Saturday, July 11, 2009

American Order and Jefferson's Mind

There is a rumor floating around the intelligentsia that the Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes most quoted statement is "Life is nasty, brutish and short." His magnum opus is "The Leviathan", a work advocating an all powerful government (a monarchy) in which the people (base savages) would be kept in check. It is true that the Founding Fathers had a pessimistic view of mankind, that men will usually act upon self interest rather than the good of all. That is why they gave us a Constitution which so separated the powers among the three branches (Executive, Legislative, Judiciary) that neither would come to dominate the other. The most common phrase for such a system is "Checks and Balances." But the ultimate beneficiary of such a system is not the ruling class, but the people as a whole; "government by the people for the people" is preserved with such a system. If Hobbes was so influential on the Founders, then why did they act to preserve our individual liberties rather than restrict them? Here is a link to an article on Russell Kirk's "The Roots Of American Order" which goes into more detail on this issue.

Who says that there is nothing new to learn concerning American History? A new book is out on Thomas Jefferson: "The Road To Monticello." Its not a standard biography but a book that breaks new ground. It is a biography of Jefferson's mind. It seeks to document the development of Jefferson's thinking by focusing on Jefferson's reading. Any examination of Jefferson's political principles would cite obvious sources such as Locke. But this book documents sources that many would not think of. This book should illuminate Jefferson's thinking process in ways past historians have not. This may be my patriotic July reading for next year. Thanks to my friend David Bartlett for sending me the link to this article.

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