John Adams the Locke-Smith?


John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy.
By Luke Mayville. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.
232p $29.95 hardcover.

It’s not often in academia that one wishes a book were longer. John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy accomplishes this rare feat. This is a focused and clearly written work that provides a fresh and relevant reading of Adams, and that should transform future discussions of his contribution to the American Founding as well as the history of political thought. Luke Mayville persuasively connects Adams’ seemingly classical or traditional advocacy for something like the ancient mixed constitution to the modern Scottish Enlightenment’s emphasis on the importance of the “moral sentiments” instead. Adams is a modern, not a reactionary, and he is a friendly rather than an oppositional critic of the new American republicanism. Rather than trying to reinstitute feudal aristocracy or monarchy on the ruins of republicanism, Adams was trying to protect republicanism from the threat rendered preeminent by the demise of these old distinctions, consisting in the rule of the wealthy or “oligarchy” mentioned in Mayville’s title.

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