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Lockean Toleration: Dialogical not Theological?



It is often claimed that the idea of toleration emerged from and depends upon a Protestant context that limits its usefulness today. These claims implicate the political thought of John Locke, clearly a key figure for the history of toleration, and also an emphatically Protestant one. The fullest support for the claim in question is offered by Jeremy Waldron's God, Locke and Equality, which argues that the idea of equality on which Locke based his case cannot be separated from its religious foundations. Taking issue with Waldron's view, this article argues that in the course of defending toleration Locke came to advance an idea of equality that may be termed ‘dialogical’, in that it rested on the equality that is necessarily presupposed by argumentative exchange. While that idea of equality is fully consistent with Locke's Protestantism, it does not, the article argues, depend upon it. Rather, it depends on the minimum requirements of shared citizenship. Civil equality is modelled, in Locke's defence of toleration, on what is presupposed by shared membership in political society, and no religious view is indispensable to it. Moreover, while the ‘Protestant’ reading of Locke may seem unique in introducing an element of compulsion, the ‘dialogical’ reading may introduce as much compulsion as is needed for the purposes of contractualist political theory.