In "A Brief History of Human Potential" I suggested there is a connection between TJ and the HPM (human potential movement), a movement that began in the 1960s. The movement seemed to recognize this connection when in 1976, during America's bi-centennial, the Association of Humanistic Psychology devoted its annual conference to Revolutions and "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness". But even they didn't really appreciate the connection between TJ's views on human nature, his political views, and the new movement that advocated for a belief in a positive human potential.
Put simply, for TJ everything began with the Creator and His laws, or "the laws of nature and nature's God", as he put it in the Declaration of Independence. He believed that God, the Creator, was just, loving, and benevolent, and that all human beings possessed a capacity similar to God's for justice, morality, and compassion. In other words, people were basicly good. Over and over, in his public and private writings Jefferson proclaimed his faith in God and in "the people", and that meant he had confidence in human nature. He trusted in a general human potential not unlike that at the core of humanistic psychology described by men such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Alfred Adler, Rollo May, and Carl Jung. I found this connection to be very exciting as I explored my Jefferson, and worked on my 'personal growth', and began to see how the personal and national might intersect.
TJ believed that because people were inherently good they could be trusted with freedom. The dominate thinking throughout human history, including in philosophy and psychology, has been that people were predominantly selfish, cruel, and dangerous, and therefore they must be controlled by the presumably more enlightened authorities, either political, cultural, or religious. This thinking still presides over much of the world. TJ's views were radical beyond measure; he believed with great conviction that people could be personally free and govern themselves collectively. The world is still being torn apart by the gulf between those who have a Jeffersonian faith in nature, human nature, and God (by whatever name), and those who don't.
Of course, its not that simple, since TJ understood and had witnessed the dark sides of human nature, and was well aware of the need for restraints, checks, and balances, but at a certain philisophical level it was simple for him. His head, heart, intuition, spirit, and personal experience had taught him to trust God, and, therefore, he trusted God's creations - nature and humanity. This is one of the most important examples of how poorly understood TJ was and is, for in his day he was 'accused' of being an atheist, and in our time he is often called a deist, as if his God wasn't a meaningful presence in his life and thought.
America was the first and still greatest experiment in testing out the Enlightenment theory of human potential, and TJ was the leading philosopher/statesman at the forefront of the movement. Even if members of the HPM arrived at their trust in human nature via a different path than TJ, they all arrived at essentially the same place. People can be trusted, because they have an inherent capacity for goodness and wisdom, and under the right conditions that potential can be actualized (as Maslow termed it), both on an individual and national level. The HPM was a natural outgrowth of the earlier American explorations into human potential, and its influence continues to provide experiments in a long line of tests of the Jeffersonian faith.
Where do you stand? How much faith or trust do you have in human nature and its potential to carry us towards a brighter future? How do you see you own potential to make a contribution?
I am among those who think well of the human character generally. I consider man as formed for society, and endowed by nature with those dispositions which fit him for society. 1799