Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Guelzo on Lincoln’s statesmanship

Allen Guelzo’s recent talk at Heritage, "Prudence, Politics, and the Proclamation," may be the best short essay ever on prudence and the "two souls of American culture" (Guelzo). Nicely done. Worth a slow read.

Discussions - 16 Comments

Ugh! More Lincoln veneration from one of the High Priests of the Lincoln Cult, Guelzo.



They let that guy speak at Heritage? We will know all is right with the world when DiLorenzo speaks at Heritage and Guelzo speaks at the DLC.

Perhaps just as tiresome as you every time there is a mention or link to Abraham Lincoln. But, let's put aside ravings and personal attacks and hear your thoughts on Guelzo's essay and why you think it's wrong.

Lincoln's Aristotelian prudence in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation is one of the topics in my paper--"Darwinian Political Science"--for the APSA convention in Chicago.

Peter - Thanks for this.

Thanks, Peter-- That is very rich, very suggestive, very important. The contrast between prudence and Kantian absolutism (or its evangelical cousin) is well developed. But I am left wondering just how Lincoln's (post-?)Christian "prudence for a liberal democracy" differs from Aristotle's? Aristotle certainly did not believe that there was a God shaping the course of human history towards some definitive improvement or eventual salvation of humankind. (In Aristotle's case prudence would be determined by it's looking up to contemplative theorizing, wouldn't it? -- and therefore by a certain resignation, finally a certain contempt for common human concerns.) How is prudence transformed by being placed in such a new framework?
--This just to invite further reflections.

Lincoln's prudence is thoroughly American and entirely specific to the circumstances, including the religious circumstances of American life. What am I missing?

much.

Well, that's helpful.

I don't think you are that wrong Steve. I also think that this essay relates very closely to the discussion on Rawls. Kantian absolutism (or deontological ethics in general) are necessarily opposed both to Machiavellian Prudence as well as Aristotelian Prudence.

I either fail to see what Ralph is saying about Aristotle or else I disagree. I think of all the ancients Aristotle had the least contempt for common human concerns.

Is Lincoln Hegelian? was he part of the unfolding of the Universal Spirit? Maybe...but then again Steve isn't that wrong... Lincoln is and was American, intelligent and wise without being academic about it. I don't think Lincoln would have ever formulated himself the way Ralph puts it.

"Perhaps just as tiresome as you every time there is a mention or link to Abraham Lincoln. But, let's put aside ravings and personal attacks and hear your thoughts on Guelzo's essay and why you think it's wrong."



Tony, is there no one else in American history that deserves veneration? (I'm not conceding that Lincoln deserves anything other than contempt, but just for the sake of the argument.) Why not as frequent of mentions of Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, George Mason, John Randolph (a favorite of Kirk), etc.?



If one of the primary themes of conservatism should be localism, regionalism and decentralization, why venerate the Great Centralizer? Speaks volumes about the priorities of the Lincoln fans, does it not?



As far as the article goes, I agree that there is an important distinction between prudence and moderation. Unfortunately, the current conservative movement is awash in moderation. Note the hostile reaction to a non-moderate, Ron Paul, among many in the pundit class. (Also the reaction to Kucinich and Gravel on the left.) On the other hand, some of the Paul supporters could use a little prudence. (As could many of the Daily Kossacks.)



I agree entirely with this: "Moderation is a tragic attitude,... This is why "moderation" so often becomes paralyzed and snarled in an effort to placate competing moral demands or to insist on pragmatic process without regard to what the process is producing."



In fact, I agree with most of the first part of the essay until he gets specific about Lincoln. And I agree that Kant and Rawls are extremely problematic from a conservative standpoint. If Kant wanted to rid us of "the effects of specific contingencies," I think the conservative would argue that one can never, nor should he want to, be rid of such effects. See Thomas Fleming's The Morality of Everyday Life?



But it seems to me that "prudence" in this case serves as an all purpose inoculation of Lincoln from his critics (both Confederate and Black) who point out how he was not fighting to free the slaves? And it is a judgment based largely on his words/speeches and not his actions. As DiLorenzo has often pointed out, this is a big problem with the Lincoln Cult. Was shutting down presses and jailing the opposition prudent? Was total War against the civilian population of the Confederacy? How about burning Atlanta and a huge swath of the rest of Georgia, my home State?



But ultimately prudence is in the eye of the beholder, because we do not agree on the desirability of the end he was seeking, "saving the Union." So the Lincoln debate is not ultimately about his prudence or lack there of, it is about the nature of the Old Republic. Was he "saving" it or was he destroying it.



Does Guelzo consider himself a conservative? A neocon? Is he a Straussian? I find it instructive that he takes several fundamentally liberal assumptions for granted - the desirability of "liberal democracy," and the fundamentally secular nature of American government for example. And his contrasting of the Puritan with the Enlightenment as the two strains of Americanism is an entirely Yankee perspective. (See Clyde Wilson's The Yankee Problem.) One could argue that the South combined the religious and Classical elements of the West rather harmoniously. (See Weaver among others.) One could not credibly argue that Stonewall Jackson and Darby were somehow less religious than their Puritan adversaries. (And both were equally Calvinistic.) It was the tendency of the Puritans to divorce their belief system from the external realities of time, place, circumstances, etc. that was problematic. And it is arguably why Puritanism rather quickly dissolved into Social Gospel liberal apostasy, while the South has remained comparatively more orthodox (small o) to this day. Because Puritanism relied overly on the head aspects of the Faith, it was arguably easy prey to be co-opted by the Enlightenment which is what, in fact, happened.



Since the North won, moderns often make the mistake of viewing the South as the alien force. But I would argue that the South was actually a more authentic expression of the true America. Prior to the War, the rest of America viewed those eccentrics north of the Hudson as the alien force.

Good post Dan P.

Sticking with the pattern, I learn more from those who disagree with the Lincoln party line than those who don't....

"Was shutting down presses and jailing the opposition prudent? Was total War against the civilian population of the Confederacy? How about burning Atlanta and a huge swath of the rest of Georgia, my home State?"

Yes, the wise prince is not caught up by the "moral" luxuries Kantians and others who make appeal to any non-consequentialist ethics may trumpet. The ends justify the means even when the means are less than desireable.

Since you disagree even with the ends of Lincoln's policies you can't agree with his means. I think Guelzo's essay is exceptionally Machiavellian. Prudence as Coup D'oeil and shrewdness...exactely right. Of course the machiavellian prince writes his own history and makes it his business to shape (and avoid being overly shapped by) the "Ontological structures" from which that which is praiseworthy proceeds. When you do not like the ends or you disagree about questions of the good...then the prince has failed in his attempts to indoctrinate you, or as we say today you don't buy the "spin". If you dislike Lincoln that is all well and good, this is America, you can assign praise and blame to whomever you wish by whatever standard you wish...and the fact that the press is alive and kicking and we have the luxury of feverent disagreement about both ends and means...this means that the fabric was never really torn. In Lincoln's words "as I would not be a slave so I would not be a master."

Mr. Lewis,



"...this means that the fabric was never really torn."



We have a 3 trillion dollar budget. The fabric of limited Constitutional government was ripped asunder.



"Of course the Machiavellian prince writes his own history and makes it his business to shape (and avoid being overly shaped by) the "Ontological structures" from which that which is praiseworthy proceeds."



Amen. But are scholars princes? The house organ of the prince? That has been a lot of the paleoconservative/paleolibertarian/neo-Confederate beef - that the Lincoln scholars are not honestly retelling history but are writing their own history. This may be OK for the propagandist or the polemicist, but it shouldn't be OK for the scholar.



"When you do not like the ends or you disagree about questions of the good...then the prince has failed in his attempts to indoctrinate you, or as we say today you don't buy the "spin"."



You can say that again.

Some scholars are researchers...they focus on the empirical. They try to quantify things...normative questions are somewhat avoided. Most Economists today think that they fall under this tent, or try hard to do so.

Other scholars are indeed Law Givers...Rawls was a Law Giver. If you talk about standards for adjudicating what is good...you are a Law Giver...most scholars can't avoid being Law Givers in some capactity. Even Putnam is treading thin water.

If you read people like Karl Popper...they will tell you that the problem you are raising in regards to history is not really escapable.

A three trillion dollar budget is a sign that things are good. Granted I think Government is too big...but think about it...3 trillion even inflation adjusted is an enormous amount...the fact that the federal government can raise this much money is a sign and result of American ingenuity and prosperity. The Union held together has prospered, and Atlanta has recovered hosted an Olympics and is home to perhaps the most well recognized International product: Coca-Cola baby! In any case I fail to see how Lincoln can be held responsible in a negative fashion for the growth of the welfare state. Perhaps it was even Manifest Destiny, the unfloding of the Universal Spirit...perhaps events Lincoln set in motion led us inexoriably to where we are today...perhaps. But perhaps the founding led us to Lincoln inexoriably...Jefferson said that the question of slavery was like holding a wolf by the ears, unsafe to hold and unsafe to let go.

If you take a very broad view of history...it is difficult to say that all conditions being equal things could have been different...but I think that in the case of the United States even as socialist as we are...it is not difficult to say that if things were slightly different we could have ended a lot worse...in other words Providence has shined down upon us. We were never Germany: defeated and torn in two. We stood up for our freedom from Great Britain...we didn't end up like Canada. I don't know what the alternate Universe where the American civil war never happened looks like...(some physicists tell us that there are infinite parallel universes) but I wouldn't assume from the record...that in such a Universe Americans are better off.

To use an analogy America is the Carl Lewis of the track and field world...our accomplishments are akin to his gold medals and dominance. We are Carl Lewis times ten, very few peers can race with us because no peers exist. Now if one were to look at the life of Carl Lewis it is probable that one could find times when he ate pizza or drank beer or skipped a workout...and one could say that because of these lapses he never reached his peak potential. Perhaps the same can be said of America...but worts and all this country is great in comparison to the others. The American experiment may be ongoing...but at some point you need to say that because it is still ongoing it has been a sucess thus far.

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