Gnostic Wars: Islamic Terrorism, Positive Toleration, and How the Ideological Dynamics of the War on Terrorism Are Advantaging the Terrorists

HomeArticlesGnostic Wars: Islamic Terrorism, Positive Toleration, and How the Ideological Dynamics of the War on Terrorism Are Advantaging the Terrorists


The American debate regarding the policy needed to combat the dangers posed by immigration from nations who are currently hotbeds of Islamic radicalization is presently being vociferously fought.  This debate recently culminated with an Executive Order by President Trump that suspended travel from seven such nations to improve vetting measures.  Six of the nations included in the Order are amongst the most active areas of the Islamic State in recent years – the organization to which several recent mass murderers in the United States had sworn allegiance.  Despite this, the Executive Order was instantly met with iron-clad resistance by many Americans who view the toleration of all religious viewpoints as a premise which cannot be humanely questioned in any capacity; thus, media outlets wildly mischaracterized the Order as a “Ban on Muslims” and protesters duly clogged airports.  In academia, the American Political Science Association violated its own constitution, amended only months prior to prevent the organization from taking political stances on issues such as this, by officially announcing its opposition to the Order.  Regardless of the eventual fate of Trump’s immigration policy, Americans are proving their willingness to break the tenets of civilized society – respect for public spaces and contractual agreements – because of views strongly held on this policy.

The following article seeks to do two things in light of this disarming trend.  First, it will identify the apocalyptic components of the radical Islamic threat.  Because this apocalypticism is reminiscent of the theoretical arguments used to justify the twentieth century totalitarian movements that Eric Voegelin noticed were motivated by a way of thinking he referred to as “modern gnosticism,” contemporary Islamism does indeed comprise a national security threat worthy of our government’s attention.  Second, this article will demonstrate that the debate within America, turning on illogical platitudes like “this move to combat terrorism only makes us less safe from terrorism,” consists of ideologically construed premises which also exhibit symptoms of modern gnosticism.  This article develops this argument by highlighting how the American propensity to downplay the expansive and dangerous nature of apocalyptic symbolism within Islamism is reflected by recent interpretations of John Locke as cultivating “positive toleration.” I accordingly review and critique this reading of Locke as a manifestation of modern gnosticism.  The sum of these two arguments is that the Islamic manifestation of gnosticism advantages that movement against the Americans, as the first undertakes an actual war for conquest, whereas the second undertakes merely a domestic ideological war.

Apocalyptic Ideological Construction in the Islamic World

Historical incidents of apocalyptic speculations are replete in the Islamic world.  The basic structure of using religious and especially of using apocalyptic rhetoric to justify political goals has been well analyzed, most notably in the work of Eric Voegelin, and this work is particularly interesting because it shows that apocalyticism tends to produce political movements, such as totalitarianism, that will do horrific things to accomplish their end-world political goals.

By gnostic I mean a manner that accentuates the certainty of the correctness of the opinion held by an individual.  The evolution of modern gnosticism in the West has been analyzed by Eric Voegelin and his students, and the structure of the broader movement goes beyond the scope of this small work.  However, this certainty of one’s opinion tends to produce the need to use illusory tactics within textual arguments to allude that the political argument being advocated is certainly correct.  Accordingly though illogically, nefarious means such as duplicity in textual presentation or outright murder of political opposition is justifiable in the eyes of a gnostic political advocate due to the believed veracity and believed principled credibility of the cause.  Voegelin demonstrated that such duplicity in the construction of ideological arguments was connected to the political atrocities committed by the German and Russian totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century.  I will argue in this article that the apocalyticism of radical Islamism and the textual camouflage of the American toleration arguments are two contemporary variants of what Voegelin saw as the kernel of totalitarianism.  Those who wish to defend civilization from the obvious threats of Islamic radicalization must therefore also contend with the American tendency to avoid engaging this threat; a tendency which could plausibly be of a greater existential threat to America’s constitution than is Islamism.

Voegelin’s work has been applied recently to the Islamist movement, and the end-world motivation inherent to apocalypticism indeed also explains such things as the inspiration for suicide bombings.  Barry Cooper’s analysis of the history of Salafist and Wahhabist movements dating back to the Karijites and culminating in the thought of Qutb and eventually bin Laden provided an excellent survey of this dynamic of Salafist thought.[1]  Jean-Pierre Filiu’s analysis of apocalyticism in Islam depicts both the prominence of millenarian thought throughout Islamic history and how it became an integral component of the global jihadist movement in the years immediately following the publication of Cooper’s work.[2]

Apocalyptic speculation in Islam centers around a final battle between the faithful and infidels, and the Mahdi is a figure who features prominently in these speculations.  He is depicted in this literature as the leader of the army of the faithful who will appear just prior to and lead the final battle of the apocalypse, and his appearance, Shi’a believe, “will mark the advent of an epoch of universal justice, itself the prelude to the end of the world.”[3]

Filiu’s work shows that apocalyptic end-time speculations particularly emphasizing the symbol of the Mahdi have been, in the 1385-year history of Islam, a persistent trend during revolutionary movements.  My own count of incidents of (prominent) political movements within the Middle East that were inspired by propaganda related to Islamic apocalyptic thought is 19, which means that such incidents occur on average approximately every 73 years.  A brief survey of these incidents is provided as an appendix to this work.

The sheer volume of historical incidents of apocalyptically inspired political movements in Islam accentuates the urgency of the fight against the Islamic State.  Mahdi-inspired movements that were successfully carried out include formations of several significant political dynasties, including the Abbasid and Safavid dynasties.  Included in the incidents that were not successful are several historically noteworthy insurgencies, which, due to the fervor of the insurgents who were inspired by the apocalyptic hype of the movement, continued in their insurgency even after the death or significant defeat of their leader.  In the case of the successful dynasties, the apocalyptic hype typically gives way to the need for real-world administration of government.  In the case of unsuccessful insurgencies, the radicalism of the insurgents and the fate of the movements upon defeat are both instructive.  The cases demonstrate that the Islamic State cannot be ignored, for if it is it will likely build a dynasty inimical to the concept of nation-states upon which world order rests.  The cases further demonstrate that a movement will die out when a significant and thorough military defeat demonstrates to the movement’s adherents that the movement is not mystically empowered to usher any end time but their own, even though the radical nature of the movement’s followers means that some will persist for some time to attempt to achieve the goals of the movement.

In the years following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Islamist thinkers capitalized upon popular literature celebrating the Mahdi and apocalypse to turn Al Qaeda from an elite vanguard into a mass movement.[4]  Al-Suri, for instance, articulates in 2005 the type of self-intelligent/self-motivated swarming tactics utilized by networks described by Cooper in 2004, and combines this idea with apocalyptic speculations regarding the immanent appearance of the Mahdi; he very closely describes what has manifested in practice and in theoretical articulation one decade later as the Islamic State.[5]

The culmination of such intellectual efforts was indeed the growth of AQI into the Islamic State in 2006, whose leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri relied upon apocalyptic propaganda that insinuated that the Mahdi’s return was imminent and that his appointment of Abu Umar al-Baghdadi as caliph would fulfill this prophecy.[6]  For instance, when the Islamic State unveiled their flag, they proclaimed that “it will be the flag of the people of Iraq when they go to aid . . . the Mahdi.”  Foreign language propaganda magazines (Inspire and then Dabiq in English; Dar-al-Islam in French; Konstantiniyye in Turkish) also relied heavily on apocalyptic propaganda, especially prior to 2015.  The success of these efforts has provided the practical foundation for the small terror cells that operate in Western nations on behalf of the Islamic State, a situation to which the West became increasingly aware in 2016.  The atrocities committed by these groups should elicit comparisons to the atrocities committed by 20th century totalitarian movements that also saw themselves as harbingers of a final realm.

The theoretical tendencies of this apocalyptic literature show that today’s Islamic terrorists exhibit many of tendencies noticed by Voegelin in his analyses of 20th century totalitarianism.  The basic methods employed in Voegelin’s analyses would bear fruit to the author who chose to undertake such work, and especially to a scholar with the proper linguistic skills needed to study the relevant work in Arabic.  Examples of scriptural camouflage are rampant, and are sometimes pointed out in the existing literature on the Islamic State.[7]  The structure of the movement in terms of its similarity to the Joactic speculation regarding the trinity of the prophet-ruler-brotherhood would be easy to construct.[8]  The lack of philosophical insight, and the sometimes violent and sometimes self-imposed prohibition of questions could easily be detected and analyzed further.  The similarities between twentieth century totalitarianism and twenty first century Islamism regarding both the theoretical construction of ideas and the atrocities committed in the name of the movement indicate in an obvious common-sense analysis that the ideas of the Islamic State are dangerous, inhuman, and should not be tolerated by civilization.

What appears to be less self-evident, given the clear and present danger posed to the international order and to America’s own immediate national security interests by the radical nature of this threat – its prolific appeal in the Muslim world, its structural similarity to totalitarian movements of the past, and its utter brutality – is the specific response to this threat within America that accentuates the need to tolerate Islam in general and ignores the danger posed by this specific breed of Islam.  To understand these trends, however, an analysis of the growth of modern gnosticism in America is required.

Ideological Construction in the Western World

Two widespread myths in the United States regarding Islamic terrorism exemplify this ideological disposition of toleration and why this social disposition inhibits our ability to combat this threat to civilization.  The first myth is the fallacious notion that radical ideas in contemporary Islamic thought are isolated incidents, and the second myth is the fallacious assertion that radical Muslims operating in the United States are not especially dangerous, or at least not as dangerous as traditional right-wing extremists.   The fact is, as summarized above, that contemporary Islamic terrorists are fueled by apocalyptic speculations which have been a hallmark of revolutionary Islamic thought – both in Shi’a and Sunni thought – during fervent times throughout the whole of Islamic history.  Apocalyptic speculations emanating from Hadiths regarding the messianic figure of the Mahdi have erupted persistently during nearly all times of crisis and political instability throughout the Islamic world, and often gain large followings.  The types of political symbols used by the Islamic State are not isolated to the Islamic State, neither today nor historically.  Moreover, the apocalyticism inherent to these symbols have no meaningful parallel in spite of right-wing violence in America; meaning that the sleight of hand which accentuates right-wing terror while downplaying Islamic terror provides a double duplicity that saps America’s potential to understand and to thwart this threat.

The failure of the Western World to forcefully combat Islamic terrorism is a direct result of the gnostic way the symbols used to articulate political reality in the West have evolved over the past several hundred years.  One symptom of modern gnosticism is a tendency to twist texts to the advantage of the argument being made, and a productive case study in this area will be to analyze the use of the concept of “toleration” in its original Lockean articulation and then set against the contemporary ideas of toleration in American politics and the academic literature which has so augmented Locke to facilitate the idea of toleration that currently looks past the dangers posed by Islamism.  Such an analysis will demonstrate that recent applications of toleration to the Muslim world are ideologically construed interpretations that deviate significantly from the Lockean formula for toleration.  Particularly, recent academic literature can be found accentuating the idea of “positive toleration,” and downplaying the limits to toleration that are associated with the threat of harm, which Locke clearly set out in his political writings; moreover, recent trends in American popular political culture reflect this idea of “positive toleration.”   Toleration is a meaningful concept in the western world, as it has done much good in the plight for individual rights in the modern era.  But when a gnostic attitude surrounds even a venerable concept like this, as it currently does, it saps the concept of its merit.

Hence, an analysis that demonstrates the fallacious nature of these two myths relating to the toleration of the Islamic State – that Islamism is an isolated and rare breed of Islam, and that home-grown right-wing extremists are more dangerous than Islamic extremists – will suffice to demonstrate the strange ideological application of Lockean toleration to Islamism.  Indeed, the obviousness of the statistical twists in the analysis below corroborates this movement as a manifestation of modern gnosticism; namely, the ideological argument that I will review is not merely false but mendaciously false in that the argument seems to be constructed for the sole purpose of furthering an ideological agenda.

The first myth asserts that radical ideas in contemporary Islamic thought are isolated incidents.  This myth often manifests as an argument that, because apocalyticism also occurs in Christianity and in western societies, it cannot be viewed as especially dangerous.   It is not uncommon for western analysts of Islamic terrorism to point out the similarities between Islam and other religions, and most especially Islam’s similarities to Christianity.[9]  Even Barry Cooper objects to the term “Islamic terrorism” because “no one calls the IRA ‘Christian terrorists’ or ‘Catholic terrorists’”.[10]  Stern and Berger point toward a “helpful comparison… between Salafism and Protestant fundamentalism” because they share, as Scott Appleby refers to it, “an attitude towards religion itself.”[11]  Filiu points out, along these lines, that Jerry Falwell could be compared to contemporary Islamic apocalyptic propagandists, and scholar Robert Fuller referred to the Anti-Christ in 1995 as “an American obsession.”[12]  In order to drive home the point that Americans too can be fundamentalists, and that Americans too can cause damage through violence inspired by this fundamentalism, western scholars enjoy comparing Islamic fundamentalism to western movements such as David Koresh’s Branch Dividian cult, or suicidal cult from the 1990s, Heaven’s Gate.[13]  The most amazing of these claims is perhaps Filiu’s that Christian apocalyptic literature following 9/11 is directly responsible for the rise of apocalyticism in Islam.[14]

Evidence suggesting there is a fundamental divide between religious attitudes in the West and in the Islamic world is, nonetheless, overwhelming.  Despite the fact that a Time survey in 2002, shortly after 9/11, was able to find 55% of American Christians believed in the events in Revelation, it also found that only 25% of those respondents associated 9/11 with those prophecies.[15]  Recent survey indicators of religious fervor in the United States indicate that the Time survey would no longer hold.  In American in 2014, a Pew survey found that 72% of Americans felt that religion’s influence was waning.[16]  The same study found that despite the fact that a very strong majority of American Christians profess that religion is important or very important to them, less than half attend church on weekly basis.[17]  A direct correlation to attitudes toward Revelation could not be analyzed because Time has not replicated their survey in subsequent years, and other survey questions directly relating to apocalyptic belief could not be found.  My own common sense observation is that the Anti-Christ has not been anything close to an “American obsession” in my lifetime.

By contrast, the current belief in apocalyptic ideas in the Islamic world is much higher than even Time could detect in America in 2002.  Because Pew data does not ask the same questions across religions, and did not even ask the same questions pertaining to the Mahdi to different geographic regions within the Islamic world, interpreting this data is prone to some inaccuracy.  Nonetheless, whereas in 2002 some 25% of American Christians believed 9/11 was associated with apocalyptic prophecy, in 2012 in the war-torn regions of Iraq and Afghanistan, some 72% and 83% of respondents believed the Mahdi would return in their lifetime.  Turks responded affirmatively at 68% and Tunisians, shortly after igniting the Arab Spring, responded affirmatively at 67%.  Many of the regions with higher affirmative responses than in America in 2002 are not experiencing military conflict that would play into the apocalyptic Islamic rhetoric (such as Maylasia, 62%).   Of the 23 Islamic nations that were asked this question, only 7 responded at lower rates than the United States did in 2002.[18] This evidence suggests that Muslims in Middle Eastern nations indulge in apocalyptic speculations more commonly than do their Western Christian counterparts, and that this allows radical thinkers to accentuate fundamentalist concepts with much more widespread success than can be experienced by Christian fundamentalists in the West.  Indeed, Filiu makes a compelling case for the prevalent acceptance of apocalyptic ideas in the Muslim world, and he produces many examples of popular propaganda pieces, whose Christian equivalents simply cannot be found in any widespread or mainstream manner in the United States.[19]

Thus, portrayals of Islamism in the West emphasize its structural similarity to western movements; an observation which is indeed correctly noticed.  But the differences between the movements – that Islamic apocalyticism has had a widespread appeal and produces mass casualties that western movements do not – are not pointed out and in some cases actively obfuscated.

The second western myth pertaining to Islamism is the fallacious assertion that radical Muslims operating in the United States are not especially dangerous, or at least not as dangerous as traditional right-wing extremists.   Yet, the argument that Islamic terrorism does not directly affect our own society to the extent that right-wing extremism does is also erroneous.[20]  The evolution of this claim is instructive.  Sally Kohn tweeted in 2015 that “since 9/11 right-wing extremists have killed more Americans than Islamic terrorists.”[21]  Peter Bergen quickly compiled a controversial data-set that supported this claim.[22]  As recently as February 2016 the prominent American publication Newsweek repeated the claim in a cover story.[23]  Bergen explains the situation in his Jihad in America this way:

Americans have long tended to overestimate the threats posed by jihadists while underestimating the sources of other forms of terrorism. . . . Since 9/11, extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right-wing credos, including supremacists, antiabortion extremists, and anti-government militants, have killed around the same number of people in the United States as have extremists motivated by al-Qaeda’s ideology. . . . by the end of 2015, forty-five people have been killed in jihadist terrorist attacks in the United States, while right-wing racists and antigovernment militants have killed forty-eight.[24]

Bergen does not provide any form of evidence to corroborate his claim that “Americans have long tended to overestimate the threats posed by jihadists. . . .” He nonetheless makes the profession, and it becomes part of his narrative.  He follows this remark by recounting the story of Dylann Roof in detail; Roof was the 2015 Charleston church shooter, and his story accounts for the single deadliest event of right-wing extremism in his data set; one might argue that such is a rather unscientific accentuation of the outlier in his data set.  Bergen’s data and use of it is controversial and sloppy at best; it could also reflect an intentional designed to obfuscate basic empirical evidence for ideological gain.

Even before the shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando, Bergen could only make such a case by excluding the 9/11 attack itself from his data set, by beginning his count in 2002, more than a decade before the lone-wolf trend in the West appeared, and by including controversial cases of so-called “right-wing extremism,” such as an incident of domestic violence.[25]  Even according to these tortured figures, at the time when that tally most advantaged Bergen’s argument, the count was 34 deaths resulting from right-wing attacks and 23 deaths resulting from violent jihadist attacks.  By July of 2016, after San Bernardino and Orlando, these figures had changed dramatically: 94 deaths could be attributed to violent jihadism, while only 48 could be attributed to right-wing extremism.[26]  If Bergen’s data set were extended back one year further to include 9/11, his tally would show 3,090 total deaths from violent jihadism, versus only 34 deaths by right-wing extremism between 2001 and 2016.  Moreover, while the trend of right-wing violence remains relatively stagnant with a small footprint of 2.6 deaths per incident, and while no incident of right-wing extremism in Bergen’s data set resulted in more than 9 deaths (the Roof incident cited above), the violent attacks inspired by the Islamic State are significantly more violent, averaging 9.4 deaths per incident excluding 9/11 (281 average deaths per incident including 9/11).  The recent attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad, and Niece only support the claim that terrorist attacks associated with the Islamic State tend to be more deadly, and are occurring with greater frequency in recent years, than are attacks associated with a vague definition of right-wing extremism.  Finally, it is useful to recall that right-wing extremist groups cited by scholars as comparable to the Islamic state tend to pale in size to the Islamic State:  the Heaven’s Gate cult consisted of 39 members, the followers of David Koresh totaled 80, yet analysts estimate the Islamic State to have between 15,000 and 30,000 militant fighters who persistently carry out violent attacks on all areas of the globe, who perform the essential functions of governance in some of its claimed territory and who claim to have established provinces of the Islamic State on two continents.

These two mythical assertions are evidence two strange dynamics amongst western analysts of Islamism.  One is the propensity to overstate the extent to which American culture is subject to similar apocalyptic speculations as our enemies, while downplaying the rampant extent of apocalyptic hype in the Muslim world.  The other is the need to overstate the threat of violence posed to our society by fringe right-wing apocalyptic movements in the U.S., while understating the violence of the Islamist movement and the harm it has already inflicted.  These trends collectively produce the socially confusing narrative that we are our own worst enemy, and that our apparent worst enemy is not a threat.  One plausible reason why these trends are occurring is because western liberalism has developed an ideological air of its own, one which overaccentuates the idea of toleration inherent to liberal democracy and civil society and consequently obfuscates the limits to reasonable tolerance, limits that were clearly articulated in seminal liberal writings on toleration, and most notably in John Locke’s works.

Locke and Contemporary Academic Literature on Toleration

The Western trend to downplay the threats posed by the Islamic State, especially by comparing that organization to other types of extremism that originate within the West, belies an increasing trend of gnosticism in American political attitudes.  Because the ideologically charged type of “toleration” is conceptually not the same “toleration” that was originally articulated by John Locke or once employed in American political culture, it reflects the way in which concepts such as toleration may be divorced from their original design by social forces and endowed with meaning that does not reflect the context or specific arguments inherent to the design of the concept.  As a result, the changed view of toleration will not produce the same social dynamics as did the original, and specifically it lacks the ability to identify meaningful limits to the practical application of the concept.

Locke’s writings on toleration are clear on whether those who would do harm to others should be tolerated.  His presentation in A Letter Concerning Toleration is fundamentally consistent with his presentation in the Second Treatise of the right to preemptive self-defense in cases where one’s well-being is threatened. He asserts in both texts his basic ideas for individual property rights, writing in the Letter that men “have need of several outward conveniences” for which they form societies: “for as much as men thus entering into societies, grounded upon their mutual compact of assistance, for the defense of their temporal goods…” and “the temporal good and outward prosperity of society; which is the sole reason of men’s entering into society, and the only thing they seek and aim at in it.”[27]  In The Letter, this purpose both facilitates the right to religious freedom and supersedes any unlimited interpretation of a right to religious freedom.  In other words, society, and the pleasant existence it provides for individuals, cannot exist if undermined by a religious sect:  “The principal and chief care of everyone ought to be for his own soul first, and in the next place of the public peace: though yet there are very few will think ‘tis peace there, where they see all laid waste.”[28]

Locke specifically identifies two conditions where a religious sect would be effectively attempting to do the same thing a tyrant would do (exercise rule by force and to dissolve the government).[29]  The first condition is when “opinions contrary to human society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of society” are propagated by a particular religious sect.[30]  Locke argues that this will probably not occur because it would diminish the ability for the sect to exist.  His reasoning is that “such things as manifestly undermine the foundations of society, and are therefore condemned by the judgement of all mankind: because their own interest, peace, reputation, everything would be thereby endangered.”[31] Locke views such an organization as one which contains a “degree of madness” and cannot be tolerated; he sees this is painfully obvious.[32]  Locke’s second condition is when “men arrogate to themselves, and to those of their own sect, some peculiar prerogative … in effect opposite to the civil right of the community.”[33] In this case he points to instances where sects believe that “faith is not to be kept with heretics.”[34]  He argues that such men, by not keeping faith with heretics, are themselves seizing a “privilege of breaking faith.”[35]  The Islamic State’s targeting of various types of “infidels” is a very appropriate application of Locke’s “heretic” to contemporary issues.  The fact that the Islamic State particularly targets infidels, means, in Locke’s words: “These, therefore, and the like, who attribute unto the faithful, religious, and orthodox, this is, in plain terms, unto themselves, any particular privilege or power above other mortals, in civil concernments…I say these have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate… For what do these and the like doctrines signify, but that those men may, and are ready upon any occasion to, seize the government, and possess themselves of the estates and fortunes of their fellow-subjects…”[36]

Throughout this section of the Letter, Locke has used language and phrasing which is very similar to that of the Second Treatise: he writes of law and force and that “where the one ends, the other always begins”; he writes of “controversies …without a judge to determine them”; he writes of “civil society” and argues that its existence is correlate to the rule of law (not force) and the individual possession of private property.[37]  The common-sense interpretation of these clauses is that Locke viewed the existence of society as paramount to the existence of unfettered toleration, that toleration mattered for the welfare of society but that it must be subordinated to the way of life inherent to civil society when a religious sect was itself attempting to subvert society.

American foreign policy in areas dealing with the toleration of the views put forward by our military enemies was once quite consistent with this view of toleration but has changed dramatically over the past century.  Early-twentieth and mid-twentieth century policies related to this issue demonstrate an interpretation of toleration that is fundamentally consistent with the limited version of toleration sketched out above.  The Espionage Act of 1917 during World War One (upheld by Schenck 1919) and the policy of Japanese internment during  World War Two (upheld by Korematsu 1944) are two well-known examples of such policies, as both countenanced some degree of intolerance in circumstances that fit precisely into the conditions that warrant Locke’s call for self-defensive action (i.e. a foreign military is attempting to kill Americans, and some of its adherents are attempting to infiltrate American society so as to dissolve it from within).  The trend to protect rights of potential or even declared adversaries evident in, for example, Hamdan 2006 is a fundamental inversion of the way in which toleration was once limited to tolerating only those who wished to live within the existing civil society and not to alter it into a something else.

Contemporary Western scholarly interpretations of Locke on toleration reflect the change in the way the political symbol of ‘tolerance’ has evolved.  Many scholars have noticed and justified Locke’s exemption of Catholics and Atheists from his paradigm of toleration.[38]  Although this literature, advocating what may be called negative toleration, varies in the specific accounts of why Locke developed these exemptions, these scholars seem to agree that the historical circumstances of English society in the late seventeenth century justified the concern that these groups posed a threat to the stability of English society.  David Lorenzo explains these concerns, for instance, in terms of “prudential exceptionality, practical judgements, and [their impacts on the interpretation of] traditional texts.”[39] The implication for contemporary scholars attempting to apply these ideas to our own times is that a prudential application of Locke’s ideas might engender a reasonable policy regarding when toleration is inimical to order for practical reasons.  Scholarly literature in this vein robustly characterizes the academic understanding of Locke’s view of toleration in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Contrarily, examples of a more recent trend of Lockean scholarship argue that a citizenry can be cultivated that will exercise what has been referred to as positive toleration.  This literature generally argues, in one form or another, that behavior can be cultivated in a civil society that will allow individuals to overcome the types of differences that would pose a threat to the maintenance of a society (such as the differences between a protestant and a Catholic in Locke’s day).  This research exemplifies the inability for contemporary Lockean scholars to use common sense applications of their own texts and historical circumstances to provide for self-defense (or intolerance) in situations where a threat can be detected.  A close analysis of a few of these more recent arguments for toleration will exemplify that arguments for positive toleration must be crafted by ignoring or discounting the practical exceptions to toleration that Locke himself had laid out.

Anthony Wilhelm, who served as Obama’s acting Chief of Staff of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and whose job would thereby have situated him to directly engage the technological fight against the Islamic State, interprets Locke’s view of toleration this way:

Locke offers a consistent message throughout his mature political and philosophical writings: since human affairs remain ‘in so constant a Flux,’ the positive duty of tolerance is essential to discharge our obligations supportive of a good life, encompassing civility, humanity, and friendship. . . . Rather than believing that people are better off retreating to the confines of their private lives for fear of provoking the entrenched orthodoxy of the other, Locke encourages public discussion and debate, including reaching common understanding through conversation.  If Locke believed that one’s partiality to received opinions and prejudices could never be extirpated once planted, then his relatively optimistic exhortations toward civility, friendship, and neighborliness would seem awkward and contradictory.[40]

Richard Tuckness also attempts to tease a justification for positive toleration out of Locke.[41]  Tuckness argues that Locke insists the individuals who carry out the magistracy may err in their determination of what constitutes the public good.  Tuckness argues that an individual may “apply a principle incorrectly,” and in fact harm the public good when they claimed to be protecting it.[42]  Tuckness correctly concludes that Locke’s theory of toleration would not countenance a militia group attacking unarmed civilians (as does the Islamic State), and he also correctly argues that Locke would not insist that the potential harm must be imminent before acting to stop the movement.[43]  But the dynamics of his interpretation lead him to conclude that his correct interpretation of Locke is an insufficient encapsulation of the principle of toleration:

Majorities may tend to overestimate the dangers of minority beliefs.  It is entirely possible that the clear and present danger test [waiting until the danger is imminent] is an even better standard than is Locke’s, according to Locke’s own criteria. . . . It is more likely that we would misuse the Lockean power to preempt than we would suffer from acting too late.[44]

Certainty of one’s moral correctness regarding toleration of demonstrably dangerous political movements is not a criterion for self-defensive action in any of Locke’s writings.  Reluctance to act in the spirit of positive toleration for fear that demonstrable danger is not dangerous enough is the outcome of such an emphasis in theoretical construction.  Indeed, such certainty is not a criterion grounded this uncertain reality.  Nor does this view square in any way with the view of self-defensive pre-emptive resistance to tyranny laid out in the Second Treatise.[45]  To briefly recount that argument:  In each instance in which a legislature may be dissolved, and in the example of the ship bound for Algiers, action is taken to exercise the right of war before the harm has actually occurred.  Locke’s reasoning in these passages is simple: if the threat has manifested (if the ship arrives in Algiers), one may not defend oneself from the harm (as one is already in chattels as soon as the ship is docked).  Hence, legislative abuse should be thwarted when the legislature is still “endeavouring” for absolute power (not after it is attained).  Tuckness understands that this is Locke’s view of resistance – “if the danger is really clear, we need not wait until it is present” – but it is precisely the way that he construes this point to imply that the traditional reading of Locke is “intolerant” that obfuscates the importance of resistance to danger in certain contexts.[46]  The result of all of this pussy-footing around is that, for an ideologically charged proponent of toleration, the one passage in Tuckness’ essay explaining that a violent militia should be resisted will be lost to the question that his essay truly charges us to ask when defending ourselves from harm: ‘can we really be certain that harm is imminent?’ And to the answer that it leads dwellers in the cave of positive toleration towards: ‘no.’  This is far from a Lockean analysis of toleration.  It is instead an argument that uses Locke’s language to make an argument that Locke never made.

Perhaps positive toleration cannot be reasonably drawn from Locke’s writings on toleration because Wilhelm and Tuckness ignore the contextual setting of Locke’s various Letters Concerning Toleration.  Whereas the Letter, summarized above, speaks to cases in which a magistrate is essentially tolerant of religions which are benign to civil society, and lists cases in which the magistrate might reasonably limit religious activity to preserve civil society, the Third Letter Concerning Toleration (cited by Tuckness) and the Fourth Letter Concerning Toleration (cited by Wilhelm) concern a fundamentally different scenario; in both, Locke is developing an argument against a magistrate enforcing his own preferred religion on society for arbitrary reasons.[47]  In this scenario, the magistrate is acting in an offensive manner, whereas the context of the First Letter’s discussion places the magistrate in the context of self-defensive action; the Fourth Letter depicts the magistrate as tyrant, whereas in the First letter he is acting as defender of civil society.

The proper application of Locke’s ideas toward positive toleration can be and is exaggerated by the advocates of positive toleration by citing the context depicted in the Third and Fourth Letters.  Indeed, the argument presumes that the context of the First Letter (wherein a dangerous religion is attempting to undo civil society) does not obtain.  To emphasize arguments from the Third or Fourth Letters places the society already into a state of disorder wherein the magistrate is acting in a tyrannical fashion for his arbitrary intolerance of a benign religious sect.  In this context the magistrate is causing harm, and the religious sect is the victim.  It makes sense, in this context, to argue for the importance of positive toleration, for indeed the law is the source of disorder caused by an intolerant magistrate, and therapy for this is tolerance.  However, when attempting to apply Locke’s thoughts on toleration to contemporary American political circumstances, reliance upon arguments in the Third or Fourth Letters of Toleration are tenuous.  Since staunchly tolerant interpretations of the establishment clause began appearing in U.S. case law in the 1940s (for instance, prohibiting praying and bible reading in public schools), the argument cannot be tenably advanced that American legal norms enforce, even in the softest of ways, any particular religious practice.  Because America’s laws are already tolerant, the opening up further of positive toleration not only does not make very much logical sense (the door is as open as open gets), but it instead infringes on the limits placed on toleration for the sake of security (doors close and lock for a reason, after all).  And it makes even less sense given the context at hand, where an armed militia group is randomly attacking public spaces, which is perhaps the quintessential time to apply negative Lockean toleration.

While the Second Treatise clearly laid out Locke’s famous account of labor, and asserted that labor provides an empirical standard to determine who owns what property, Tuckness’ account of a well-meaning government accidentally persecuting a benign religious sect completely ignores this empirical grounding of Locke’s thought, and instead invites readers pervert Locke on conscience: whereas Locke wrote that “I shall know in my own conscience,” Tuckness attempts to argue that Locke’s position is something more like ‘I shall not know in my own conscience, and therefore cannot act in a self-defensive manner lacking this certainty.’[48]  Consider a very basic practical example: one knows if one built a house with one’s own labor, for one remembers doing so.  Tuckness’ argument in this example would ask one to conclude that one could not be certain if one built a house, despite the memory of doing so.  The ramifications that this perversion of Lockean thought has upon the interaction between the more abstract concepts of toleration and self-defense are profound.

Some of these ramifications have been summarized above regarding the way in which the danger posed by the Islamic State is discounted by comparing it to less dangerous “homegrown” movements.  But a few examples arising from the wake of the terrorist shooting in 2016 at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida will suffice to hammer home the dire nature of this situation.  Although the rise of the Islamic State had been well publicized in America since the summer of 2014, and although there had already been several related murders in America prior to Orlando, one Muslim man who was interviewed outside of a mosque in Orlando the day after the shooting at Pulse promised that he would “start paying more attention.”[49] Another Muslim man professed to having had a casual conversation with the Orlando shooter about Anwar al-Awlaki’s ideas some months before the shooting; despite the fact that the shooter had said that he found al-Awlaki’s rhetoric “powerful,” this man took no action whatsoever to alert authorities or to persuade the shooter against such ideas.[50]  Perhaps just as troubling as the response of the Muslim community to this threat was the response of NBC News to this interview: the network’s anchors expressed no alarm that young men who are attending mosques in the United States are having casual conversations about the philosophical veracity of someone who has inspired many murderers.  These examples reflect a socially proliferate inability to distinguish between the proper applications of common symbols of toleration and self-defense, with strong predilection to choose to tolerate instead of to defend.

These examples are the result of an ideologically ingrained positive toleration.  Every human being always has the very basic philosophical responsibility to identify harm, and the practical responsibility to address it.  The Muslim community in the United States – if they wish to contribute to civil society and not to dissolve it – has the responsibility and the best opportunity of putting this movement down through persuasion; the rest of society has the responsibility of ensuring the cohesion of an established civil society. The Muslim community in America, not simply token members of it, should have been actively working to thwart this movement for some time now; the rest of American society should have been pushing that community hard to do so.  The passive acceptance of the ideas of characters like al-Awlaki within the Muslim community – both by the Muslim community and by the mainstream civil society in America – reflects a prolific and fundamental confusion regarding the proper bounds of positive and negative toleration.

At the end of the day, an essential difference between the proponents of negative toleration and the proponents of positive toleration regards whether Locke was acting as a political philosopher or as a political propagandist in his political writings.  Negative toleration proponents occasionally argue that Locke is articulating a politically inspired rather than a philosophically inspired effort.[51]  Positive toleration proponents, on the other hand, view Locke’s philosophical enterprise as legitimate, and the work cited above is no exception.  Tuckness construes Locke’s works on the topic into a four-tiered system for toleration with a precision that is utterly lacking in any of Locke’s ambivalent writings.[52]  Wilhelm, apparently similarly unaware of the excellent historical research by Ashcraft and others that demonstrates the propogandist nature of Locke’s work, takes Locke’s thought at face value as earnest philosophy, and does not view the possibility that Locke’s work was a propaganda effort not actually designed to cultivate deep thinking or deeply sensitive individuals: “If Locke was not so centrally concerned about the well-being of individuals and the public sphere…then he would in all likelihood not have spent so much energy in defending his conception of a good life, one so easily brought to ruin by secular and religious domination.”[53]

The contemporary dynamics regarding toleration in America provide evidence for the reading of Locke as propagandist and not philosopher.  The tendency to turn Locke’s ideas into a systematic construction of political reality says both that his propaganda effort contained an eventually self-destructive error, as feared by Sandoz, and that this self-destructive error is specifically now manifest as the plight to ignore the fact that to tolerate a threat can very plausibly result in harm.  It is indeed the gnosticism inherent to this idea which gives rise to the need to embrace systems, such as constructed by Tuckness out of Locke’s ideas, to produce the illusion that the logic of ignoring threats without possibly incurring harm is rock solid.[54]

My argument has been that Locke pieced together a propaganda effort for a healthily functioning liberal civil society, and that the grave danger of his methodological construction was that it could easily be perverted – that a Lockean society would not possess the philosophical acumen to properly identify the meanings behind articulated political symbols, would accordingly fail to recognize threats to its constitution, and would therefore be prone to being augmented into something other than a healthily functioning liberal society.  I argue that precisely this has occurred regarding contemporary Americans’ abilities to detect the threats posed by the Islamic State and to forcefully combat them.  The willful ignorance in a society built upon Lockean symbolism of Locke’s fundamental ideas regarding self-defense, and over-emphasis of lines regarding duties toward others without regard to the context in which they were written, radically changes Locke’s thought into something it simply was not.  The discovery of strong communitarian ideals in Locke visa vie the concept of positive toleration changes him from a seminal liberal into a new-age progressive.


The historical facts and contemporary trends pointed out in this paper’s early sections – the proliferate use of apocalyptic symbols to generate substantial political movements in the Islamic world, and the contemporary popularity of such symbolism in the Islamic world – paint a picture of Islamism as manifest in the Islamic State as a movement that is not historically unique, and one whose historical antecedents show that, at least, intolerance of their apocalypticism is required to prevent the movement from establishing a political dynasty of global legitimacy.  In other words, a strong incongruence exists between the ideological constructions aimed toward an ideal of positive toleration, and the national security threat posed by the Islamic State, a threat which facilitates a need for a principled focus on negative toleration.

The commercially available popular literature in the United States on the Islamic State reflects the ideal of positive toleration.  Peter Bergen’s commercial monograph on the rise of lone-wolf attacks in the United States concludes that an “endemic…anti-Muslim paranoia” – fueled by Donald Trump and Pamela Geller – are reflections of a “vocal conspiracy theorist element of the American far right.”[55]   Even further, he argues that such conspiracy theorists “sees the fate of this conspiracy in apocalyptic terms.”[56]  Hence, the whole issue has been turned onto its head: so-called apocalyptic anti-Muslim paranoia is the problem, and not the apocalyptical political-religious movement that persists in executing violent random attacks against society at large.  Bergen’s analysis through such a lens allows him to conclude:

The extent to which our government and the media participate in this endemic paranoia is damaging in that, apart from doing the terrorists’ job for them, which is to terrorize, it helps crowd out the far more serious issues the planet faces.   Climate change is far less telegenic than ISIS.  More to the point, homicide is the fifteenth leading cause of death for Americans.[57]

Stern and Berger, advocating a passive “let them rot” approach to combatting the Islamic State, conclude their own commercial publication on the Islamic State with the disclaimer that “you are significantly more likely to die in a car accident, especially if you fail to wear your seat belt, than to be attacked by ISIS.  Wear your seatbelt.”[58]  The natures of the threats posed by terrorist groups, climate change, car accidents, and traditional homicides are not at all similar.  One could not plausibly combat a terrorist group by limiting pollution, wearing seatbelts, and discouraging domestic violence; and one could not plausibly limit car accidents or climate change through the use of military force.  Credible analysts should of course already know this; there should be no need to even respond to such comparisons.  Such misleading claims appear to be made for the sake of distracting from the terrorist threat instead of seriously addressing it, and the individuals who make them are of prominent social standing.  Jessica Stern is an often-cited Harvard lecturer; Peter Bergen appears regularly on cable news networks.

Plato’s well known contention that the “polis is man writ large” might remind us that until society ceases to reward the ideological presentations of the likes of Tuckness or Bergen, such thinkers will continue to occupy prominent social positions and to influence society’s broader strokes.  The gnostic attitude exhibited by such thinkers toward the principle of toleration may at first glance appear to be a principled dedication to a venerable cause.  But upon closer inspection one sees in this attitude the same social behaviors, ironically hallmarked by the intolerance of opposing ideas through misleading presentations, that precipitated both the twentieth century totalitarian atrocities as well as the current Islamic radical movement.  It is for this reason that a plea for greater critical thought and common sense reasoning in both American popular culture and in academia is warranted.  Unfortunately, in such a social atmosphere, one may reasonably conclude that tensions over the issue of toleration are likely to wax further before they wane.  As the concept of toleration is closely tied to the contemporary progressive movement, and as Voegelin warned that the end form of progressivism is totalitarianism, this plea is especially dire in an America exhibiting tendencies toward this end.

With this warning in mind, a few modest recommendations might be made regarding how academia, and specifically students of Locke’s political thought, could begin to alter the present currents; for indeed a correlation seems to exist between academic interpretations of Locke’s ideas and America’s political culture.  Lockean scholarship should focus on two issue areas specifically, foreign policy and toleration.

While Lockean scholarship has very rarely wandered into foreign policy areas, and while existing research on Locke and foreign policy would have little bearing on the contemporary problem of Islamic terrorism, it is clear the impacts of globalization and technological and communication advances have rendered a new era of foreign policy in which the lines between conquest and insurgency are blurred.  This new era is characterized by the rise not only of non-state actors, but of non-state actors whose citizenship in Western nations and whose ideological fanaticism for radical Islam renders the traditional modus operandi for dealing with enemies in a civilized fashion outdated.  The Islamic State has proven more adept at understanding and at taking advantage of the Western ideology regarding toleration than the West has been at understanding and combatting the ideology of jihadist Islam.  In short, this new era means that Locke’s concepts of self-defense and of limited toleration must be considered as the fundamental corner-stones of Lockean liberalism that they are: it means that Western foreign policy must be informed by an astute limiting of toleration to those instances in which intolerance is not better viewed as self-defensive reaction to an empirically perceived threat; it means, likewise, that proliferate foreign ideologies which infiltrate sectors of the Western population must be treated as incidents of attempted conquest and not as incidents of small-scale insurgency comparable to right-wing extremists whose ideas are unlikely to spread beyond their immediate and small groups, and who pose no existential threat to Western order.

Political scientists and especially political philosophers who contemplate toleration through the lens of Locke can perhaps best contribute to the effort to combat Islamic terrorism by questioning seriously articulations for positive toleration, whether they reflect the essence of Locke’s texts, and how advocates of positive toleration can better reflect the balance that exists in reality and in Locke’s writings between toleration and self-defense.  Special care might be given to considering how this can be done in a way that will not produce and then mislead the ideologically charged.  A second and related way in which Lockean scholars can help to disentangle the current morass that exists in popular American culture regarding toleration is to question the relationship in Locke’s writings between toleration and the arguments relating to the dissolution of government and the dissolution of society.


Appendix: List of Political Movements that Utilized the Mahdi

685: Al-Mukhtar and Hashimite movement relies on Mahdi. (McCants 2015, 24-5)

716: Ummayad caliph Suleyman casts himself as Mahdi to facilitate the siege of Byzantium. (Filiu 2007, 11)

Mid-700s:  Ismail’i movement at beginning of Sunni schism relies on Mahdi. (Filiu 2007, 50)

747:  Abu Muslim uses the symbol of the Mahdi to start the revolutionary movement that results in the Abbasid dynasty. (McCants 2015, 26)

late 700s: Rebel from 683, al-Zubayr, is being recast posthumously as a Mahdi figure by Shi’a rebels against Abbasid. (Filiu 2007, 12)

899: ‘Abd Allah Sa’id and revolution in Salamiyya rely upon Mahdi. (Filiu 2007, 50)  A  counter-movement by Abu Tahir recognizes a prisoner from Isfahan as the Mahdi in approximately 930, which is subsequently put down.  (Filiu 2007, 50)

903:  Sa’id’s movement grows into Syria; his follower ‘Abd Allah Mahdi flees to Morocco under Abbasid pressure and inspires another revolution.  This one is successfully established, and Abd Allah casts rebels as agents of Anti-Christ, stuffing corpse of leader with straw and “borne aloft” as a means of consolidating power.   This established the Fatamid dynasty. (Filiu 2007, 51)

1121: Ibn Tumart proclaims himself Mahdi in Morocco.  A military defeat ruins his credibility, and he has to pass the torch to a lieutenant, who establishes Almohad dynasty; after his defeat he proclaims Mu’min as Mahdi, who expands territory and consolidates the Almohad dynast (see Filiu 2007, 60)

1164:  Alamut leader Hasan professes to be working for Hidden Imam; he had suspended Islam in anticipation of final hour – all of this inspired by recent political tension/stalemate.  This was designed to re-consolidate power, but backfired and he was stabbed to death two years later. This began to upset the Fatamid dynasty, after a 250 years of relative absence of apocalyptic revolutionary justifications.  (Filiu 53)

1200s: Al-Qutubi uses the figure of the Mahdi to inspire the Almoravid and Almohad jihads. (Filiu 2007, 37)

1256-58: Shi’a help Mongols invade and destroy the Abbasid capital in Baghdad, before being betrayed by the Mongols; this strategic error arose due to a “biased interpretation of the apocalyptic calendar.” (Filiu 2007, 55)

1514:  Kurd named Ismael claims to be Mahdi in Persian area during advent of Safavid empire.  Noteworthy: Ottoman’s rout him in 1514 battle near Tabriz, and he drops claim of Mahdi (Filiu 2007, 58)

1519: Banu Sa’did in Morocco, whose leader was named Mahdi Mohammad by birth, was believed by followers to be the Mahdi.  His followers ruled Morocco for the next century.  (Filiu 2007, 61)

1613: Ibn Mahalli uses apocalyptic rhetoric regarding the Antichrist to start a revolution in Morocco, proclaiming himself Mahdi in the process.  He was eventually killed by a Sa’did counter attack and hung from ramparts until his body disintegrated; nonetheless, some followers simply thought the Mahdi had hid himself from view, and was not dead.  Hence this movement survived for some time after his death. (Filiu 2007, 61-2)

1847: Algerian Bu Ziyan declares himself Mahdi in a revolution against the French.  He was forced to surrender, but this helps spread rumors of the appearance of the Mahdi and immanence of the Final Hour.  He was killed by the French in an 1849 siege, after saying again that he was the Mahdi and was called drive the French out of Algeria.  His head was placed on pike in town, and the rumors of the Mahdi’s return were only exacerbated further, as many didn’t believe he was dead.  This movement also persisted for some time before eventually dieing out. (Filiu 2007, 61)

1881: Sudanese Mohammah Allah proclaims himself Mahdi.  He establishes a radical state that is put down a few years after his death in 1898.  In this case, that he died and proved not to be Mahdi provided for the gradual weakening of his state; European military raid ends it. (Filiu 2007, 63; see also Cleveland and Bunton 2013, 114-115)

1979: Ikhwan take-over the holy site in Mecca. (see Cooper 133; Filiu 74-8)

1979: Mahdi was emphasized during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. (see Filiu)

(1979-present) OR 2006-present: global Islamism /  Islamic State movement

Note: I conservatively count all uses of the Mahdi since 1979 (excepting the Islamic Revolution in Iran) as one incident.  This methodological choice is made for the sake of simplicity, although some precision regarding the count of incidents is lost by this.  Certainly, the number of these incidents could be higher than the 19 cited in this article. The globalism of the Islamism movement and its proliferate use of the symbol of the Mahdi make it incredibly difficult and not entirely practical to identify a head-count of uses of the Mahdi in political situations dating from approximately 1979 to the present; this symbol arises in this time span across the various geographically specific conflicts occurring within the Middle East; many of these movements strike me as being neither mutually exclusive from one another, nor mutually reliant upon one another.  For instance, although Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State both relied up this symbol, the latter, as discussed above, grew out of the former.  The reverse could probably be argued for some of the historical incidents listed above is distinct, such as the listings in 899 and 903 (although I justify listing these separately because the first occurred in Syria and the later across the region in Morocco).  The fact that counting these incidents is prone to such inaccuracy only reflects my central thesis that the use of this symbol to inspire political revolutions is replete in the Islamic world.



Ashcraft, Richard.  1986. Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s ‘Two Treatises of Government.”  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ashcraft, Richard.  1993.  “Religion and Lockean Natural Rights” in Religious Diversity and Human Rights.  Ed by I. Bloom, J. Martin and W.L. Proudfoot.  New York: Columbia University Press.  195-212

Bergen, Peter.  2016.  United States of Jihad.  New York: Crown Publishers

Cleveland, William L. and Bunton, Martin.  2013.  A History of the Modern Middle East.  5th ed.  Philadelphia: Westview Press.

Cooper, Barry.  2004.  New Political Religions, or An Analysis of Modern Terrorism.  Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Cranston, M.  1991.  “John Locke and the Case for Toleration” in John Locke: A Letter Concerning Toleration in Focus, ed. J Horton and S Mendus.  New York: Routledge, 78-89

Dunn, John.  1991.  “The Claim to Freedom of Conscience: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Worship?” in From Persecution to Toleration: The Glorious Revolution and Religion in England.  Ed Ole Peter Grell, Jonathan Israel, and Nicholas Tyacke.  Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Filiu, Jean-Pierre.  Trans by M.B. DeBevoise.  2007.  Apocalypse in Islam.  Berkley: University of California Press.

Locke, John.  1824.  Letters Concerning Toleration.  Collected Works of John Locke, vol. 512th ed.  London.

Locke, John.  Ed. By David Wootton.  2003.  Political Writings.  Indianapolis: Hackett

Lorenzo, David.  2003.  “Tradition and Prudence in Locke’s Exceptions to Toleration.”  American Journal of Political Science.  248-258.

McCants, William.  2015.  The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.  New York: St. Martin’s Press

Mendus, S.  1989.  Toleration and the Limits of Liberalism.  Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International

Murhphy, A.  2001.  Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America.  University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Rawls.  1991.  “Constitutional Liberty and the Concept of Justice” in John Rawls Collected Papers, ed by S. Freeman.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 73-95

Sandoz, Ellis G.  1972.  “The Civil Theology of Liberal Democracy”.  The Journal of Politics.  34(1):2-36

Stern, Jessica and Berger, J.M.  2015.  ISIS: The State of Terror.  New York: Harper Collins.

Tuckness, Alex. 2002.  “Rethinking the Intolerant Locke”  American Journal of Political Science.  46(2): 288-298

Waldron, Jeremy.  1993.  “Locke, Toleration, and the Rationality of Persecution,” in Liberal Rights, Collected Papers: 1981-1991.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilhelm, Anthony G.  1999.  Good Fences and Good Neighbors.  Political Research Quarterly.  52(1): 145-166



[1] Cooper 2004

[2] Filiu 2007

[3] Filiu 2007, xi

[4] The writings of Naji and al-Suri are particularly noteworthy here, see Filiu 2007

[5] see Filiu 2007, 187; Bergen 2016, 52-54

[6]  McCants 2015

[7] see Especially McCants 2015

[8] Binali’s writings are especially fruitful in this regard

[9]  McCants 2015, 24; Filiu 2007, xiv, 196; Stern and Berger 2015, 260, and especially 264; Cooper 2

[10] Cooper 2004, 2

[11] Stern and Berger, 264

[12] Filiu, 195

[13] Stern and Berger, 225

[14] Filiu writes that “[9/11] unleased a wave of apocalyptic speculations throughout Christendom that could not help but stimulate literary productions in the Islamic world. …Radical messianic propagandists…promptly exploited the possibilities of the moment.”  (Filiu 2007, 110)   He does not explain how Christendom might influence Islam so directly in this way, and he moreover ignores his preceding chapter which had explained that apocalyptic literature had been produced and sold prolifically throughout the 1990s in the Middle East. (see Chapter 5, “Pioneers of the Apocalypse,” in Filiu 2007, 80-103)

[15] Filiu 2007, 196

[16], accessed on 6/30/2016

[17], accessed on 6/30/2016

[18] on 6/23/2016

[19] Filiu 2007, chs 5-7 provide a detailed and fascinating account of the advent and proliferation of this literature from 1970s through the present

[20] Of course, violent jihadism is merely a subset of right-wing terrorism (a category that typically includes all terrorism inspired by religion).  The research on this point really indicates that violent jihadism poses a greater threat in America than all other forms of right-wing extremism combined.  Nonetheless, it is instructive to follow this false premise through to show how even the false premise must be manipulated in order to make the case appear to be true.  (The logical fallacy of claiming that all religious fundamentalist groups are similar for sematic purposes, but that violent jihadism can at the same time be compared fairly against all other forms of fundamentalism for different semantic purposes, is the typical type of semantic game played by gnostics of any era who wish to camouflage the lack of empirical evidence for their arguments, or to camouflage evidence which conflicts with their advocated

premise.  It is precisely the proliferate nature of this type of argument construction in the West which makes the fight against the Islamic State so difficult to undertake.)

[21]; accessed on 6/30/2016

[22]; accessed on 6/30/2016

[23]; accessed on 6/30/2016

[24] Bergen 2016, 270

[25]; accessed on 6/30/2016

[26]; accessed on 6/30/2016

[27] Letter Concerning Toleration in Locke 2003 (hereafter LCT), 422, 423

[28] LCT 424

[29] LCT 424 and 426

[30] LCT 424

[31] LCT 425

[32] LCT 424-5

[33] LCT 425

[34] LCT 425

[35] LCT 425

[36] LCT 424-5.  That Islamism is inherently a politically active religion which does not recognize a rigid distinction between church and state only amplifies the argument that Islamism is incompatible with liberalism in general and a world order that rests upon the sovereignty of nation-states.

[37] LCT 424-6

[38] see Lorenzo 2003 for an excellent summary of this literature; including Sandoz 1972; Kraynak 1980; Ashcraft 1886, 1993; Mendus 1989; Cranston 1991; Dunn 1991; Schocet 1992; Wootton 1993; Murphy 2001; Lorenzo 2003

[39] Lorenzo 2003

[40] Wilhem 1999, 155-6

[41] Tuckness 2002

[42]  Tuckness 2002, 291

[43] Tuckness 2002; 297

[44] Tuckness 2002; 298

[45] I developed this argument in 2012 VoegelinView article:

[46] see Tuckness 2002; 295

[47] see especially Locke 1824, 553-4

[48] Tuckness asserts that Locke held that “we are more accurate judges of fallibility and partiality in other people than in ourselves” (Tuckness 2002; 296)

[49] Fox News, The Five

[50] NBC News, Today Show

[51] such as Sandoz (1972), Ashcraft (1993), and Robinson (unpublished monograph)

[52] Tuckness 2002; 295-298

[53] Wilhelm 1999, 155

[54] see Sandoz 1972.  Sandoz argued that Locke’s “civil theology” “laid the groundwork for the reductionist doctrines that emerged in the 19th century.” (1972, 4)

[55] Bergen 2016, 268-272

[56] Bergen 2016, 269

[57] Bergen 2016, 273

[58] Stern and Berger 2015, 202

Scott Robinson

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Scott Robinson is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at King University in Tennessee and Associate Editor of VoegelinView. He is currently working on a book on John Locke’s political rhetoric and its long-term impact on American political thought.