The Irony of John Locke and America

Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative presents an interesting situation for Lockean philosophy. John Locke’s philosophy itself is a conundrum, and when applied to the foundations of America, helps us come to realization of the massive contradiction that our country continues to instill. The conception of America coincided with the line that “All men are created equal”, and was written by a man who owned hundreds of slaves. It is a common theme in America, the false promises, the irony, and outright injustice. Surely this is an unnecessarily complex issue that would find some sort of resolution with acceptance of diversity, and an avoidance of the devastating cycle of hate.

Locke philosophizes about societies coming together for the benefit of the individual, to avoid the perils of nature. His description of the state of nature, is targeted towards the natives, but he fails to realize the complexity of the political structure in native societies. He views their establishments as inferior, which is the first step to dehumanization, even though he stresses the equality of man. Locke’s doctrine on society and government is incredibly contradictory, which is why it was so popular to the forefathers of our country. Like America, Locke attempts to employ a heroic rhetoric of equality and greatness, but falls short, by carrying a general mindset of superiority that conflicts with the ability to find true peace. Locke addresses the institution of slavery on the basis of a government ruling it’s people, but doesn’t clearly address the notion of a society employing slavery for it’s benefit. His way of thinking helped lay down  the foundation of acceptance of slavery, and again, is why it was such a favored viewpoint in America. His explanation of the importance of property attempts to justify the destruction of natives, and diminished the rights of those such as slaves who did not possess such property. His thoughts and writing caused centuries of years of pain and suffering.

In the case of Mary Rowlandson, it seems that they may be some uncertainty on the boundaries of the state of nature, and the state of war. The conflict between the natives and the colonists seems to spark up and settle down from time to time, but it is essentially a perpetuating state of war, which through Lockean philosophy determines that the violence seen in the start of the story is in a sense acceptable. Locke’s work may have attempted to subject the natives to a state of nature and diminish their lives, rather than one of that carried the aspects of a society, but their societies were in reality quite complex.

-Thomas Pham


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