Tuesday, November 19, 2019


.... For Edmund Burke, the concept meant “a moral rather than a complexional timidity.” That is to say, Burke urged caution not out of cowardice but out of humility. His conservatism was grounded in modesty, and in recognizing that neither he nor any man had all of the answers. In the face of uncertainty, prudence dictates hesitating before making a drastic change.

Yet, maddeningly for those in search of a precise guide to life, Weiner tells us that prudence also demands bold action at times. Burke, at times, demanded such boldness from his country’s government, especially when it meant confronting the regicides of revolutionary France. Simple caution might call for a negotiated peace with the Jacobins; prudence demanded unyielding resistance to the destructive effects of the French Revolution. Lincoln, too, mixed caution with indefatigability when faced with the challenges of secession and Civil War. Even before his election, Lincoln’s prudence separated him from other abolitionists. He argued against slavery logically and effectively in his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858, but understood the political necessity of moving gradually toward the ultimate goal.

Lincoln, like Burke, also knew when prudence demanded he act drastically. Gradual abolition was fine in peacetime, but when the dispute over slavery erupted into war, the political and moral calculus changed. .... (more)

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