Paul Bond's Reviews > Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams

Passionate Sage by Joseph J. Ellis
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's review
May 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed

The naturally prickly among us have to find our own ways to contribute. Adams did. Ellis explains how Adams, a bitter pessimist, contributed psychological realism to the political DNA of the country. Adams knew and distrusted the animal passions of his fellow "founding brothers" and countrymen. He knew that partisanship and glory-seeking are intrinsic to human nature. Washington himself may be above party politics, but the nation as a whole would not remain so. In part, the political genius of the American system consists in structural features designed to turn self-interest to the common good. It took people like John Adams to think through that process. While we're far from the ideal linkage between individual and common interest that later philosophers like John Rawls would champion, that theme is there from the start. It seems Ellis reinvigorated interest in Adams, though it's fun to reflect on the scathing corrections and objections Adams might pen reading the book from Heaven. Some people are most safely appreciated after they're dead.
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