Tag Archives: intellectual history

Did John Locke Doom America’s Social Safety Net?

The first issue of the Journal of Civic Literacy has been published, and is available at the link. We’re pretty proud of it; it features an introductory essay from former Supreme Court Justice Souter, several academic articles, a book review by Steve Sanders, and an argument for/example of effective civics instruction by Charles Dunlap, head of Indiana’s Bar Foundation.

It also includes an article–you might even say a meditation–on America’s difficulty with the concept of the social safety net.  The thesis is that Americans have internalized John Locke’s libertarianism in a way that does not accurately reflect his philosophy, and by doing so have made it incredibly difficult to have reasonable public conversations about programs like Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

Given the abysmal level of civic knowledge these days, it may seem almost fanciful to revisit Hobbes, Locke and other towering Enlightenment figures (we can hardly encourage people to reread works they’ve clearly never read or even heard of), but a careful consideration of where we come from can often illuminate how in the hell we got where we are.

Anyway, if you’re interested in a somewhat wonky deliberation on our intellectual forebears, I hope you’ll give the article–and the others in the issue– a read. (Admission/disclosure: I am a co-author of the Locke article.)

And if you want to remind yourselves what a really good Supreme Court Justice sounds like, read Justice Souter’s essay.