April 30, 2008

Lincoln, Havers and Larison

Since the debate about Lincoln seems to be winding on and on, I?m adding this comment concerning the material I inserted yesterday as a blog. As far as I can recall, no paleo I?ve known had a particularly favorable view of Lincoln as a statesman, although by no means all of them shared the demonic picture M.E.Bradford drew of him in his occasional writings. Surprisingly, Bradford?s mentor Richard Weaver had expressed a more positive view of Lincoln as an orator from the one associated with Mel.  The picture of Lincoln that emerges from Jaffa, DiLorenzo, and all neocon scribblers is mostly a product of the post-World War Two era; although it could be found intermittently in The New Republic going back to Herbert Croly and the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, it reflects the intertwining iconographies of the 1950s produced by mainstream liberal historians. The most ambitious prefiguring of this view of heroic global democratic statesmen is presented in Arthur Schlesinger?s The Vital Center (1946), which sets up a series of presidential heroes and anti-heroes going from Lincoln through Wilson to FDR. Schlesinger?s villains at home and abroad are those whom his giants of the egalitarian spirits were destined to war down; and they are identified with fascism and/or linked to the enemies of human Progress. This is obviously the same pseudo-history that the neocons have been producing, and it is also the pseudo-history that our guys are trying discredit, while sometimes absorbing big gobs of the Left?s narrative. Without having to endorse the ?statesmanship? of Lincoln, which I agree was probably disastrous, there is no reason to treat him as a precursor of Wilson or to present the Civil War as a precedent for Wilson?s Crusade for Democracy. Almost the entire white South endorsed Wilson?s foreign policy, while his isolationist critics often had Lincoln hagiography on their walls. It was in fact the sons and grandsons of Confederate officers, starting with the then occupant of the White House, who helped thrust our country into the Great War. Lincoln Republicans were far less guilty for this misdeed.

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