Modern Intellectual History 6 (1):27-57 (2009)

This essay considers Benjamin Rush's concern with the political organization of sympathy in post-Revolutionary America and how this concern shaped his response to the threat of post-Revolutionary “mobocracy.” Like many of his contemporaries, Rush worried about the contagious volatility of large public assemblies engendered by the Revolution. For Rush, regular gatherings of the people out of doors threatened to corrupt visions both of an orderly and emancipatory public sphere and of the virtuous and independent citizens required by republican government. Rush feared that the unregulated communication of passion between bodies gathered in public might unleash what Michael Meranze has called an “anarchy of reciprocal imitations.” It was in eighteenth-century theories of sympathy that this idea of contagious mimesis was most rigorously developed and most widely disseminated. Rush's medico-political understanding of sympathy, acquired during his years as a medical student in Edinburgh, provides an important framework for understanding his post-Revolutionary reform efforts, particularly those focused on the spatial choreography of the American citizenry.
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DOI 10.1017/S1479244308001935
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David Hartley and the Association of Ideas.Barbara Bowen Oberg - 1976 - Journal of the History of Ideas 37 (3):441.

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