Why Criticize Lincoln?

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At the Power & Liberty Blog, a discussion included this comment by Steve Horwitz: “The work on Lincoln [on LRC] certainly has significant truth to it, but I think goes way over the line in its demonization of the man.” Later, Tom Palmer wrote of “the fetish over the Confederacy at lewrockwell.com.” Here is my comment…

The real significance in the criticism of Lincoln, in my mind, is quite apart from either antiquarian sympathy for the Confederacy or a personal animosity to Lincoln. It is two-fold and urgently relevant to current events.

First, The Lincoln Myth is used as a precedent. Since he has become a secular saint, his actions are appealed to as precedent for actions to be taken now. Did Lincoln crush secession? Then Russia ought to crush Chechnya. Did Lincoln make war on civilians? Then the U.S. ought to flatten Fallujah. Tellingly, one rarely (never?) hears Lincoln used as a precedent for going after slavery (“We ought to invade Sudan and stop slavery there! Lincoln would have.”) even though that is supposedly his primary legacy.

Secondly, and more importantly, Lincoln is the founder of the current U.S. government, (as many critics and fans of Lincoln have concluded). To recognize this is to recognize that the original federalist intent of the Constitution has been a dead letter for nearly 150 years. We now have a centralized state. To be critical of Lincoln and what he wrought, then, is to be critical of the current centralized, militaristic, mercantilistic U.S. federal government.

11:50 am on July 12, 2005