by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The John Locke Foundation’s namesake appears on a new list of 12 great books everyone should read. Compiled by Bruce Riley Ashford and posted at First Things, the list includes Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government.”
The Second Treatise punches above its weight; it has exercised an extraordinary influence on modern constitutions and governments. In it, Locke argues that men are created free and equal, and that they should be free to pursue life, health, liberty, and possessions.
Keep in mind that “great” doesn’t mean “good.” Among the other authors Ashford cites are Karl Marx, who helped unleash the plague of communism on the world, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose arguments about the corrupting nature of civilization helped fuel the bloody French Revolution and multiple failed utopian schemes.
Still, each of the 12 books offers valuable lessons.
Want to start from the beginning? Try the Homerian epic, “The Odyssey.”
Why should a twenty-first-century reader bother with ancient fiction involving a Greek hero’s return to his home and family after twenty years of wandering and imprisonment? Because it is a riveting tale that gives insight into ancient Greek polytheism and the perennial human quest for self-discovery; it emphasizes the unique strengths of feminine nature; and, for the existentially anguished among us, it speaks to the tragic sense of life, recognizing the “necessary suffering” that results from human fallings and failings, and encourages us to face the challenges life puts in our path.
Sticking with the Greeks, throw in some Plato and Aristotle.
Aristotle begins Ethics—perhaps his most influential work—by asking, “What is the supreme human good?” His answer: Happiness. It is the only thing we desire for its own sake, rather than as a means toward some other end. Aristotle divides virtue into two categories—intellectual and moral—and argues that the virtuous person not only acts according to reason, but does so habitually, that is, until virtue becomes his first reflex.