- Paperback: 202 pages
- Publisher: Hallberg Pub Corp (September 1983)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0873190246
- ISBN-13: 978-0873190244
- Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,988,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mr. Jefferson Paperback – September, 1983
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"No harm is done if we read his Jefferson as a biography and his Rabelais studies as travel books and compare them with other biographies and studies. But it is harm done to ourselves not to discover in those works an ideal of the complete man and of the moral life. Must we always be moved only by unreadable books in treatise form, which profess to "tell all" with the aid of quotations and references -- that is, others' thoughts pickled in disinfectant scholarship?"
Who can add to Dr Barzun? Enjoy Albert Jay Nock.
He notes, "Mr. Jefferson regarded with profound distrust and disfavor the phenomenon of the political woman... He was continually shocked by the coarseness and vulgarity, let alone the scandalousness, of the custom which permitted women in search of favors not only to visit public officials, but to visit them alone, without the present of a third person to guard the proprieties." (Pg. 55) He adds, "their persistent love of adornment bore him eloquent testimony to the better way that things were managed in Virginia, where women did their duty in that station of life unto which it had pleased God to call them. He remarks this with a detachment so profound as to give his observations a patronizing air---one may charitably hope that they never fell under the eye of contemporary feminism..." (Pg. 100-101)
Nock asserts, "He was for control of government by the producing class: that is to say, by the immense majority which in every society actually applies labor and capital to natural resources for the production of wealth. His instincts reacted ... against anything that menaced that interest." (Pg. 116) He observes, "Economy furnished Mr. Jefferson a good pretext for indulging his inveterate dislike of ceremonial formalities." (Pg. 155) John Randolph said of him, "He, sir, was the only man I knew or ever heard of, who really, truly, and honestly, not only said 'Nolo episcopari,' but actually refused the mitre." (Pg. 157)
Nock also records, "When he left the Presidency, Mr. Jefferson was about twenty thousand dollars in debt... Mr. Jefferson died in the belief that his debts were taken care of, and his family assured of a permanent home at Monticello... But within six months [of his death] most of his personal property was sold for debt, and all of it within a year... His daughter and her family were turned out of their home... and Monticello was alienated for a century, to serve as an object of idle sentiment and yet more idle curiosity to generations which its builder knew not, and which knew not him." (Pg. 196, 200)
Not the most "scholarly" or comprehensive biography of Jefferson, this will be of most interest to those who are sympathetic to Nock's views.
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.