Saturday, July 18, 2009

She is Not Taught by Laws

“But the business of laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of the commonwealth, and of every particular man’s good and person. And so it ought to be. For the truth certainly would do well enough if she were once left to shift for herself. She seldom has received, and I fear never will receive, much assistance from the power of great men, to whom she is but rarely known, and more rarely welcome. She is not taught by laws, nor has she any need of force to procure her entrance into the minds of men. Errors indeed prevail by the assistance of foreign and borrowed succours. But if truth makes not her way into the understanding by her own light, she will be but the weaker for any borrowed force violence can add to her.”
From John Locke’s 1689 "A Letter Concerning Toleration". A copy of the full text can be found here, and an audio version of it, here.

The glut of justification for religious authority in its own right notwithstanding, this brief treatise does a great job explaining the reasons why church and state must be kept separate. In reading it, I’ve been impressed by the constant reminders of his influence on the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers as well as his rich use of language. I love that he refers to Truth as She.

Something that’s been gnawing at me since I began reading the letter is his descriptions of the problems with an overreaching church. These bear a dangerously close correlation to the current practices of our overreaching paternalistic government! More on that later.

For now, at the risk of summoning bad memories of the Greg Kihn Band, they just don’t write ‘em like that anymore. If that’s too much of a blast from the past, I’ll leave you with a bit lyrical poetry: Elvis Costello’s She.

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