While reading Smith, I came across the following from Adams:
"I fear that, in every assembly, members will obtain an influence , by noise not sense, by meanness not greatness, by ignorance not learning, by contracted hearts not large souls."
To put it mildly, Adams had a lack of faith in mankind that bordered on fear. He clearly believed in a distinction between educated, polished elites and the average man and woman, with the former being superior to the latter.
As Smith suggests, the rising belief in the leveling of society proposed a danger that backed up Adams's concern:
"The revolutionary crisis drew forth the devoted and the able and with them the emotionally unstable, the meanly ambitious, the zealots and the simple cranks. Most of the new men had no special loyalty to any older order of things; they had been shaped by no discipline of thought or action and therefore lived off the ephemera of the moment, sucking the nourishment out of the latest intellectual fads that were abroad, sharp and devious, elbowing their betters aside. The complex and intricate issues of power, of government, of theology, of the nature of man and the cosmos, they reduced to simple-minded formulas that rolled off their tongues without effort and without thought."
This is a remarkable display of elitism and a darkly negative view of the rest of society. It's particularly jarring coming amidst a discussion of the best government for America as they debate independence from Great Britain.
And yet....I can't help looking at the state of affairs today and wondering if, at least, Adams didn't have a point about the fear of poorly suited individuals rising to political influence "by contracted hearts not large souls."
Perhaps there was never a time when Adams's fears did not apply, and surely he was no saint devoid of any of these negative human drives. But I'm still drawn to his line: "But if I can contribute ever so little towards preserving the principles of virtue and freedom in the world my time and life will not be ill spent." Elitism aside, these are admirable words to live by.