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John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty
Book Discussion Guide

John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty by Mary-Elaine Swanson

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Welcome to Chapters 3 and 4 of our Book Discussion Guide for John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty by Mary-Elaine Swanson. This book looks at the life and writings of John Locke, one of the foremost influencers on America's Founding Fathers. Mary-Elaine Swanson has done a great service in writing this book by going to Locke's own writings to determine who he was and what he believed, rather than relying on the writings of modern "historians" who often re-create Locke in their own image.

We are reading this book as part of our American History Book Club, in which we read a book related to American History and post our notes and thoughts about the reading. Each guide contains a synopsis of each chapter, some thought provoking questions about the reading, interesting points we would like to point out and some key quotes from the chapter.

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Chapter 3 of John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty covers the period when John Locke was exiled from England due to his political views. He taught that the church and the state should be completely separate, that there was no such thing as the "Divine Right of Kings" to rule over people, that government should be based on the will of the people and that toleration should be given to all religious groups by the government. These views were very unpopular at a time when Kings ruled with impunity and various factions used religion as a weapon.

Eventually, William & Mary took the English throne and signed the English Bill of Rights, which guaranteed religious freedom and rule by law. In Chapter 4, Locke and the other exiles returned and he was able to see his ideals established firmly in the government. Locke retires at the home of Sir Francis and Lady Masham and spends his remaining years advising King William and members of Parliament, discoursing with people such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton and writing several more works about the truth and sublimity of the Bible.

If you haven't ordered a copy of John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty, you can order your copy from Amazon here.

You will find the discussion guide for Chapters 3 and 4 on this page. You can go back to the beginning of the guide here - John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty.

Find out about our other current book discussions at our American History Book Club page.

John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty
Book Discussion Guide

John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty

Chapter 3 - Danger and Exile

Synopsis

  • Charles II makes a pact with Louis XIV and the Earl of Shaftesbury introduces another Exclusion Bill to prevent Catholics from serving in the government.
  • The King makes himself look like the good guy and Shaftesbury is arrested for treason. He flees to the Netherlands where he dies.
  • Due to his association with Shaftesbury and the Whigs, and his anti-Divine Right of Kings work Two Treatises of Civil Government, John Locke flees to Holland.
  • Locke spends time in Holland writing, traveling and getting to know people of repute, while the English government expels him from Christ Church and tries to lure him back to prosecute him.
  • Friends in England secure Locke a pardon and tell him to come home, but he refuses, saying he was guilty of no crime.
  • Locke meets Jean Le Clerc, who becomes a lifelong writing partner.
  • Locke publishes Essay on Toleration, on his views about toleration of differing religious views.
  • Locke publishes some of his views on the proper role of church and state, explaining that separation is necessary to protect the church from political intrigue and to protect the state from meddling churchmen intent on persecuting those they disagree with.
  • Locke describes the proper role of the civil magistrate as being to protect life, liberty, health and the pursuit of possessions. He describes the role of the church as the care of souls.
  • Locke says the only legitimate interference a civil magistrate can have in a church is when the church is harming the life, liberty or property of someone.
  • Locke teaches that morality is necessary for good civil government and that atheism undermines it because there is no standard of right and wrong.
  • Locke meets William & Mary and advises them about the proper role of civil magistrates should they become the sovereigns in England.
  • William of Orange invades England and takes the throne in a virtually bloodless revolution. He is seen as the protector of Protestantism and the deliver from James II who was trying to force Catholicism on everyone.
  • William & Mary sign the Declaration of Rights, which is full of Locke's ideas.
  • Locke and the rest of the exiles return to England.

Discussion Questions

  • What would your thoughts and feelings be if you suddenly became an enemy of the state because of your political or religious views as happened to John Locke?
  • What would you do if your name appeared on the government's "dangerous persons" list? It sounds very similar to the experience the Founding Fathers of America had when they signed the Declaration of Independence.
  • As an American, you are probably familiar with the idea of the separation of church and state, but have you ever considered the reasons why this is important? What are they are according to Locke?
  • Have you ever heard this discussion about where the line is that determines when the government can interfere in church affairs? Some question whether or not the government has any authority to interfere in a church. Locke says only if the church is harming someone's life, liberty or property. What do you think about this?

Things That Caught Our Eye

  • Who knew there was a broken romance in John Locke's life? He had to leave Damaris for good when he fled England for Holland.
  • Interesting how Arminius took the name of the Germanic leader against the Romans. You can see how he would relate to that Germanic Arminius who was trying to overthrow the Romans. His own country was ruled by the Spaniards and he was fighting the beliefs of the much more powerful Calvinist sect.
  • Now that we see how differing religious views were accepted in Holland, we can understand why the Pilgrims first went there.
  • Ha! Locke wouldn't accept a pardon because he said he had committed no crime! Now that's boldness!
  • This chapter really makes it clear why the separation of church and state is a necessity. You can see why Locke would have been persecuted for his views at a time when the government was used as a weapon between differing church factions.

Quotes

  • "Holland became a haven for both English Puritans and Separatists and also became an asylum for political refugees whose views had displeased the rulers of their lands."
  • "Locke declined to come home or to accept the pardon, replying that he had 'no occasion for a pardon, having been guilty of no crime.'"
  • "Christ... 'sent out his soldiers to the subduing of nations, and gathering them into His church, not armed with the sword or other instruments of force, but prepared with the Gospel of peace and with the exemplary holiness of their conversation.'"
  • "Now I appeal to the consciences of those that persecute, torment, destroy, and kill other men upon pretence of religion, whether they do it out of friendship and kindness towards them, or no?"
  • "I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other."

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John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty

Chapter 4 - Safe Harbor

Synopsis

  • Locke returns to England after years in exile in Holland.
  • Locke publishes his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which promoted the concept of empiricism, or the idea that knowledge comes primarily from sensory perception.
  • Locke moves to Sir Francis and Lady Masham's estate in the country to get away from London's smog.
  • Locke publishes Some Thoughts Concerning Education.
  • Pierre Coste translates Locke's works into French.
  • Locke publishes An Essay on the Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scripture, and begins a public debate about it with New England cleric Jonathan Edwards.
  • Locke's friendships with various people are discussed, such as William Molyneaux, Isaac Newton and Peter King, his young cousin and protege.
  • Locke finishes his last work, The Paraphrases of Saint Paul, and passes away at Oates, the home of Lady Masham.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think about empiricism verses rationalism? Does our knowledge come primarily from sensory perception or from reason and intellectual deduction?
  • Locke was subjected to a storm of criticism every time he published a new book. Would you be brave enough to put your thoughts into writing, knowing that they may be widely criticized? How would you respond to this criticism?
  • Knowing that such luminaries as John Locke and Isaac Newton studied the Bible for its divine revelations, have you ever studied it and really considered its claims? Why or why not, and what are your thoughts about this?
  • Locke could surely look back on his life with pleasure and satisfaction. Why exactly could he do this? Will you be able to do the same? Why or why not? If not, what can you change now to change that?

Things That Caught Our Eye

  • It's easy to see how people judge Locke today for being too "timorous" about acknowledging his work Two Treatises of Civil Government, without recognizing that Locke had no idea whether or not the new constitutional monarchy under William & Mary would last.
  • Have you noticed how much more advanced the writing and vocabulary of people in that day was than people today? This is probably due to the necessity of writing letters and expressing oneself on paper, rather than in person or on the phone.
  • The notion in some circles that John Locke, and the Founders who admired him, was not a Christian, is refuted quite soundly by the quotes from Locke himself in this chapter.
  • Locke's admonition to search the Scriptures for oneself, rather than trusting in someone else's word on it, is sound advice. Reading the original is always better than reading someone else's account.

Quotes

  • "What is the shortest and surest way, for a young gentleman, to attain a true knowledge of the Christian religion, in the full and just extent of it?... To this I have a short and plain answer: Let him study the Holy Scripture, especially the New Testament. Therein are contained the words of eternal life."
  • "The Holy Scripture is to me, and always will be, the constant guide of my assent, and I shall always hearken to it, as containing infallible truth, relating to things of the highest concernment."
  • "Meeting with few men in the world, whose acquaintance I find much reason to covet, I make more than ordinary haste into the familiarity of a rational inquirer after, and lover of truth, whenever I can light on any such."
  • "He said it was not enough to keep them from starving, but that such a Provision ought to be made for them, that they might live comfortably. Accordingly he sought occasions of doing Good to those who deserved it; and often when he walked out, he would visit the Poor of the Neighborhood, and give them somewhat to supply their Necessities, or buy the Remedies which he prescribed them, if they were sick, and had no other Physician."

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John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty
Book Discussion Guide Chapters

Chapters 1 and 2 Chapters 3 and 4

Thanks for reading John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty with us. If you have not yet ordered the book and would like to, you can order from Amazon here.

Find other book discussion guides on our American History Book Club page.


Published 2/12/13


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