From Pine View Farm

What Would Jefferson Do? 0

Professor R.K. Ramazani, professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, hazards a few guesses. Of course, it’s always iffy to extrapolate to today’s world what thinkers of the past would have done–though I do not hesitate to do so as I picture the Founders spinning in their graves–but, having been educated in Virginia and having studied Jefferson and his thought, as well as his practical political leadership, I think that Professor Ramazani is pretty much on target:

(I)f asked how best to spread democracy, Jefferson would have suggested three alternative and peaceful methods. First among these would be America’s own example of liberal democratic practices. In 1801, he wrote: “A just and solid republican government here will be a standing monument and example for the aim and imitation of people of other countries.”

Second would be effective use of what we now call public diplomacy. That includes widespread sharing of information and a fair degree of transparency in our dealings with other countries. He wrote in 1810: “No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its supporting free and good government.”

Third, and most important, Jefferson would have stressed support for the American system of higher education. In today’s parlance, he would have advocated expanding American educational initiatives, such as the Fulbright exchange program. Jefferson firmly believed that public education was a vital weapon in uprooting authoritarian rulers and promoting the creation of democratic governments. In his memorable words: “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

And regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, Jefferson would have insisted on upholding the principles of international law in general, and the Geneva Conventions in particular. There are echoes of the Jeffersonian precepts of 1781 in Article 3 of the Conventions – which has been the focus of so much negotiation between the president and Senate Republicans – and in the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Both Article 3 and Hamdan bar inhumane treatment of war prisoners. More than 200 years ago, Jefferson urged that Americans should endeavor “as far as possible to alleviate the inevitable miseries of war by treating captives as humanity and national honor requires.”

Hmmmph. National honor.

Almost all gone, squandered by the current Federal Administration.


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