John Locke: The 17th Century Philosopher who Shaped American Thought

In her book America’s Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life, Claire Rydell Arcenas seeks to better understand and illuminate the crucial 17th century philosopher by showing how he influenced Americans at different historical moments. Widely known as the founding father of modern “liberal” thought, Locke pioneered the ideas of natural law, social contract, religious toleration, and the right to revolution that proved essential to both the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution that followed.

“The story of Locke in America,” Rydell Arcenas writes, “is not, then, one of continuity or absence but rather one of striking transformation.” Locke impacted every part of American intellectual life, but that impact changed — and is still changing — over time. 

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About the Speaker

Claire Rydell Arcenas is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Montana. She specializes in the history of American thought across the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. She is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Academy.

Liam Julian | Moderator

Liam Julian is director of public policy for the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy. He was previously managing editor of Policy Review magazine in Washington, D.C. His writing and commentary on public policy topics has appeared in a variety of publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, City Journal, and National Review and on programs such as NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Mr. Julian also spent time working with the College Board, where he oversaw development of Advanced Placement curricula, including the redesign of the AP U.S. Government and Politics course. From 2006 to 2013, he was a Hoover Institution research fellow at Stanford University.