The Empire of Habit

The Empire of Habit

John Locke, Discipline, and the Origins of Liberalism

John Baltes


University of Rochester Press



The Empire of Habit critiques the traditional interpretation of Locke's political thought, revealing that the foundation of Lockean liberalism is not natural law but discipline and habit.
John Locke's political thought provides much of the theoretical underpinning for our own liberal democracy. According to Locke's liberalism, the rights and freedoms of civil society are grounded in natural law, which is known and observed by all citizens.

In this volume, John Baltes challenges this interpretation of Locke. Examining Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Baltes reveals a Locke who is in conflict with the natural-law philosopher found in his famous Two Treatises of Government. In his works on epistemology and education, Locke describes morality as a construct and human nature as malleable. Drawing on Foucault's concept of discipline, Baltes reconsiders Locke's liberalism and shows that it requires citizens governed not by natural law but habit, that is, subjects who are constructed by carefully controlled space and visibility and regulated in their conduct to become capable of self-government. The Empire of Habit thus offers not only a new reading of one of the most important political philosophers of the Western tradition but also new insight into our own political liberalism.

John Baltes is an independent scholar of political theory.


June 2016
168 pages
9x6 in
ISBN: 9781580465618
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC POL010000, PHI019000, PHI016000
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Related Titles

Table of Contents

Locke on Religious Crisis and Civil War: Nominalism, Skepticism, and the Essay in Context
Locke's Inverted Quarantine: Discipline, Panopticism, and the Making of the Liberal Subject
Locke's Labor Loosed: Discipline and the Idle
Locke the Landgrave: Inegalitarian Discipline


For a short book, this volume covers quite a bit of ground ... John Baltes provides a valuable service to readers, introducing them to an especially thorny problem in Locke's philosophical and political thought. The puzzle at the center of this book, that resisting the tyranny of habitual thinking involves forming habits of resistance, is worth investigating. NOTRE DAME PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEWS

The Empire of Habit is the most detailed and comprehensive investigation of the fundamental roles of discipline and habit formation in Locke's political, economic, educational, and epistemological writings. It throws new light on the preconditions of Locke's political theory in the Two Treatises.

--James Tully, University of Victoria