Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Lincoln and War

Tom Krannawitter finds Paul Berman’s piece in The New Republic ("What Lincoln Knew About War") to be both interesting and wrong. Yet, Berman is worth reading, especially with Krannawitter’s rejoinder. This is not an abstract question being discussed: Can a self governing republic exercise power in defending itself? I recommend the lingering study of both. Off to my Shakespeare Seminar, we’ll try to focus on Brutus’ lack of prudence in Julius Caesar. Ah, for those Stoics, intention is everything!

Discussions - 5 Comments

Krannawitter makes a distinction between Lincoln and Wilson, and granted he lamments that America is called a democracy and not a republic. But he doesn’t go far enough. The truth if that a nation dedicated to social equality and liberty cannot long endure the contradiction. Europe has shed the contradiction and adopted social equality. Toqueville believed that americans loved equality more than liberty, that is not unrelated to his conclusion that such a nation could not fight. America can fight so long as it is fighting for liberty. "The main point is that "conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" specified the double principle of liberal government ("liberty") and social equality ("democracy")." Allowing the Notion "created equal" to be equated with a promotion of social equality, ultimately makes the project Wilsonian! That is a project which is contradictory, and it is a wrongly formed concept of prudence which seek to hide these contradictions by force of will, that ignore or deny the contradiction. With all due respect for the superior intellects of George Will, and Edmund Burke one does not keep a nation together by prudence, or if one does then the principles of such a nation change so as to no longer conform to the original. I suggest that it is short term prudence which has ruinned and intellectually disarmed america. Certainly "progressive" political thought which occured several generations ago is to blame, but how long do you hang on to this excuse? Is the welfare state here to stay or not? Because if it is, we probably can’t afford to defend ourselves(literally, except for the fact of fiat money). Prudence is no longer Praxis. This sort of prudence is closer to phrenology, it is to society what the other is to the intellect. This means a compromise of any abstract principle, which means a compromise on the Declaration.

Mr. Lewis: You are confusing "equality" and "social equality" therefore the rest of your comments are not sensible. Neither Jefferson nor Lincoln thought that equality and liberty were opposites. The latter is dependent on the former. Also, prudence has never been praxis.

Dear Mr. Lewis:

You are correct in writing that, "a nation dedicated to social equality and liberty cannot long endure the contradiction." "Social equality" is a Leftish euphemism for socialism, and socialism is indeed incompatible with free government and free society. You are also correct in noting that Tocqueville believed Americans loved equality more than liberty. But Tocqueville’s understanding of equality--the passionate drive for egalitarianism, or sameness--was very different, if not opposite, from what the Founders and Lincoln understood by equality: the equal natural rights of men, and a government of limited power and scope that protects those natural rights. The rise of Progressivism and modern liberalism has corresponded precisely to the rejection of the principles of Lincoln and the Founders, in the name of History and historically fated egalitarianism. In this way, Tocqueville had more in common, in principle, with the Progressives than with Lincoln or the Founders. This is why Berman is wrong to connect Tocqueville, Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR as defending the same principle or political project.

You ask an important question: Is the welfare state here to stay or not? That all depends. Those of us who believe in the principles of the American Founding do so because we believe human beings are free and rational. Men are capable of making choices, and those choices are not historically or culturally determined. Whether or not the welfare state stays depends on whether or not the present and future generations of Americans submit to it, or stand up for the rights and liberties and good government that is naturally and rightfully theirs. To use some Lincolnian language, are you and your friends and fellow citizens highly resolved to defend the cause of liberty, equal rights, and constitutional government? Do you take an increased devotion by remembering those brave souls who gave their lives for that cause? Granted, the welfare state is big and old, and has now shaped the opinions of generations of Americans. But there is hope nonetheless.

In the end the fate of free government rests upon the American people, which means we need young Americans who are educated in the principles and politics of freedom. It is good to see the students at Ashland wrestling with these important questions. Ashland is one of the few institutions of higher education where these questions are taught and studied with a sense of seriousness and urgency. Keep up the good work.

Tom Krannawitter

There is no breach in the thought of Lincoln or Jefferson which allows for Liberty appart from the truth that all men are created equal. Liberty is a broader category that includes this aspect of equality, but not the marxist positive equality. The fact that Toqueville splits the two shows his error/progressive bent. I am in agreement with Krannawitter, and flattered/suprised by his direct reply.

Phronesis is prudence, or practical wisdom, which for Aristotle entailed the application of good judgement. Praxis means practical category. It could be argued that Phronesis is subsumed under Praxis, as is the case with oikenomike which is energia aimed at the good, both of the house and the polis. Then one could make a distinction between two types of chrematistics which are the technique for the aquisition of those things necessary for Oikonomike. Just as self love is good for the good man and bad for the bad man so too chrematistics is bad for the bad Oikonomike. I was however suggesting that some forms of chrematistics are bad altogether and that economics is not a value-free system, detachable from normative concepts in political economy. I was suggesting in particular that the use of Keynesian economics, is the employment of the bad guys’s chrematistics(i.e. Breton Woods, and Fiat Money). We have yet to calculate the cost of the Marshall plan (hailed by most as a triumph!) Sometimes the means used to achieve a good Oikonomike can end up undermining it, in ways which were unintended. Certainly conservatives of all people should not shun the idea of unintended consequences. Certainly we must have a war, and national defense is primary. Yet republicans are not strong enough to overthrow or even visibly delay the growth of the state, and in this regard concerns dealing with new unintended consequences entrench themselves and can no longer be prudently removed. Ultimately we will feel a strain in terms of the decision between guns and butter, the apparently prudent answer then becomes tremendous deficit spending which entails more Keynesian economics, coupled with pressure to manipulate inflation as well as farm subsidies, steel tarrifs, the NAFTA court (not american free trade!). Praxis as the practical category encompassing all Oikonomike is to be understood as the connecting principle explaining how philosophy, economics, political science and history affect prudence, this is the Austrian project started by Von Mises and re-articulated by folks like Mario Risso of NYU. Recent Ashbrook speaker Richard Vedder, is also sympathetic. I am radicalizing things, for the sake of clarity: Your real choice is between Austrians (liberty) and Krugman(social equality) the rest are mixtures, whose contradictions can only be supressed for so long, and while doing so may appear prudent has consequences which lead down the road to serfdom. (slippery slope fallacy?-wait and see)

Information on Austrian Economics and Aristotle:

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