Adam Ferguson on Modern Liberty and the Absurdity of Democracy

Y. ELAZAR
HISTORY OF POLITICAL THOUGHT 35.4 (2014): 768-787

Abstract:  This article examines Adam Ferguson’s critique of democratic participation in government and interprets it in the context of an eighteenth-century debate on the role of the people in the modern free state. By reconstructing the inegalitarian logic of the Scottish philosopher’s theory of modern liberty, the article resolves the problem of consistency between his participatory ideals and his critique of democratic politics. Rather than being caught in a dilemma between republicanism and conservatism, as several scholars have argued, Ferguson drew on neoclassical and proto-liberal ideas in constructing a constitutionalist, civic-minded and elitist vision of the modern commercial and representative state