Government Honors Thesis: Joey Sorenson

Title: Looking for Locke in All the Wrong Places: The Case for a Liberal Continuity from John Locke to Barack Obama

Author: Joey Sorenson


As the philosopher whose words inspired the development of both modern democracy and free enterprise, John Locke remains remarkably relevant to contemporary politics. American conservatives’ political success in the late-20th century can be largely attributed to their surprisingly successful effort to align themselves with Locke’s legacy and that of his followers, the American Founding Fathers, on the basis of their supposedly shared devotion to “small government” and unrestricted capitalism. To the extent that Locke and many of the Founders were committed to these ideals, however, they were as a means to the ends of empowering as many citizens as possible to pursue their individual happiness in the socio-economic context of the largely agrarian society of the 17th and 18th centuries. Applied to the context of a 21st century post-industrial society, this commitment to providing as many people as possible the opportunity to pursue their individual happiness demands a greater role for the government to play in empowering its citizens to undertake such a pursuit. Their shared commitment to this more fundamental ideal of the pursuit of happiness establishes an essential philosophical continuity between classical liberals such as John Locke, and contemporary ones such as President Barack Obama.