Authority Figures

Rhetoric and Experience in John Locke's Political Thought

By (author) Torrey Shanks

Paperback - £26.95

Publication date:

15 August 2015

Length of book:

168 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271065052

In Authority Figures, Torrey Shanks uncovers the essential but largely unappreciated place of rhetoric in John Locke’s political and philosophical thought. Locke’s well-known hostility to rhetoric has obscured an important debt to figural and inventive language. Here, Shanks traces the close ties between rhetoric and experience as they form the basis for a theory and practice of judgment at the center of Locke’s work. Rhetoric and experience come together, for Locke, to reorient readers’ relation to the past in order to open up alternative political futures. Recognizing this debt sets the stage for a new understanding of the Two Treatises of Government, in which the material and creative force of language is necessary for political critique.

Authority Figures draws together political theory and philosophy, the history of science and of rhetoric, and philosophy of language and literary theory to offer an interpretation of Locke’s political thought that shows the ongoing importance of rhetoric for new modes of critique in the seventeenth century. Locke’s thought offers up insights for rethinking the relationship of rhetoric and experience to political critique, as well as the intersections of language and materialism.

“Many canonical authors in political theory have been read with fresh, even radical, insights in the past decade, but Locke seems to be particularly resistant to such rereadings. In Authority Figures, Torrey Shanks has managed to pull this off. She does so by reading Locke as an ‘Epicurean materialist’—that is, as someone with an appreciation for the unexpected, the unpredictable, and the unforeseen. Shanks demonstrates that Locke practices a set of rhetorical strategies that reflect and enact this Epicurean materialism in his texts. Once you start to read Locke in this way, everything changes, becoming deeply contingent. The rigid and unyielding Locke whom we all grew up reading becomes an altogether different figure—a difference with important consequences for how we read Locke politically.”

—James Martel, San Francisco State University