Adams believed that wealth is politically powerful in modern societies not merely because money buys influence, but also because citizens admire and even sympathize with the rich. He thought wealth is powerful in the same way that beauty is powerful-it distinguishes its possessor and prompts reactions of approval and veneration. Citizens vote for-and with-the rich not because, as is often said, they hope to be rich one day, but because they esteem the rich and submit to their wishes. Mayville explores Adams's theory of wealth and power in the context of his broader concern about social and economic inequality, and also examines his ideas about how oligarchy might be countered.
A compelling work of intellectual history, John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy also has important lessons for today's world of increasing inequality.
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