containing Cato’s “Letters”, 23% containing Sidney’s “Discourses”, 16% containing Molesworth’s Account of Denmark, and 7% containing Hoadley’s book on government. Zuckert discusses Cato’s “Letters” thoroughly in chapter 10 but does not discuss Sidney, Molesworth, or Hoadley. The second study has Locke, Cato’s Letters, and Sidney held by colonial libraries in roughly equal percentages.
Zuckert quotes Donald Lutz in support of his argument for Locke’s primary importance in American thought, but as above, Lutz’s citation study puts Locke at #3, very significantly behind Montesquieu at #1 and William Blackstone at #2, and very closely ranked to David Hume. Lutz himself argues against the idea that Locke holds a unique influence in American Revolutionary-era thought. The studies of colonial libraries that Zuckert himself cites suggest that Cato’s Letters and Algernon Sidney were almost as equally owned and read as Locke, and there is a dispute about whether Cato’s letters can be considered Lockean.
I agree with Lutz and others. Locke is still regularly taught as if his Two Treatises are the only philosophic foundation on which the United States government is based, but this is incorrect. The history of political thought is more complicated and needs to be taught that way.