Peter Lawler once remarked that the only thing worse than the failure of Lockeanism in America would be its complete success. Under the reign of a decent materialism, man’s soul would atrophy as humans focused on their individual pursuit of comfortable well-being.
Not surprisingly, this position–or some version of it–has earned Peter Lawler the disfavor of many FOLs (Friends of Locke). They have accused him of everything from mischaracterizing Locke’s thought to undermining the settled thoughts of the American republic. One strand of this group has been even more upset. These are the thinkers who embrace the thesis that what ails America results from the progressive replacement of Lockeanism by Progressivism. If only, they say, America would return to Locke and exorcise this demon, the nation would be saved. It’s not so simple, Peter Lawler says. He has raised the stakes in the conflict by arguing that at the most basic level—the level of fundamental anthropology–Progressivism should be considered a variant more than a foe of Lockeanism.
For this provocation Peter has placed himself into a state of nature with the FOLs. And there is no common intellectual superior to which to appeal.
Peter has carried on undaunted, a warrior for the soul, insisting that liberal democracy and the quality of human life will be strengthened, not weakened, by pointing up the problems and limitations of a Lockean world.
Unless Peter had a blog post hidden on his computer, you may not hear from him this morning. He is set to deliver a paper at his alma mater, the University of Virginia, in a room on the historic range, entitled “Walker Percy, Alexis de Tocqueville and the Stoic and Christian Foundations of American Thomism.” The paper pursues and deepens Peter’s theme, as he seeks to elucidate “a theory adequate to the greatness of our Founders’ practical accomplishment.” Such an account would supplement or correct Lockeanism with doses of aristocracy (“stoicism”) and Christianity. The sources Peter discusses– Walker Percy and Alexis de Tocqueville–become his soul mates in this enterprise. And since the South in America has been home to this stoic tradition, with all of its problems and difficulties, his paper also serves as a nice inquiry into the metaphysical regionalism of American life.
If you’re lucky, he will post it.