Adam Ferguson on the perils of popular factions and demagogues in a Roman mirror
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For the Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) and many of his time, the history of the Roman Republic furnished the best case study for discussions of internal threats to a mixed system of government. These included factionalism, popular discontent, and the rise of demagogues seeking to concentrate power in their own hands. Ferguson has sometimes been interpreted as a ‘Machiavellian’ who celebrated the legacy of Rome and in particular the value of civic discord. By contrast, this article argues that he is better understood as a disciple of Montesquieu, who viewed Rome as an anachronistic and dangerous ideal in the eighteenth century, the era of the civilized and commercial monarchy. The greatest fear of Ferguson was military despotism, which was the likely outcome of democratic chaos produced by the levelling instincts of the ‘common’ people and demagogues prepared to harness their discontent. In such a scenario, a legitimate order in a mixed government would be turned into a faction putting the constitutional balance at risk, undermining intermediary powers, and ending liberty for all.
Skjoensberg , M S 2019 , ' Adam Ferguson on the perils of popular factions and demagogues in a Roman mirror ' , History of European Ideas , vol. In press . https://doi.org/10.1080/01916599.2019.1601466
History of European Ideas
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