John Locke is often characterized as an emblematic figure of the moderate or “magisterial” Enlightenment, and his Two Treatises of Government (1689) as an influential early statement and fountainhead of political liberalism. While both of these assessments are open to question, at a time when the values of both the Enlightenment and liberalism are contested, a contextualized inquiry into Locke’s thought is not merely of historical interest. After reconstructing the polemical environment in which the work was written by Locke – from the vantage point of a political dissident, which involved taking a considerable amount of personal risk –, participants will be engaged in an analytical overview of its argument (Locke’s distinctive contribution to the understanding of natural and political liberty; his analysis of property as not merely crucial to his theory of political legitimacy but to a discourse of civilization and progress [including aspects of race and gender]; the multi-layered significance of “trust”; and his peculiar account of the “dissolution of government”). Besides the in-depth insights gained into one of the texts inevitably figuring in any “great books” course, students will also have the opportunity to refine their skills in contextual analysis and understanding of texts.
Full syllabus will be available by March 2020.