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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

10 - The Reception of Locke's Politics: Locke in the République des Lettres


Although we now know a great deal about the reception of Locke's religious and political works in the Anglo-American world, thanks in no small part to the scholarship of Mark Goldie, we still know far too little about how Locke was received in the Francophone world. In the bibliography published in the introduction to his monumental six-volume compilation of the Reception of Locke's Politics, Goldie identified thirty-three items on the reception of Locke in Britain and forty-eight regarding his reception in America, but only three on his reception in France. From such material he was able to provide a rich and penetrating interpretation of the significance of Locke's writings in the Anglo- American world. However, given what was then ‘rather limited literature’ on the topic of Locke's impact in continental Europe, Goldie had little option but to exclude discussion of it.

Drawing upon recently published literature and on my own research, this essay will focus on the very early reception of Locke's politics in the Frenchspeaking world. I shall examine how Locke's politics were construed by his first Francophone readers and commentators, in order to assess how this compares with his early reception in Britain and America. His first Francophone readers and commentators were journalists. Two central figures were Jean Le Clerc and Henri Basnage de Beauval. Writing, in French, in the two most famous literary journals of the day – which were published in the Netherlands but read across Europe – Le Clerc and Basnage de Beauval were both religious exiles. As such, they were particularly eager to review for their Francophone readers Locke's writings on toleration. However, they also informed the République des Lettres about the publication of Locke's other works, and established links between his anonymous and non-anonymous writings. This essay will therefore focus mainly, albeit not exclusively, on the very early reception of Locke's writings on toleration. I shall show how his politics were construed and appropriated by Le Clerc and Basnage de Beauval, and highlight that Locke's Letters Concerning Toleration were read in tandem with his Two Treatises of Government by Le Clerc. We shall see, as a result, that Locke's reputation as an icon of toleration, truth and liberty owes much to his very first Francophone readers and commentators.

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