Book Review: The Jefferson Rule by David Sehat (Two Stars)

Book Review: The Jefferson Rule: How the Founding Fathers Became Infallible and Our Politics Inflexible by David Sehat

Two Stars out of Five

“What Would Jefferson Do?”

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail,” Abraham Maslow is purported to have said. The same might be said for Dr. Sehat’s a priori thesis that the American political system is whatever we make of it; hang the Founders. I started writing a multi-page analysis of what’s wrong with this book, but will settle for a shorter critique.

It’s entirely fair to reinterpret history in light of one’s own prejudices, but one should respect one’s readers enough to realize that they understand what you’re doing. The cool analytical façade is a false mask.

I learned long ago that one should never believe what any politician says his opponent says, believes or does. Because it will be a self-serving lie. That what politicians do; all politicians; all parties. In deconstructing the politics of the past, however Sehat transparently justifies ignoring not only the Founders but the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, reducing them all to stage props for whatever snake oil each politician is peddling at the moment.

The value of this book, and how it earned a two-stars, is Sehat’s analysis of those he approves, most notably Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and FDR. World War Two and the Cold War never happened; in fact, foreign policy is not mentioned. He barely mentions the administrations of Eisenhower, Clinton and Obama, he’s so focused on deconstructing Reagan and the Tea Party. Why? Perhaps because they dared to question whether Washington was not the solution, but the problem. To Sehat that is anathema.

The Jefferson Rule seems to be: whatever works works. Disregard principles or history. Use them, but don’t believe them.