Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Allen Guelzo’s book just landed on my desk. It looks great. I had intended to get a lot of work done around the house this weekend. Instead, I’ll get back in bed and tell everyone I need to nurse my cold. What I don’t finish of it, I’ll read Monday on the flight to Alaska. Perfect. Thanks, Allen.

Discussions - 12 Comments

Guelzo is a Lincoln Cultist hack.

Yup. That's why I like him!

Speaking of hacks, some of you might be interested in this book review.

John, have you seen the Jaffa vs. DiLorenzo debate hosted by The Independent Institute? DiLorenzo clearly ate Jaffa's lunch.

Are you speaking of one hack or two?

a travesty of historical method and documentation

Exasperating, maddening, and deeply disappointing

his sloppiness has earned him the abuse and ridicule of his critics

And these comments come from an historian who can by no means be considered a "Lincoln Cultist." That's all I need to know about DiLorenzo's work.

John, nitpicking arguably minor technical errors is clearly a way to evade the larger points. Most of what DiLorenzo wrote is really not seriously debatable. Lincoln was not an egalitarian. Lincoln did not go to war to free the slaves. Lincoln went to war to "save the Union." Lincoln violated the Constitution. Hundreds of thousands died. Etc. Does anyone seriously dispute these things?

What is debatable is to what degree Lincoln's desire to "save the Union" was motivated by his dedication to Whiggish economic ideas like tariffs and "internal improvements" which is DiLorenzo's primary but not entirely novel thesis. Or was he more motivated by his ideological commitment to the state and opposition to secession which he saw as a threat to that. Or I quess other motivations could be proposed.

What is clearly not historically true is the Jaffaesq fantasy that Lincoln was conscientiously trying to carry to fruition the grand egalitarian plan of the Founders. That is just patent nonsense.

But very few of DiLorenzo's critics actually bothered to more than cursorily address the Whiggish thesis. They simply denounced and smeared DiLorenzo, acted shocked and appalled that anyone dared to question the myth of Saint Lincoln, and regurgitated Jaffaesq distortions.

I am honestly not convinced that the Whiggish economics is as primary a factor as DiLorenzo suggests. The loss of tariff revenue that would have resulted from Charleston, New Orleans, etc. not being in the US fold was clearly an issue. He mentioned it in his first inaugural, but that isn't necessarily the same thing as rigid ideological commitment to Whiggism. But someone should address this seriously instead of just denouncing DiLorenzo and spouting Saint Lincoln mythology.

DiLorenzo is currently writing something on Hamilton. I wonder if the centralizing Federalists will react with the same hysteria that the Lincoln cultist did. I can see Brookhiser stroking out now.

Come on, Red, noting factual errors in a purported work of history is not nitpicking. If DiLorenzo is not to be trusted in the details, it calls into question his larger arguments. Did you read the review? Richard Gamble clearly is no defender of Lincoln. He's not trying to evade anything; indeed, he wants to see a high quality work that challenges the regnant orthodoxy on Lincoln. The same could be said of Jeff Hummel, author of Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, who calls DiLorenzo's book one "of the more amateurish neo-Confederate books," full of "careless or blatant errors," and dismisses his claim that the tariff was the reason for secession as "easily refutable" (indeed, all it takes is a reading of South Carolina's secession declaration to undermine it).

Most of what DiLorenzo wrote is really not seriously debatable. Lincoln was not an egalitarian. Lincoln did not go to war to free the slaves. Lincoln went to war to "save the Union." Lincoln violated the Constitution. Hundreds of thousands died. Etc. Does anyone seriously dispute these things?

Well, frankly, no. I think Jaffa denies that Lincoln violated the Constitution, but everything else on your list is freely accepted by every serious historian of the period. Seriously, can you cite me a single history that claims that Lincoln went to war "to free the slaves"? Or denies that "hundreds of thousands died"?

So the bottom line is, what is correct about DiLorenzo's book isn't new, and what is new about it is wrong. So, Red, why do you keep defending it?

And I can't resist pointing out the rich irony in the fact that paleocons who blame Lincoln's tariff policy for the Civil War are now attacking free trade!

John, not all paleocons oppose free trade (I don't) although all should oppose sovereignty sacrificing and unconstitutional trade deals. In my experience, Southern "neo-confederate" paleocons are less likely to oppose free trade, and I suspect it is largely because they recognize this historical conflict. But it is no less ironic than the fact that the Republican Party has done a complete 180 on the issue. The GOP has never really been the party of free-markets. It is the party of corporatism and state capitalism. When it was in the interest of their big business pay masters (manufacturers) to oppose free trade they did. When it became in the interest of their big business paymasters (no longer primarily manufacturers) to support free trade they did.

DiLorenzo clearly writes from a point of view. He is a classical liberal. I do think his instincts are some of the more intuitively conservative of those in the Lew Rockwell/von Mises Institute orbit. (Along with Tom Woods who is a Latin Mass Catholic.) But he is constrained by his classical liberalism and his desire to not be too politically incorrect himself.

As I have said before, I am not uncritical of TRL. For example, instead of saying Lincoln was a racist the real point should be that everyone in 1861 was a racist. This pokes a hole in the mythology written by the victors of a virtuous North and an evil South without striking a modern PC pose. Also, DiLorenzo does not make the mistake that some “neo-confederates” have of saying tariffs were THE issue, but he just treats slavery superficially as one of the motivating factors. Except in pointing out that freeing the slaves was not Lincoln’s primary motivating factor for going to war. This is not necessarily a criticism. Every book must have some limits to what it addresses. Tariff collection was the proximate cause of Lincoln’s invasion. He could not tolerate a free low tariff South taking business from high tariff northern ports, but that is not the same thing as saying the South seceded primarily over tariffs although it was clearly an issue.

DiLorenzo bills himself as an economic historian. His training is economics. The book was clearly written with a point of view, and for a mass popular audience. He was not attempting to write a technical historical treatise. So what? How many books of this nature are not written with a point of view and for a mass audience? He also wrote How Capitalism Saved America. Was that supposed to be a technical treatise on economic history, or was it a book written from a point of view for mass consumption?

What is absurd about all this is that almost all modern Lincoln scholarship is written from a point of view and much of it for mass consumption. So Jaffa or Guelzo are free of any point of view taint? Give me a break. Why the selective outrage that DiLorenzo has a point of view? The real issue with DiLorenzo is they don’t like his point of view, not concerns about the scholarship of a mass market book. (They are also concerned because his mass market book actually reached a mass market.)

Also, the keepers of the Lincoln flame want it both ways on the slavery issue depending on what suits their interests at the time. It is correct that most serious historians don’t suggest that Lincoln went to war to free the slaves per se. But yet they are more than eager to point out that the South seceded over the issue and to imply that a defense of the Confederacy or secession is a defense of slavery. (Actually, the issue here isn’t so much serious historians but cultist polemicists.) When Ron Paul stated that the WBTS was not necessary to free the slaves (By formulating it that way, he stepped into their trap.), they all chanted in unison “Doesn’t he know anything? Lincoln didn’t go to war to free the slaves. He went to war to save the Union.” But, of course, that is what the “neo-Confederates” have been saying for years only for it to be implied they were all racists.
So the issue is whether “saving the Union” was desirable, and whether he saved it or destroyed it. But say that saving the Union wasn’t desirable and see how quickly that is turned into a defense of slavery by the Lincoln bots. I will be more than happy to de-emphasize the slavery issue if they will. (Look at Kirchick’s little smear. He didn’t even bother to elaborate the smear. Just made a quick and casual one to one connection between a position on the war and racism.)

BTW, Jaffa does, IMO, imply that Lincoln went to war to free the slaves. Lincoln just had to do so in a not so straightforward way. By saving and perfecting the egalitarian Union envisioned but imperfectly implemented by the Founders blah, blah, blah. Of course, maybe you don’t consider Jaffa among the ranks of serious scholars.

And on that point, Red, you and I are entirely in agreement.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: