How the Public Became Modern

The idea of ??the power and importance of public opinion has always been an important part of what we call ‘modernity’. We find classic early formulations of writers like John Locke – a pioneer in equal measure both to the Enlightenment and to liberalism, and a resolute defender of The Glorious Revolution in England of 1688. In his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding of 1690, Locke gives a first formulation of the idea that public opinion has a kind of moral authority.

Moral good and evil, Locke concludes, lie in our compliance or lack of compliance with any given law, a law where the related rewards or punishments come to us from the legislature.

There are three different kinds of law that interest Locke: there is divine law, legal law, and there is what Locke calls ”the law of opinion or reputation” (Book II, Chapter 28, 7-13). This provides a measure by which virtues and vices are assessed; it award...

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Svante Nordin

Professor emeritus i idé- och lärdomshistoria.

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