Long before the "one percent" became a protest slogan, American founding father John Adams feared the power of a class he called simply "the few"—the wellborn, the beautiful, and especially the rich. In John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy, Luke Mayville explores Adams’s deep concern with the way in which inequality threatens to corrode democracy and empower a small elite. Adams believed that wealth is politically powerful not merely because money buys influence, but also because citizens admire and even identify with the rich. Mayville explores Adams’s theory of wealth and power in the context of his broader concern about social and economic disparities—reflections that promise to illuminate contemporary debates about inequality and its political consequences. He also examines Adams’s ideas about how oligarchy might be countered. A compelling work of intellectual history, John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy has important lessons for today’s world.
About the author
Luke Mayville is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for American Studies at Columbia University. He is a contributor to Commonweal.
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