Historians have long thought that America was, from the beginning, profoundly influenced
by the Lockean notion of liberty, with its strong emphasis on individual rights and self-interest.
Yet in his recent book, historian J. G. A. Pocock argues that early American culture was actually
rooted in the writings of Machiavelli, not Locke. The implications of this substitution are
important: if Pocock’s argument is right, then Americans may not be as deeply individualistic
and capitalistic as many believe.
Pocock argues that out of the writings of antiquity Machiavelli created a body of political
thinking called “classical republicanism.” This body of thought revived the ancient belief that a
human being was by nature a citizen who achieved moral fulfillment by participating in a
self-governing republic. Liberty was interpreted as a condition that is realized when people are
virtuous and are willing to sacrifice their individual interests for the sake of the community. To
be completely virtuous, people had to be independent and free of the petty interests of themarketplace
. The greatest enemy of virtue was commerce. This classical republican tradition is
said by Pocock to have shaped the ideology of America during the eighteenth century.
Many events in early American history can be reinterpreted in light of Pocock’s analysis.
Jefferson is no longer seen as a progressive reader of Locke leading America into its
individualistic future; instead Jefferson is understood as a figure obsessed with virtue and
corruption and fearful of new commercial developments. Influenced by Pocock, some historians
have even argued that a communitarian and precapitalist mentality was pervasive among the
eighteenth-century farmers of America.
Yet Pocock’s thesis and the reinterpretation of the history of eighteenth-century America
engendered by it are of dubious validity. If Americans did believe in the ideals of classical virtue
that stressed civic duty and made the whole community greater than its discrete parts, then
why did the colonists lack a sense of obligation to support the greater good of the British
Empire? If indeed America has not always been the society of individual rights and self-interest
that it is today, how and when did it be come so? Classical republicanism is elitist, and it
certainly had little to offer the important new social groups of artisans and shopkeepers that
emerged in America during the eighteenth century. These middle-class radicals, for whom John
Wilkes and Thomas Paine were spokesmen, had none of the independence from the market
that the landed gentry had. They were less concerned with virtue and community than they
were with equality and private rights. They hated political privilege and wanted freedom from
an elite-dominated state. In short, the United States was created not in a mood of classical
anxiety over virtue and corruption, but in a mood of liberal optimism over individual profits and
1. Which of the following best states the author’s main point?
(A) Classical republicanism could not have been the ideological basis of
(B) Classical republicanism is an elitist theory that was rejected by
eighteenth-century artisans and shopkeepers.
(C) Pocock understates the importance of the contributions Machiavelli made to
the formation of early American culture.
(D) Pocock fails to capture the great extent to which eighteenth-century
Americans were committed to a sense of civic duty.
(E) Pocock’s account of Jefferson is incompatible with Jefferson’s commitment to
a Lockean notion of liberty.
2. The conception of liberty that, according to Pocock, formed the basis of
America’s eighteenth-century ideology is most clearly exhibited by which of the
(A) The merchant who rebuilds the damaged sidewalk in front of his store in
order to avoid potential lawsuits by customers who might fall there
(B) The professor who allows her students to help her design the content and the
format of the courses she teaches
(C) The doctor who bows to government pressure and agrees to treat a small
number of low-income patients at no cost
(D) The lawyer who argues that a state law prohibiting smoking in public places
unfairly encroaches on the rights of smokers
(E) The engineer whose business suffers as a result of the personal time and
energy he devotes to a program to clean up city streets
3. According to the author, eighteenth-century American artisans and shopkeepers had little reason to
(A) support the political efforts of Thomas Jefferson
(B) reject the ideals of classical virtue
(C) embrace the principles of classical republicanism
(D) renounce the political objectives of the British Empire
(E) worry about increasing profits and maintaining general prosperity
4. The author mentions which of the following as a fact that weakens Pocock’s
argument about the ideology of eighteenth-century America?
(A) Jefferson’s obsession with virtue and corruption and his fear of commercial
(B) The precapitalist mentality that was pervasive among farmers in early
(C) The political decline of artisans and shopkeepers in eighteenth-century
(D) The colonists’ lack of commitment to support the general welfare of the
(E) The existence of political privilege in early American society
5. The passage suggests that, if classical republicanism had been the ideology of eighteenth-century America, which of the following would have resulted?
(A) People would have been motivated to open small businesses and expand
(B) Citizens and politicians would not have been encouraged to agitate for
increased individual rights.
(C) People would have been convinced that by pursuing their own interests they
were contributing to the good of the group.
(D) The political and social privileges enjoyed by the landed gentry would have
(E) A mood of optimism among people over individual profits and prosperity
would have been created.
6. The author implies that Pocock’s argument about the ideology of eighteenth-century America would be more plausible if the argument explained which of the following?
(A) How a society that was once committed to the ideals of classical virtue could
be transformed into a society of individual rights and self-interest
(B) How Thomas Jefferson could have become obsessed with individual rights
and with prosperity and profits
(C) Why classical republicanism had such wide appeal among those who were
free from the demands of the marketplace
(D) Why many colonists who embraced classical republicanism were reluctant toplace their individual interests above those of Great Britain
(E) Why the landed gentry in eighteenth-century America should have believed
that moral fulfillment is achieved by participating in a self-governing
7. According to the passage, Pocock’s theory suggests that many eighteenth-century Americans believed that increasing commercial activity would
(A) force the landed gentry to relinquish their vast holdings
(B) enrich the nation and increase individual rights
(C) cause some people to forfeit their liberty and virtue
(D) create a mood of optimism about national prosperity
(E) strengthen the political appeal of middle-class radicals
8. The author is primarily concerned with
(A) refuting a proposed thesis about eighteenth-century America
(B) analyzing a long-established interpretation of American history
(C) criticizing a set of deeply held beliefs about early American ideology
(D) reconciling opposing interpretations of eighteenth-century American ideology
(E) defending a novel reading of the ideology of eighteenth-century America