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The Core Curriculum

The Coffeehouse Mob by Edward Ward, in Vulgus Brittanicus, 1710.

In John Locke’s time, more and more people in England were becoming politically aware, and politically active. In the absence of the internet, or even of mass literacy, the coffeehouse became the central locus of this new political sensibility. In the coffeehouse, Englishmen would meet to discuss the current events of the day, and oftentimes to criticize the government. Shaftesbury, Locke’s mentor and patron, was a particularly frequent denizen of the coffeehouse. This was quite a new phenomenon, and many were worried that the mob was becoming inflamed with revolutionary ideas. This image, clearly painted by an opponent of coffeehouse culture, shows Englishmen reading newspapers and entering into violent argument with one another: we can see one splashing coffee into the face of another. Surely, this is not what Locke had in mind when hewrote about consent, but Locke was clearly in favor of reasoned political discussion among the people.


Wikipedia Commons (also available in Steve Pincus, 1688 (2009), page 80.

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