. 1
( 9)



Are we humans all one another™s equals? And if we are, what is this
equality based on and what are its implications?
In this concise and engaging book, Jeremy Waldron explores
these questions in the company of the seventeenth-century English
philosopher John Locke. Waldron believes that Locke provides us
with “as well-worked-out a theory of basic equality as we have in the
canon of political philosophy.” But for us it is a challenging theory
because its foundations are unabashedly religious. God has created
us equal, says Locke, and a proper grasp of the implications of this
equality is inseparable from an understanding of ordinary men and
women as creatures of God, created in his image and “made to last
during his, not one anothers Pleasure.”
The religious foundations of Locke™s political thought have been
noted before, but they have never been explored more sympatheti-
cally, or with greater attention to their implications for modern
debates about equality. Jeremy Waldron is one of the world™s lead-
ing legal and political philosophers, and this book is based on the
Carlyle Lectures that he presented in Oxford in ±. It provides
new perspectives on Locke™s egalitarianism and the tribute he paid
to the status and dignity of the ordinary person; it examines the
problems Locke faced in de¬ning the human species for the pur-
poses of his commitment to basic equality; it explores the relation
between his egalitarianism and his Christian beliefs; and most im-
portant, it offers new interpretations of Locke™s views on toleration,
slavery, property, aboriginal rights, the Poor Law, the distribution of
the franchise, and relations between the sexes.
But this is not just a book about Locke. God, Locke, and Equality
discusses contemporary approaches to equality as well as rival in-
terpretations of Locke, and this dual agenda gives the whole book
an unusual degree of accessibility and intellectual excitement. In-
dispensable for Locke scholars and for those who study the foun-
dations of equality and the relation between politics and religion, it
will be of interest also to philosophers, political theorists, lawyers,
and theologians around the world.
Christian Foundations of John Locke™s
Political Thought

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Cambridge University Press
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Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521810012

© Jeremy Waldon 2002

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
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First published in print format 2002

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To Gwen Taylor,
teacher, friend, and muse
with thanks

Preface page ix
Citations and abbreviations xi

± ±
 ±
Adam and Eve
 
Species and the Shape of Equality
 
“The Democratic Intellect”
µ ±°
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
 “Disproportionate and Unequal Possession” ±µ±
· ±
“By Our Saviour™s Interpretation”
 Tolerating Atheists? ±·



This book is a revised version of the Carlyle Lectures which I delivered
at the University of Oxford in Michaelmas Term ±, under the title
“Christian Equality in the Political Theory of John Locke.”
The opportunity to develop and deliver these lectures was most wel-
come and I am particularly obliged to Larry Siedentop and Mark Philp
for the invitation and the arrangements. I am grateful also to the Warden
and Fellows of Nuf¬eld College and the Warden and Fellows of All Souls
College for of¬ce accommodation and living accommodation during
my eight weeks in Oxford, and to Suzanne Byrch for administrative
arrangements. Thanks also to Gerry Cohen, Cecile Fabre, John Gardner,
James Grif¬n, Bob Hargrave, Tony Honore, Brian Loughman, Dan
McDermott, David Miller, Karma Nabulsi, Joseph Raz, Mike Rosen,
Alan Ryan, and Andrew Williams for their interest and their comments.
A substantial extract from Chapters  and  of this book was delivered
as the Spring °°° University Lecture at Columbia University. I want to
say “thank you” to President George Rupp and Provost Jonathan Cole
for this invitation. It was an honor to be able to present some of these
arguments under the great cupola of Columbia™s Low Library. The same
material was also presented at Political Theory workshops at Johns Hop-
kins University and the University of Chicago. Participants everywhere
have been generous with their comments on this and other work that I
have presented on basic equality: I am particularly grateful to Jean
Cohen, Jules Coleman, Bill Connolly, Chad Cyrenne, Michael Dorf,
Ronald Dworkin, David Estlund, George Fletcher, Robert Gooding-
Williams, Kent Greenawalt, David Johnston, Frances Kamm, George
Kateb, Ira Katznelson, Philip Kitcher, John Marshall, Alan Musgrave,
Thomas Nagel, Graham Oddie, Susan Okin, Thomas Pogge, Gwen
Taylor, Susan Wolf, Nicholas Woltersdorff, and Iris Young.
In respect of the revision phase, my greatest debt is to Richard Fisher
of Cambridge University Press for his patience and encouragement.
(Thanks, too, to the Press™s reviewers, who provided extensive and valu-
able suggestions.) Ekow Yankah provided research assistance and Chevor
Pompey provided secretarial help. I am grateful to Columbia Law School
for a summer stipend in °°± supporting the completion of this work (as
well as for the time to present the lectures at Oxford in ±).
Thanks, ¬nally, to Carol Sanger for her companionship throughout
this process, and for her contributions and comments on the text. Those
who know her know how lucky I am.
Citations and abbreviations

The major writings of John Locke are frequently cited in the text that fol-
lows. Full details are in the bibliography, but the following abbreviations
will be used in the text.

±st T Book I of John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter
Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ±),
pp. ±·“. My citations to the First Treatise are by
numbered paragraph.
nd T Book II of John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter
Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ±),
pp. µ“. My citations to the Second Treatise are by
numbered paragraph.
John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding ed. P. H.
Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±·±). My citations to the
Essay are by book, chapter, and section.
John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, ed. James Tully
(Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, ±). Locke™s Letter
Concerning Toleration is cited by page number.
John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, as Delivered in the
Scriptures (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, ±·). This is a facsimile
of Reasonableness from the ±· edition of Locke™s works,
reprinted in the series “Key Texts: Classic Studies in the
History of Ideas.” It is cited by page number.
John Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul,
 vols., ed. Arthur W. Wainwright (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
±·). This posthumous work of Locke™s is cited by volume
and page number.

Locke scholars will note that my citations refer to recently pub-
lished and widely available editions in preference to scholarly editions of
Citations and abbreviations
Locke™s complete works, most of which are found only in libraries. I have
done so because I think it is easier on readers, who are more likely to
have these recent editions in front of them. The “Cambridge Texts in
the History of Political Thought” series has done much to standardize
political theory citations: it is unfortunate, however, that the Locke vol-
umes in this series do not include Locke™s ± Letter Concerning Toleration,
and it is a pity too that there is no standard or widely recognized version
of The Reasonableness of Christianity available for citation. I have done the
best I can with these.
Apart from the six works listed above, all other works by Locke and
all works by other authors are cited in the footnotes by author and short
title. (For some of these, I am afraid, there is no choice but to use ancient
library-bound editions.) Readers are referred to the bibliography at the
end of the book for full details.


My topic is equality: the proposition that humans are all one another™s
equals “ created equal, perhaps, or (whether created or not) just equal, in
some fundamental and compelling sense. What that sense is and what
its implications are for law, politics, society, and economy “ these are
questions I propose to explore in the company of the seventeenth-century
English political philosopher John Locke.
I believe that Locke™s mature corpus “ An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding, the Two Treatises of Government, the four (or rather three-and-
a-half ) Letters Concerning Toleration that he wrote in the ±°s and ±°s, and
The Reasonableness of Christianity “ is as well-worked-out a theory of basic
equality as we have in the canon of political philosophy. I shall not try
to defend that proposition in this introductory chapter; the whole book
may be read as a defense of it. But I want to say something preliminary
here, ¬rst about what I mean by “basic equality” and, secondly, about
my use of political, philosophical, and religious writings from the ±°s
and the ±°s in relation to our largely secular interest in this topic at
the beginning of the twenty-¬rst century.±

First, a word about basic equality. In the voluminous modern literature
on egalitarianism, there is a tremendous amount on equality as a policy
aim. Philosophers ask whether we should be aiming for equality of wealth,
equality of income, equality of happiness, or equality of opportunity; they
ask whether equality is an acceptable aim in itself or code for something

± The mature writings on which I shall focus are not necessarily consonant with what Locke wrote
earlier in his career, and commentators have often ignored this. (As Skinner puts it in “Meaning
and Understanding,” p. ±, “Locke at thirty is evidently not yet ˜Locke.™ ”) And we must be careful
not to exaggerate the unity of what I am calling Locke™s mature works: this point will be important
in Chapter , p. .

 God, Locke, and Equality
else, like the mitigation of poverty; they ask whether aiming for equality
implies an unacceptable leveling; whether, if achieved, it could possibly
be stable; how it is related to other social values such as ef¬ciency, liberty,
and the rule of law; and so on. A tremendous amount of energy has been
devoted to that sort of distributive or policy question in recent political
Much less has been devoted to the more abstract philosophical
question: “What is the character of our deeper commitment to treating
all human beings as equals “ a commitment which seems to underlie our
particular egalitarian aims?” Not “What are its implications?” but “What
does this foundational equality amount to?” and “What is it based on?”
The difference between these two types of interest in equality is not the
difference between prescriptive and descriptive views “ equality as aim
versus equality as a fact or as a descriptive claim. It is between equality as
a policy aim, and equality as a background commitment that underlies
many different policy positions. (Whether equality in the latter sense re-
quires support from some thesis of the descriptive equality of all humans
is a further question, which I will discuss brie¬‚y in Chapter  and explore
in detail elsewhere in some more analytic work on basic equality.)
As I said, although there is plenty of work on equality, there is precious
little in the modern literature on the background idea that we humans
are, fundamentally, one another™s equals. There™s a page or two in articles
by Bernard Williams, Gregory Vlastos, Stanley Benn, and D. A. Lloyd
Thomas, and a few pages towards the end of Rawls™s Theory of Justice.
And that™s about it. This is not because the fundamental principle is
thought unimportant. On the contrary, much of the work that is being
done on equality as an aim presupposes the importance of basic equality.
Ronald Dworkin™s work on equality provides a ¬ne illustration. Dworkin
has done a tremendous amount to explore and articulate the nature of
our commitment to equality in the social and economic realm.µ He has
helped us think through the issue of the currency of equality: are we or
should we be interested in equality of well-being, equality of primary
 I have in mind particularly the literature inspired by Dworkin, “What is Equality? ±,” and “What is
Equality? ” and Sen, “Equality of What?” See also, for example, Arneson, “Equality and Equality
of Opportunity for Welfare”; Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue; Frankfurt, “Equality and Respect”; Par¬t,
Equality or Priority?; Raz, Morality of Freedom, Ch. ; and Temkin, Inequality.
 See below, pp. “·±.
 Williams, “Idea of Equality,” pp. °“; Benn, “Egalitarianism and the Equal Consideration of
Interests,” pp. ±“·; Vlastos, “Justice and Equality,” pp. “°; Lloyd Thomas, “Equality Within
The Limits of Reason Alone,” pp. µ ff.; and Rawls, Theory of Justice, pp. µ°“±. See also Coons
and Brennan, By Nature Equal, for a survey of the literature on this issue.
µ See generally Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue.

goods, equality of resources generally or equality of basic capacities? He
provides a useful account of the relation between equality and market
mechanisms, in terms of a distinction between “choice-sensitive” and
“luck-sensitive” aspects of social and economic distribution.· And he
has also developed powerful and interesting arguments about the rela-
tion between equality and the “trumping force” associated with moral
and constitutional rights. In all of this Dworkin has insisted on attention
to the distinction between various articulations of equality, in these and
other ¬elds of policy-oriented theorizing, and an underlying principle
of equality, which he terms the principle of equal concern and respect.
Without that distinction, he says, people will be unable to distinguish be-
tween “treatment as an equal” which is fundamental to political morality,
and “equal treatment,” which may or may not be what the principle of
equal concern and respect requires of us in some domain or currency, in
some particular set of circumstances. So the distinction between basic
equality and equality as an aim is fundamental to Dworkin™s work. Yet
Dworkin has said next to nothing about the nature and grounding of the
principle of equal respect.±° He has devoted very little energy to the task
of considering what that principle amounts to in itself, what (if anything)
evokes it in the nature of the beings it proposes to treat as equals, and
above all, what its denial would involve and what precisely would have to
be refuted if this foundational assumption of equality had to be sustained
against real-life philosophical opponents.
This is not peculiar to Dworkin. He maintains that it is an obvious
and generally accepted truth that governments must treat their citizens as
equals, and that no one in the modern world could possibly get away with
denying this (though of course they deny particular aspects of egalitarian
policy).±± If he is right “ and I think he is “ then there is a failure of
argument on a very broad front indeed. Among those who make use of
some very basic principle of human equality, virtually no one has devoted
much energy to explaining what the principle amounts to in itself, nor “
as I said “ to the task of outlining what the refutation of any serious
philosophical denial of basic equality would have to involve.
 See especially Dworkin, “What is Equality? ±” and “What is Equality? .”
· Dworkin, A Matter of Principle, pp. ± ff., and “What is Equality? ,” pp.  ff.
 Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, pp. ·“, and “Rights as Trumps,” pp.  ff.
 See Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, p. ·.
±° The closest he has come to a sustained discussion of these issues is in Dworkin, “In Defense
of Equality,” but the discussion there is directed mostly at some particular arguments by Jan
Narveson, and it is in any case tantalizingly brief.
±± Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue, p. ±.
 God, Locke, and Equality
No doubt part of the reason for reticence here has to do with the
unpleasantness or offensiveness of the views “ sexist and racist views, for
example “ that one would have to pretend to take seriously if one wanted
to conduct a serious examination of these matters.± In philosophy gen-
erally one sometimes has to pretend to be a weirdo; one has to pretend to
take seriously the possibility that the sun will not rise tomorrow in order
to address problems like induction, causation, the regularity of nature,
and the reality of the external world. In these areas, unless our specula-
tions appear “cold, and strain™d, and ridiculous” by ordinary standards,
we are not doing philosophy.± The trouble is that in political philos-
ophy, those ordinary standards may be ordinary moral standards. That
can make political philosophy, when it turns its attentions to fundamen-
tals, quite an uncomfortable occupation to pursue. As I said: in general
philosophy, one only has to pretend to be a weirdo or an eccentric. In
political philosophy, one has to appear to take seriously positions that in
other contexts would be dismissed out of hand as offensive and wrong.
Most of us would rather forgo this discomfort, particularly in regard to
the testing of a position that most of our peers already seem to accept or
take for granted.±
By contrast John Locke and his contemporaries in seventeenth-
century political theory did not have the luxury of asking themselves
whether it might be too distasteful to bother taking seriously the denial
of basic human equality. They were confronted with such denials, and with
± Here™s an example of the sort of inegalitarian position I mean. In ±°·, the Clarendon Press
at Oxford published a two-volume treatise on moral philosophy by Hastings Rashdall. The
following extract concerns trade-offs between high culture and the amelioration of social and
economic conditions:
I will now mention a case in which probably no one will hesitate. It is becoming tolerably obvious
at the present day that all improvement in the social condition of the higher races of mankind
postulates the exclusion of competition with the lower races. That means that, sooner or later, the
lower Well-being “ it may be ultimately the very existence “ of countless Chinamen or negroes
must be sacri¬ced that a higher life may be possible for a much smaller number of white men. It
is impossible to defend the morality of such a policy upon the principle of equal consideration
taken by itself and in the most obvious sense of the word. (Rashdall, The Theory of Good and Evil,
Vol. I, pp. ·“)
There is not a trace of irony in Rashdall™s presentation of this position. Rashdall also appends
a footnote: “The exclusion is far more dif¬cult to justify in the case of people like the Japanese,
who are equally civilized but have fewer wants than the Western” (ibid., p. ). My attention
was ¬rst drawn to this passage by a reference in Haksar, Equality, Liberty and Perfectionism, p. .
Dr. Haksar™s whole discussion is very interesting, esp. chs.  and .
± Hume, Treatise, Bk. I, Pt. IV, sect. ·, p. .
± I have heard people say: “Why do we need to explain or defend basic equality? Nobody denies
it.” But even if that™s true, it is still important for philosophers to explore the character and the
grounds of propositions we take for granted. See Waldron, “What Plato Would Allow,” p. ±·±.
real political systems built upon them. Some of them “ Locke in partic-
ular “ thought there was no way around such denials, if the political
campaigns they were involved in were to succeed at the level of philos-
ophy and ideology. The opponents of equality “ not just equality of this
or equality of that, but the basic equality of all human persons “ would
have to be dealt with head-on, or else the liberal political enterprise
Moreover Locke and his allies faced not just a live enemy on this front,
but a formidable one. When Sir Robert Filmer, the great proponent of
patriarchalism and the divine right of kings, wrote, in the ±µ°s, “that
there cannot be any Multitude of Men whatsoever, either great or small, . . . but that in
the same Multitude . . . there is one Man amongst them, that in Nature hath a Right
to be King of all the rest,”±µ he was not teasing his audience with a counter-
intuitive hypothesis, to liven up a quiet day in a dusty philosophical
seminar. He was stating something on which he could reasonably expect
implicit agreement from most of the educated and respectable opinion
around him, and something that was evidently embodied in aspects of
social, familial, political, and ecclesiastical organization that many of his
contemporaries believed were or ought to be largely beyond question.
It was the contrary position “ the principle of equality “ that seemed
radical, disreputable, beyond reason, valid only as a philosophical hy-
pothesis entertained for the sake of argument in a carefully controlled
philosophical environment. Let it loose in politics and in moral belief
generally, and there was no telling the harm it would do. It was rather
like communism in America in the ±µ°s. There was no denying that
people held this position; but those who held it were widely regarded
as unsound and dangerous to the point of incendiary, the last people
respectable opinion would rely on for an account of the grounding or
the reform of stable and effective political institutions.
Locke, beyond doubt, was one of these equality-radicals. Many are
skeptical about this today. But it is important to remember that there
was no advantage to Locke “ as there might be for a sneaky authoritar-
ian or patriarchialist or bourgeois apologist in the twenty-¬rst century “
in pretending to be a partisan of basic equality. Political correctness
argued the other way, and Locke knew perfectly well that neither the
premise “ basic equality “ nor the enterprise of ¬guring out its rami-
¬cations was a passport to political or philosophical respectability. But
equality was something he took very seriously as a moral and political
±µ Quoted at ±st T, ±°. Locke says that this is from Filmer™s Observations on Hobbes, at p. µ, but I
have not been able to con¬rm that reference.
 God, Locke, and Equality
premise. It was not just a preference or a pragmatic rule-of-thumb; nor
was it simply a “dictate of reason,” like Hobbes™s precepts “that no man
by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred or contempt of
another” and “that every man acknowledge another for his equal.”±
Locke accorded basic equality the strongest grounding that a principle
could have: it was an axiom of theology, understood as perhaps the most
important truth about God™s way with the world in regard to the social
and political implications of His creation of the human person.±· God
created all of us in what was, morally speaking, “[a] state . . . of equality,
wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more
than another” (nd T: ), all of us lords, all of us kings, each of us “equal
to the greatest, and subject to no body” (nd T: ±). And anything that
was said about the power of princes, generals, bishops, teachers, schol-
ars, fathers, husbands, employers, landowners, colonists, or the masters
of slaves had to be built upon that basis, and justi¬ed with reference to
and under the discipline of this truth about basic equality.
In what follows we will see Locke attempting to think through the
consequences of this radicalism. And we will watch him respond to the
charge of radical unsoundness, sometimes holding fast to what he knew
was a counter-intuitive position, sometimes ¬‚inching momentarily from
his egalitarian commitment, but more often delighting in the fact that he
was able to articulate the difference “ which we still think it important to
articulate “ between equality as a premise and some particular egalitarian
policy or distribution which he might or might not be in favor of. It would
be nice to be able to report that, one way or another, Locke remained
steadfast in the basics of his egalitarianism. Unfortunately, I cannot. He
¬‚inched at a number of points “ most notably in his comments about the
default authority of husbands, but also in his doctrine of the bestialization
of criminals. But he didn™t ¬‚inch as often or as pervasively as modern
critics suppose. Nor, I shall argue, did he ¬‚inch from his egalitarianism
in a way that detracts from the truth of the assertion with which I have
opened this chapter “ that we have in Locke™s mature corpus as well-
worked-out a theory of basic equality as there is in the canon of political

Let me say something, secondly, about the historical relation between
Locke™s ideas and our own, so far as his egalitarianism is concerned.
± Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. ±µ, p. ±°·.
±· There is an excellent account in John Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke, pp. “±°.
There are all sorts of things that interest us about equality on which it
would be silly and anachronistic to look to John Locke for any help. His
writings have nothing to say about af¬rmative action or universal health
insurance or minority culture rights. If we imagine John Locke plonked
down among us to talk about equality, we would have to set aside long
periods of conversation “ conversations that would be marred inevitably
by misunderstandings and hurt feelings on both sides “ to explain what
these issues were and why we thought they were important. And if we
were magically transported to England in ±,± it would certainly try
the patience of John Locke to have to bring us “up to speed” on issues
like the Exclusion controversy, freehold suffrage, the right to summon
Parliament, and the nature of prerogative authority.
Even if they understood the issues, people on both sides might be puz-
zled by the terms in which they were debated. We are not accustomed to
debate public controversies about equality using Old Testament sources;
and Locke, for his part, might be disconcerted by our employment of the
technical jargon of modern economic theory “ Pareto-optimality and
the like. It is not just a matter of unfamiliar words. Even familiar words
like “rights,” “power,” “property,” and “civil society” might be occasions
for misunderstanding. Locke could not be expected to be familiar with
the water that has passed under these terminological bridges since ±,
and we ourselves are often blithely unaware of the tangled history that
distinguishes our use of these terms from their use by Locke and his
Nor is it just a matter of different meanings, for between ± and °°
we have to deal with different (though of course not utterly disparate)
intellectual worlds. When Locke uses the phrase “Creatures of the same
Species and rank” (nd T: ) in his discussion of equality, how easy is it
for us to remember that he is talking from a world that is not just pre-
Darwinian but pre-Linnaean? When he asks us to consider “how much

± I take ± as my benchmark, ¬nessing (I hope) the vexed issue of the date at which the works
that interest us “ in particular the Two Treatises and the Letter Concerning Toleration “ were written.
I have never understood why there is so much interest in the date of composition, rather than
the date of publication “ i.e. the date at which what is written is actually communicated to an
historical audience. The moment of ¬rst “uptake” (to use Austin™s term in How to Do Things
With Words) “ indeed the moment of ¬rst public uptake “ is surely what matters in the history
of political ideas, rather than the private and uncommunicated moment of ¬rst formulation. To
think otherwise is to subscribe to a particularly mindless version of the cult of authorial intention,
in which actual communication is regarded as a distraction.
± See Tuck, Natural Rights Theories for a ¬ne account of the tangles associated with the concept of
rights, from the very beginning. The fact that our use of “rights” is also ridden with confusion and
controversy doesn™t make it any easier to calibrate our confusions and disagreements with those
of seventeenth-century moral and political theory.
 God, Locke, and Equality
numbers of men are to be preferd to largenesse of dominions” (nd T: )
in political economy, are we sure we even know how to understand this,
let alone disagree with it? When he says, of a state of war, that “there is
no appeal but to Heaven” (nd T: ±), Locke seems to intimate a view
about the contingency of the outcome of ¬ghting that is not just different
from ours, but incommensurable with it. All those who teach the Two
Treatises know the dif¬culty of trying to explain his use of this phrase to a
student. Even if we say it is “just” a metaphor, it is a forbidding enough
task to explain to a modern student what makes the metaphor apt, given
Locke™s belief that the right side often loses in these “appeals.”
So, someone may ask, with all this potential for anachronism and
misunderstanding, what could possibly be the point of lining up John
Locke alongside an array of twentieth- and twenty-¬rst-century thin-
kers “ say, Bernard Williams, John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and Amartya
Sen “ as a leading theorist of equality? What could possibly be the point
of my saying “ as I said at the beginning of these introductory remarks “
that a body of work ¬rst published three hundred years ago is as well-
worked-out a theory of basic equality as we have in the canon of political
philosophy? In what sense do we have it “ “we” as modern theorists of
equality? With our own peculiar concerns, in what sense is this work by
John Locke “ours”?
I am not an historian of ideas, and most of my work on Locke and
other thinkers in the canon of political philosophy has proceeded in a
way that is largely untroubled by worries like these.° But I accept that
the question of historical anachronism deserves an answer in the present
context. Here™s what I want to say to address the historians™ concern.
Our thinking about equality is undeniably entangled with the issues of
the day, and large parts of it “ or, at the very least, large parts of the way we
present it “ are more or less inseparable from contexts, understandings,
and political stakes that would not survive transposition to another time
and place. Everyone who argues about equality today knows that. But
we are also conscious that part of our discussion addresses something
enduring: it addresses the possibility that equality may be grounded on
something rather general in human nature and something permanent
in its signi¬cance for creatures like us. We imagine that even at the level
of particular political outcomes, issues of equality and inequality might
have to be referred, by way of justi¬cation, to a deeper level at which we

° However, see the discussion in Waldron, Right to Private Property, pp. ±“. See also Waldron,
“What Plato Would Allow,” pp. ±“·.

argue about what it means to respect one another as equals.± And many
of us believe that this business of respecting one another as equals might have
to be referred, in turn, to the idea of something important in or about
human nature. That is a possibility reckoned with by all who engage
in modern philosophical thinking about equality. Maybe not everyone
¬nally embraces this possibility; but many of us do.
I suspect that in their thinking about equality some three hundred
years ago, John Locke and his contemporaries were conscious of much
the same duality “ the duality between surface issues of equal treatment
in politics and economy and a deeper idea of respecting people as equals.
On the one hand, they knew that part of their discussion was entangled
with the issues of the day “ the Exclusion controversy, the Test Acts, the
rights of Parliament, and the like “ and more or less inseparable from
contexts, understandings, and political stakes that would not survive
transposition to another time and place. (We have no monopoly on the
sensitivity of meaning to context. Locke and his contemporaries were
not much less sophisticated, hermeneutically, than we are. They knew
there were issues of anachronism and incommensurability in relating
their political thinking to that of St. Paul, for example, or Aristotle.) But,
on the other hand, they too were conscious of a part of their discussion
of equality that asked fundamental and perhaps transcendent questions.
They too asked whether there might be a deeper principle requiring
us to respect one another as equals, a principle which would require
an argument that transcended particular times and particular places
and which would have to be grounded on something general in human
nature and something permanent in its signi¬cance for creatures like us.
Like us, Locke and a few of his radical contemporaries thought that was
something worth exploring, something worth arguing about.
Now, the fact that Locke was exploring the possibility that humans
were by nature worthy of respect as one another™s equals, not just one
another™s equals in the politics of late seventeenth-century England, and
the fact that we in our modern discussions of justice and rights are ex-
ploring the possibility that humans are by nature worthy of respect as one
another™s equals and not just one another™s equals in the politics of (say)
± For this way of stating the distinction, see Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, pp. ±“.
 Margaret Macdonald rejects it “ see Macdonald, “Natural Rights,” pp. “·. So does Hannah
Arendt “ see Arendt, On Revolution, p. · “ though for rather different reasons. And we might be
more comfortable than Locke is with a philosophical rejection of the foundationalism that seems
to be presupposed when a commitment to equality is grounded in a view about human nature.
(Cf. Rorty, “Solidarity or Objectivity?” and “Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality.”)
I will say a little more about this in Chapter .
±° God, Locke, and Equality
twenty-¬rst-century America “ these two facts do not guarantee that we
and Locke are exploring the same issue. Nor does the fact (if it is a fact)
that we are exploring the same issue guarantee that we are exploring it
in ways that are intelligible to one another. But it is not an unreasonable
hypothesis that the issues we are respectively exploring might be close
enough to cast some light on one another. Each is certainly straining to
orient his discussion of equality to something that might be intelligible to
those arguing about equality three hundred years before or three hun-
dred years later: the content of what they are arguing about requires them
to do that. Once we state the issues like this, we see at least how wrong
it is to recoil at the ¬rst reproachful mention of anachronism. For one
cannot understand the questions with which we and Locke are respec-
tively wrestling without seeing that their exploration requires us to risk
anachronism. I cannot be true to my sense that this issue of the permanent
grounding of basic equality is worth exploring if I say peremptorily that
it is impossible to bring my concept of equality into relation to any place
or time other than my own. And Locke could not have been true to his
determination to explore the basis of “[t]his equality of Men, by Nature”
(nd T: µ) unless he had been prepared to risk such anachronism also.
The sort of fact that basic equality must be grounded on “ if it is grounded
upon anything “ must be a fact that is discernable in different ages, and
one whose discernability in one age is not inaccessible to another. The
sort of commitment basic equality involves is necessarily a commitment
that is in principle recognizable in all sorts of contexts and circumstances,
for it is precisely a commitment to look beneath the contexts and circum-
stances that might distinguish one human individual from another and
hold constant an element of enduring respect for the sheer fact of their
underlying humanity. What basic equality generates in the way of social
and political positions may vary from one age to another, and what one
age establishes may be relatively opaque to another. But as an articulate
underlying position, the principle of basic equality predicates itself on
our ability to look through and beyond that. In itself, therefore, the sort of
position we are considering is a reproach to any facile or comprehensive
We can also put the same point the other way round: if moral and
political claims are utterly inseparable from the historical context in
which they are propounded, if they cannot to any extent be considered
and explored in abstraction from that context, then the claim implicit
in the principle of basic, i.e. underlying, human equality is fatuous. If
political and moral claims cannot be abstracted from their context, then
we cannot make sense of the terms in which a claim like Locke™s, “[t]hat
All Men by Nature Are Equall” (nd T: µ), presents itself. To commit to
the exploration of that very claim “ written and published in the ±°s “
is to commit oneself to explore its relation to, among other things, the
claims that we make now about equality, and to explore the way in which
that relation might be mediated by common reference to commonly
discernable characteristics that could be seen both in ± and in °°
to be the basis for the way we ought to treat one another in society.
That™s the ground on which I am going to proceed. Now, in the chap-
ters that follow, we will have some fun with some of the sillier mani-
festations of Cambridge-style historicism, particularly with some of the
propositions about the relation between historical and philosophical un-
derstanding with which Peter Laslett larded his critical edition of the
Two Treatises. But I don™t believe there is anything in what I have said
that should dismay those who think it important to study in detail the
historical context in which political thinking takes place. The historian™s
enterprise is not the one I have outlined. But it is not precluded by it; nor
need the historian and the political philosopher compete for privilege
or priority in this regard. The historian will do well not to underesti-
mate the philosophical agility (by our standards) of a John Locke. He
will do well to re¬‚ect that a modern philosopher engaging, say, with the
Essay, might be responding to Locke™s ideas more or less as Locke would
expect one of his own philosopher-friends to engage with it. (One as-
sumes that Locke and his friends didn™t spend their time contextualizing
each other™s conversation, or collating early editions.) And the political
philosopher, for his part, will do well not to underestimate the scale and
density of the obstacles that stand in the way of representing the thinking
of one century “ particularly the engaged political thinking of one cen-
tury “ in the categories of another. He should remember that a piece
of philosophical writing “ even one that purports to address a timeless
theme “ has a context that may be indispensable for understanding what
it says to the timeless theme and what it draws out of it. And the historians
are right: it™s not enough just to gesture in this direction, if one expects
one™s engagement with Locke to be more than super¬cial. The mod-
ern political philosopher needs to be constantly alert to the point that
text-in-context usually adds up to a richer and more interesting source
of ideas for modern deployment, or a richer and more provocative re-
proach to modern assumptions, than a simple parsing of the text which

 See also Dunn, Cunning of Unreason, pp. “·.
± God, Locke, and Equality
pays no more attention to history than is necessary to correct the date
of composition and modernize the spelling. In what follows, I will try
to bear that in mind.

The title of my Carlyle Lectures and the sub-title of this book refer to
the Christian foundations of Locke™s political thought. I am conscious
that there is something vaguely embarrassing, even bad form, in this char-
acterization. Why “Christian”? Why not just “Religious Foundations of
Equality”? Or why not just “Locke™s Theory of Equality”? If, as I said
in section II, I am trying to build bridges between Locke™s interest in
basic equality and our own, why emphasize of all things the very aspect
of Locke™s thought that is likely to seem most obscure and least conge-
nial to a largely secular body of egalitarian thought in the twenty-¬rst
The historical answer is obvious enough. Locke™s mature philosophy
comprised The Reasonableness of Christianity as well as the Essay, the Letters
on Toleration, the Two Treatises, and the Thoughts Concerning Education. (I shall
include also some references to the posthumously published Paraphrase
and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul.) As a philosopher, Locke was intensely
interested in Christian doctrine, and in the Reasonableness he insisted that
most men could not hope to understand the detailed requirements of
the law of nature without the assistance of the teachings and example of
Jesus. The point has not been lost on his most distinguished commen-
tators. John Dunn has argued that the whole frame of discussion in the
Two Treatises of Government is “saturated with Christian assumptions “ and
those of a Christianity in which the New Testament counted very much
more than the Old.” He wrote in his famous study of Locke:
Jesus Christ (and Saint Paul) may not appear in person in the text of the Two
Treatises but their presence can hardly be missed when we come upon the norma-
tive creaturely equality of all men in virtue of their shared species- membership.µ
Now this is a challenging observation, not least because (as Dunn in-
timates) Jesus and St. Paul are barely mentioned in the actual text of
the Treatises. Indeed, one of the things I want to explore is why, in an
argument which appears to be devoted largely to the biblical case for
equality, there is so little from the New Testament. But my interest
 For a ¬ne statement of this point, see Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric, pp. ±“±.
µ  I will address this speci¬cally in Chapter ·.
Dunn, Political Thought of John Locke, p. .
goes beyond bibliography. I want to ask, not only whether we can discern
the in¬‚uence of Christian teaching in Locke™s normative doctrine of the
“equality of all men in virtue of their shared species-membership,” but
also whether one can even make sense of a position like Locke™s “ and
a substantive position like Locke™s does seem to be what we want so far
as basic equality is concerned “ apart from the speci¬cally biblical and
Christian teaching that he associated with it.
Indeed, I want to go further than that. For Dunn, I suspect, the theo-
logical and speci¬cally biblical and Christian aspects of Lockean equality
are features of Locke™s theory that make it largely irrelevant to our con-
cerns. Teasing out and putting on display the indispensability to Locke™s
political theory of its theological foundations is a way of con¬ning Locke
to the seventeenth century. To paraphrase Dunn™s famous title, they are
part of “what is dead” in the political thinking of John Locke, part of
what explains why the Two Treatises and the rest of Locke™s work are of
mostly antiquarian interest in the history of ideas.· If we were to de-
velop an egalitarian political philosophy for our own use, Dunn seems
to be saying, it would have quite a different character from Locke™s. It
would be secular in its foundations “ if it had any foundations “ and
it would not be con¬ned in its appeal, as Locke™s theory seemed to be
con¬ned in its appeal, to those who were willing to buy into a particular
set of Protestant Christian assumptions. I don™t mean necessarily that
he thinks it would have to be philosophically non-committal in the way
that John Rawls has said a political liberalism ought to be. Dunn need
not go that far in contrasting what we are looking for with what John
Locke thought he had discovered. But the deep philosophical commit-
ments of a modern theory would likely be oriented to secular values such
as autonomy or dignity or human ¬‚ourishing, values that are thought
to command our respect quite independently of any conception of the
sacred or of our relation to God.
Dunn is probably right about this dissonance between Locke™s political
philosophy and what most people expect in a theory of equality. For my
part, however, I am not so sure. I actually don™t think it is clear that we “
now “ can shape and defend an adequate conception of basic human
equality apart from some religious foundation.° And I think it is quite an

· Dunn, “What is Living and What is Dead in the Political Theory of John Locke.”
 Cf. Rorty, “Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality.”
 Rawls, Political Liberalism, pp. ± ff.
° For some recent discussion see Coons and Brennan, By Nature Equal.
± God, Locke, and Equality
open question how speci¬c, or sectarian, or scriptural, such a foundation
has to be.
We are sometimes quite evasive about this. We tell each other that the
principle of equality is just one political position among all the others we
hold, and no different from the others in the way that it might be justi¬ed.
Isaiah Berlin, for example, imagines that there might be a utilitarian
defense of basic equality: “One can perfectly well conceive of a society
organized on Benthamite or Hobbesian lines . . . in which the principle
of ˜every man to count for one™ was rigorously applied for utilitarian
reasons.”± But that is hopelessly confused. Bentham™s principle “Every
man to count for one, nobody for more than one” is partly constitutive of
utilitarianism, and so cannot be defended on utilitarian grounds except
in a question-begging way. Nor, for the defense of the principle of basic
equality, is it enough simply to identify common characteristics that all
humans share in common. As we shall see in Chapter , that is but a
part of the agenda, and though it™s dif¬cult it is the easier part: the hard
bit is to defend the proposition that these characteristics matter suf¬ciently
to be capable of underpinning a commitment that bears the weight
that our egalitarianism has to bear. Basic equality is so fundamental to
innumerable aspects of our ethical outlook that it requires a special sort
of defense “ at once transcendent and powerful “ so that it can both
underpin what are usually taken to be the starting points of public justi-
¬cation and also prevail in the face of the various temptations that invite
us to start drawing distinctions between types or grades of human being.
Now, it does not follow from any of this that basic equality must be
grounded in a religious conception. But the possibility should surely be
given serious consideration, if only because generations of our prede-
cessors in this enterprise have been convinced of it. Again, from that
fact that theories of basic equality in previous ages have had a religious
foundation, it doesn™t follow that our egalitarian commitments are in-
conceivable apart from that heritage. How much we can justify or, to
put it provocatively, how much of our egalitarian heritage we can imitate
with the spare resources of a secular moral vocabulary (not to mention
the even more meager vocabulary of a Rawlsian “political” liberalism)
remains to be seen.
± Berlin, “Equality,” p. ±; see also ibid., p. .
 It is surprisingly dif¬cult to ¬nd a source for the Bentham slogan. Ritchie observes, in Natural
Rights, p.  n., that the phrase is known from its quotation by J. S. Mill in Chapter V of
Utilitarianism. “The maxim seems to belong,” Ritchie says, “to the unwritten doctrine of the
Utilitarian master.”
 Cf. Rawls, Theory of Justice, pp. µ°“± (section ··).
These are questions for us. But it would be quite wrong to assume
they were not also questions for Locke. He may have been disposed to
offer answers different from those with which we are comfortable ( just
as he had to deal with challenges that are different from those we are
comfortable dealing with). But I shall argue at the end of the book that it
is not a case of Locke™s assuming, as a matter of background world-view,
that of course religion must be the basis of equality, and of our assuming,
as a matter of a different background world-view, that of course it is not. In
fact Locke confronted the claim, put forward in his own time, that these
fundamental, apparently transcendent positions, could be understood on
a purely secular basis. He had grave reservations about these claims, and
he conjectured that among his seventeenth-century audience “many are
beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it” (RC: ±µ). And I want
to ask: is that conjecture so strange to us? I don™t think so: I think it shows
a Locke confronting more or less exactly the issue we have to confront as
we consider possible grounds for basic equality. And perhaps it is time
someone explored the theological foundations of Locke™s egalitarianism
on a basis that is sympathetic to his approach or at least not actively
hostile to the view that a theory of equality might actually need theological
foundations. That™s what I shall try to do here.

I am conscious, once again, that the historians will see a certain danger
in the approach I am taking. To treat Locke™s argument as though it were
a secular argument, and thus on a par with our patterns of secular argu-
mentation, is one sort of anachronism. To treat Locke™s use of religious
argumentation (and his re¬‚ection upon and hesitation concerning the
use of religious argumentation) as though it were on a par with our own
worries about the limits of the secular and about the place of religion in
our public philosophy may seem more sophisticated; but it too may be
anachronistic in its own way. In “What is Living and What is Dead in John
Locke,” Dunn acknowledges that there are still a great many Christians in
the world, and he considers the possibility that Locke™s theory “is . . . fully
alive for all those who remain such,” or at any rate for those who happen
to share “Locke™s distinctively Protestant religious sensibility.” But he
concludes that “this resolution at least is de¬nitely quite wrong,” because
it underestimates the enormous difference in “conceptual structures and

 Dunn, “What is Living and What is Dead,” p. ±.
± God, Locke, and Equality
patterns of argument employed in political understanding by all but the
most intellectually uncouth of present day Christian believers” and the
conceptual structures and patterns of political argument employed by
seventeenth-century Christian thinkers like John Locke.µ
He has a point. One has only to read the ¬rst of Locke™s Two Treatises to
become aware that we are in a quite different intellectual world from that
of the modern philosopher, even the modern philosopher who is willing
to entertain the possibility that serious moral argument must have a
religious ¬‚avor. Every Locke scholar, and not just those of a secular
bent, views the methods and substance of the First Treatise as strange and
disconcerting, particularly in the assumption, which seems to pervade
the work (or the half of it we have), that the freedom and equality of
the people of England “ perhaps the freedom and equality of people
everywhere “ might turn on the precise meaning and accumulation of
biblical verses about the kings, generals, and judges of Israel, the ancient
patriarchs, the endowment of Noah, and the creation of Adam and Eve.
This is not an assumption that would be made in an article in Philosophy
and Public Affairs. But nor is it an assumption that one would expect to ¬nd
in the pages of a modern journal like First Things, or in modern natural
law writing, in the work of John Finnis, for example, or others who take
seriously the religious dimension of moral and political argument.· Such
writers certainly would not disparage scripture. But they do not read it,
as Locke reads it in the First Treatise, interrogating it minutely for the
precise bearing that it might have on the resolution of quite particular
political issues.
Of course, part of John Locke™s interest in the speci¬cally biblical part
of his argument is connected with the determination, driving his work
in the Two Treatises, to refute the speci¬c claims of Sir Robert Filmer,
whose Patriarcha and other works were republished in the ±·°s to provide
µ Ibid.
 Locke opens the book with these words (Locke, Two Treatises, Preface, p. ±·): “Reader, Thou hast
here the Beginning and End of a Discourse concerning Government; what Fate has otherwise disposed of the Papers
that should have ¬lled up the middle, and were more than all the rest, ™tis not worth while to tell thee.” One
of the things, I think, that distinguishes philosophers interested in Locke™s political theory from
historians of ideas is that the former “ the philosophers “ wake up from time to time screaming
in the middle of night, having dreamed that someone (inevitably someone from Cambridge) has
discovered the long-lost manuscript of the missing half of the First Treatise and that we are all
going to have to spend the rest of our professional lives tracing Locke™s pursuit of Robert Filmer
through another three hundred pages of “the Windings and Obscurities which are to be met with in the
several Branches of his wonderful System” (ibid.).
· See, for example, Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights and Macintyre, After Virtue. (First Things is
“a monthly journal of religion and public life,” published in New York.)
powerful scriptural support for a thesis of basic inequality. According to
Locke, Filmer “boasts of, and pretends wholly to build on” what Locke called
“Scripture-proofs,” arguments from the Bible “which would perswade all
Men, that they are Slaves, and ought to be so” (±st T: ±). Locke needs to
prove against Filmer that neither reason nor scripture “hath subjected
us to the unlimited Will of another” (±st T: ). The “reason” part of the
argument is mostly presented in the Second Treatise (mostly but not wholly
for, as we shall see, there are powerful passages of reasoned argument in
the First Treatise as well); but Locke is not, I think, being ironic when he
says that if “the Assignment of Civil Power is by Divine Institution,” revealed,
for example, in the scriptures, then “no Consideration, no Act or Art of
Man can divert it from that Person, to whom by this Divine Right, it is
assigned, no Necessity or Contrivance can substitute another Person in
his room” (±st T: ±°·). Much later in my book “ in Chapter · “ I will ask
what we should make of the fact that Locke devotes much more space to
Old Testament passages than Filmer does in the arguments that Locke
says he is trying to refute. But whatever the balance of pages, Locke was
evidently convinced that he could not sustain his radical egalitarianism
without taking on the detail of Filmer™s “Scripture-proofs.”
Now, because Sir Robert Filmer doesn™t loom very large in our cham-
ber of philosophic or political horrors, it is understandable we are hardly
riveted by Locke™s patient line-by-line refutation of his scriptural argu-
ment. So it is tempting to say that the First Treatise is just irrelevant to our
modern concerns. This is especially persuasive inasmuch as Filmer™s re-
jection of basic equality consists in what I am going to call a particularistic
rather than a general inegalitarianism. Filmer actually rejected what must
have been in his day the most familiar philosophic defense of general
inegalitarianism, namely Aristotle™s theory of natural slavery. He did so
quite ¬rmly at the start of Chapter  of Patriarcha:
Also Aristotle had another fancy, that those men ˜which proved wise of mind
were by nature intended to be lords and govern, and those that were strong of
body were ordained to obey and be servants™ (Politics, book I, chapter ). But this
is a dangerous and uncertain rule, and not without some folly. For if a man prove
both wise and strong, what will Aristotle have done with him? As he was wise,
he could be no servant, as he had strength, he could not be a master. Besides,
to speak like a philosopher, nature intends all men to be perfect both in wit
and strength. The folly or imbecility proceeds from some error in generation or
education, for nature aims at perfection in all her works.
 
Locke, Two Treatises, Preface, p. ±. Filmer, Patriarcha, p. ±µ.
± God, Locke, and Equality
Filmer™s primary interest is in identifying speci¬c individuals who have
authority over others, rather than classes or types of individual in some
general hierarchy.° A theory of the divine right of kings is particularistic
in this sense inasmuch as it purports to identify particular persons, like
Charles Stuart or his brother James, as entitled to monarchical authority.
A racist or a sexist theory by contrast would be a general inegalitarian-
ism, implying as it does that all humans of a certain type are superior
to all humans of some other type. So this too seems to deprive Filmer™s
theory and its refutation of most of its interest for us. Very few of those
today who deny that humans are one another™s equals do so on partic-
ularistic grounds (for example, because they believe in the divine right
of kings established by descent from Adam). There is no modern enter-
prise in political philosophy for which practicing on Filmer would be an
appropriate preparation or exercise.
I don™t believe, though, that the particular and the general strands of
Locke™s answer to Filmer can be disentangled so easily. For one thing,
as Locke points out, Filmer is not consistent in his particularism. Filmer
purports to be telling us that speci¬c individuals are entitled to be absolute
monarchs, by dint of having inherited the crown which God gave to
Adam; but much of the time he seems to be arguing for absolute authority
in the abstract, an argument that he seems to think does important
political work whether we can identify an Adamite heir or not. Locke™s
attack at this point is one of the most powerful in the book (±st T: ± “,
±°µ“·, ±°“·). And it is not just ad hominem; it is also a general meditation
on the relation between abstract and practical argumentation in the
theory of politics. Unless scripture provides a basis for identifying the
Lord™s anointed, Locke says,
the skill used in dressing up Power with all the Splendor and Temptation Abso-
luteness can add to it . . . will serve only to give a keener edge to Man™s Natural
Ambition, which of itself is but too keen. What can this do but set Men on the
more eagerly to scramble, and so lay a sure and lasting Foundation of endless
Contention and Disorder, instead of that Peace and Tranquility, which is the
business of Government, and the end of Humane Society. (±st T: ±°)
Not only that, but Locke takes the occasion to re¬‚ect upon the prag-
matics of divine law, and the necessity for human positive law. On the
one hand, it is inconceivable that God would have instituted a speci¬c

° Hence the passage from Filmer that I quoted earlier: “[T ]here cannot be any Multitude of Men
whatsoever, either great or small . . . but that in the same Multitude . . . there is one Man amongst them, that in
Nature hath a Right to be King of all the rest.” (Quoted by Locke, ±st T: ±°.)
monarchy “and yet not to give Rules to mark out, and know that Person
by” (±st T: ±·).± On the other hand, this is just the sort of thing that
human law is good at, “since by Positive Laws and Compact, which
Divine Institution (if there be any) shuts out, all these endless inextrica-
ble Doubts, can be safely provided against” (±st T: ±).
I am quoting these passages not only for their intrinsic interest (which
in my view is considerable), but also to dispel the impression, which
John Dunn™s article might leave us with, that Locke is so different from
us that he cites biblical chapter and verse as though it clinched a political
argument. That is not so at all: at the very least, Locke like us is interested
in the meta-theoretical question of what it would be for a biblical passage
to settle, or even to contribute to, a political argument.
Beyond these hermeneutic points, there is also the question of Locke™s
substantive attitude to the particularism of Filmer™s defense of political
inequality. Certainly in the Second Treatise, Locke™s response to Filmer be-
comes also an attack on general inegalitarianism: it becomes a defense of
equality against those who purport to order humans generally into ranks,
not just a particular child below his particular father and a particular
subject below his particular sovereign. His strategy in the First Treatise,
however, is not con¬ned to taking on Filmer™s particularistic inegalitari-
anism on its own terms. In addition to refuting the particular claims that
Filmer makes in respect of Adam and his heirs, Locke also sets out to re-
proach his particularism with a biblically based general egalitarianism, an
egalitarianism which holds that nobody in particular could possibly have
the authority that Filmer says Adam and his heirs have had because of the
relation that God has established among people in general. (The fact that
Filmer is not defending inegalitarianism on this general front does not
mean that he is invulnerable to attack from this direction.) In general, the
First Treatise is an indispensable resource in the reconstruction of Locke™s
theory of equality. My book is about the relation in Locke™s thought be-
tween basic equality and religious doctrine “ and that is exactly what the
First Treatise is devoted to. The First Treatise is nothing but a defense of
the proposition that humans are, basically, one another™s equals; it is a
defense of the basis on which the Second Treatise proceeds. The af¬rmative
argument in the First Treatise has a scriptural aspect, it is true. But it is
not just a matter of God™s voice having been recorded booming from the
heavens, “You are all one another™s equals,” and that™s that. In the First
Treatise, the argument for general egalitarianism is subtle and complex,

± See also the discussion in Chapter µ, pp. ±“.
° God, Locke, and Equality
weaving, as it does, speci¬c biblical passages into the broader fabric of
natural law and traditional theology. And it interlaces the particular
and the general aspects of that defense in a way that helps enormously
in seeing what exactly is going on in the more synoptic argument of the
Second Treatise. It is worth persevering with it, despite the fact that we
have to view Locke™s defense there through two prisms “ scriptural ar-
gumentation and the refutation of particular inegalitarianism “ neither
of which is familiar or particularly interesting to us.
Secular theorists often assume that they know what a religious argu-
ment is like: they present it as a crude prescription from God, backed up
with threat of hell¬re, derived from general or particular revelation, and
they contrast it with the elegant complexity of a philosophical argument
by Rawls (say) or Dworkin. With this image in mind, they think it obvi-
ous that religious argument should be excluded from public life, and they
conclude therefore that we can have very little in common with John
Locke or his interlocutors, who seem to have made the opposite assump-
tion “ that public reason should be conducted more or less exclusively in
these terms. But those who have bothered to make themselves familiar
with existing religious-based arguments in modern political theory know
that this is mostly a travesty; and I suspect that it might be as caricatural
of religious argumentation in Locke™s day as it is of religious argumen-
tation in our own. Be that as it may: we should not be in the business
of abandoning our capacity to be surprised by styles of argumentation.
That, after all, is supposed to be one great advantage of an historically
sensitive account: it takes us out of our easy assumptions and challenges
what we think an argument of a certain sort must be like. Religious argu-
ments are more challenging than most, and for many people they are
as foreign when they occur in contemporary political theory as they are
when they are found in a seventeenth-century tract. One virtue, then, of
devoting all this time and all this space to an analysis and elaboration of
Locke™s religious case for equality is that it promises not only to deepen
our understanding of equality, but also to enrich our sense of what it is
like to make a religious argument in politics.
 Compare for example the use of arguments about imago dei in ±st T: °. See the discussion of this
passage in Chapter , p. µ.

Adam and Eve

In Chapter ±, I suggested that for us the dif¬culty in undertaking serious
philosophical exploration of the idea of basic equality has two sources.
There is, ¬rst, an awkwardness at the prospect at having to make explicit
whatever religious or spiritual assumptions lie behind our conviction
that humans are special and that some of the more obvious differences
between them are irrelevant to the fundamentals of moral concern and
respect. Secondly, we are discom¬ted at the prospect of having to take
seriously, even if only for the sake of clarity and refutation, racist and
sexist positions that seem to deny this equality. I am going to take up the
¬rst of these awkwardnesses in Chapter  and again in Chapter . But
we also need to face up to the second, to consider and take seriously (at
least for the sake of argument) the premises on which racist and sexist
doctrines are based.
There is not much in John Locke on the subject of race, and what
little there is “ so far as it is relevant to issues about the displacement
of aboriginal Americans and about the justi¬cation of slavery “ I shall
postpone for consideration until Chapters µ and ·. I will talk in Chapter 
about Locke™s discussion of the idea of species, conducted with reference
to the species Man, in Books III and IV of the Essay Concerning Human
Understanding, and in that context we will touch upon an observation or
two that Locke made about race.± In this chapter, however, I would like
to introduce the substance of my discussion of Locke™s egalitarianism by
focusing on what many regard as the most striking difference within the
human species “ the difference between men and women.

There are many ways of approaching Locke™s discussion of sex and
gender. What I would like to do is to chart Locke™s struggle to free
± See below, pp. “.

 God, Locke, and Equality
contemporary thought “ indeed to free himself “ of the conviction that
a difference as striking as the difference between men and women must
be morally and politically salient in its own right, and that it must also
pre¬gure and exemplify the general implausibility of human equality as
a starting point for social and political thought. My initial focus will be
on Locke™s discussion of Adam and Eve and the circumstances of their
creation and fall, in the First Treatise. I have already observed that the
target for the First Treatise was the particular inegalitarianism of Robert
Filmer, rather than any general categorization of human beings. Locke
wanted to attack the Filmerian view that certain particular men had
the right to rule over the rest. But in the course of his refutation of that
particular inegalitarianism, he necessarily also took on certain proposi-
tions that were in his day (and are still sometimes in ours) cited as the
basis of a more general inequality. The biblical subordination of Eve to
Adam can be seen as a privileging of Adam in particular and his par-
ticular (male) heirs, or it can be seen as a privileging of men generally
over women generally, or husbands generally over wives generally. By
seeking to undercut or diminish Filmer™s particular inferences from the
subordination of Eve to Adam, Locke inevitably undercut the appeal of
the two broader positions as well. Now I don™t think he was ever entirely
comfortable with this, and the texts I am going to examine show him
in two minds as to the position about women that he wanted ultimately
to adopt. But there is little doubt where his most fundamental premises
were leading him, and the struggle that we can discern in the texts is his
personal struggle to come to terms with the fact that women as much as
men are created in the image of God and endowed with the modicum
of reason that is, for Locke, the criterion of human equality. I believe
that this struggle of Locke™s is instructive for our understanding of his
theory of basic equality, and also for our understanding of its theological
foundations. And it is as good a way as any to open up the issues about
equality that will occupy us for the rest of the book.
Let me repeat my description of Locke™s endeavor in regard to this
matter of equality between men and women, for it ¬‚ies in the face of a
number of modern commentaries. There used to be a view “ in certain
circles, there still is a view “ that something as striking as the difference
between the sexes must be morally and politically salient in its own right,
and also that that difference between the sexes foreshadows the general
implausibility of human equality as a starting point for social and political
thought. That view is very deeply rooted, and like all others in our culture,
John Locke felt the force of it. But I believe he struggled in his philosophy
to free himself of this conviction. He certainly sought to demonstrate its
Adam and Eve
implausibility as a premise for a normative theory of politics. He tried
as hard as he could to refute theories that based themselves on it, and
he sought to develop an ethics and a politics that had no need of that
hypothesis. He did not succeed in this to the satisfaction of modern
feminists. I™m not sure he succeeded in it to his own satisfaction: his
discussion of men and women, and particularly marriage, has an air of
embarrassment about it, an embarrassment perhaps reinforced by his
own lack of any ¬rst-hand acquaintance with the institution. Indeed the
ambivalence and embarrassment is part of the reason I want to begin
my discussion of equality with this issue. It is not an easy issue, and
setting out the dif¬culties and inconsistencies in Locke™s account helps
us understand that basic equality is a demanding principle, one whose
adoption can shake up a political theorist quite beyond his expectations.

There can be no doubt whatever about John Locke™s intention in the
First Treatise so far as the understanding of Adam and Eve is concerned.
That Adam was furnished with God-given political authority over Eve,
either by virtue of the circumstances of their creation, or by virtue of
their punishment in the Fall, was the ¬rst of Filmer™s positions on natural
inequality that Locke set out to refute.
He tried to refute it in all its manifestations. The ¬rst version is a sort
of argument from priority. Eve was created after Adam, therefore Adam
is boss by virtue of getting in ¬rst. Locke is unconvinced. By the same
token, he says, Adam was created after all the other animals, after the
Lion for example: so “this Argument, will make the Lion have as good a
Title to [dominion] as he, and certainly the Ancienter” (±st T: ±µ). Locke
does not say much in response to Filmer™s claim that “God created only
Adam and of a piece of him made the woman.” But later he shows
 See Lorenne Clark™s verdict in “Women and Locke,” p. µ: “I conclude, therefore, that Locke™s
theory does display unequivocally sexist assumptions.”
 “But perhaps ™twill be said, Eve was not made till afterward: Grant it so, What advantage will our
A. get by it?” (±st T: °).
 Filmer, “Observations on Mr Hobbes™ Leviathan,” cited but not discussed by Locke at ±st T: ±.
Note, however, the intriguing pun in the ¬nal line of this extract from Locke™s ± “Verses on
Queen Catherine,” p. ±°:
When the ¬rst man without a rivall stood
Possest of all, and all like him was good:
Heaven thought that All imperfect, till beside
™T had made another self, and given a Bride:
Empire, and Innocence were there, but yet
™Twas Eve made Man, and Paradise compleat.
 God, Locke, and Equality
himself unimpressed by any argument that children are subordinate to
their parents because they are created out of their parents™ bodily material
(±st T: µ“µ). If such an argument worked, he says, it would establish the
authority of mothers more than fathers, because “the Woman hath an
equal share, if not the greater, as nourishing the Child a long time in her
own Body out of her own Substance” (±st T: µµ). But Locke believed that
these body-part arguments did not work at all, and that all credit for and
authority arising out of the creation of any human being had to go to
“God, who is the Author and Giver of Life” (±st T: µµ), not to the inadvertent
donor of the raw materials. In the Second Treatise, the fact that “Adam
was created a perfect man, his Body and Mind in full possession of their
Strength and Reason” shows that he has a responsibility to look after his
children, “who are all born Infants, weak and helpless,” and “to supply
the Defects of this imperfect State, till the Improvement of Growth and
Age hath removed them” (nd T: µ). But the telos and end-point of that
responsibility is the child™s equality with his parent, not any continuing
subordination traceable to the fact that the father was created complete
and the infant not. In any case, though Eve may have been made out of
a part of Adam, she too was created with her “Body and Mind in full
possession of their Strength and Reason.” There is just no room here for
any inequality based on priority of creation or on ownership of the spare
parts used in the process.
The bulk of Locke™s argument about Adam and Eve is a response to
Filmer™s scriptural claim that God gave Adam general plenary author-
ity over everything in His commandment (Genesis ±:) “ “Be fruit-
ful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have
dominion over the ¬sh of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and
over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Locke™s refu-
tation of this argument of Filmer™s is quite devastating on scriptural
That this Donation was not made in particular to Adam, appears evidently from
the words of the Text, it being made to more than one, for it was spoken in the
Plural Number, God blessed them, and said unto them, Have Dominion. God
says unto Adam and Eve, Have Dominion. (±st T: )

Since many interpreters think it signi¬cant, says Locke, “that these
words were not spoken till Adam had his Wife, must she not thereby
be Lady, as well as he Lord of the World?” (±st T: ). There then fol-
lows a passage of extraordinary importance for the argument about
Adam and Eve
God in this Donation, gave the World to Mankind in common, and not to Adam
in particular. The word Them in the Text must include the Species of Man, for
™tis certain Them can by no means signi¬e Adam alone . . . They then were to have
Dominion. Who? even those who were to have the Image of God, the Individuals
of that Species of Man that he was going to make, for that Them should signi¬e
Adam singly, exclusive of the rest, that should be in the World with him, is against
both Scripture and all Reason: And it cannot possibly be made Sense, if Man
in the former part of the Verse do not signi¬e the same with Them in the latter,
only Man there, as is usual, is taken for the Species, and them the individuals of
that Species . . . God makes him in his own Image after his own Likeness, makes him
an intellectual Creature, and so capable of Dominion. For wherein soever else
the Image of God consisted, the intellectual Nature was certainly a part of it, and
belong™d to the whole Species. (±st T: °)

This is the one place in the Treatise where Locke associates humankind
in general with the Judeo-Christian idea of imago dei, the image of God,
in a way that makes it absolutely clear that that characterization applies
to Eve (the only other member of the species around) as well as to Adam,
to women as well as men.
Intriguingly (for us), this passage is also a meditation on pronouns “
“[t]he word Them in the Text . . . can by no means signi¬e Adam alone” “
and on the meaning of the word “Man” “ “Man there, as is usual, is taken
for the Species, and them the individuals of that Species.” Now, besides
Adam the only other member of the species around at the relevant time
is Eve. This whole strident passage of Locke™s makes no sense unless we
assume that “Them” includes Eve, that “Man” includes “Eve,” and that
even “him” includes Eve in Locke™s comment that “God makes him in
his own Image after his own Likeness, makes him an intellectual Creature”
(±st T: ±). The grant of dominion over the animals, says Locke, “was not
to Adam in particular, exclusive of all other Men,” and his evidence for
this is that God “spoke to Eve also” (±st T: ). I am laboring this point just
because it is so often and so carelessly assumed by modern commentators
that by “Man” or “Men” Locke means only males, whereas this whole
passage is completely unintelligible unless we assume that females are
included also.µ
What about the role of Eve in the Fall, and the particular sentence God
imposed on her, as reported in Genesis :± “ “Unto the woman he said,
I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt
bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall
µ Another passage that is unintelligible unless “Man” includes Eve can be found in Locke, “Homo
ante et post Lapsum,” pp. °“±.
 God, Locke, and Equality
rule over thee”? Locke™s account of this is complicated. First he notes that
both Adam and Eve are being punished by their offended maker, and that
this would be an odd time for God to choose for vesting “Prerogatives and
Privileges” in Adam, when He was “Denouncing Judgment, and declar-
ing his Wrath against them both, for their Disobedience” (±st T: ).
Certainly God™s words do amount to a curse on Eve “for having been
the ¬rst and forwardest in the Disobedience” (±st T: ). And it is a
worse curse than Adam suffers: “as a helper in the Temptation, as well
as a Partner in the Transgression, Eve was laid below him, and so he
had accidentally a Superiority over her, for her greater Punishment”
(±st T: ). Yet Adam too had his share in the fall, says Locke, and he
suffered along with Eve the most severe punishment of all: the loss of
immortality. Adam also suffers the condemnation of having to work for
subsistence “ “In the Sweat of thy Face thou shalt eat thy Bread, says God to
him, ver. ±” (±st T: µ) “ and Locke notes wryly that Adam is de¬nitely
not given permission to sit back and let Eve do the spadework, on account
of her greater transgression.
Indeed, the subordination of Eve is so much a matter of contingency “
so much an optional extra, as it were “ that the special curse upon her
may be read, Locke suggests, as a prediction rather than a prescription:
“God, in this Text, gives not, that I see, any Authority to Adam over Eve,
or to Men over their Wives, but only fortels what should be the Womans
Lot, how by his Providence he would order it so” (±st T: ·). Now this is
not all that he has to say about the matter as we shall see in a moment, and
his introduction of the idea of “Providence” might seem to blur the line
between prediction and prescription.· But it is worth noting that Locke
says about this business of subjection exactly what he says about pain in
childbirth. Though Genesis :± predicts pain in childbirth “ “in sorrow
thou shalt bring forth children” “ it does not prohibit anaesthetics; and
similarly in the condemnation of Eve to being ruled by her husband,
there is . . . no more Law to oblige a Woman to such a Subjection, if the Circum-
stances either of her Condition or Contract with her Husband should exempt
her from it, th[a]n there is, that she should bring forth her Children in Sorrow
and Pain, if there could be found a Remedy for it . . . (±st T: ·)

 For a vivid account, see Locke, “Homo ante et post Lapsum,” p. ±. For an account of their punishment
which, like most contemporary Christian accounts, mentions only Adam™s transgression, see
RC: “.
· This is noticed in Butler, “Early Liberal Roots of Feminism,” at pp. ±“. For Locke™s broader
discussion of the relation between providence, divine appointment, and accident in these matters,
see ±st T: ±.
Adam and Eve
One other point in this connection. Locke™s views on the subject of
original sin were always controversial “ it was one of many grounds
on which people accused him of Socinianism. He tended generally to
minimize the transmission down the generations from Adam and Eve
of either sin or punishment. What was lost in the Fall, he wrote in The
Reasonableness of Christianity, was immortality. Adam and Eve were created
immortal in the image of God; “[b]ut Adam, transgressing the command
given him by his heavenly Father, incurred the penalty; forfeited that state
of immortality . . . After this, Adam begot children: but they were ˜in his
own likeness, after his own image;™ mortal, like their father” (RC: ±°).
That, Locke suggests, is a genetic matter (a sort of divine Lysenkoism),
or, as he puts it in a note to his paraphrase of Romans µ:±, “[a] mortal
father. infected now with death, [was] able to produce noe better than a
mortal race” (P&N: ii.µ). It is not a punishment imposed on all of Adam
and Eve™s descendants; God cannot be supposed to have committed the
injustice of visiting the sins of the father upon the children. And, Locke
adds in The Reasonableness of Christianity, “[m]uch less can the righteous
God be supposed, as a punishment of one sin, wherewith he is displeased,
to put man under the necessity of sinning continually” (RC: ). It seems
to follow from this that Locke is not in a position to accept any view about
the subordination of women which supposes that they became especially
corrupt, all the way down the human line, as a result of the Fall. If Eve
sinned, that is true of Eve only. If Eve was subordinated to her husband
by her greater transgression, that is true of Eve only. Throughout his
work Locke is adamant that punishment is not vicarious: “[E]very one™s
sin is charged upon himself only” (RC: ·). It would make no sense in
the Lockean scheme of things to attribute Eve™s particular punishment
to all of Eve™s female descendants.±°
Intriguingly, Sir Robert Filmer does not associate political power with
the Fall either. Though he was happy to derive what he could from
Genesis :±, his basic position set out in The Anarchy of a Limited or Mixed
Monarchy was that Eve was subject to Adam before she sinned. Political

 See Spellman, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity, pp. ±° ff.
 This is particularly important in his argument about conquest, in nd T: ±· and ± (“[T]he
Father, by his miscarriages and violence, can forfeit but his own Life, but involves not his Children
in his guilt or destruction.”).
±° There is a comment in the First Treatise about the words of Genesis :± being directed to Eve
and “in her, as their representative to all other Women” (±st T: ·), but its seems to be arguendo
(the passage being prefaced “if we will take them as they were directed . . .”). See footnote ± in
Chapter ·, below, for Locke™s theory of representation in regard to the Fall; see also Harris, “The
Politics of Christianity.”
 God, Locke, and Equality
authority, on Filmer™s view, is not at all a post-lapsarian remedy for sin,
any more than the legitimate subjection of the angels to God before
the fall of Satan.±± Filmer goes on to acknowledge that Adam would
have had no occasion to coerce Eve before the Fall, nor even to direct her
“in those things which were necessarily and morally to be done.” She
would be disposed to do those things naturally in her original innocent
condition. Yet there were things to be settled in the state of nature “
Filmer calls them “things indifferent” (maybe the gardening schedule?)
that depended merely on the free will of Adam and Eve “ and in these,
said Filmer, Eve “might be directed by the power of Adam™s command.”±
Now Locke does not respond directly to that passage of Filmer™s, about
Adam having a natural power of direction even in paradise over things
that are otherwise indifferent. I guess we might expect his response to
be that no one has a power of direction over things indifferent “ that™s
what natural freedom amounts to.± But the odd thing is that Locke in
fact seems to agree with Filmer. This is where the hesitations and the
contradictions begin.

Remember I said earlier that Locke suggests we try reading Eve™s sub-
jection to Adam as a prediction rather than a prescription. But he also
says that if you want to read it as a divine prescription, the words of
Genesis :± “import no more but that Subjection [women] should or-
dinarily be in to their Husbands” (±st T: ·). Concerning the subjection
of women, he says: “[W]e see that generally the Laws of Mankind and

±± See Filmer, Anarchy of a Limited or Mixed Monarchy, p. ±µ: “Eve was subject to Adam before he
sinned; the angels, who are of a pure nature, are subject to God “ which confutes their saying
who, in disgrace of civil government or power say it was brought in by sin.” (I fear that Butler,
“Early Liberal Roots of Feminism,” p. ±, misreads this as suggesting that the difference between
man and woman is comparable to that between God and angel.)
± “Government as to coactive power was after sin, because coaction supposeth some disorder,
which was not in the state of innocencey: but as for directive power, the condition of human
nature requires it, since civil society cannot be imagined without power of government. [F]or
although as long as men continued in the state of innocency they might not need the direction
of Adam in those things which were necessarily and morally to be done, yet things indifferent “
that depended merely on their free will “ might be directed by the power of Adam™s command.”
(Filmer, Anarchy of a Limited or Mixed Monarchy, p. ±µ.)
± Cf. nd T: : “[W]e must consider, what State all Men are naturally in, and that is, a State of
perfect Freedom to order their Actions, and dispose of their Possessions and Persons, as they think
¬t, within the bounds of the Law of Nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of
any other Man.”
Adam and Eve
customs of Nations have ordered it so; and there is, I grant, a Foundation
in Nature for it” (±st T: ·).
Now that is an alarming claim for a theorist of equality: there is a founda-
tion in nature for the ordinary subjection of a woman to her husband. And the claim
is explicit in Locke™s argument in the Second Treatise “ quite outside of the

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