Jeff Taylor (not to be confused with Jeff A. Taylor, or other Jeff Taylors) is one of the most interesting Jeffersonian-minded political scientists/philosophers around. His review of Joel Johnson’s Beyond Practical Virtue: A Defense of Liberal Democracy Through Literature furnishes some evidence to back up my claim. Johnson’s book pits what Taylor calls “the anti-liberal, anti-democratic leanings of Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and D. H. Lawrence” against James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, and William Dean Howells — a match-up of aesthetic aristocracy vs. liberal democracy (sort of), though I might have wished Johnson were talking about “Jeffersonian republicanism” rather than “liberal democracy” (Taylor would prefer “Jeffersonian democracy,” I think.) Actually, what I favor myself is “liberal aristocracy.” But in any case, Taylor has written a thoughtful review of an intriguing book.
In addition to his Beyond Practical Virtue review, Taylor also has another new article on-line, an interview in which he talks about America’s five-years’ war (and counting) in Iraq. And his 2006 book, Where Did the Party Go?, is well worth a look in its own right.
After drafting this post, I googled around a bit to see if anyone else had used the phrase “liberal aristocracy,” and in particular whether anyone else associated one figure I had in mind — Jacob Burckhardt — with the phrase. Not in that order, it turns out, but reverse the terms and one of the first things that pops up in a search for “aristocratic liberalism” is … a book about Burckhardt (as well as Mill and Tocqueville). In the American context, the archetype for aristocratic liberalism probably has to be John Randolph of Roanoke.