Jefferson's Democratic Idealism
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Political Theory
Thomas Jefferson
Democratic Idealism
political ideology

How to Cite

Jefferson’s Democratic Idealism. (2022). The Political Science Reviewer, 46(2), 57-88.


This article contends that there is a pronounced if underappreciated side to Thomas Jefferson’s democratic vision that is decidedly undemocratic. By reexamining several of Jefferson’s core beliefs, including his agrarianism, his philosophy of education, and his desire for an “empire of liberty,” this paper elucidates a Jeffersonian vision of democracy that defers to the knowledgeable and enlightened rather than the actual, historical will of the people. Reexamining the character and quality of Jefferson’s vision helps shed light on our own fraught conception of democracy, which similarly is often torn between the desire for direct popular rule and a competing desire for rule by experts.

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