Edward Feser on Locke and Liberty

In the last few months I’ve read everything by Edward Feser I can get my hands on. His writings achieve that difficult (and admirable) combination of depth and clarity that is so rare amongst intellectuals. I just finished his study of John Locke, published as part of Oxford’s Oneworld Thinkers series. I’ve also read a number of his essays on economics and libertarianism. Working through them I see a gradual evolution from a qualified belief in “self-ownership” as evinced in his 2004 article on abortion in the Journal of Libertarian Studies to his 2010 response to liberal libertarian critic Walter Block in which he declares that “I no longer think self-ownership is a very interesting or useful principle. As I now see it, everything true that can be said using the language of self-ownership can also be said in the language of rights (an in particular in terms of the rights theory developed by thinkers in the classical natural law tradition).” Self-ownership is also a key concept to Lockean philosophy. The author’s theoretical transition is not, however, inconsistent. His moral beliefs have remain unchanged. But clearly he felt that the libertarian model was inadequate for explaining traditional views of rights and duties. I tend to agree that pure libertarianism, as opposed to moderate free market concepts espoused by Hayek (whom Feser admires), becomes untenable from a Christian perspective, with its utopian and anarchic tendencies in both the political and economic realm.

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