Historian Nancy Isenberg’s lecture, “The Problem of Democracy: Past and Present” examines whether John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams can teach us something essential about our political system. Why are their insights prescient and relevant to today’s political climate? Unlike many of their peers, the Presidents Adams dissected dangerous tendencies in American democracy: the worship of elected leaders, the impulse to set party identity above constitutional checks and balances, and the easy recourse to a deceptive language of inclusivity that invokes grand principles without substance.
Nancy Isenberg is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at Louisiana State University. She is author of the New York Times bestseller White Trash. The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (Viking, 2016). She is also author of Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr (Viking, 2007), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times book prize in biography. White Trash was a finalist for the LA Times book prize in history, the Anthony Lukas Book Prize for nonfiction from the Columbia School of Journalism, and the John Kenneth Galbraith Award from PEN America. She was #4 on Politico Magazine’s 2016 list of the “50 Most important thinkers.” With Professor Andrew Burstein, she has written Madison and Jefferson (Random House, 2010), a Kirkus “Best Book of the Year.” Their next coauthored book is The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality forthcoming from Viking in 2019).