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Daily Journal

Who Was John Locke?

May. 6th, 2002
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RALEIGH Pardon me, please, if you've heard this before, but many readers probably haven't.

I've worked at the John Locke Foundation since its founding in late 1989. I can't tell you the number of times I have had the experience of answering the phone, getting a letter, or being approached at a speaking event by someone saying he or she would 1) like to speak to Mr. Locke, 2) like to apply for a grant from Mr. Locke, or 3) like to invite Mr. Locke to make a speech.

One time, a few years ago, the Locke Foundation staff came in on a Monday morning and found a panicky message on the answering machine. "Please come and help me," the anxious caller had begged. "I've locked myself out of my house and need to get in it's raining."

John Locke, expert locksmith.

I usually pass off such stories as entertaining but somewhat disquieting evidence of the deficiencies of North Carolina's education system. To fail to recognize the name John Locke, the English philosopher who more than any other single writer helped to shape the intellectual underpinnings of the American Revolution, is to exhibit an embarrassing ignorance of the history of the United States and of the philosopher of freedom more generally.

Fortunately, there is now a remedy for such ignorance. You can read a new book from Algora Publishing entitled Locke, Jefferson, and the Justices (click here to purchase).

The author is George Stephens, one of the longest-serving adjunct fellows of the John Locke Foundation. I met George shortly after the Locke Foundation opened its doors in 1990, and he later wrote one of our first briefing papers, on growth and land-use regulations (he had the goods on "Smart Growth" before it ever got its ludicrous name). He has had a varied career, including stints as a transportation planner, a gubernatorial advisor, an economics instructor at N.C. State University, and an activist on property rights and constitutional issues. He's been a contributing editor with our publication Carolina Journal since its inception.

As a recommendation, I'll repeat the "blurb" that I provided for Locke, Jefferson, and the Justices:

"The most attractive feature of George Stephens' new book is his efforts to root present-day controversies about property rights, freedom, and the role of government in the great literature of liberty that is America's political heritage. The struggle to liberate our markets and our minds is an old, even as ancient one. Stephens demonstrates that, to prevail in this critical struggle, we must replant the seeds of liberty that John Locke and others found centuries ago and nurture their growth into towering, protective trees of constitutional order."

Read this book. I guarantee it will be on the test.