Why Economic Nationalism Fails

"Speaking of the family, we must also say, “Stop!” to those like Yoram Hazony and Patrick Deneen who claim that classical liberalism presumes an atomistic individualism that undermines familial integrity. It does not. Not to their favorite boogeyman John Locke, at least. Regarding marriage, Locke wrote in his Two Treatises of Government that “GOD having made man such a creature, that in his own judgment, it was not good for him to be alone, put him under strong obligations of necessity, convenience, and inclination to drive him into society, as well as fitted him with understanding and language to continue and enjoy it. The first society,” he continues, “was between man and wife, which gave beginning to that between parents and children….”

It may be objected that for Locke marriage is founded upon consent, and that is true, but even Hazony admits that much about 50 pages after criticizing Locke for saying the exact same thing. What is too often omitted by Locke’s critics is that he believed there to be duties between parents and children in a state of nature, that is, apart from any consent and as a matter of natural law. Contrary to Patrick Deneen, who claims classical liberal anthropology views human beings as “nonrelational creatures,” Locke actually believed that we are not self-sufficient, atomistic individuals, but that we are rather, by nature, “drive[n] … into society,” because it is “not good for [us] to be alone,” clearly alluding to Genesis 2:18.

Deneen does a little better reading Locke than Hazony, but not by much. He still finds insidious, radical individualism in Locke’s claim that adult children may choose whether or not to accept an inheritance from their parents. Locke does in fact say that, but Deneen overlooks the larger points that Locke was making: firstly, that if adult children do accept an inheritance they are at that point bound to terms that are not of their own making and beyond their consent. And secondly and more importantly, Locke was specifically objecting to the ancient Roman idea of a paterfamilias, who—at least on paper—retained absolute control over his wife and children, including their very lives, until his death. Does Deneen not think adults should get to make their own decisions so long as their fathers live?"