Anachronism or Ideological Fantasy?
Tue Jul 8 23:06:28 2008
But when it comes to the actual comments about Levy’s argument I find myself fully on the side of Fischer. Levy’s statement “during Jefferson’s lifetime, there was never an issue for which incontestably familiar libertarian standards were lacking to guide his judgment” alone is full of problems. As Fischer reminds us, there were no incontestably familiar libertarian standards at the time. Even if there were, I am not convinced that Jefferson would have wished, intended or needed his judgment to be guided by them. I might even go so far as to argue with Fischer that this is an anachronism. As he defines it, an anachronism applies present ideas to a past time. Yet I don’t think there are “incontestable familiar libertarian standards” now so it would be hard to claim this could even qualify as anachronism.
What is most disappointing to me about Levy’s book is that his potentially impressive and groundbreaking work on Jefferson is marred by shoddy workmanship resulting from ideological considerations. Of course that assumes that Levy intended to write a work of history rather than a work of libertarian ideology. Libertarian ideologues are probably quite happy with the book as it was written.