Synopses & Reviews
Where The Ideas for which We Stand came from.
In this incisively drawn book, Darren Staloff forcefully reminds us that America owes its guiding political traditions to three Founding Fathers whose lives embodied the collision of Europe’s grand Enlightenment project with the birth of the nation.
Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John Adams, the curmudgeonly Yankee; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginia squire—each governed their public lives by Enlightenment principles, and for each their relationship to the politics of Enlightenment was transformed by the struggle for American independence. Repeated humiliation on America’s battlefields banished Hamilton’s youthful idealism, leaving him a disciple of Enlightened realpolitik and the nation’s leading exponent of modern statecraft. After ten years in Europe’s diplomatic trenches, Adams’s embrace of the politics of Enlightenment became increasingly skeptical in spirit, and his public posture became increasingly that of the gadfly of his country. And Jefferson’s frustrations as a Revolutionary governor in Virginia led him to go beyond his Enlightened worldview, and articulate a new and radical Romantic politics of principle. As a consequence, Americans demand a government that is both modern, constrained by checks and balances, and capable of appealing to our loftiest aspirations while adhering to decidedly pragmatic policies.
"By now it's commonplace to ascribe the principles of the American founding to the Enlightenment, and CUNY historian Staloff offers no startling new information or refreshingly original readings of this period. He contends that the epistemological turn to empiricism, the disenchantment with the metaphysical and the move toward urbanism provide the core of Enlightenment politics, and he uncritically uses these three principles as lenses through which to read the politics of three of America's founders: Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson. Hamilton 'promoted rapid industrialization and urban growth fostered by a strong central government capable of projecting its interests and power in the world at large.' While Adams shared with John Locke an optimism that scientific education could promote liberty, he knew too well that human nature was corrupt enough to need a political system with checks and balances. Staloff (The Making of an American Thinking Class) gives his most thoughtful readings to Jefferson, who he says fostered a Romantic sensibility in American politics. Jefferson, he says, most changed American politics by showing the need for those politics to be built on an idealistic vision. But among a continuing flood of books about these and other American founders, Staloff's provides little that is new or provocative. (July 4)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A lucid argument, usefully extending the intellectual history of the American Revolution by interrogating three great revolutionaries." --Kirkus Reviews
"Thoughtful, infectious in its enthusiasm, and briskly argued." --Leslie Kitchen, History News Network
Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John Adams, the curmudgeonly Yankee; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginia squire--each steered their public lives under the guideposts and constraints of Enlightenment principles, and for each their relationship to the politics of Enlightenment was transformed by the struggle for American independence. Repeated humiliation on America's battlefields banished Hamilton's youthful idealism, leaving him a fervent disciple of enlightened realpolitik and the nation's leading exponent of modern statecraft. After ten years in Europe's diplomatic trenches, Adams's embrace of the politics of Enlightenment became increasingly that of the gadfly of his country. And Jefferson's frustrations as a reformer and then Revolutionary governor in Virginia led him to go beyond his previous enlightened worldview and articulate a new and radical Romantic politics of principle.
Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson is a marvelous reminder that the world of ideas is inextricably bound up in the long trajectory of historical events.
About the Author
teaches history at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of The Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts