REVIEWSrnWhy TheyrnHate Jeffersonrnby Clyde WilsonrnThe Long Affair: Thomas Jeffersonrnand the French Revolution, 1785-1800rnby Conor Cruise O’BrienrnChicago: University of Chicago Press;rn367 pp., $29.95rnWhat a marathon of Jeffersonbashingrnwe have had in the lastrnfew years. This book by the “globalrnstatesman” O’Brien follows several otherrncritical biographies, all of which havernbeen highlighted in the fashionablernreviews. More than usually offensive tornJefferson admirers were a collection (ThernView from Monticello) by University ofrnVirginia professors trashing their founderrn(not surprising since they are all carpetbaggersrnanyway); a slashing attack inrnNational Review; and, worst of all,rnKen Burns’ latest television “documentary.”rnNone of this literature tells us anythingrnabout Jefferson. There is no scholarshiprn—that is, research and discovery—rninvolved. We have here, rather, a casernstudy in intellectual sociology: that is, anrnexhibit by fashionable intellectuals determiningrnwhat is and is not acceptablernto their version of the American regime.rnWhat they tell us is that Jefferson is outrnnow.rnFriends, you must have either Jeffersonrnor Hamilton. All the fundamentalrnconflicts in our history were adumbratedrnduring the first decade of the GeneralrnGovernment in the contest symbolizedrnby these two men. Hamilton lost in thernshort run, but triumphed in the longrnrun. He would find much that is agreeablernin the present American regime—rna plutocratic kritarchy which we persist,rnby long habit of self-deception, in callingrna democracy. But Thomas Jeffersonrnwould not be at all happy with what hasrnhappened to this country; he might evenrnsuggest that the time had come for a littlernrevolution. The host of petty intellectualsrnand pundits, elitists, and would-bernelitists—tame scribblers of the AmericanrnEmpire—sense this, and so Jeffersonrnmust be dealt with appropriately. ThernFstablishment is frightened by the rumblingsrnthey hear from the Great Beastrn(that is, we the American people). Theyrnare shocked to realize that Jefferson honestlyrndid believe in the people; that hernbelieved the soundest basis for governmentrnto be popular consent and a severelyrnlimited government.rnHamilton, on the other hand, believedrnin rule by “the [self-appointed]rnbest” and in “energetic government” operatingrnin the interest of private profit.rnFor the better part of a century we hadrnprotective tariffs which burdened therngreat mass of the American people, agriculturalists,rnand consumers, while profitingrnlarge capital. Now that it is in the interestrnof large capital to ship Americanrnworkers’ jobs to the Third World, wernhave every petty pundit singing the praisesrnof “free trade.” Just what Alexanderrnordered.rnHamilton, it is true, was rather indifferentrnto the do-gooder side of the federalrnleviathan. Yet do-gooderism was axiomaticrnfor the New Englanders whornmade up the largest base of his support:rnpeople whose instinct is immediately torntranslate every moral prompting intorngovernmental coercion. This is why yournand I now have to add the cost of airbagsrnto our car, by federal decree, whether wernwant them or not.rnO’Brien’s brief against Jefferson isrntwofold. First, he favored the FrenchrnRevolution, even its excesses, whichrnshow him to be an irresponsible bloodymindedrnparlor revolutionary. Second,rnJefferson was not a racial egalitarian andrnis therefore an unacceptable symbol forrnmodern America.rnO’Brien, as a number of reviewersrnhave pointed out, lacks the most fundamentalrnrequirement of historianship—rnthat is, the careful use of documents andrnunderstanding of context. He makes norndistinction between Jefferson’s friendshiprnfor the French people—his alwavsrncautious hopes that they might achievernpopular government—and support forrnthe Terror. On this subject (as on mostrnothers), there is much better treatmentrnfrom Albert Jay Nock’s old biography,rnJefferson. As for Jefferson not being arnracial egalitarian—well, neither werernLincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and WoodrowrnWilson or, for that matter, Harry Trumanrnand Ike Eisenhower. So what?rnWhat we have here is elitist hysteria,rnan old and familiar phenomenon. Duringrnthe election of 1800, the president ofrnYale, Timothy Dwight, stumped NewrnEngland trying, with the aid of most ofrnthe New England clerisy, to convince thernpeople that Jefferson was a representativernof the llluminati. John Adams coweredrnin his fortified house in fear of The Mob,rnwhile Jefferson lived at ease among hisrn200 slaves. The Federalists persuadedrnthemselves that the guillotines werernabout to be set up if that horrible decadentrnSoutherner were elected—oustingrnthem from their power and prestige. Today,rnwe have merely the latest version ofrnthe thing. Petty elitists, unsure of theirrnunmerited positions and fearful of thernpeople, conjure up a dark spectacle ofrnterror. How unthinkable that we shouldrnhave those yahoos out there calling thernshots, instead of their betters.rnThe trouble is, Jefferson was always arnliberal but never a Liberal. Liberals (forrnlack of a better term) for years perpetuatedrnan elaborate hoax making Jeffersonrnone of them—which he never was orrncould have been. Now that it is obviousrnthat he really wasn’t, an elaborate excommunicationrn—equally a hoax—fromrnthe American canon seems to them necessary.rnIt would be eomedic if it were notrnsuch a malicious perversion of the historicalrntruth. The burden of O’Brien’srnteaching is that Jefferson does not belongrnin, and must be ejected from, thernAmerican civil religion. But does Americarnhave a civil religion? Ought we tornhave one? Who says so? And if we do,rndo we need some damned foreigner torntell us what is to be left in, and what out,rnof it? What Jefferson most fundamentallyrnsignifies is that we do not need secularrnpriests governing our civic life; wernneed merely to trust in a limited, popularrngovernment while keeping a wary eye onrnthe self-appointed clerisy.rnThe pundits are right. Jefferson doesrnnot offer aid and comfort to the presentrnregime. And let us thank the Creatorrnwho endowed us with our inalienablernrights for that. We still have in Jeffersonrna powerful symbol for liberty and thernAUGUST 1997/29rnrnrn