Of Locke And The Tabula Rasa

After the, ahem, unimpeachable Trump, after the pompous chaotic command is relinquished, when he is finally gone from office, past whatever happens tomorrow, the day after, next month, next year, what will be will be. Sure… yes I’ve been thinking…what a shock…but lately more on that time after, and what new things can be built, dreamed up now, philosophized, look back in order to look forward, perhaps?

Which is why I’ve been curious about these earlier political philosophers, at the questions and answers they had, on governments, nations, leaders, of what makes them, breaks them and what bonds us, what do we need?

With Rawls veil of ignorance, his fresh look at an old issue, at that paramount question of what sort of society would you prefer? What does a just society look like?

Then going almost 200 years back in time was the economist Adam Smith and the birth of capitalism, of moral standards and benign neglect, to let markets be what they may be, let trade freely flow through the chain, down superhighways, across borders and boundaries, without fear.

Smith believed governments core functions are maintaining defence, keeping order, building infrastructure and promoting education. It should keep the market economy open and free, and not act in ways that distort it.

Having been inspired by Rawls and Smith, and so I looked further, back almost another century back from Smith, and by a strange route, I came upon one who has become possibly my personal favourite.

“As usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.” 

 John Locke, Second Treatise of Government

Born in WringtonSomerset, England, John Locke would have been 26 at the execution of King Charles the 1st for believing in the divine right of Kings nonsense, and 11 years with no monarch under Cromwell, but England found him rather dull and so in came Charles the 2nd in 1660 from Scotland where he’d been hiding – Locke would have been 37.

Certainly a chaotic couple decades, and from that came the political philosophies of the father of liberalism.

Locke’s theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self, figuring prominently in the work of later philosophers such as David Hume, Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. Locke was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness. He postulated that, at birth, the mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa.

Tabula Rasa, that, those words I guess I can say, they at some point over the last week niggled at the edges, but I couldn’t place them to anything, so I ignored it.

Then, whilst sitting here zoning out to some meditation music, in my zen place, going within, and there it was again TABULA RASA. So I wrote it down and, and continued to zone out for a few more minutes until this niggling feeling I couldn’t shake took over and I finally decided to google it and Locke’s name came up, and so I read on.

The funny thing, or strange thing, is that he shares the same birthdate as my mom, August 29th, though over 320 years apart, but interesting, a bit of synchronicity, eh?

Locke himself was a man of science so I would imagine all that hoogy moogy would not meet with his approval, but he would have understood, even encouraged that pursuit of pleasure, and my right to define myself, to live my own dreams, and have the liberty to pursue them.

His idea was that in calculating our own satisfaction, the pros and cons, weighing our options and with our own self-interest, most reasonable people would prefer to have a limited form of government in order to gain and preserve our rights to life, liberty and property. Government by the consent of the people, in order to protect the rights and freedoms of all individuals, we naturally, therefore, gain those rights and freedoms ourselves, and we empower government by allowing them a certain power over particular aspects of our freedom.

“A liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of Nature.” 

 John Locke, Second Treatise of Government

Those ideas seem to have the hallmarks of the founding father’s vision, of Jefferson, in particular, I can now imagine where some of his ideas came.

Today, I believe that the west is going in a direction that will lead to more loud mouth pompous’ bigots with bad hair and tans as fake as their words, masters of marketing but pions in policy. The likes of Locke are the basis for many ideas and theories that became the western style of democracy that has dominated most of the 20th century, with some success, and some complete failures.

We are much farther along from Locke’s day, of the master and servant mindset, of divine rights and papal control of nation-states from afar, and democracy existing only as a failed theory from ancient times, picked up and bounced around, in theory, but not in practice.

For well over 300 years thinkers such as Smith, Rawls, and Locke have been asking those questions of what do the people really want? What role should government play? And, well, just as importantly, how does one go about changing it to a more fair and civil society?

If change is wanted, what does change look like? What is the goal if not fairness? Civility?

Trump is a wedge, he offers just monuments to division and lies, and almost every day his amorality and self-interest are clear and present, a danger even, and certainly he has no idea, nor will, to truly and finally achieve those lofty goals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just some lucky few.

3 thoughts on “Of Locke And The Tabula Rasa

  1. “For well over 300 years thinkers such as Smith, Rawls, and Locke have been asking those questions of what do the people really want?”
    We haven’t made progress in answering this.


    1. Yeah, I suppose because many don’t know to ask the questions, so just take what they get, indifferent. Don’t know they can want more, or, er, less maybe as the case may be.


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