Locke's writings reveal him as a man obsessed with conflict; obsessed first with understanding it and second with controlling it. To understand it Locke developed a complex theory of conflict. He avers that conflict originates primarily due to divergent and false definitions of ideas. He devises his political theory with an aim to controlling conflict. In this scheme politics becomes fundamentally the search for and application of reasonable, correct definitions of key political ideas. The definitions function in a twofold manner. First, they facilitate trust among members of civil society who observe them and thereby lead to the effective regulation of conflict. Second, all persons who do not share these definitions Locke labels enemies of civil society. He advises his readers not to tolerate such persons — to distrust them. This second feature draws our attention to a "politics of distrust" parallel to the "politics of trust" commonly attributed to Locke's political philosophy. Finally, because Locke ultimately fails to prove the existence of "correct" definitions, both his "politics of trust" and "distrust" turn out to be grounded in English ethnocentricism and Protestant theocentricism.
Saint Leo College
O'Brien, P. (1994). The underside of John Locke's philosophy: The politics of distrust. The Political Chronicle, 6(1), 1-8.
The Political Chronicle