Thursday, June 6, 2013

Historical body-snatching

Rich Lowry has authored a new book about Abraham Lincoln and in connection with its publication has written several articles summarizing some of his conclusions. In "President Obama's Lincoln delusion" today he argues that Lincoln would be extremely uncomfortable with at least some of those claiming his legacy:
.... Progressives have been after Lincoln like Mormons baptizing the dead since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. By capturing the legacy of Lincoln, they know they can use one of the most beloved figures in American history to bless an endlessly expansive government and isolate and deprecate their opponents. ....

As I recount in my new book, Lincoln Unbound, he was a proponent of markets, individual achievement and personal responsibility. He embraced economic dynamism and development. He rejected populist demagoguery directed at corporations and banks and, in fact, worked as a lawyer for the biggest corporation in the state, the Illinois Central Railroad. He warned against class warfare and made working for your own living — and not off the work of others — one of his bedrock principles. He considered property rights sacrosanct and called patent law one of the greatest inventions of all time. He revered the Founders and their principles with an ardor that might make even Ted Cruz blush. ....

The left’s Lincoln kidnappers cite a draft note for a lecture he wrote circa 1854: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves.” Mario Cuomo quotes these lines in his book Why Lincoln Matters that portrays Lincoln as a standard-issue liberal and Obama, too, has pointed to them.

The passage doesn’t prove what they think it does. Lincoln was referring, on the one hand to policing and the prosecution of crimes, and on the other, to “public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.” In other words, thoroughly uncontroversial functions of government. And when Lincoln talked of government, he didn’t necessarily mean the federal government.

In the same document, he writes, “In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.” He elaborated in an 1858 speech, “I believe each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man’s rights — that each community, as a State, has a right to do exactly as it pleases with all the concerns within that State that interfere with the rights of no other State, and that the general government, upon principle, has no right to interfere with anything other than that general class of things that does concern the whole.” .... [more]
On another front, in last week's National Review, which he edits, Lowry takes on those on the Right who seem to accept the liberal interpretation and, consequently, hate Lincoln (to see how that goes, read the comments):
.... A portion of the Right has always hated Old Abe. It blames him for wielding dictatorial powers in an unnecessary war against the Confederacy and creating the predicate for the modern welfare state, among sundry other offenses against the constitutional order and liberty.

The anti-Lincoln critique is mostly, but not entirely, limited to a fringe. Yet it speaks to a longstanding ambivalence among conservatives about Lincoln. A few founding figures of this magazine were firmly in the anti-Lincoln camp. Libertarianism is rife with critics of Lincoln, among them Ron Paul and the denizens of the fever-swamp at LewRockwell.com. The Loyola University Maryland professor Thomas DiLorenzo has made a cottage industry of publishing unhinged Lincoln-hating polemics. The list of detractors includes left-over agrarians, southern romantics, and a species of libertarians — “people-owning libertarians,” as one of my colleagues archly calls them — who apparently hate federal power more than they abhor slavery. They are all united in their conviction that both in resisting secession and in the way he did it, Lincoln took American history on one of its great Wrong Turns. .... [more]