McGowan: John Locke Wishes You a Happy New Year

December 30, 2022

By Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

Englishman John Locke wrote over 3,000 letters to luminaries in England, France, Netherlands and other European countries. His ideas appear in American documents and provide the foundation for our government. However, during his lifetime, his arguments and reasoning brought him under attack severe enough for him to exile himself to the Netherlands. Locke was an ardent Christian espousing love over power. Here might be his New Year’s wishes for 2023:

Most Esteemed Sir and Gentle Madam,

I write that the blessings of the Lord be upon your house and all who dwell there, that the message of the New Year be heard. it would please me to know of your good health and the solicitous rectitude that guides your heart and mind to all brethren, especially in these loud and disputatious times with uncivil words and anger commonplace.

Such is the nature of the season, that we follow “the Prince of Peace” and ask to be forgiven by those whom we have transgressed and forgive those who transgressed our selfs. When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we have rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he understood me incompletely. I reiterated that the law of Nature, “which is reason, teaches . . . that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” My desire to be understood completely, especially regarding property, though put aside by Mr. Jefferson, need not be an occasion of ill will.

Though people may disagree with some of my ideas and misrepresent them, I would not persecute them, for “if anyone maintain that men ought to be compelled by fire and sword to profess certain doctrines” that “is altogether incredible” and opposed to Truth. As I dwell on the matter, I may say, further, “I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristically mark of the true church.” I counsel all of us to listen, think and discuss, abandoning malice and hate, and to keep the season of peace.

As well, ill will does not befit those who have heedlessly and negligently heaped calumny upon my ideas and arguments, ignoring or neglecting my sentiments regarding the necessity of charity. Some say I counseled unlimited possession of property since I wrote that once a person “has mixed his labor with what nature has provided,” that much has a person affixed as his property. “It will perhaps be objected to this that ‘if gathering acorns, or other fruits of the earth, etc. makes a right to them, then anyone may engross as much as he will.’ To which I answer: not so.” We are allowed property “at least where there is enough and as good left in common for the others.”

“This measure did confine every man’s possession to a very moderate proportion,” though some will have more than others. In such a situation as a man may find himself, that he have greater abundance than his neighbor, I recommended charity. For “every one as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind.” Share “what God has given” you with others.

This new year, nay, in every season, “proceed from charity, love, and goodwill.”

Your most affectionate friend and humble servant,

John Locke

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University. 


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