Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A Manly Question about Lincoln and Darwin

Who is more important?

Well, there are certain crucial similiarities. They both were "compulsive scribblers." And they both get attacked by fools for no good reason.

Lincoln, though, was more IRREPLACEABLE. What would have happened to our country without Lincoln? Who knows, exactly? But things very likely would haven turned out very differently and much worse. But there was no urgency about Darwin’s discoveries, which would eventually have been made by someone else. In general, great STATESMEN are more important than great SCIENTISTS. And they won’t hesitate to tell you that.

Can Darwin’s theory account for Lincoln? Or Darwin? Can Lincoln’s understanding of human equality survive what’s true about Darwin’s theory? Can it correct what’s false or incomplete about that theory? According to Darwinian Larry, Lincoln and Darwin are, if properly understood, perfectly compatible.

We certainly can’t hold Darwin acccountable for those who use the evolutionary metaphor to explain political progress (like Woodrow Wilson). We can blame him for being nerdy enough to be poltically naive, to think that the human moral sense will almost inevitably continue to get stronger as the world gets more enlightened scientifically. Lincoln was pretty darn realistic when it comes to both politics and science.

Here’s another similarity: There are some people who (quite mistakenly) think Darwin explains it all. They’re not usually big NLT fans. And there are some people who think Lincoln explains it all. Although the characteristic error is to underrate Lincoln (and so he does need vindication), is it possible to overrate him?

Discussions - 3 Comments


In what sense is someone who sits in his own temple in our nation's capital, who is claimed by both sides of our nation's puported political divide, and who is routinely named as one of the three or four greatest Americans "underrated"?

If anything, Lincoln awaits and deserves the level of criticism that has long been visited on Darwin.

I don't know what it says about my political sense but Newsweek just seems to be striking the right tone, especially for a publication with a decent circulation.

I would love to comment on your other questions but I will restrain myself. My general wagering inclination is to suggest that you can say just about anything you want in relating the two and since very few people will actually go to historical documents, you can get away with it. In fact the historical record is so large and varied that folks who have read less will be pushed over by just about any argument. And in terms of Lincoln just about any argument has been brought foward...so much so that one hardly knows what proxy issue someone is blameing on Lincoln in the first place. Overrated? Like Darwin and certainly Malthus overhyped in proportion to being read.

Hell, while I am at it I might as well universalize the argument and take issue with attacks on Wilson. In terms of contrast with intellectual figures I don't know if anyone has contrasted Hegel and his Jena comment about Napoleon, with that of Wilson staring up at General Lee?

I have some intention of reading a lot of Wilson in regards his Federal Reserve act, which having read some Keynes seems to be a real example of history being explained by noise/excellent rhetoric/slight of hand and mountains of mathmatical jibberish no one has any real intention of going thru in the first place. Keynes eloquently bluffed the entire House of Lords!

History in terms of politics, it seems is best explained by subjective claims to authority that rely upon the simple gap between what we can know, what we are willing to work towards knowing and what in desperation we decide is simply the final authority on the subject.

I would bring in some insights on poker and imperfect information, but seeing as how my whole point is that history proceeds by artful bluffing, folks aren't quite wrong to call me on psuedo-intellectualism. But the problem is that even if I am bluffing you still need a hand that can beat me before you can call. Nothing is more delightfull than to scoop a pot because someone called your bluff with a hand that couldn't beat king high, and that is generally the dunce like position I would put myself in by hammering someone even relatively great like Woodrow Wilson.

Peter:

I have a comment on this story at South Dakota Politics. Here is the link:

http://southdakotapolitics.blogs.com/south_dakota_politics/2008/week27/index.html#entry-52242372

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