JOURNAL OF THE EARLY REPUBLIC (Fall 2012) The Limits of Optimism: Thomas Jefferson's Dualistic Enlightenment. By Maurizio Valsania. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011. Pp. x 207. Cloth, $35.00.) Reviewed by Kevin J. Hayes Thomas Jefferson's optimism is legendary. Pick up any popular biography or scholarly monograph about Jefferson, and almost surely it will mention his optimistic outlook for the nation and the world. In The Limits of Optimism: Thomas Jefferson's Dualistic Enlightenment, Maurizio Valsania takes exception to all these treatments of Jefferson's optimism, finding them simplistic. Instead, he suggests a more nuanced approach, arguing that Jefferson's optimistic outlook was not without a tinge of pessimism. Taking his cue from Henry Vyverberg's Historical Pessimism in the French Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA, 1958), Valsania suggests that Jefferson, as a major figure of the Enlightenment, advocated the empiricism, the positivism, the rationalism it represented but nevertheless acknowledged the existence of a dark underworld. Literally or figuratively, the process of enlightenment, after all, is a matter of supplanting darkness with light. Valsania is not the first to recognize Jefferson's duality. John Bernard, an English stage comedian who came to Philadelphia in 1797, befriended Jefferson when he was vice president and, during Jefferson's
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Aug 13, 2012
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