Glenn Beck's Lincoln Contradictions

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I’ve been occasionally watching Glenn Beck on the Fox News Channel and think he has done an admirable job of smoking out and identifying the shockingly hardcore, radical socialists who dominate the Obama administration. He has also done a generally good job talking about the libertarian founding principles of America, how they have been lost, and our duty to regain them. But he has been absolutely abysmal when discussing the subject of Lincoln, the War to Prevent Southern Independence, and its legacy. I suspect that the reason for this disconnect with historical reality is that: 1) The Fox News Channel is essentially a propaganda arm of the neoconservative political cabal that has captured the Republican Party; 2) One of the cornerstones of neocon ideology is Lincoln idolatry and hatred of the South and Southerners. (Professor Paul Gottfried, for one, has written extensively about this.) 3) Therefore, if Glenn wants to keep his gig at Fox, he must toe the party line on Lincoln. Being otherwise libertarian — while the Democrats are in power — serves the purposes of the neocon cabal nicely.

To the neocons, Lincoln idolatry serves the purpose of helping to prop up the centralized, bureaucratic, liberty-destroying, military-industrial complex that defines their existence. As William F. Buckley, Jr., the original neocon, declared in 1952, fighting the Cold War meant that "we have got to accept Big Government for the duration," including "a totalitarian bureaucracy within our own shores" with its "large armies, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and the attendant centralization of power in Washington." In case you haven’t noticed, for quite some time now the Republican Party has stood for war, war, and more war, and little else. How on earth genuine conservatives who favor limited constitutional government came to embrace Buckley as one of their leading spokesmen is a bizarre mystery.

When I debated one of the gurus of neocon Lincoln idolatry — Harry Jaffa — shortly after The Real Lincoln was published in 2002, he bellowed at one point that "9/11 proves more than ever that we need a strong central government." (In reality, it proved the failure and incapability of "the central government" to protect even its own D.C. headquarters from a few nuts armed with box cutters.) "We need big, totalitarian government to fight all the new Hitlers and potential Hitlers in the world" is the neocon mantra, in a nutshell.

To neocons, Lincoln is the poster boy of militaristic big government that runs roughshod over civil liberties while bankrupting the country with taxes and debt and murdering thousands of innocent foreigners (not that Southerners during the 1861—1865 war were foreigners; they were fellow American citizens). Doesn’t this sound like the Republican Party of today, as embodied in the recently dethroned Bush administration?

Despite his admirable performances discussing the founding fathers, socialism, progressivism, and other topics, Glenn Beck has been absolutely awful and sometimes untruthful when discussing Lincoln and his legacy. During one show he claimed to have read the actual original copy of The Confederate Constitution. I assume he made this assertion to show that he must really be quite the expert on the document. I didn’t believe him when he said this, and his next sentence proved to me that he did not read the document. The next sentence was the statement that the formal title of the document was "The Slaveholders’ Constitution . . ." Anyone can look the document up at Yale University’s online Avalon Project, which warehouses all the American founding documents, commentaries, and more, to see for yourself that Beck was wrong about this.

Beck’s next false statement was that "I read it" (the Confederate Constitution) and "it wasn’t about states’ rights, it was all about slavery." Read it yourself online. It is a virtual carbon copy of the U.S. Constitution, with a few exceptions: The Confederate president had a line-item veto; served for one six-year term; protectionist tariffs are outlawed; government subsidies for corporations are outlawed; and the "General Welfare Clause" of the U.S. Constitution was deleted.

The act of secession was the very essence of states’ rights, contrary to Beck’s proclamation, for the basic assumption was that the states were sovereign. They delegated certain defined powers to the central government for their own mutual benefit, but all other powers remained in the hands of the people and the states, as stated in the Tenth Amendment. As sovereigns, they had a right to secede for whatever reason. If a state needed the permission of others to secede, as Lincoln argued, then it was not really sovereign.

The U.S. Constitution adopted a federal, not a national system of government. That is another way of saying a states’ rights system of government. The Confederate Constitution was nearly identical.

As for slavery, the Confederate Constitution was not essentially different from the U.S. Constitution as it existed at the time. Beck was grossly deceiving when he told his audience that the Confederate Constitution protected slavery while saying not one word about how the U.S. Constitution did the exact same thing. Slavery had been protected by the U.S. Constitution since 1789. That’s seventy-two years of slavery protection under the U.S. Constitution. A Fugitive Slave Clause was written into the original U.S. Constitution, and the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress was never challenged constitutionally. That in fact is why the great libertarian abolitionist Lysander Spooner launched so many vitriolic attacks on the Lincoln administration. As a trained lawyer, he had laid out the constitutional case against slavery, but the Lincoln administration and the Republican Party wanted nothing to do with him or his peaceful route to emancipation — the same route all other countries of the world (and the Northern states) took during the nineteenth century to end slavery.

Moreover, Beck’s hero, Lincoln, orchestrated passage through the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives of the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which would have formally and explicitly enshrined slavery in the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting the government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. This amendment passed the Senate and the House just days before Lincoln was inaugurated. In his first inaugural address he said he believed slavery was already constitutional and then, alluding to the Corwin Amendment, said: "I have no objection to it [slavery protection] being made express and irrevocable" in the Constitution. This was by far the strongest defense of slavery ever made by an American politician, coming from the president himself. Beck and the wacky preacher posing as an intellectual made no mention of this.

More recently, Beck has admirably attacked the idea of "collective salvation" that Obama himself espouses, and which is apparently as much a part of the ideology of the American Left today as militarism fueled by Lincoln idolatry is of the Right. According to the doctrine of "collective salvation," a Christian cannot be saved and go to Heaven unless one first embarks on a crusade to have government "save" the "oppressed" of society by expanding the welfare state, raising taxes, making taxation more "progressive," adopting more racial hiring quotas, and regulating and nationalizing as much of private industry as possible. It is a variant of "liberation theology" which, according to Pope John Paul, II, is essentially Marxism masquerading as Christianity.

What Beck and his wacky preacher/faux Lincoln expert do not know is that the main supporters of the Lincoln regime believed in the exact same quasi-religious ideas. Indeed, it defined their very existence. As explained by Murray Rothbard in "America’s Two Just Wars: 1775 and 1861" (in John Denson, ed., The Costs of War, Transaction Publishers, 1997, p. 128):

The North, in particular the North’s driving force, the "Yankees" — that ethnocultural group who either lived in New England or migrated from there to upstate New York, northern and eastern Ohio, northern Indiana, and northern Illinois — had been swept by a new form of Protestantism. This was a fanatical and emotional neo-Puritanism driven by a fervent “postmillennialism” which held that, as a precondition for the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, man must set up a thousand-year Kingdom of God on Earth.

To the Yankees, their "kingdom" was to be a "perfect society" cleansed of sin, the principal causes of which were slavery, alcohol, and Catholicism. Furthermore, "government is God’s major instrument of salvation," Rothbard wrote. This is why the Yankees never seriously considered ending Southern slavery how THEY had ended it in their own states — peacefully through some kind of compensated emancipation. They were not so concerned about the welfare of the poor slaves. Indeed, even Tocqueville noticed that "the problem of race," as he phrased it, was worse in the North than it was in the South. Instead, as Rothbard continues:

The Northern war against slavery partook of fanatical millennialist fervor, of a cheerful willingness to uproot institutions, to commit mayhem and mass murder, to plunder and loot and destroy, all in the name of high moral principle and the birth of a perfect world. The Yankee fanatics were veritable Pattersonian humanitarians with the guillotine: the Anabaptists, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, of their era.

"Collective salvation," as opposed to the individualistic salvation that the Bible teaches, was what motivated the Yankees and their war on the South. This of course is exactly what Glenn Beck has been ranting and raving about recently when it is practiced by opponents of the neocon establishment — the exact same establishment that embraces the Lincolnite, Yankee millennialist fervor as one of its defining characteristics. That’s why the neocons constantly invoke Lincoln’s "all men are created equal" words from the Gettysburg Address (via Jefferson’s Declaration of Secession) to "justify" their endless military meddling in over 100 countries of the world. ALL men deserve "equal" liberty, they tell us, and it is OUR job to invade, conquer, and occupy any nation on earth where there is a lack of such liberty.

America was founded with the George Washington/Thomas Jefferson foreign policy of commercial relationships with all nations, entangling alliances with none. The neocon establishment, which is influential in both major political parties, believes in just the opposite: "entangling alliances" and endless military interventionism with as many nations as possible, all in the name of some undefinable Great Moral Cause, in the tradition of Dishonest Abe.

Of course, all of this high-handed talk about the Republican Party supposedly being "the party of great moral ideas" is also a convenient smokescreen for the economic greed that is its real motivation, and has been ever since the party first gained power. As Rothbard further explained: "On the economic level, the Republicans [in 1860] adopted the Whig program of statism and big government: protective tariffs, subsidies to big business, strong central government, large-scale public works, and cheap credit spurred by government." It hasn’t changed much since.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today.

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