Locke and the question of toleration

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,142
Sydney
#11
Locke reference to popular choice on the matter of tolerance seems disingenuous somewhat
the English mob was rioting against popery at a drop of a hat, so this tolerance could only extend to various non conformist churches

James universal tolerance clearly include the Catholics , which make it anathema to the parliament
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,856
#12
John Locke is perhaps most famous for his Letter Concerning Toleration. Because of it, and his other works after, he is modernly upheld as the father of liberalism. After all, it advocated for principled religious toleration, railing against the government's dangerous acceptance of popery and Anglo-Catholicism. As a King James VII/II apologist, I've often encountered Locke's works when people are trying to rebut my points. Many times have I seen that James was an intolerant tyrant who wanted to do away with anything that wasn't his particular persuasion, that being Catholicism. Yet, many people fail to engage with the complexities of John Locke's work. It was originally a correspondence between Locke and Philip von Limborch, a Dutchman and fellow antitrinitarian (!!!) Protestant. Locke had written it during his exile, which had been imposed on him because of his complicity in the Rye House Plot. That aforesaid plot involved the assassination of both Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York (later James II), so that the throne may pass to Charles' decidedly Protestant bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth. Willing to commit murder – and regicide, at that! – to avoid a Catholic succession is hardly the most tolerant thing that one could do.

One keystone of Locke’s thought was to return popular sovereignty to the people, in order to ensure religious toleration.(1) This is especially interesting to consider within the confines of absolutism, government, and toleration. In an early work, Locke advocated for tolerance, but with a caveat: “but yet only so far as they do not tend to the disturbance of the state.”(2) To him, Catholic doctrines were “absolutely destructive” and the papist was an inherently power-hungry individual.(3) We can certainly classify Locke’s toleration as being principled, despite his hatred towards Catholics. Toleration must work to serve the greater good of humanity and Christendom. Those infernal papists could not be tolerated, because they were a threat. It would, therefore, go against all principle to tolerate them. They were “unreliable.” Thus, in his disdain for the Catholics, Locke’s toleration was principled, but by no stretch of the imagination was it universal. Yet we so often see Locke held up as a paragon of toleration.

On the other hand, James II is construed as a monster of a man; a tyrannical papist with no other goal than to force all of his countrymen to join him. His defeat at the Battle of the Boyne (1691) is still celebrated to this day. He is recalled as a Catholic tyrant and a cruel monarch. Yet, more recent scholarship in his ill-fated kingship has offered a different view on his regime. Such a negative assessment of James stems from, by and large, Whiggish traditions in historiography. Parliament tried many times to push through exclusion bills in an attempt to bar James from succeeding his brother. The House of Commons in 1680 had explicitly stated that “the Duke of York, being a Papist, and the hopes of his coming to the Crown, hath given the greatest countenance and encouragement to the present designs and conspiracies of the Papists against the King and Protestant Religion”, thus excluding him from succession, on principle.(4) Yet, the legend still holds that he was the wickedly intolerant one. His Catholicism presumed hatred and intolerance. Yet, two years after his succession, James moved to dissolve penal laws, stating that:

(5)

There is no real way of knowing if James’ toleration as espoused in his indulgence is genuine (principled) or pragmatic. No matter his intention, however, it is still established as universal toleration. James’ brother had also tried to advance such changes, but found it impossible with Parliament standing in his way. One long-time thorn in Charles’ side in this regard was Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury, who also happened to have Locke as a secretary!(6) Locke’s association with the rather intolerant Whigs should raise many questions. Most of all, it draws our awareness to the inextricability of religion and politics in this time. Charles and James’ politics and religion had no place in the tolerant society that Locke laid out in his Letter and other works before it. Principled toleration must be principled. If it were to allow all sundry ideas and beliefs, then it would not be so.

There was, it seems, a conflict of interest between Locke’s toleration and Whiggery. Both Charles and James were ready to pass toleration, and by any means necessary, even if that meant dissolving Parliament. Surely, they both knew the risk in doing so; they only had to look to their father to see the danger in doing away with Parliament. For Locke, the toleration that the kings wished to advance was not a principled one. Universal toleration for Locke, was dangerous. It allowed for destructive religion that could threaten society. Tolerance could only be extended as far as society could allow for it. To Locke, English society could allow all sorts of Protestant dissent, but it had no room for Catholicism or atheism, on principle.

We can see, then, that Locke’s toleration certainly is principled, but it is exactly this principled nature that prevents it from being universal. It is inherently self-limiting. By principle, it cannot tolerate the intolerable. Though the society structured in A Letter Concerning Toleration is one where the government may not force its subjects’ hands in the matter of conscience, Locke’s attitude on Catholics and atheists is abundantly clear. They were not reliable citizens. When we consider this, we come to see that Locke’s intolerance of these groups – or, at the very least, his disdain of them – is a principled thing. Something cannot be principled if it is not universal; that totally negates the very meaning of the term principled. Politics and religion are far too intertwined to have principled toleration apply to everyone. The religious origins of the work, along with Locke’s political persuasion would make it impossible. It seems, then, that pragmatic, universal toleration – the type that Charles II and James II tried to enforce – would be contrary to Locke’s principled toleration.

I posit that James' toleration was both universal and principled. If it wasn't principled toleration, then he wouldn't have gone to such lengths to enforce it. He would have acquiesced and kept his throne. However, he would rather live in principle without his crown. But this universal toleration of Charles and James could only be done through a virtual abuse of their power (in Parliament's eyes), but it was still universal. At the same time, Locke advocated for a limited government, and principled toleration, exempting Catholics.

So, I suppose that the crux of my question is what can we begin to make of toleration within this lens? Which is better, if we may use such a word? I find people pointing to Locke as an example of toleration to be misled. Locke found the Catholics to be intolerable, thus not deserving of toleration. But the Stuart kings allowed for complete toleration, at the expense of liberty. I know that the term "enlightened despot" was not in use during the 1600s, but I find that it fits James II quite well. As a Stuart, he was inclined to despotism, yet he was still enlightened in his absolutism. Should we discount the Stuart kings' toleration just because they were absolutists?

I look forward to a healthy and mature discussion on the matter.

-DoY

----
1. John Locke, ed. James H. Tully, A Letter Concerning Toleration (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983), 7.
2. John Locke, ed. David Wootton, Political Writings (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2003) 191.
3. Locke, Political Writings, 146.
4. Exclusion Bill, 1680.
5. Act of Indulgence, 1687.
6. Locke, Letter, 5.
Your argument is based on a context that is not evident in the work itself. Lockes arguments in the text are universally valid, regardless of the situation, and it is as you yourself admit, not an argument against any particular religion, but for a universal tolerance. At best, it could be said that Locke did not always live up to his own principles, but he would hardly be the first in history that failed to do so.

We should judge the work and impact as it was written, not on some proposed context that most readers would not know anything about. The argument in it is against an established religion of.any kind, not just against one particular one.

If Locke held.anti-catholic views, which is not unlikely, it is as likely because the Catholic Church was an independent international outside organization that was ruled by a pope that included.poltical.as well.as just religious agenda in his view. Many Protestants feared Catholics took their orders from.pope, who was a foreign temporal ruler (Papal States).as.well.as a religious one. It was like.Communist being suspected of taking orders from Stalin and the Kremlin.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,142
Sydney
#13
Making reference to universal values might seem plain today but be a bit more selective if viewed from the point of view of the past actors
a simple demonstration is the US founding fathers high principles having some well understood unspoken limitations on the status of Blacks and women

It doesn't really make them hypocrites as this was a commonly held mindscape of the society of their time
 
Jan 2019
12
Montreal, QC
#14
I got the impression from the OP that James' may have been motivated by pragmatism. He was in the religious minority. Assuming James was sincere, I was considering some of Locke's other principles, such as popular sovereignty. Certainly, James was not advocating for the demise of the monarchy?
James' toleration was most certainly principled. He was deposed for a reason, as you know. One of the main issues of his reign was the fact that he tried to push his 1687 Declaration of Indulgence upon an unwilling clergy. Because he couldn't get his way - this way being universal religious toleration - he was "content" (for lack of a better word) to go into exile. To me, that is the picture of principle. He would give up his throne and all his power to live a life in exile, still clinging onto his unpopular principles. Of course, we can't get into James' head to see if this was true, but it seems that it certainly could be. The way in which he conveyed his sentiments seems earnest.

Well, it's hard to say how sincere James was being and how pragmatic he was being. But in any case it isn't clear that Locke was being any more principaled and less pragmatic than James. Locke's principles always conveniently supported his politics. If he had been a Catholic, I don't think he would have supported popular sovereignty for example.
(Emphasis mine.)

Well said.
 
Likes: Rodger
Jan 2019
12
Montreal, QC
#15
Your argument is based on a context that is not evident in the work itself. Lockes arguments in the text are universally valid, regardless of the situation, and it is as you yourself admit, not an argument against any particular religion, but for a universal tolerance. At best, it could be said that Locke did not always live up to his own principles, but he would hardly be the first in history that failed to do so.

We should judge the work and impact as it was written, not on some proposed context that most readers would not know anything about. The argument in it is against an established religion of.any kind, not just against one particular one.
Wait, what? Locke is very clearly anti-Catholic in this text. And we should always consider the context in which something is written. What I put forth was not some "proposed" context. It is the historical context and factual context, both of which are needed in order to actually understand Locke.

If Locke held.anti-catholic views, which is not unlikely, it is as likely because the Catholic Church was an independent international outside organization that was ruled by a pope that included.poltical.as well.as just religious agenda in his view. Many Protestants feared Catholics took their orders from.pope, who was a foreign temporal ruler (Papal States).as.well.as a religious one. It was like.Communist being suspected of taking orders from Stalin and the Kremlin.
He has explicitly stated his disdain for Catholics in his Political Writings. It's not conjecture on my part, it is solid fact.
 
Jan 2019
12
Montreal, QC
#16
Making reference to universal values might seem plain today but be a bit more selective if viewed from the point of view of the past actors
a simple demonstration is the US founding fathers high principles having some well understood unspoken limitations on the status of Blacks and women

It doesn't really make them hypocrites as this was a commonly held mindscape of the society of their time
Not my point. What I am saying is that James' toleration is much more universal and all-encompassing than John Locke's, yet James is remembered for being intolerant. I posit that it is on account of his absolutist bent. And therein lies the philosophical question that I raised earlier.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,142
Sydney
#17
Yes indeed , but that was James principated belief and to his political advantage ,
for john Locke's , Catholicism was less a religion than an International organization bend on Earthly power
as was commonly held at the time .
for him there would not be any contradiction in being intolerant of intolerance
 

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