Adam Ferguson on partisanship, party conflict, and popular participation

Max Skjoensberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Adam Ferguson has usually been portrayed as an advocate of conflict, political parties, and factional strife. This article demonstrates that this is a rather unbalanced reading. A careful investigation of Ferguson's works and correspondence in context reveals a man deeply troubled by both turbulence and party politics. He consistently expressed fears of what he saw as the tumultuous populace, and the willingness of party leaders to rise on the shoulders of the mob. This could ultimately lead to military despotism, something he dreaded. While Ferguson's theory of antagonistic sociability was original, this article shows that we should not take for granted that it implied an approval of party conflict in a broad sense. Indeed, he was highly critical of opposition parties seeking to replace the government. He did tolerate a regulated form of contest between different orders in the state under a mixed constitution, but it is here argued that he is much better understood as a Christian Stoic promoting stability and order than a supporter of party struggle.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
JournalModern Intellectual History
VolumeFirst View
Early online date3 Apr 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Apr 2017


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