Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Literature, Poetry, and Books

Guelzo and Krannawitter on the Conservative Liberalism of Lincoln

The latest edition of the greatest political journal and book review in the English language, The Claremont Review of Books, is hot off the presses. Not to be missed is Allen Guelzo's fine review of the forthcoming Vindicating Lincoln by Thomas Krannawitter. A taste:
Lincoln was a conservative, Krannawitter argues, but a conservative who believed profoundly in a future of social mobility and self-improvement, to which nothing was more contradictory than a world constructed according to fixed hierarchies of race and slavery. Progressive politics (so-called) compliments itself on looking to the future; in fact, it is promoting a restoration of patrician feudalism, and its hostility to free-market economics differs not at all from what Richard Cobden called "the mock philanthropy of the Tory landowners." No wonder Lincoln kept a portrait of John Bright, Cobden's ally, in his office.

Discussions - 7 Comments

What's next, market socialism? Conservative liberalism...is that just another word for moderate? And since when is the use of state-sponsored violence to promote social change a conservative idea?

Some of you Ashbrook folks have pretty funny ideas about conservativism.

Mr. "Diehard Reb" - Wasn't the American Revolution "state-sponsored violence to promote social change"?

People of your ilk are the best friends the leftists have.

So, the author aims to convince us that Lincoln was a "conservative who believed profoundly in a future of social mobility and self-improvement." Lincoln may indeed be the forerunner of the therapeutic mindlessness that regrettably informs much of American culture, but if this now somehow passes for "conservatism" then we are in worse shape than I thought.

DJF -- yes, revolution is violence to promote social change, but it's inherently radical, never conservative. Words have meaning. As for the American Revolution, I don't think anyone could say that the US is better off that Canada, Australia, or any other British settler colony. Those other countries chose a more gradualist approach to independence, and of course they avoided civil wars. In the grander sweep of history, the American colonists were rather spoiled, and their grievances were pretty minor. And that holds for the Federals and Confederates as well...revolution and counterrevoluation weren't the answers, and the original vision of our nation has suffered as a result of their radical decisions.

Then the "Reb" in "Die Hard Reb" is meant to be ironic?

No, not really. I simply recognize the fact that the Civil War was an epic tragedy, reinforcing the notion that fighting should be a last resort. It is my view that the Confederacy had the right to secede under the conservative principles of the Constitution, but I don't think it was a wise decision (nor do I believe Lincoln's decision to use force to prevent them from seceding was wise). Subsequent international history proved that slavery could be ended non-violently, and the terrible costs in blood and political metamorphosis simply overwhelmed the benefits of accelerating emancipation by a decade or two.

And since when is the use of state-sponsored violence to promote social change a conservative idea?

Since Burke called for war against the Jacobins.

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