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Jefferson’s Platonic Republicanism

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

That Jefferson execrated Plato in an 1814 letter to friend John Adams. In it, he expresses an unsympathetic, hostile view of Plato’s Republic, and the reasons are several. Nonetheless, Plato’s views on what makes government fundamentally sound are, at base, remarkably similar to Jefferson’s both in substance and sentiment, so much so that it is inconceivable to think that Plato’s Republic had little effect on Jefferson’s political thinking. That makes his execration of Plato difficult to understand.This paper is an attempt to show that Jefferson, despite the tenor of his letter to Adams, had much more than a dilettante’s grasp of the political content of Plato’s major work. Jefferson was very likely quite familiar with the work, since his own political philosophy assimilates key substratal Platonic political principles of good, stable governing. His disavowal of the work and execration of Plato, then, is due to a constellation of other factors: Adams’s feelings toward Plato, Jefferson’s views on the corruptions of Jesus’s teachings, his deep-dyed detestation of metempiricism, his view that Plato was an unoriginal thinker, and strong disagreement with Plato’s means to instantiate substratal political principles.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, Rider University2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648USAMHolowchak@hotmail.com

10.1163/20512996-12340021
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/content/journals/10.1163/20512996-12340021
2014-08-15
2018-09-21

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