The Radical Democratic Thought of Thomas Jefferson: Politics, Space, & Action
Caivano, Dean Carl
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Thomas Jefferson has maintained an enduring legacy in the register of early American political thought. As a prolific writer and elected official, his public declarations and private letters helped to inspire revolutionary action against the British monarchy and shape the socio-political landscape of a young nation. While his placement in the American collective memory and scholarship has remained steadfast, a crucial dimension of his thinking remains unexplored. In this dissertation, I present a heterodox reading of Jefferson in order to showcase his radical understanding of politics. Although Jeffersons political worldview is strikingly complex, marked by affinities with liberal, classical republican, Scottish, and Christian modes of thought, this interpretation reveals the radical democratic nature of his project. Primarily, this dissertation expands the possibilities of Jeffersons thought as explored by Hannah Arendt and other thinkers, such as Richard K. Matthews and Michael Hardt. Drawing from these explicitly radical readings, I further dialogue with Jeffersons thought through extensive archival research, which led me to engage in the theoretical and historical sources of inspiration that form and underscore his thinking. In so doing, I offer a new reading of Jeffersons view on politics, suggesting that there contains an underlying objective, setting, and method to his unsystematic, yet innovative prescriptions concerning democracy. Taken together, these three features of his thought point to a vision of democracy that is made possible through a widening of the circle of political citizenship; a form of politics defined by the active and ethical participation of all, enacted upon public spaces and sustained through training, deliberation, and action.