Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Lincoln Bicentennial Approaches

David Shribman writes a nice remembrance of Abraham Lincoln and notes the coming, in two years, of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. A commission has been established in Congress to organize a national celebration but Shribman offers some other suggestions for celebrating including reading this and this. I would also add this with these lines especially noted:

I know the American People are much attached to their Government; —I know they would suffer much for its sake;—I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

Here then, is one point at which danger may be expected.

The question recurs "how shall we fortify against it?" The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;—let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap—let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges;—let it be written in Primmers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;—let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars

Discussions - 53 Comments

All hail Father Abraham, without whose wisdom and foresight (and fire and sword of course) we would still have a backwards federal republic instead of the glorious Socialist state that we now enjoy. Did you know that three days after Father Abraham was by Wilkes Booth he rose from the dead and ascended to set at the right hand of Hobbes. Maybe on his bicentennial he will return with a horde of angles to strike down all the unregenerate once and for all and usher in the millennial reign of his more perfect Socialist Union.

Lincoln is beyond great, of course. But let me dissent a bit on this "political religion" stuff, which never grabbed me as eitehr salutary or credible, and suggest hesitantly that Lincoln abandoned that approach during the course of the Civil War and entirely by his Second Inaugural.

Dr. Lawler, "Lincoln is beyond great, of course." Whew! Glad you threw that in or the Lincoln Jihadist would have kicked you out of their cult. But you better be careful, because the above was bordering on heresy.

"Political religion." How funny. I swear I was in the process of writing #3 before your post appeared.

Thanks Charlie, I fixed it in the original. Peter, I do not follow you in your thinking that Lincoln changed his thinking between this speech and the second inaugural. I have always seen Lincoln as being more consistent on this point than on almost any other. It seems to me that it was this thinking that informed his resistance to the radicals within the Republican party at end of the war and made him the voice of reason and generosity in his plans for Reconstruction over and against the radicals who, like the abolitionists who inspired them, would have spit on the Constitution and laws if it served their immediate purposes. Lincoln on the other hand, though he despised slavery and racial injustice as much as the radicals, knew there was no ending it if the Union was not preserved and the Constitution respected. But that’s another long argument that I suppose our friends here will have more to say about than we’ll get a chance to do.

I didn’t say that Lincoln’s view of slavery and the law changed. But the Lincoln of the 2nd Inaugural wouldn’t have used the oxymoronic phrase "political religion." Against some of the others above, let me take the controversial position that slavery-especially racially-based slavery--was monstrously wrong, Lincoln was right to oppose it resolutely but prudently, and the right side won the Civil War. And I say that as a great admirer of Lee and Jackson and Faulkner and Percy and O’Connor and as someone who would say that the South is the best place to live in the country today.

Just a question: What is it about the whole Claremont/Ashland Axis, or maybe Straussianism, that leads to Lincoln-Worship? I’m not criticizing, mind you...this is a legitimate question. Lincoln seems to be venerated over all other figures, including Reagan, Thatcher, Burke, George Washington even! So, can someone "in the know" explain this to me?

For the past year or so, the Library of Congress has been planning a new exhibit to show off their holdings of Lincoln writings and such. The exhibit will debut in February of the bicentennial year, then go on the road to several other museums, coast to coast. IMHO a small but reliable group of scholars are involved, so it looks to be an impressive exhibit. Coinciding with the bicentennial is the 2009 inauguration of a new American president, so much attention will be directed at Lincoln. I expect there will be an opportunity for good things to happen, with a plethora of books, conferences, movies, and lesson plans and activities focusing on Lincoln in the works. Frederick Douglass remarked that "in Lincoln the country saw a full-length protrait of itself." Let’s hope the bicentennial effort reaps a harvest in the souls of our citizenry.

I thought Lincoln’s point was that adequate attachment to the Union -- as distinct from the states: see the Federalist -- could not be wholly rational. Making a "political religion" out of "an attachment to the Laws" means that some additional, nonrational glue was needed. Otherwise the republic would be vulnerable to a new generation of ambition. Did he not eventually supply that glue with a new narrative? (Like Churchill, he mobilized the [American] language and sent it into battle - to paraphrase JFK on Churchill.) I once stood with a friend at the Lincoln Memorial. We looked left; we looked right. She said quietly, "Lincoln tells the story of the country in those two speeches." Yes, that’s what he meant to do: the result is that it is hard to see the Founding except through his eyes. (I should add that it is exactly this point that Unreconstructed and Red Phillips so ably rejected in another recent post.)

What do you mean, "hard to see the Founding except through his eyes?" Dropping bombs like that only leads to argument. Elaborate, please.

Also, will no one give me the nutshell "natural history" of Claremontian/Ashlandian veneration of Lincoln?

Since Mr. Thomas paid me a complement I will try to address this issue in as thoughtful and non-polemic a way as possible. The discussion may be jarring to some, but all I can say is that I am not intentionally trying to provoke.

Lincoln once said, "No polity that does not rest upon some philosophical public opinion can be permanently maintained." But I think he got it wrong. Actually no polity that rests only upon some philosophical public opinion can be permanently maintained. Look down the course of human history. How many nations have ever been based upon shared philosophical opinion alone? I would say none. Is Japan based on shared philosophy? A huge percentage of Japan (I have seen the figure before but don’t know for sure. 98 or 99 % comes to mind.) is made up of Japanese. Go figure. It is a nation based on a common history, culture, language, ethnicity, etc. The concept of the extended tribe. This is the historical model of "nationhood" even if national boundaries are imperfect. For example, aren’t the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Kurds in southern Turkey more of a nation than a Kurd is an Iraqi or a Turk? The Kurds certainly think so.

There have been a few examples of countries that fancied themselves as based on a philosophy, but that has never been the only "glue." The USSR was a "proposition" or philosophical nation, but it was held together only by force. Once that force went away, it immediately broke into its more natural constituent parts. The same thing happened in the former Yugoslavia but less cleanly. (As I said, national boundaries are never perfect.) Perhaps the Plymouth Colony fancied itself as founded on a proposition but it could afford such a conception because it was so monolithic. Perhaps, the original Dutch settlers of South Africa also conceived of themselves as founded on a proposition, but we all know how that worked out when faced with the reality of extending that proposition to the natives. Was post Revolution France based on a philosophy? Perhaps, but it was still made up almost entirely of French people. (The objection of the Alsatians noted.)

Now America is probably closer to a nation founded on a principle than almost any (any?) other. Because we are a colonial nation we are less "organic" than Japan or the countries of Eastern Europe, for example. Less "blood and soil" as I think Goldberg put it. But it is simply not true that we are just a nation founded on principle. We can afford this conceit in hindsight because we rebelled, but we are fundamentally a British colonial nation in our basic institutions and our core ethnic constituency which was predominately Anglo and Anglo-Celtic. In this aspect we are perhaps more similar to Canada (not Quebec), New Zealand, and Australia than any other countries. Perhaps they don’t have the idea nation conceit because they drifted away naturally over time instead of rebelled.

"I thought Lincoln’s point was that adequate attachment to the Union -- as distinct from the states: see the Federalist -- could not be wholly rational. Making a "political religion" out of "an attachment to the Laws" means that some additional, nonrational glue was needed. Otherwise the republic would be vulnerable to a new generation of ambition. Did he not eventually supply that glue with a new narrative?"

Absolutely we need a nonrational glue. That is my point, but the nonrational glue has almost always been that idea of the extended tribe. The WBTS was a testimony that the idea nation conceit had some problems when faced with on the ground realities. The idea of a "civil religion" was an attempt to artificially create what the somewhat artificial nature of our tenuous Union was not able to provide.

As I pointed out in the other thread, until modern transportation the races never really interacted. So the condition in America and especially the South was wholly artificial. There were huge numbers of Blacks, in many places they outnumbered Whites, only because we had artificially brought them here. But the society was fundamentally an Anglo/Anglo-Celtic culture. Say it was a culture built on the backs of slaves if you will. That is certainly true to some extent. But it was still an Anglo culture.

As I said before, it is easy for the moralizers to condemn the South in hindsight, but by the time of the War, slavery was not just an economic institution. It was a means of social control. It is utterly foolish to believe that the slaves could have all be freed in one fell swoop and granted immediate social and political equality and still maintain the society that had arisen. To do so would have been complete social suicide. Preserving slavery was about preserving their very survival as a society.

So the whole conceit of believing you can have a coherent society based only on shared public ascent to a philosophy is to try to do what has never been done. It is Utopian, a historical, liberal and denies the Christian doctrine of the flawed nature of man.

We do have a society now based on shared public ascent to a philosophy, but that philosophy is liberalism. I am not trying to be argumentative, but the neoconservative are liberals of a sort. Many will acknowledge this. Many glowingly defend “liberal democracy.” So Strauss and the natural rights argument is essentially a conservative defense of liberalism against the excesses of liberalism, but it is liberalism nonetheless.

What we on the paleo right are arguing is that this is not a stable long term arrangement. Liberalism is inherently destabilizing and hostile to traditional society. (This was essentially Weaver’s argument many years ago.) It is in the process of destroying every society where it has been tried. (Notice the loss of faith and the entirely secular nature of Western Europe. Notice the impending demographic collapse. Brought on by allowing Muslim immigration but also by their own selfish, individualistic unwillingness to procreate.) (Admittedly it has brought about temporary economic prosperity, but at what cost?) Look at the militant secularism. Look at immigration in this country. It is just a matter of time before America as we know it will be a thing of the past. Look at how the conservative wing of modern liberalism (neocons) are completely unable to address the real problem with immigration which is the influx of huge numbers of immigrants from whom we have a vast "social distance." (Dain’s word which I like.)

Neocons can not address it because it violates their fundamental adherence to liberal notions of equality.

What I am arguing is that liberalism must be rejected root and branch if we are to have any hope of saving our society. Creating a “new (false) narrative” that canonizes an enemy of the old order and an exponent of a fanciful, a historical new order can never get it done. In fact, it hastens our demise. At this point, neocons are not up to the task of saving our society before it is too late.

Lincoln should be venerated for he saved the Union, period.

Otherwise, we would be just another balkanized European style of nations, in which, I am certain, slavery of some sort would still exist that abomination called the Southern Confederation.

Oh, I see...the Confederacy was an "abomination." Dude, you need to take tranquilizers. All that moral spewing without the least bit of thought attached to it...sad.

dain - I think the veneration begins with the old-fashioned proposition that Lincoln freed the slaves and saved the Union (and vice versa). Made more subtle with lots of detail -- and with the irony that Lincoln himself supplied in the Second Inaugural, that proposition remains true. (A pity it’s not still taught to school children.) What you call the "natural history" continues with Harry Jaffa’s book, "Crisis of the House Divided": his effort to save the above proposition from at least one generation of historians.

Mine was no bomb; it is the now-conventional view of the matter - see Jaffa, Storing, Sam Beer (book on federalism: his discussion of James Wilson), and James McPherson. The "narrative" part was my way of putting their point.

Red Phillips - Your doubts about liberalism are not all crazy, but on the other hand, I don’t think it will do just to assume we have a decent alternative. In that respect, I guess I am a Straussian (gad!). I have been reading Tom Pangle’s compact little book on Strauss: I recommend you take a careful look at the chapter on (varieties of) relativism. But you say a lot, and I’m too tired now to give what you write its due.

Peter: Thanks for clarifying, kind of. I see what you don’t mean but I guess I still don’t see what you do mean. I think Steve Thomas’ discussion above of Lincoln’s political religion nicely summarizes it--though briefly. Still, there is no need for me to try and to it better because, quite rightly, he directs us to Jaffa.

Oddly, I think Red points to some other reasons why a political religion of sorts is a necessary thing. The alternative to a liberalism informed by a Lincolnian political religion (a "religion," I would add, that Lincoln did not consider to be his invention) is frightening. Though Red is correct to point out that no other nation has successfully devoted itself to the "Proposition" that all men are created equal--the fact that we have tried it is what makes America so great. I suppose you could make the argument Red, that nations like Japan have been "successful" for longer periods of time because they are an extension of tribal society. Great. Sounds really attractive. Their great claim to fame is that they exist for a really long time? So do sea turtles but I’d still rather be an American. None of that is to discount your very real points about "social distance" and cultural divides between immigrants and more settled Americans. But you offer no realistic solutions to these problems and I think you discount the ones offered by folks like us (and Lincoln). (Though you might be right about the inadequacies--or naivete--of the neo-cons on these matters.)

Finally, (and again for Peter) I agree entirely with what you say here: And I say that as a great admirer of Lee and Jackson and Faulkner and Percy and O’Connor and as someone who would say that the South is the best place to live in the country today. But let me add another: Willa Cather who (though she later grew up in Nebraska was born in Virginia) I always think of her and especially Death Comes for the Archbishop when these questions come up about the role of sentiment or the not strictly rational supporting the rational.

I think Red is right on the money (and very he an academic?). The difference here is that Red is talking observed reality, while Julie and Co. are arguing from faith. I personally don’t see America’s greatness in the terms Julie sees it; we have no evidence that polyglot every made anyone great. All the great cultural accomplishments throughout time have been achieved by peoples who had the benefit of a common cultural warp and woof: the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans (in their Republic days), the Chinese, the Japanese, the Brits...etc. Social greatness is predicated on cultural greatness, and such greatness in turn is predicated on holding a common worldview that is undisturbed by sharp differences in ethnicity, race, religion, and language. That’s the reality of the Straussians can go on looking for "inner" texts like the Gnostics you are.

All this is very interesting. And Willa Cather should be ranked with Flannery O’Connor as among the very, very few Americans who altogether understood and transcended the all-too-human limitations of their great country. (Dare I say they are greater than Lincoln with their realistic or womenly corrections to American spiritedness? No, better not, might get in trouble.) To say that patriotism requires more than reason doesn’t necessarily make it into a religion. On this point, read Chesterton, WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA. The American view of the equality of citizens requires understanding every human being as essentially more than a citizen. Our theology is not a civil theology etc. etc. yadda yadda...

Peter - Maybe Lincoln in effect followed Virgil - not all "religions" are transcendent; maybe he was a Roman, so to speak. And, can you briefly spell out what you found in Chesterton?

I think the veneration begins with the old-fashioned proposition that Lincoln freed the slaves and saved the Union (and vice versa)."

Mr. Thomas, that Lincoln freed the slaves and saved his conception of the Union is true. Although it was his intent only to do the later and the former just happened to come along for the ride. (Had the Union crushed the Confederacy at First Manassas and immediately quelled "the Rebellion," do you honestly believe he would have immediately freed the slaves?) It is the wholly fictitious (or perhaps extremely one sided) back-story that we object to. I think in some ways you are acknowledging that Jaffa was attempting to prop up the myth instead of write good and accurate history. The civil religion we are asked to venerate is a religion that canonizes the Yankee version of history. And it does so not just to the exclusion of the Southern version, but at the expense of the Southern version. And then you scratch your head and act dumbfounded when some Southerners have the temerity not to buy it. The idea of force feeding little Southern kids an alien version of history is revolting to me. That that seems OK to you is a testimony to the truth of the oft noted Yankee tendency to be unable to conceive that anyone could possibly object to their self-evident moral superiority, and any such objection is proof positive that they must be brow beaten into compliance or shot, whichever comes first. See Clyde Wilson’s “The Yankee Problem” archived at Lew Rock. It is the absolute inability to tolerate dissent from the party line or even fathom that dissent could exist among anyone but the lowliest barbarians. (What do you mean Southern children taught an alien version of history, we are all one America with one history?!!!) Note the reaction from the pro-War right to anti-War paleocons. We are all “Unpatriotic” if you recall. That is why Southerners must not just be discredited but abjectly demonized. Very illiberal of you if you think about it.

Ms. Ponzi, "Though Red is correct to point out that no other nation has successfully devoted itself to the "Proposition" that all men are created equal--the fact that we have tried it is what makes America so great." That is not really a defense of liberalism. It is simply clinging to the myth. It is an assertion of the self-evident moral superiority of liberalism. Of course that is entirely par for the course these days. That is why I said that America is now dedicated to a proposition, but that proposition is liberalism.

However, let me suggest that the liberalism that you are dedicated to is ultimately going to end up riding itself of that embarrassing anachronism of the "created" part of "created equal" and there is very little theistic liberals can do about it because they worship at the altar of religious pluralism. Again, I confidently assert that liberalism is the suicide of the West. (Wait a minute, someone else suggested that also.)

dain, I consider myself a Guerrilla internet liberal myth buster. No pretences of academic respectability here.

How was Lincoln wrong? The country was growing through massive immigration. People came for the ideal, maybe, but more likely to be able to survive better than they could where they were, which was a result of the ideal, but was about being able to make a buck, too. The country was split not only by North-South issues, though those over-rode most others in the national debate, but also immigrant/anti-immigrant debates, rural/urban issues, East/West, weren’t there all sorts of issues pulling at any political unity?

We have always been a polity very much divided. To look at those divisions and not see that something was needed to keep unity, to keep us a nation in this place where there was no commonality in natality, would be to celebrate e pluribus at the expense of unum. What would bind? Religion, the word, means to tie back, and that is what Lincoln was looking for, some way to tie all back to those things that made the nation. The Constitution, the laws, and what else have we got? We obviously needed something else. We could not all have a patriotism as traditionally understood, as all of our fathers were not "patriots of seventy-six". We, America, could not have a nationalism, as understood in Europe, or even the wider world of the time. It had to be something transcendent in the sense that it overcame experience, not in that it was something from the realm of God. Did he say to eliminate faith in God in favor of his political religion? I do not see that. In political, national, terms, there was an ideal that had to be the thing to bind us, and it had to be, has to be, reverenced, for us to survive as free, or even relatively free, in a world of nations.

I do not think he would have denied that political need after the war. I think Lincoln would have seen just as much need in it, though he might, might, have been more likely to call for something from the realm of God in his "political religion" than he had been before the war. (But that is from my reading of the Second Inaugural which I can’t help but read as a Christian and understand as such, hearing in Lincoln’s words something of my experience.)

It would be nice to have something that binds us, politically. I think we do. Here is why, because when I talk to people, my neighbors and others and our conversation strays into ideals of America and government, the goals seem to be similar, even if the ways and means of achieving the goals are vastly different. We speak of greater liberty for individuals as a desirable goal. Of course, it is not all to the good, because while I speak of finding that liberty through less government control, they speak of more government help free the individual to liberty. What I see as a box trap, they see as a kind of elevator raising us all to a kind of heaven on earth, facilitating an ascension from earthly woes. Even those who consider themselves conservative can find the government as social/political elevator image a desirable one. Those walls loom threateningly, to me. They look like security to others. Let’s hope I am wrong. I seem to be on their elevator, whether I like it or not. I have to hope with them that the doors open to liberty, because we are democratically bound.

How did I begin my paragraph thinking I was striking a hopeful note only to end so grimly?

Anyway, if I understand the Civil War correctly, there was disunity in both sides, in that brothers fought on either side, fighting for one ideal or another. Even when we appeared to be split, geographically, that was not absolutely true. Even Lee might have landed on the other side. And we are certainly not geographically divided today, in any way that makes any political secession a sensible option. How many "Northerners" are in the south anymore? Sometimes I think half of the senior citizens from Northeast Ohio have retired to Florida. Perhaps one reason why no one seems to know American history anymore is because it came to seem rude to choose the one version (speaking to Red Phillips point, #20) over the other.

Sorry for the meandering thoughts. There was a lot to think about in the thread.

Well, that’s exactly right. The Lincoln of "political religion" was being a Roman. By the 2nd Inaugural he got over that. Civil religion, one problem is, is simply incredible in our time. Another is that it misconceives who a human being is. I will soon post on Chesterton, but ain’t got time now... Again, these are mighty interesting posts that, if nothing else, leave no cow sacred.

Red: If America’s dedication to the proposition that "all men are created equal"--that is, equally men with none being born so superior to another as to have the right to rule him without his consent--is a suicide compact . . . then could it not also be said that any individual person’s attempt to live up to the precepts of truth or morality in his own life is also a suicide compact. Our country has had failures in the past (and, of course, we have them in the present and will undoubtedly have them in the future) just as all individual people commit sins. But whenever our country has achieved any truly great thing it has been because of that proposition. I am not speaking of the polyglot kind of touchy-feely equality that Red worries about. I would never say anything so stupid and mindless as "our diversity makes us great." It is our recognition of the human ability to transcend much of that diversity that makes us great. It is the recognition of the fact that although we differ on many "cultural" points, ultimately these things don’t matter as much as our common essence as human beings. That is not to say that they don’t matter at all. And, I concede that there is a fine line to be walked in achieving "E Pluribus Unum," and not the reverse as Al Gore would have it. The essence of Red’s objections to this proposition seems to be that it is too difficult to be realistic. There is no question but that it is mightily difficult. And yet we have been--more often than not--working in that direction for about 231 years. It is not a march of progress, however, but a march in a circle. We have to do it over and over again. America does not have the "luxury" I suppose of simply being--like a Japan or a France. America is always working to be what it is and so it is always in danger of not being or of becoming something other than was intended. But I think even Red would have to concede that nations like Japan or France that are extensions of the tribe, have had a hard time defending themselves today have been unable to remain true to whatever it is that they are dedicated to. That’s why people joke about visiting Europe before it is gone. The only true weapon to fight tyranny, in the end, will be ours. I think we had better take Lincoln’s advice about that.

Peter: I have never read any Chesterton but I will do now that you have recommended it in this context. I still don’t follow you, but someday this will be drink worthy. I’ll buy.

One last: Red, if we are to be civil with one another (I do like your "new tone") then please refrain from calling me "Ms." Nothing makes my skin crawl more (except, perhaps being called "Mam" by some 20-something year-old grocery clerk).

Julie, I am just seeing your comments and while Peter probably has his choice for your reading of Chesterton, I suggest ENJOYING his Father Brown mysteries, which are full of his theology, really.

Red Phillips - And then you scratch your head and act dumbfounded when some Southerners have the temerity not to buy it.

Not true, that I scratch my head. Having had contact with "unreconstructed" Southerners over the years, I got over it. My Yankee self-righteousness, much reduced, is the better for it.

You are writing more than I have been able to think about so far! But yes, in my opinion Lincoln’s " political religion" is the version that Lincoln wanted to be national. In that he succeeded remarkably well.

As for the fate of the slaves, had the North won quickly, we can only shudder. All we can be sure of is that it would have been very different. The irony was not at all lost on Lincoln himself.

Peter - By the Second Inaugural, Lincoln has drunk more deeply of the Bible, that’s for sure. The speech begins in the Old Testament and ends in the new. His purpose required it. I have never cared whether or to what degree he became a Christian.

Steve, That’s the point. From a political view, it’s not important whether he actually became a Christian. But his view of Who God is became more Biblical, and so his view of who we are did too. Peter

Peter - I completely agree, I think. But do you mean Biblical, or Christian?

If we go back to the idea that we, so to say, tend to see the founding through Lincoln’s eyes (as, I believe, he meant us to), we get this perhaps odd implication: those who see this as a "Christian nation" are, to some extent at least, Lincolnian. And if this is so, then some Southerners, perhaps especially Republicans, may feel a certain tension in their conservatism. (Of course, there is an independent strain of antebellum Christian theology, I gather, which Genovese has been busy recovering. What do others, who know his work better than I, think of it?)

On the Christian Nation concept and Lincoln.

There is an element of the Confederate movement that blames the distinctly Yankee attitude of moral superiority and intolerance of dissent on their Puritan heritage. (There is an element that also blames their Anglo-Saxoness since it is seen as a Germanic trait, but I don’t have time for the Celtic/Saxon debate.)

There is then a strong Reformed element among Confederates that do not like their compatriots dissing on the Puritans. It is, however, a historical fact that Yankee Puritanism morphed over time from an entirely orthodox system into Social Gospel Unitarianism. Now whether this was the inevitable result of some flaw in the original doctrine I am not going to speculate on for the sake of my Reform minded Southern brethren. But it is true nonetheless.

The Social Gospel Unitarianism had ceased to be orthodox, but it had lost none of the Puritanical finger waging and moral superiority. The "shining city on a hill” conceit. So there is among some "Christian Nation" types a decidedly Lincolnian perspective as Mr. Thomas suggests. Peter Marshall comes to mind. The sense of the Nation having a Divine mission or a Divine commission.

But another hard fact remains. The South has been the bedrock and still is of Christian orthodoxy in America. The so-called Bible Belt. It is more of the revivalistic and evangelical strain, but it is theologically conservative. So why is that?

I don’t think personally it was entirely some flaw in the original Puritan belief system. Dabney and Stonewall Jackson were just as Reformed as any Puritan and they certainly avoided becoming social gospel advocates. Perhaps the Agrarians were correct. In the agrarian South, there remained a connection to the land and God’s creation. If I do say, a certain humbleness with respect to our place in the world. In the industrial NE, there was an attempt to conquer or master nature in the interest of commerce. There was a busyness and an inability to leave well enough alone. Hence the Yankee stereotype that Southerners are lazy and idle. (Of course the heat has something to do with that.)

Now I whole heartedly agree that America was founded as a Christian nation. Since I nowhere claim to be a sensitive liberal I can say that. But that means we are a nation with a Christian heritage, institutions, and people. It does not mean we necessarily have some unique Divine mission. In fact, I think that is a highly problematic conception. It is borderline blasphemous and it does not encourage humility.

The country has lost faith, but you still see some of this Divine mission nonsense in the rhetoric supporting the War. Bush invokes it. Many neocons invoke it.

Question to ponder. Does Bush easily falling prey to this conception have anything to do with the fact that he is not really a west-Texas redneck, but is a privileged child of blue-blooded Connecticut Yankees?

See how readily the discussion turns, when directed by the things that seem to animate Red and others, into questions of ethnicity and sectarianism--as if these things really explain the important things in life. It leads to us scratching open every scab going back to the Celtic/Saxon debate!?!?!? Although this kind of thing can be interesting and, in small ways, illuminating for those wishing to pursue a prudent path toward higher things, it is not really very productive for our current purposes to open all these wounds, is it? I fail to see what, exactly, Red and others would have us do to create their version of paradise. It is as if they agree, in some strange way, with the old forces of "multiculturalism" or Black power separatists who think these small things define us in every important particular. Constant emphasis on the things that divide us rather than the ties that bind seems beyond weird to me--particularly now. The tribalism Red hails begets this kind of thing and nations that pay too much heed to the tribal will end up in endless civil wars arguing over these kind of arcane and disjointed rivalries. Instead of OSU and Michigan duking it out on the football field every November I suppose we might see a hot war between these two states? Or why not go back to the era of open hostilities between Protestants and Catholics--or, if you want to get really down and dirty--let’s have the Irish and German Catholics duke it out as they used to do in my home town. My point is that this is a very small way of thinking and not, in my view, worthy of Americans. That is why my ancestors (and probably most of yours) left Europe and came here--to get beyond these tyrannical ties to the petty differences of the past.

Julie - I both agree and disagree with your last post. I disagree with you in thinking these posts are necessarily beside the point (you mention our current purposes but you don’t elaborate), but I agree that we don’t yet know what that point is. In an earlier post, Red Phillips seemed to say that he was in favor of ridding the country of liberalism "root and branch," and that to that end conservative confreres would do well to cease celebrating Lincoln’s thinking and accomplishments. To the extent that I understand his objective, it puts me on the highest alert.

Not being part of the conservative movement, I am, I suppose, a curious observer, but I do have a keen interest in Lincoln.

Great thread!

Julie says:

"It is the recognition of the fact that although we differ on many "cultural" points, ultimately these things don’t matter as much as our common essence as human beings." in note 22 &

"Constant emphasis on the things that divide us rather than the ties that bind seems beyond weird to me--particularly now."


"My point is that this is a very small way of thinking and not, in my view, worthy of Americans. That is why my ancestors (and probably most of yours) left Europe and came here--to get beyond these tyrannical ties to the petty differences of the past. "

Speaking for my self (Orthodox Christian who leans towards Red’s view of things) I remain unimpressed with ideas such as "our common essence as human beings", by which you really mean what Red might call "Yankee anthropology". The big questions in America, like federalism/union, or today’s abortion/eugenics/’what is man?’ were not answered in the traditional American narrative - they were answered with a civil war and today’s cultural war. In other words, the Constitution/American way of doing politics is a failure, not a success. Your talk of "ties that bind" seems empty at best, tyrannical at worse. I would leave this land for a brighter future over the sea if such a thing were possible, exactly to get away from our now distinctly American "tyrannical ties". I have no natural tie to modern American secularist/socialist/"yankee" Americans as there philosophy leads directly to the present tyranny. Finally, what seems "weird to me" is this scramble to defend a false unity...

It is the freedom to be in a state of political disunion that we enjoy, here. It is awkward to live in such a state of tension, and yet, there is a freedom in it that we do not see over the seas. The tyranny we refer to, above, is a relative thing. I think the experiment has mostly succeeded in that we have been able to survive in this state of disunion and tension. It is in agreeing to disagree that we succeed. Ok, to the degree that we succeed.

It is not the Constitutional government that feels tyrannous to me, but the administrative government grafted on in the early years of the last century.

Mr. Thomas alluded to the relationship of some "Christian Nation" theorist and a Lincolnian outlook. I believe, unfortunately, that he is right about that to some extent. I was trying to elaborate and clarify that from the point of view of someone who runs in both Christian Nation and anti-Lincoln circles. I’m not sure why my last post was anymore beside the point and an attempt to scratch open old wounds, than any other. In fact, I thought I was directly elaborating on Mr. Thomas’s point.

That said, Julie, you are a hopeless liberal/progressive. "...those wishing to pursue a prudent path toward higher things." That is why liberals are also called progressives. Because they worship the Gospel of Progress. Everything was bad back in the bad ol’ days, and now we are inevitably marching forward toward some grand and glorious future. But what is the difference between pursuing the "prudent path toward higher things" and attempting to usher in the classless society or whatever other grand scheme the next liberal comes up with? Doesn’t Scripture instruct us to seek the “ancient paths?”

One of the bedrock, irreducible tenants of Conservatism is the fallen and imperfectable state of man. The opposite belief is the faith of the progressive. Read Dewey for example. "I fail to see what, exactly, Red and others would have us do to create their version of paradise." That is precisely the point. There can never be paradise in this life. Man should strive to serve God in this life and hope for Paradise in the next.

Human nature is not fundamentally alterable. Therefore you take the lessons of history, nature (not natural law), tradition, and Revelation and you do the best you can. You don’t joust against human nature. See how far it got Marx.

"Constant emphasis on the things that divide us rather than the ties that bind seems beyond weird to me--particularly now." Leviathan likes homogenization. Homogenization facilitates the movement of the grand machine. Particularity gums up the works. Particularity is a threat to the regime. Individuals can easily be stamped out. Whole regions or groups are more of a problem. Tyrants and dictators always try to stamp out the particular in favor of the common "ties that bind." Bismarck in Germany, for example. (He was supported in his desire for union by liberal intellectuals inspired by the French Revolution. Go figure.) And Franco in Spain. (Both men admired Lincoln. Again, go figure.)

Emphasizing real commonality against abstract "ties that bind" is a check against homogenization, bigness, and tyranny.

Mr. Thomas, "To the extent that I understand his objective, it puts me on the highest alert." Please elaborate.


I think "political disunion" and the ability to "survive in this state of disunion and tension." can only be weighed so much. It is not an ultimate value. It certainly is nothing compared to slavery and the present holocaust of the unborn. It is here that our "It is in agreeing to disagree that we succeed" failed utterly by any right measure...

Christopher, In the case of slavery, didn’t right, ultimately, prevail? So it will be with abortion, I hope.

Also, the relative freedom we enjoy within, or because of, our various disunities is the "ultimate value." While we are disagreeing, politically, we spend our time trying to "sell" one another on our ideas. We are not particularly well "homogenized" so that there is a vast market of ideas to choose from, some rooted in principle, and some not. That we get to buy and sell in that vast market of ideas is a great freedom. That we do not have to buy one idea or another is a good thing, isn’t it?

Red Phillips, what is that "real commonality"? I was trying to see it and got lost.

Christopher, In the case of slavery, didn’t right, ultimately, prevail?

Yes, but not because of the American political system, but in spite of it.

So it will be with abortion, I hope.

Again, so far the system has failed. I wonder if some outside way of solving disagreements (e.g. war) will again no prevail here.

I think the American system works with relatively unimportant things, because disunity in unimportant things is unimportant. However, when it comes to the real issues, where we really need to be united (e.g. "what is man") it fails...

real commonality = family, faith, friends, community, neighborhood, the notion of the extended tribe I alluded to above, etc. These things go out in concentric circles. Your first loyalty should be to the more local and lesser loyalty should be to the extended more abstract concept. We are citizens of America before we are citizens of the world correct? Well in the same way we should be citizens of our State, before we are citizens of America. Lee understood this. Every Southerner understood it before Lincoln trampled those wayward thoughts out. It is the natural order of things. Look how little kids form up sports teams, for example. It’s my block against your block. My side of the street against your side of the street. etc. It takes browbeating of the more abstract and remote concept of nationhood to get people to not think in the more natural terms.

Red Phillips (#37) – Sorry I was cryptic. Here’s what I was thinking.

You want to get rid of liberalism “root and branch,” and you seem to mean by the offending liberalism something broader than contemporary American liberalism: you are, after all, even more impatient, I gather, with many conservatives (of the libertarian, neo-and other stripes), especially those who revere Lincoln.

This puts me on the highest alert in the spirit of Burke’s high alert against political rationalism, or in the spirit of Montesquieu’s liberal moderation, or in the spirit of Tocqueville’s analysis of democracy.

My own high alert comes from my conviction that in our time something far worse than modern liberalism stands in the wings. American liberal democracy for me is a kind of clearing in a dangerous forest, where all the defects of liberalism or modernity can be debated, and where some larger crisis of the West may be kept under control, like a controlled nuclear reaction with all its considerable risks.

For me, Lincoln is the deepest mind and the steadiest soul of our democracy: politician, poet, and philosophic rhetorician. To refer to him as a tyrant is to lack any sense of proportion; it is to forget that the twentieth century happened.

As I mentioned before, Pangle’s new book on Strauss explores these themes (of course), and far better than I can. One sees there the thinking that shrinks from liberalism while also remaining admiringly dependent upon its (inadequate) defenses against nihilism, relativism, and historicism.

In sum, I am a liberal (inclusive sense) because I am a conservative.

I see now in your #40 that none of this really gets at your opinions. It is not only liberalism you want us to get over; it is also the nation state that irks you.

"It is not only liberalism you want us to get over; it is also the nation state that irks you."

AMEN!. Preach it brother! More later.

Red Phillips - So you are part Kropotkin, part Herbert Spencer, and part John of Salisbury: anarchist, Darwinist, and organic traditionalist. I don’t know where exactly to fit in you allusion to Revelation.

That said, Julie, you are a hopeless liberal/progressive. "...those wishing to pursue a prudent path toward higher things." That is why liberals are also called progressives. Because they worship the Gospel of Progress.

Red, Red, Red . . . A path does not a Progressive make. I am not talking about some mindless march of history here. Unless you believe that man is born perfect and sinless how can you believe that the object of politics is anything less than a path toward higher things? But the higher things are fixed--not evolving. That is why Lincoln called it our "ANCIENTfaith." But it’s goodness comes from it’s being right, not just old.

Julie - Did you really mean that the object of politics "is [no] less than a path toward higher things?" In a regime like ours?

What in the world makes you think I am a Darwinist? I’ve mentioned a Christian Nation, Scripture, original sin etc. What about that makes me a Darwinian? Now I do think nature confirms an unalterable human nature and supports certain conclusion, but those conclusions are profoundly conservative. And they are entirely consistent with Revelation. Such as patriarchy, gender roles, the primacy of the mother child bond, heterosexuality, etc. In fact, I think that is why neocons and the Straussians appeal to "natural rights." Because a pure appeal to tradition, nature and Revelation results in some very illiberal conclusions. Nothing in any of the three requires the raising of “equality” to third rail dogmatic status. In fact they argue against equality in any way other than a purely metaphysical sense.

I don’t think I have been mysterious. I am a paleoconservative of the anti-Federalist/Confederate sort. My politics would be very similar to Patrick Henry, John Randolph, Calhoun, etc.

Red Phillips, Do we have those commonalities, anymore? I am happy to say that I have some of them, the first three, certainly. But out here, my kids’ friends were those from church whom we drove to see. Their teams were Little League or that sort of thing and that changed season. I only know what you mean about sports teams from the neighborhoods of my youth. People who live in town say you don’t dare let your kids play on the streets, so that neighborhood thing has gone.

Looking around, Red, families are failing, faith is harder to find. Churches? I have mine, and we are close, but most Christians I know go to churches where the pastor could not be expected to know your name. Communities? My little town has grown so much in the last few years, familiar faces are hard to find. I try to make community as I go and wherever I go, but find people increasingly suspicious of my motives. People move too much and my neighbors, except for one, are an ever-changing cast of characters. My welcoming apple pies get me smiles for the months or years afterwards, but no more neighborly gestures than that. Do people love their states? I do not see that. I think people love America, but find it a more abstract concept than it ought to be, which is why I think Lincoln was right, though it may be too late to do anything about that, now.

My students, at least those from public school, have no great sense of the higher things in politics that Julie talks about. Though I think, and tell them, that even if politicians fail, at times, surely the object of politics must be higher things. I say to them that America is about ideal things, but to them it is about smoking, or not, or TV and the latest movie or finding love as they will or the freedom to do as they please and to try to prosper as best they might. They like me for what I say, but look at me as something quaint.

But if the small commonalities are going, is it any wonder the bigger ones seem so frail? The kids I know who have ideals, who look to higher things, are all depressed about America, and very discouraged. I try to direct them to where I think they will find hope, but they look at America in the larger sense and are discouraged to find commonality there. I’m glad they would not be "homogenized," and wish America, political America, gave them more to hope for.

The tragedy is the vilification of Lincoln.

The ill-informed is the one who won’t see why Lincoln is celebrated.

The pathetic is the one who is determined to see the Southern Confederacy as noble even though it strove to tear the Union apart due to notions that was not found in the Consitution and not supported by any legal mechanism.

No, dain, I am not ignorant, stupid, ill-informed, or otherwise mentally deficient.

Matter of fact, such assertions state more about you than anything else.

The Southern Confederacy was an abomination that was created solely for the purpose of keeping the state power of slavery alive.

"It is utterly foolish to believe that the slaves could have all be freed in one fell swoop and granted immediate social and political equality and still maintain the society that had arisen. To do so would have been complete social suicide."

Of course, that is why our Founders compromised, coupled with the fact that the slave owning faction in our government was strong.

When Lincoln came to power, the slave owning faction’s power had diminshed greatly. This is why someone who did not want abolish slavery outright, but contain it and let it hopefully wither away.

However, the Civil War convinced him that such thinking needed to be tossed aside. Whether by political opportunism or by true belief, the fact is Lincoln morphed from containment of slavery to outright abolishing of it.

So, what do you do when you see your power waning? That’s right, you create a new country with the direct aim to continue slavery and obfuscate that with rhetoric about state’s rights and an old, but strongly held, notion that secession was not only possibly, but was needed to stem the tide of tyrannical government over free men.

Sorry, I meant ...

When Lincoln came to power, the slave owning faction’s power had diminshed greatly. This is why someone who did not want abolish slavery outright, but contain it and let it hopefully wither away was seen as the last straw.

What is ironic is that Lincoln was not an absolutist, but a moderate who wanted compromise so as to keep the Union together.

The Southern Confederacy, however was created out of absolutists who could not contenance compromise anymore ...

They were absolutists!

So, dain, compromise over the value of life (slavery) led directly, albeit over a long period time, to the fracturing of America and yet we are suppose to believe from dain that compromise today (abortion) is the way to go.


Well, Dale, it would be nice if you’d read some history. At what point did Lincoln ever try to negotiate a peaceful reunion? Indeed, he was a warmonger from start to finish. He resupplied Ft. Sumter knowing full-well what that would mean. He pushed poor ol’ McDowell into the 1st Battle of Bull Run before his troops had gelled into an effective fighting force. He refused prisoner exchanges, condemning thousands of Union prisoners (and Confederate prisoners) to slow death. He sanctioned Sherman’s "brave" war on women and children. He suspended habeas corpus, and threw thousands of people into jail without trial or hearing.

There is nothing here worth venerating. It was a war of conquest and expediency and, true to form, Lincoln’s heirs treated the South as a conquered province for a century afterward. Case in point, the 14th Amendment bars ex-Confederates from holding Federal interesting way to welcome your foe back into the fold.

If you want to know what created "neo-Confederates," read the history of the misnamed "Reconstruction." With the exception of our history of Indian relations, it is the most shameful chapter in American history.


At what point did Lincoln go to war? At what point did hostilities began? You are spinning the truth.

Dain, you are an apologist for a movement that attempted to split the country in two over the state right to practice slavery.

That is not noble. That is not something to be proud of.

"split the country in two"

Oh cry me a river you shameless statist. It is the Unionist who were absolutists. We must "save the Union" no matter how many men, women, and children have to die in the process. Real humanitarian that makes you.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2006/11/lincoln-bicentennial-approaches.php on line 1851

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2006/11/lincoln-bicentennial-approaches.php on line 1851