Back to Index

Becomming Jefferson's People




I finished Jenkinson's book, which is basically a claim that a 'Jeffersonian' behaves and thinks like Jefferson (minus, you know, the racism, sexism, possible affairs, owning other humans, and financial irresponsibility). And I suppose the question to me is, how much do I really want to behave and think like Jefferson? I am often wary of philosophies that proscribe behavior. You have to ask -- on what grounds?

Jefferson favored seeing the world through the lens of books. Advocating small government. Being as independent of others as possible. Writing letters -- perhaps the paper kind. Hosting dinner parties. Growing your own food. Culturing friendship. Being a good citizen. Maintaining your health. Walking. Understanding how things are made. Being a craftsman. Playing an instrument. Seeking mastery. Dancing.

Some of it is -- well, yes, of course. Who is trying not to be healthy? But for the more controversial, maybe it sounds good, but I've got to dig deeper into the underlying assumptions. Saying, for example, "you should read more." is saying "people don't read enough." What is enough? What right does someone have to say how much or what people should be reading? Jefferson was a genius, so enough for me may be different.

But once clearing away the over-generalized in a Jeffersonian philosophy, some ashes may remain. You never know.