Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Battle of the Lincoln Books

Never a fan of Sean Wilentz, I do concede his lengthy New Republic
review essay
nicely skewers some inflated conventional scholarship (and even mentions the omission of Harry Jaffa ["one of Lincoln’s more provocative conservative admirers"] from Harold Holzer’s anthology). But Wilentz omits the indispensable work of Allen Guelzo and has no use himself for Jaffa. Wilentz’s major charge is that the current crop of Lincoln books are not written by historians but rather from writers who have produced a "literary Lincoln." And in doing so the new Lincoln scholars do not acknowledge Lincoln’s vocation as politician.

Wilentz’s own conventionality is seen in his admiration for David Donald’s biography. It is precisely the genius of Guelzo and Jaffa that they are able to see Lincoln’s greatness and thus understand the world about him and the world he tried to bring about. They truly appreciate his political skill because they are aware of the trans-political ends for which statesmanship exists.

Discussions - 1 Comment

Not having read Wilentz, let me make the following comment, which presumes the accuracy of this post: While the "literary Lincoln" presented in some books may be undesirable from a scholarly standpoint, as he says, Wilentz's apparent unwillingness to give Professor Jaffa any credit as an interpreter of Lincoln is certainly the greater failure. Coming from a major historian like Wilentz, it is cheap and unworthy, to put it mildly.

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