Monday, October 25, 2021

A platform for moralizing

From an interesting review of a new biography of Robert E. Lee, Robert E. Lee: A Life, by Allen C. Guelzo. The reviewer is Andrew Ferguson, someone I would read whatever his subject.
.... The dwindling number of die-hards who cling to the myth of the Lost Cause see slavery as contingent to the war, while the much larger number (far and away a majority) see slavery as the only reason the war was fought. Both sides avoid complication because they use history as a platform for moralizing. Robert E. Lee himself appears either as a marble saint or an ogre of staggering villainy. ....

...[F]or Guelzo, Lee’s great offense was not his invidious and (among his peers) universally held ideas about race but an actual, definable, objective crime, and the crime was treason.

Guelzo’s Lee is a man in full: genteel, cruel, loving, intolerant, generous, neither the hero of 19th and 20th century hagiographers nor the figure of unalloyed evil preferred by our contemporaries. But at the heart of the portrait here is the unforgivable crime. ....
Thus did Robert E. Lee," writes Guelzo, "irrevocably, finally, publicly [turn] his back on his service, his flag, and ultimately, his country. All of this was done for the sake of the preservation of a political regime whose acknowledged purpose was the preservation of a system of chattel slavery that he knew to be an evil and for which he felt little affection and whose constitutional basis he dismissed as a fiction…. It would, in the end, cost him nearly everything ….
Guelzo’s judgment of Lee, balanced as it is, should discomfit conservatives no less than liberals, especially anyone on the right willing to gloss over Lee’s crime against our country in favor of his undoubted martial virtues or some magnolia-fragranced image of agrarian heroism. Most impressive of all, Robert E. Lee: A Life injects learning, subtlety, and even compassion into a debate that has more often been characterized by ignorance, simple-mindedness, and sanctimony. .... (more)
Andrew Ferguson, "A Matter of Treason," REVIEW: ‘Robert E. Lee: A Life’ by Allen C. Guelzo

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