The spiritual breakdown of a civilization is not among the problems that can be solved by a piece of philosophical speculation

Eric Voegelin explains:
We must recognize the full seriousness of the problem: Locke was justified in his intention even when he erred in the solution. When the institutions of spiritual authority have broken down, and when the members of the schismatic rival organizations are diligently engaged in cutting each others’ throats for the advancement of the realm of Christ, certainly those who are appalled by the insanity of the procedure have reason to be concerned about the restoration of authority.

Nevertheless, while we must recognize Locke’s right to be concerned, we must also recognize that the spiritual breakdown of a civilization is not among the problems that can be solved by a piece of philosophical speculation. A man who undertakes such a task in full seriousness is guilty of the very insanity that aroused his concern. He will not solve the problem that he set himself to solve. Instead he runs the risk of setting a pattern of conduct that will create even worse disorder than the disorder he wishes to heal. And that is what happened to Locke.

In his role as an ecclesiastical statesman, he decides that Christianity is identical with what he personally thinks and can understand. Christianity has nothing to say but what he, the man of reason (for he does not reckon himself among the dairymaids and spinsters), knows for truth by his own intuitive knowledge. What he is lacking is not insight but authority. The solution for the spiritual breakdown of Western civilization is found: the church must back with the authority of Christ the reason of Locke.

The reader should not be shocked too much by the apparent megalomania of the conception. He should rather be touched by its engaging modesty, because Locke at least claims only insight and not yet authority. Less modest men will come after him; they will add authority to their insight and become the founders of the totalitarian state churches. The bonds of sentiment are still strong enough to hold Locke with the shadow of tradition, and only the shadow of the future falls on his solution.


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