ABSTRACT

Locke’s onslaught on Filmer’s paternalism has diverted attention from his attempts to reconcile the historical precedent of patriarchal monarchy with the rational justification of the principle of consent. His assumption of the transition from the family to incorporation into political society by compact has been noticed; 1 it has even been recognized as the example of how near he could get to a historical point of view. 2 But according to the prevailing evaluation, this was by far not near enough, and an inadvertancy at that. As Vaughan says, ‘only by a back door and in a blissful absent fit, [Locke] … admits even the most beggarly elements of history,’ unaware ‘that to leave even a chink open for them was to destroy his whole argument from top to bottom’. 3 Even when it is pointed out how central an issue in the Treatises is the structure of the family and its relevance to social and political authority, and hence to the importance of the issue of patriarchalism; even when it is admitted that concessions on these points indicate awareness of the limitations of rationalism; 4 Locke’s preoccupation with relating ius paternum to consensus populi is nevertheless relegated to his first period with Shaftesbury, and is considered to be no longer equally fundamental in the final work. 5 He is therefore accused of having ignored ‘the full strength, antiquity and importance of the patriarchal tradition,’ 6 and it is maintained that one of the most important results of a 210critical edition of the Treatises is that the exhaustive refutation of patriarchalism can be seen to run throughout the Second Treatise. 7 Locke’s early authoritarian monarchism 8 is not my concern here. I wish to establish the nature and to assess the significance of the reconciliation between patriarchalism and contractualism in his mature thinking. For this purpose, the present chapter will examine his distinction between paternal and political authority, and compare his account of the development of the family into a political society with the terms of the incorporating compact. This will provide a basis for the reconsideration of his attitude towards history, and also for the clarification, in the following chapter, of his evaluation of absolute monarchy. In this way it will become apparent to what extent concessions to historical forms of authoritarian leadership colour Locke’s most fundamental tenets without blurring the divide between the politics of liberalism and of conservatism.