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Locke on Toleration and Inclusion

Locke on Toleration and Inclusion - Ratio Juris Vol 21 No 4...

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Locke on Toleration and Inclusion LEE WARD Abstract. As the product of liberalism’s first encounter with the theoretical prob- lems posed by legal discrimination and unequal treatment of minority groups, Locke’s argument for religious toleration foreshadowed contemporary democratic theory’s emphasis on non-coercive discussion of diverse rights claims and broadly inclusive public deliberations. This study tries to illuminate the democratic dimen- sion of Locke’s toleration theory by focusing on his crucial account of the church as a voluntary association. Here Locke presented discursive possibilities for the articulation of diverse beliefs and interests that he believed would not only benefit both society as a whole and the minority religious groups contained in it, but also weave principles of contestation and deliberation into the very fabric of the liberal polity. The idea of toleration is inextricably connected with the history of liberalism. As is well known, liberalism’s first direct encounter with the theoretical problems posed by legal discrimination and unequal treatment of minorities emerged from the religious controversies of the early modern period. Arguably much of the contemporary debates about race, gender, and the politics of inclusion are set within a conceptual framework to some extent rooted in these earlier controversies (Galeotti 2002). 1 It is with this debate in mind that John Locke assumes special signifi- cance for liberal political theory, for it is with Locke that the argument for toleration made one of its first, and still most celebrated, appearances. Whereas most recent commentators on Locke’s theory of toleration tend to focus on his account of the irrationality of persecution (Waldron 1988; Bou-Habib 2003), Locke’s presumed public-private dualism (McClure 1990; Creppell 1996) or his treatment of the epistemological and theological basis of belief (Mitchell 1990; Forster 2005; Stanton 2006a), this study proposes a 1 While Galeotti’s focus is not on Locke, she also sets out to show that contemporary debates about difference and inclusion owe something to a conceptual framework emerging from early modern debates about toleration. For a more cautious reading of the attempt to interpret contemporary ideas about “recognition” in light of the older idea of toleration, see Jones 2006. Ratio Juris. Vol. 21 No. 4 December 2008 (518–40) © 2008 The Author. Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden 02148, USA.
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methodologically narrower, but theoretically fruitful, focus on the demo- cratic dimension of Locke’s conception of the church as a voluntary association. While several commentators have recognized the importance of Locke’s conception of the church as a central element of his toleration theory (Harris 1994, 160–4; Harris 2002; Stanton 2006a, 89–90, Stanton 2006b; Waldron 2002, 211–4; Walzer 1997, 4), there has been little attempt to explain its significance for contemporary liberal speculation about democ- racy and inclusion. In contrast to the traditional reading of Locke’s account
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