Masses and Classes

by Michael Potemra

“Elitist” and “anti-elitist” poses are more popular now than they’ve been in some time. But they have been with us since the earliest years of the republic, and even the colonial period. I was just reading a literary biography of Thomas Jefferson, The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson by Kevin J. Hayes, and discovered the following, from a letter Jefferson wrote in 1762: “The old-fellows say we must read to gain knowledge and gain knowledge to make us happy and admired. . . . Mere jargon! Is there any such thing as happiness in this world? No: And as for admiration I am sure the man who powders most, perfumes most, embroiders most, and talks most nonsense, is most admired.” (Some 80 pages on in this fascinating book, I learned that Jefferson had a horse named “Ryno” – an interesting coincidence, since when I hear that word today, it usually accompanies the beating of a dead horse.)

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