New Book | America’s Philosopher

Posted in books by Editor on June 27, 2022

From The University of Chicago Press:

Claire Rydell Arcenas, America’s Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2022), 280 pages, ISBN: 978-0226638607, $35.

America’s Philosopher examines how John Locke has been interpreted, reinterpreted, and misinterpreted over three centuries of American history.

The influence of polymath philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) can still be found in a dizzying range of fields, as his writings touch on issues of identity, republicanism, and the nature of knowledge itself. Claire Rydell Arcenas’s new book tells the story of Americans’ longstanding yet ever-mutable obsession with this English thinker’s ideas, a saga whose most recent manifestations have found the so-called Father of Liberalism held up as a right-wing icon.

The first book to detail Locke’s trans-Atlantic influence from the eighteenth century until today, America’s Philosopher shows how and why interpretations of his ideas have captivated Americans in ways few other philosophers—from any nation—ever have. As Arcenas makes clear, each generation has essentially remade Locke in its own image, taking inspiration and transmuting his ideas to suit the needs of the particular historical moment. Drawing from a host of vernacular sources to illuminate Locke’s often contradictory impact on American daily and intellectual life from before the Revolutionary War to the present, Arcenas delivers a pathbreaking work in the history of ideas.

Claire Rydell Arcenas is assistant professor of history at the University of Montana.


1  Locke’s Legacy in Early America
2  Locke’s Authority in the Revolutionary and Founding Eras
3  Problematizing Locke as Exemplar in the Early United States
4  Locke Becomes Historical
5  Making Locke Relevant
6  Locke and the Invention of the American Political Tradition
7  Lockean ‘-isms’

List of Abbreviations

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