This is one of five remarkable quotes on political philosophy by professor Steven B. Smith, from Yale. This one is on John Locke.
Locke’s effort to build a kind of modern republican government on the low but solid foundations of self-interest and self-ownership and the desire for comfortable preservation could not help but generate its own forms of dissatisfaction.
Can a regime, dedicated to the pursuit of happiness or to the protection of property ever satisfy the deepest longings of the human soul? Can a regime, devoted to the rational accumulation of property answer those higher order needs or higher order virtues, like honor, nobility and sacrifice? Can a regime, devoted to the avoidance of pain, discomfort and anxiety, produce anything more than contemporary forms of Epicureanism and Nihilism? In any case, I’m suggesting no more than any other land could America insulate itself from the great heights as well as the great depths of later forms of modernity. America, as a former teacher of mine once said, is the land where the many facets, the many faces of modernity are working themselves out. We are but a moment in the kind of comprehensive self-dissatisfaction that is modernity so that a return to Lockeanism, in many ways, is not so much a cure for the pathologies of modernity. I would suggest that those pathologies are themselves already rooted in the pathologies of Locke.