Raging Against Modernity

by Mark Krikorian

As a Lincoln man myself, I’m looking forward to Rich’s new book. His piece over at the home page defending Lincoln against his critics on the right brings to mind my favorite paragraph from a book review, the end of a piece by Thomas Krannawitter on DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln:

These examples barely begin to sketch the real political world in which Abraham Lincoln exercised his statesmanship. It is a world of which DiLorenzo appears to be almost wholly ignorant. His unreal Lincoln inhabits an unreal world, so crudely and tendentiously drawn as to beggar belief. One wonders if the libertarian neo-Confederates have run out of front-line troops. In this screed, at any rate, they have sent a giddy, careless, half-educated boy to do a man’s job. And it shows.

Ouch.

But even those anti-Lincoln conservatives who aren’t giddy, careless, half-educated boys I think miss something basic. Like many in the paleo or agrarian right, what they really object to is modernity itself — the unraveling of communal bonds, the acceleration of change, the weakening of religious and moral certainties, etc. All conservatives (as opposed to libertarians) are rightly concerned about such things, though the benefits of modernity can’t be ignored either. But these things would exist whether or not Lincoln was president, whether or not the rebellion was suppressed. Had the Confederacy achieved independence, all the same challenges of modernity would have presented themselves there too (assuming the South did not destroy itself in cycles of genocidal black rebellion and genocidal white suppression, which is likely). Trying to pin blame for the problems caused by modernity on one man is delusional, an attempt to find a scapegoat for all the real and imagined ills of the past 150 years.

I’m skeptical of confident claims that Providence directs the course of our nation’s history. But my skepticism softens when I consider the caliber of men who led our nation during our two existential crises, the Founding era and the Civil War (not just Lincoln, but also Grant and Lee). North and South alike were damn lucky that Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860. Judicious, sober critiques of specific decisions by our 16th president are always perfectly appropriate. But Lincoln-hatred is loathsome and un-American.

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