22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant but Flawed,
This review is from: Mr. Jefferson (Paperback)
Albert J. Nock has long been known by those familiar with his work as a shrewd commentator who is always eager to "tell it as it is." When his premises are correct, this can be refreshing, to say the least. However, when he misses the mark, the results can be embarassing. This work, much like his infamous "Our Enemy the State," is a great testament to this.
However, to begin with, there is much of great worth and interest in this volume. Nock, as one scholar has observed, was a supremely literate man, and his great learning and intelligence is clearly evident throughout this work. Unlike many other authors, Nock reflects a deep, thorough knowledge of Jefferson's life and writings. Furthermore, few modern authors can equal Nock's beautiful prose style. Thus, when one reads of Jefferson's opinion on architechure, art, philosophy, or agriculture, we have some of the most delightful passages in all of the Jefferson literature.
Unfortunately, a large portion of the work is consumed by Nock's grossly inaccurate analysis of the political environment of the early republic. Economic determinism in the tradition of Charles A. Beard and Henry George is the gist of what you find, and all of their fallacies and flaws are given full exercise. Indeed, as one Jefferson scholar has remarked, this work reveals a "uncritical" use of the Beard thesis. Thus, Jefferson is portrayed, not as an advocate of natural rights or anything of the sort, but as the supporter of the interests of the producing class against those of the exploiting class. As one would expect, the Constitution is portrayed simply as a tool for economic exploitation, and much ink is spilled documenting the evils of Hamilton, the Federalists, as well as "speculators." While all of this is not without a semblance of truth, his simplistic and often misleading exegesis is very dissapointing.
Nevertheless, as I have said, the work still has great value, largely as a brilliant account of Jefferson's interests and character. Nock is fundamentally correct when he focuses on the fact that Jefferson's real views are very far from those of his comtemporaries, and even farther from those who claim his name for support in later days. Ultimately, I would only recommend this work to individuals who have already done a good deal of study in Jefferson's life and ideas, for only these individuals will be able to see the true worth of this study despite its many flaws.
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Initial post: Dec 12, 2013 9:24:15 PM PST
William Shelton says:
Neither Beard nor George were determinists, far from it. I can't imagine what's contentious about tracing politics back to self interest. We do it all the time with contemporary interest groups. If the Wall Street of today, for instance, votes for what's best--or what they guess is best--for Wall Street, why not back then?
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