Compiled by George Anastaplo (2010)
II. George Anastaplo, on Abraham Lincoln, Leo Strauss, and Harry V. Jaffa
III. Thomas L. Krannawitter, on Abraham Lincoln, Leo Strauss, Harry V. Jaffa, Steve Lenzer, and George Anastaplo
IV. John A. Murley, on Abraham Lincoln, Harry V. Jaffa and George Anastaplo
V. Thomas L. Krannawitter, on Abraham Lincoln, Leo Strauss, Garry Wills, and George Anastaplo
VI. George Anastaplo, on Abraham Lincoln and the Bible
Several stages of a debate of sorts (involving George Anastaplo, Harry V. Jaffa, Thomas L. Krannawitter, and John A. Murley) are presented here, somewhat in the chronological order of the development of the materials drawn upon.
A note in George Anastaplo, Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), pp. 344-49.
“Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the blood of the Revolution.” Lincoln, Collected Works, 2:276 (October 16,1854). (A prominent Indiana senator, John Pettit, we recall, had even called the “created equal” language in the Declaration of Independence “a self-evident lie.” Ibid., 2:275 , 3:205, 301-2 . Lincoln said about Pettit’s heresy, “What would have happened if he had said it in old Independence Hall? The door-keeper would have taken him by the throat and stopped his rascally breath awhile, and then have hurled him into the street.” Ibid., 2: 283-284 . See Sec. III of Chap. 1 of this [Abraham Lincoln] Collection.) Consider Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided, 228 f.; note 456, above. (One sees even the free-thinking Jefferson [note 489 above] resorting to the theological and the supernatural when most moved by the slavery question. See ibid., 242-43.) Consider as well the inscription above the statue in the Lincoln Memorial (the true national cathedral in Washington, D.C.): “In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” (Notice that the emphasis is put here where Lincoln, as President, had been obliged to put it: on saving the Union, not on abolishing slavery.)
I have assigned to Lincoln a very high place in the pantheon of American constitutional heroes. See, e.g., note 464, above. But having done so, I find myself obliged and, I trust, equipped and entitled, to question those who would assign him an even higher place. May not this make too much of chance opportunities and developments? (See, on Lincoln’s ambition, Anastaplo, “American Constitutionalism and Prudence,” 128 n.1. See, also, Chaps. 8 and 9 of this Collection.)
It is difficult to canonize Lincoln without playing down the Declaration of Independence and its Constitution. But a Lincoln we do not have with us always, or if we do, it is a Lincoln who must, in large part, be understood in terms of the immediate problems confronting him, whereas constitutional principles should provide more enduring guidance. A good constitution is, in a sense, prudence institutionalized. It should be more the product of deliberation, and less of chance, than any particular statesman, his character, or his career. See Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, 581 n. 43. See, also, Anastaplo, “American Constitutionalism and Prudence,” 138 n. 17. See, as well, Sec. IX of Chap. 4 of this Collection.
We as citizens must be, as were both Webster and Lincoln, somewhat cautious in directing most of our fellow citizens to a “higher authority which sits enthroned above the Constitution and above the law.” Webster, Works, 6: 558. Thus Lincoln could instruct his political lieutenants, May 17, 1860, “I agree with Seward in his ‘Irrepressible Conflict,’ but I do not endorse his ‘Higher Law’ doctrine.” Collected Works, 4: 50. See Randall, Lincoln the President, 1: 146-153, 231-237. See, on John Brown’s “enterprise,” Lincoln, Collected Works 2: 538-40, 4: 12. See, also, note 39 above, note 533 below. See, on the rule of law, Plato, Statesman 294A-295D, 279D ff. One can learn from Plato’s dialogues that the best regime is not one in which the rule of law ultimately governs. This means, for example, that there need be no fixed terms of office for rulers and hence no provision for formal impeachment. See Anastaplo, “American Constitutionalism and Prudence,” 83-94, 143 n. 26. But must we not make do with the rule of law until the reign is instituted among us of philosopher-kings, not of one chance philosopher-king but of a reliable series of them? See, Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, 581 n. 43. See, on the problem here of Marcus Aurelius, George Anastaplo, “Samplings,” 27 Political Science Reviewer 394 (1998).
Consider, as an instructive challenge, the elevation of Abraham Lincoln evident in Harry Jaffa’s 1973 talk on Leo Strauss (Conditions of Freedom, 7-8):
I have been asked to say a word about my own studies of Lincoln, and the American regime, in their relationship to Strauss. The most obvious connection is between Strauss’s many expositions of Locke, and Locke’s massive influence on America. Locke certainly represented modernity in its soberest form, although Strauss was careful to emphasize Locke’s ultimate, if concealed, insobriety. But Strauss also thought that American politics, at it best, showed a practical wisdom that owed much to a tradition older than Locke. Indeed, Locke’s esoteric teaching, which emphasized that older tradition, was taken, with the greatest seriousness in America. But the American regime was not formed only by Locke. Many a frontier log cabin, which had in it no philosophical works whatever, had the King James Bible—and Shakespeare. And Shakespeare was the greatest vehicle within the Anglo-American world for the transmission of an essentially Socratic understanding of the civilization of the West. [See, on Shakespeare as “post-Classical,” note 485, above.]
Most American studies begin, and properly so, with the Constitution. The Constitution does not define the regime, but it is the most public and visible expression of it. It is part of the defect of modern politics that it looks to the character of the law, more than to the character of the men who make and enforce the law, however intimate the connection between them necessarily is. However admirable the character of the American Constitution, it was not, I thought, the most admirable expression of the regime. The Constitution is the highest American thing, only if one tries to understand the high in the light of the low. It is high, because men are not angels, and because we do not have angels to govern us. Its strength lies in its ability to connect the interest of the man with the duty of the place. But the Constitution, in deference to man’s nonangelic nature, made certain compromises with slavery. And partly because of those compromises, it dissolved in the presence of a great crisis. The man—or the character of the man—who bore the nation through that crisis, seemed to me—and Strauss gave me every encouragement to believe it—the highest thing in the American regime. The character of Lincoln became intelligible, not on the basis of The Federalist—profound as that work is—but on that of the Nicomachean Ethics. In the final analysis, not only American politics, but all modern politics, must be clarified on the basis of Classical political philosophy. That is because [quoting Leo Strauss; see note 338, above], “It is safer to try to understand the low in the light of the high than the high in the light of the low. In doing the latter one necessarily distorts the high, whereas in doing the former one does not deprive the low of the freedom to reveal itself fully as what it is.”
Does not Mr. Jaffa, in his noble partisanship, sometimes go too far? However that may be, it is not what Mr. Jaffa says which is questioned below so much as what he might be taken by the careless to have said. (We are confident [I first said in the 1970s] that if there should happen to be anything both novel and of merit in the comments prompted here by Mr. Jaffa’s talk, he will be able to take due account of it as he continues that study of Lincoln which he has thus far so nobly advanced.)
In the first place, it should be noticed that the Constitution simply did not “dissolve in the presence of a great crisis.” (Nor had Lincoln, in his “House Divided” Speech, expected it to dissolve? Compare the judgment of Thaddeus Stevens, in the text at note 442, above.) Rather, a terrible storm was weathered by the regime, partly because of what had been accomplished theretofore pursuant to the Constitution. American constitutionalism had provided a Lincoln the opportunities and guidance he needed to develop his great natural talents; it had permitted and encouraged the development of the resources, both spiritual and material, with which the Country could (with or without Lincoln) conduct and endure a great civil war; it had developed a people willing and able to be led, through much uncertainty and many sacrifices, to do what was necessary to preserve institutions that had shown themselves worthy of and beneficial to free men. Thus, Lincoln could say on April 4, 1864, “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” Collected Works, 7: 282. Certainly, it would be a mistake to underestimate the resiliency and fundamental good sense of the American people, both the people who gave us Lincoln and the people given us by Lincoln and his fellow soldiers in the Civil War. See Anastaplo, “American Constitutionalism and Prudence,” 103. See, on Lincoln and determinism, note 497, below.
In the second place, it should be noticed that the “compromises with slavery” made by the Constitution were ratified and even repeated by Lincoln. See, e.g., note 470, above. Is there any reason to believe that a Lincoln, in like circumstances, would not have made the 1787 compromises or that the more thoughtful framers of the Constitution would not have acted as Lincoln did in his circumstances? That is, is there not an essential sameness to truly prudent men? Thus, Webster insisted in 1850, “firmness, steadiness of principle, a just moderation, and unconquerable perseverance, are the virtues the practice of which is most likely to correct whatever is wrong in the constitution of the social system.” Works, 6: 561. See the end of note 477, above.
In the third place, it should be noticed that Lincoln himself (especially by his virtual sanctification of equality) was obliged, in turn, to make compromises of his own and to leave expectations and hence problems which may lead to greater crises among us than those we have already endured, crises affecting not only the American people but even the fate of mankind. It does not deny a political hero’s memorable contribution to his regime if one should have to question both his uniqueness and his infallibility. Consider, for example, the political intemperance of Churchill during the First World War, that most foolish war which led both to many of the horrors of the twentieth century and to Churchill’s own inspiring efforts during the Second World War. See Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, 784, n. 11; also, note 209, above. See, on the modernity of Churchill and, to a lesser extent, of Shakespeare, note 485, above. Lloyd George could say of Churchill, “Winston likes wars, I don’t.” Mosley, My Life, 106. See note 209, above, note 504, below.
Indeed, among the problems left by Lincoln, my fellow Illinoisan, is that he may well have, as one result of his egalitarian teachings and example, helped turn serious American thought away from that Classical political philosophy recommended by Mr. Jaffa. Does not the “divine” take the place, in Lincoln’s thought (not only, as among the more cautious ancients, in public discourse), of “nature,” that nature upon which Classical political philosophy rests? See Plato, Sophist 265E. Does not the sacred, notwithstanding its association with and dependence upon the traditional, look (or seem to look) to the essence of things? But the pious votary cannot understand this fully. He has lost sight of nature, the causes of things, and chance. (Compare Xenophon’s Memorabilia, 4: 3; also, Plutarch on Plato in his Nicias.) In addition, does not the liberty that the ancients seem to have preferred to equality look more than does equality to virtue (to human excellence) and hence to nature? See the book review cited in note 483, above. See also note 485, above.
Consider, in assessing Lincoln’s religion-based sentiments, the “republican robe” quotation with which this note opens. Consider also the element of mysticism (induced in part, no doubt, by the great passions of the war) already referred to. See notes 466 and 489, above. Consider as well the Christian imagery and tone that permeate much of Lincoln’s later public statements, perhaps even his most private thoughts. See, e.g., Collected Works, 5: 403-4. See, on the “positive good” of the wartime affliction, note 474, above. Douglas had observed, by 1858, that Lincoln had “a proneness for quoting scripture.” Ibid., 2: 510. Whatever the political usefulness or the ultimate sincerity of such sentiments, they do seem somehow more impassioned, somewhat less urbane, than those which one associates with Classical political philosophy or (for that matter) with the Declaration of Independence. See, e.g., note 479, above. See also Sec. VI of Chap. 1 of this Collection. Do not these sentiments differ in critical respects from that godlike virtue of which a Cicero spoke? Certainly, there is to Lincoln’s sentiments a familiar Midwestern accent. See Chaps. 8 and 9 of this Collection.
Thus, philosophy—the “essentially Socratic understanding”—seems by the end of Lincoln’s life, not to have (if it ever did have) the status one finds assigned to it in Classical political thought or even among the Founding Fathers of the eighteenth century. See, e.g., Lincoln, Collected Works, 7: 542 (September 7, 1864): “All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book [the Bible]. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” (These remarks are taken from Lincoln’s “Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible [to the President].”) The sentence I have italicized is hardly Classical in its inclination. Compare Plato, Republic 414B ff., 427B ff. However, the circumstances in which Lincoln made these remarks bear upon how they are to be understood, as is true of the “Infidelity” handbill found in note 497, below, and discussed in the text of this Collection at note 486, above, in Sec. IX of Chap. 4, and in Sec. III of Chap. 16 of this Collection. See also Lincoln, Collected Works, 1: 315 (March 4, 1843): “He whose wisdom surpasses that of all philosophers, has declared that ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’” (Aesop was identified on that occasion as a “great fabulist and philosopher.”) See as well ibid., 2: 510, 3: 445, 462.
Lincoln seems to have been, in decisive respects, a child of the Enlightenment, dedicated to the hope, if not to the expectation, of continuous and unlimited progress. (See note 468, above.) In this way, too—independent of the effects upon him of a soul-searing war—he seems to have been open to modern influences that are distantly grounded in Christian doctrines. Modernity, if not also existentialism, may be detected as well in the sentiment, “But the game is caught; and I believe it is true, that with the catching, end the pleasures of the chase.” Ibid., 1: 113 (January 27, 1838). See, for Lincoln’s Lockean inclinations, Anastaplo, “American Constitutionalism and Prudence,” 134 n. 8. See, on existentialism, Anastaplo, American Moralist, 139. See also Sec. VII of Chap. 7 of this Collection.
It may well be true, of course, that “the character of Lincoln [becomes] intelligible not on the basis of The Federalist—profound as that work is—but on that of the Nicomachean Ethics.” But that should be true of all complex characters, good and bad, noble and base, just and unjust, to say nothing of ancient and modern—since Aristotle’s Ethics does provide us a serious study of character. It would be quite another thing to say, however, that something like the Ethics, which may indeed be needed to understand a Lincoln, was itself in effect understood, especially in its teachings about the intellectual virtues, by Lincoln. But without a solid awareness of the intellectual virtues, and of the preeminent status of the contemplative life (so critical to Aristotle’s overall argument), can there be a sufficient opening toward a respect for Classical political philosophy? One is reminded, by the cast of Lincoln’s mind, of the highly moral and quite practical sense of Confucian thought: if philosophy provides an underpinning for that thought, it is well concealed and hence is not as instructive as philosophy can be. See Anastaplo, “An Introduction to Confucian Thought,” 1984 The Great Ideas Today 124 (1984). (Much the same can be said about Hindu thought, which is much more vivid than Confucian thought, however “metaphysical” it sometimes seems. See Anastaplo, “An Introduction to Hindu Thought,” 1985 The Great Ideas Today 258 . A collection of my introductions to non-Western thought [But Not Philosophy (2002)] is to be published by Rowman & Littlefield.)
There may have been in the United States more of an opening toward Classical political philosophy before 1800 than after 1860. (See Anastaplo, Amendments to the Constitution, 107 f.) Consider such developments, after 1860, as pragmatism and behaviorism. (Americans have had the benefit, since the 1930s, of European refugees trained in serious Classical studies.) However that may have been, should not we say that the founders of good regimes are not above the constitutions they bring forth, in that they are but midwives? That is, they do not create or innovate, but rather they discover and help realize what is called for in the circumstances they confront. And, whatever they may find it prudent to say, they surely do not believe, if they are truly prudent men, that only one form of government is legitimate or that any particular form of government can possibly last forever. See Anastaplo, “American Constitutionalism and Prudence,” 150 n. 39.
Are we not obliged, because of Mr. Jaffa’s usefully provocative suggestions, to consider further our “unwritten constitution,” the regime that shaped both Lincoln and the Constitution? Are not the Constitution and Lincoln, properly understood, both means to an end that transcends political men and political institutions? For a proper understanding of that end, must not the American student of Classical political philosophy come to terms with the Declaration of Independence?
Or would Mr. Jaffa quietly compel us to concede that they who really understand Lincoln—those happy few—are, with Lincoln, “the highest thing in the American regime”? But what about those among us, perhaps even fewer, who perceive what was perhaps wrong, as well as what was wonderfully right, with Lincoln? Dare we conclude that they are higher than all regimes, including the American regime? This would surely be, if not a “concealed insobriety,” an unobtrusive enthronement by implication. “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.” Compare, on the case of Julius Caesar, the epigraph for Chap. 13 of this Collection. Some responses by Mr. Jaffa to my comments on his work may be found in the exchanges between us included in his book, Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution, 167 f., 303 f., 359 f., 369 f. See also Harry V. Jaffa, American Conservatism and the American Founding (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1984), 48 f., 140-41. See as well note 299, above. See, for Mr. Jaffa’s most recent work, the concluding section of Chap. 7 of this Abraham Lincoln Collection. See also note 210, above. [See, as well, Part IV of this Collection, below.]
A talk, prepared for a Claremont Institute panel for an American Political Science Association Convention, by Thomas L. Krannawitter. This talk has been posted on a Claremont Institute internet website, which should probably be regarded as authoritative. This talk offers reflections on George Anastaplo’s Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999)
My task today is to comment on Mr. Anastaplo’s new book on Abraham Lincoln. Before I turn to that work, however, I believe a few preliminary remarks about why we are here might prove helpful in our approach to this material.
The title of this [American Political Science Association Convention] panel is “Abraham Lincoln: Poet, Prophet, or Philosopher?” This question assumes some agreement, or some common understanding, of what is meant by poetry, prophesy, and philosophy. We cannot have a fruitful discussion of whether Lincoln was one or all of these things, unless we first agree what these things mean. While many important questions—perhaps the most important questions?—can certainly be raised about poetry and prophesy, I wish here to focus on the last—what is philosophy? I believe that only by understanding the true nature of philosophy can we ultimately distinguish the true poet from the sophist, as well as the true prophet from the demagogue.
Today there is a fundamental division of opinion on the meaning of philosophy. A recently published review of a new book on Leo Strauss provides a clear example of this division. The author of the review, Mr. Steve Lenzer, uses the opportunity of his review to launch an attack on the writings of Harry Jaffa. “The essential purpose of Leo Strauss’ life and work,” Jaffa has written, was to “secure recognition . . . of the moral authority based upon the dignity of man, supported both by reason and revelation.” This is wrong, according to Lenzner. It could not have been Strauss’s intention to establish any sort of authority, moral or otherwise, because the philosopher sees any and all “authority” as an obstacle to understanding the truth, and discovering the true nature of things. As evidence of Strauss’s view, Lenzner quotes Strauss on the goal of philosophy: “By uprooting authority, philosophy recognizes nature as the standard.”
According to this view, Abraham Lincoln, then, is disqualified from philosophy, because the life and work of Lincoln was “animated in a fundamental sense” by a concern for moral virtue, working tirelessly throughout his adult life to preserve what he understood to be the “father of all moral principles in us.” I note here also the implicit criticism, whether witting or unwitting, of the Claremont Institute, which is sponsoring this and many other panels at the APSA. The Claremont Institute is concerned with the study of statesmanship and political philosophy. We think the two are intrinsically related to one another. According to Lenzner, however (and I suspect his opinion is shared by others), the mission of the Claremont Institute—to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life—disqualifies us from the realm of philosophy as well. For if the philosopher seeks to uproot all authority, then he must seek to uproot or disqualify the authority of the principles of the American Founding. Those principles, and our work to teach them, are fundamentally anti-philosophic, according to the position held by Steve Lenzner.
Thus it would appear that those of us at the Claremont Institute are precluded from discussing the philosophic aspects of Lincoln, or any other thinker, because we are not philosophic. We are, rather, partisans. And as Plato makes clear in his Republic and elsewhere, it is very difficult if not impossible for un-wise and un-philosophic partisans to judge properly the claims of wisdom and philosophy. As partisans, we cannot leave the cave, and therefore we cannot see things as they truly are, illuminated by the light of philosophy and right reason.
But this I believe is a misguided understanding of things. In what follows I hope to demonstrate why this is so. Like Mr. Lenzner’s review of the Strauss book, Mr. Anastaplo’s Lincoln book is in a significant way a response to and criticism of many of the things Harry Jaffa has written. By way of analyzing the work of Mr. Anastaplo I hope to shed some light on what I believe is central to understanding and thinking about things political and things philosophical today.
As many of you probably know, Mr. Anastaplo is a prolific writer on a wide range of things. On subjects as diverse as classical philosophy, ancient poetry, the Bible, Shakespeare, and America, not to mention the abolishment of television, Mr. Anastaplo has provided us with thoughtful and insightful essays and books that demonstrate not only his own deep understanding of these things, but perhaps above all his genuine love of learning and teaching others to learn. Most recently Mr. Anastaplo has brought this wealth of learning to bear on the subject of Abraham Lincoln, in his new book, Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography. We see immediately from the title that this is not simply a biography of our greatest president; or rather, it is not a biography in the common sense of such a thing. It is a constitutional biography. This is to be the story of Lincoln told in light of, and in relation to, the constitution or regime for which he gave the ultimate sacrifice. Such a title, however, might also lead one to believe that this might be a book that attempts to understand the American regime in light of the life of Abraham Lincoln. This it is not. And as we shall soon see, such an understanding is one of the problems Mr. Anastaplo has with Harry Jaffa.
The book comprises seventeen chapters, preceded by a prologue and concluding with an epilogue. (For any of you worried about a lack of notes, I assure you this latest book is consistent with Anastaplo’s earlier ones: appended to the 262 pages of text are nearly one hundred pages of endnotes.) The seventeen chapters can be divided into two main sections: The first section, chapters 1 through 7, describe the constitutional, moral, and social development of the United States up to the time of Lincoln. The second part, chapters 8 through 17, examines the words and actions of Lincoln by way of careful analyses of Lincoln’s most famous and important speeches. This second part can itself be divided in two, with chapters 8 through 11 devoted to Lincoln’s political career leading up to the Presidency, and chapters 12 through 17 describing Lincoln as President. The House Divided speech, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the First Inaugural Address, the 4th of July Message to Congress, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural Address are each discussed in their own respective chapters.
The most careful analysis in the book, in my opinion, is Mr. Anastaplo’s treatment of the one Lincoln piece included in the book that was not intended as a speech, the Emancipation Proclamation. Commenting line by line, Mr. Anastaplo does a remarkable job of demonstrating, to a degree beyond reasonable expectation, the true depths of Lincoln’s political genius, as well as his unerring judgment regarding the weightiest political matters. As Anastaplo writes: “Throughout the war, [Lincoln] was remarkably adept, knowing both what he should want and what he was doing.” “He seems most impressive,” writes Anastaplo, “in his surefootedness: he never seemed to err in the principles brought to bear upon the major moves he made in response to the South once he assumed the Presidency.”
Against the charge that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was mere rhetoric, that it provided for the freedom of slaves only in those areas where the national government was unable to reach them, Anastaplo shows that all of Lincoln’s political thought was guided by his profound understanding of, and appreciation of, constitutionalism. Throughout his life Lincoln held that slavery was morally wrong. As he once wrote, “if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Yet, as wrong as slavery is, Lincoln thought lawlessness a twin evil. He understood that the security and happiness of all men of all colors depends, in the end, on the rule of law and constitutional government. Thus he sought a way to combat the cancer of slavery—foremost in his policy of preventing the spread of slavery to the territories—while never violating the rule of law, or depreciating the supreme importance of the Constitution.
Anastaplo provides a wonderful example of this in a correspondence between Lincoln and his Secretary of Treasury Salmon Chase. In the preliminary proclamation of September 22, 1862, Lincoln stated one of the central purposes of the Proclamation to be issued 100 days later, on January 1st of the following year, would be to identify the states, or parts thereof, held to be in rebellion against the United States, thus giving said states over three months to resume their constitutional duties. When the final Proclamation was ordered, Lincoln identified ten states then in rebellion. But of those ten, certain counties and parishes of two, Virginia and Louisiana, were exempted. Secretary Chase argued against these exemptions, and urged Lincoln to extend the Proclamation to all of Virginia and Louisiana. Lincoln replied to Chase in these terms:
The original Proclamation has no constitutional or legal justification except as a military measure. The exemptions were made because the military necessity did not apply to the exempted localities. . . .If I take the step [you suggest] must I not do so, without the argument of military necessity, and so, without any argument, except the one that I think the measure politically expedient and morally right? Would I thus not give up all footing upon constitution or law? Would I not thus be in the boundless field of absolutism? Could this pass unnoticed or unrestricted? Could it fail to be perceived that without any further stretch, I might do the same in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri; and even change any law in any state?
Here Anastaplo points our attention to Lincoln’s acute understanding of the importance of opinion in a constitutional regime. Lincoln sought to win the war, but not at the expense of losing the union, and destroying the Law. Thus Lincoln assured the loyal “middle states” that the war was not being waged by Lincoln, personally, against the sin of slavery, but, rather, that it was being waged by America in defense of constitutional government and freedom. As Anastaplo helps us see, prudence and principle, calculation and moral understanding, come together in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
For those of us who are students of ordinary abilities, the best we can hope for, if we struggle hard to learn and think and understand, is to catch a glimpse of such human heights. In his book on Lincoln, and in the chapter on the Emancipation Proclamation in particular, Mr. Anastaplo has performed a generous service by shining a gentle light on this great man in such a way that helps illuminate some of the higher things in him, without blinding us. And for that we thank him.
But this is not to say the book is without its faults. Nor is it to say that Anastaplo simply defends or praises Lincoln, or America for that matter. I believe it is the case that, in the final analysis, Mr. Anastaplo disagrees with Lincoln in a fundamental way.
Mr. Anastaplo seems to share Mt. Jaffa’s opinion that slavery was the greatest political evil, and perhaps the greatest moral evil, with which America had to contend. In a peculiar passage early in the book, however, after commenting at some length about the English Somerset case of 1772—which prepared the way for the 1833 act of Parliament that abolished slavery throughout the British Empire—Mr. Anastaplo remarks that “had separation from Great Britain not happened . . . the American Civil War might have been avoided, assuming that Great Britain could have enforced its 1833 abolition statue in all of its American colonies.” Surely Mr. Anastaplo does not mean to suggest that the American Patriots of ’76 could have foreseen such a thing? Moreover, Anastaplo seems to think that slavery was destined to end, whatever the immediate cause may have been. He qualifies his position by stating that he does not mean to suggest that “the march to freedom has been inevitable for the human race.” Yet in other places he seems to suggest that very thing. He hypothesizes, for example, about what would have happened had the South been allowed to secede: “[an] independent South, dedicated to slavery and able to expand southward, would eventually have had to come to terms with an aroused world opinion that had long condemned chattel slavery as barbaric.” Later he writes that “American constitutionalism…had permitted and encouraged the development of the resources, both spiritual and material, with which the country could (with or without Lincoln) conduct and endure a great civil war.” Similar remarks are made elsewhere in the book. It is in the idea that slavery was bound for the ash heap of history that we confront Mr. Anastaplo’s disagreement with Mr. Jaffa, and ultimately, I believe, with his disagreement with Lincoln himself, albeit a criticism presented in a very subtle manner,
If slavery was destined to be abandoned by its practitioners, then Lincoln seems not so important from the point of view of constitutional government—in fact, he may in the end represent the antithesis of constitutionalism. The status of Lincoln is precisely the point of disagreement between Mr. Anastaplo and Mr. Jaffa, according to Mr. Anastaplo’s account. As he writes, “I would prefer to see more made of the American regime, and less of Abraham Lincoln, than [Jaffa] does.” This is because, in Anastaplo’s opinion, “an undue emphasis upon particular personages, as distinguished from the principles of the regime, may make the American Republic precarious in the way that republican Rome was when it depended as much as it did on someone such as Marcus Brutus to reverse the decline into Caesarism.” But America is not Rome. Rome did not find its justification in self-evident truths rooted in human nature. Further, no one was more conscious of the dangers of modern Caesarism than Lincoln, as is evidenced in his Lyceum speech of 1838. And Mr. Anastaplo himself demonstrates Lincoln’s consciousness of this problem in the passages from the Emancipation Proclamation chapter cited above. Anastaplo himself shows that Lincoln’s tremendous political and poetic skills were exercised, at the most critical times, in the service of constitutionalism, and in defense of natural right. So what is the real reason for the disagreement Anastaplo has with Jaffa? Why, ultimately, does Anastaplo seek to lower the status of Lincoln in the American mind?
Here I believe Anastaplo’s chapter on the Gettysburg Address is telling (which, by the way, is also the subject of Harry Jaffa’s long awaited sequel to his Crisis of the House Divided). The movement of the chapter goes from the Lyceum speech to the Gettysburg Address. In the earlier Lyceum speech, Anastaplo directs our attention to the emphasis Lincoln placed on reason as providing the “critical support for the regime.” In that speech, Lincoln, argued against the dangers of the “mobocratic spirit” that was growing in certain parts of America, and explained that “Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in the future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense. Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and, in particular, a reverence for the Constitution and laws.” Indeed, this reverence for the laws, Lincoln urged, should become the “political religion” of the nation.
When Anastaplo turns to the Gettysburg Address, however, he finds something very different. Instead of an appeal to “cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason,” he finds a speech dripping with religiosity and religious sentiments. Of the two last major speeches given by Lincoln—the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural—which also provide the subject matter of the last two text-based chapters in the book—Anastaplo emphasizes their religion connotations and orientation. These utterances by Lincoln, writes Anastaplo, are “Biblical,” “prophetic,” and “messianic.” As Anastaplo notes, the Gettysburg Address is like a prayer, opening with an invocation of the paternal, and concluding with a vision of the ever after. The Second Inaugural, as we all know, interprets the suffering of war as a divine punishment for the sin of slavery.
The problem with this, as Anastaplo sees it, is that religion is related to, if not identical with, passion, and un-reason. Religion is “mystical.” In his Crisis of the House Divided, published some forty years ago, Harry Jaffa argued that Lincoln was a re-founder of America, that Lincoln re-founded America on higher, more noble ground, than had the Founders of 1776. Anastaplo agrees that Lincoln is a re-founder—he calls him precisely that in his book. But Anastaplo thinks the new ground of the regime is less solid than the original founding. According to Anastaplo, the Founders had “presented divinity in the image of the political,” the divine was subordinate to, or understood in light of, the rational principles of the regime. But Lincoln reversed this, and presented the “political in the image of divinity.” According to Anastaplo, the politics presented by Lincoln, far from being rooted in nature, are given the appearance of the supernatural.
Toward the end of the Gettysburg Address chapter, Anastaplo writes: “In any event, the passions aroused by the terrible fratricidal struggle proved to be such as to permit, perhaps even to compel, the public identification of the entire experience with the Passion.” Attached to that sentence is an endnote, which is, I believe, the longest of the notes, and in which Anastaplo lays out most clearly his opposition to Jaffa, and, ultimately to Lincoln. [See Section II of this 2010 “Debate,” above.]
In this long note Anastaplo argues that Lincoln “helped turn serious American thought away from that Classical political philosophy recommended by Mr. Jaffa [and we presume, the classical political thought recommended by Leo Strauss as well?].” The “divine,” according to Anastaplo, “takes the place in Lincoln’s thought of nature.” This is a problem, because it is nature “upon which Classical political thought rests.” He goes on to write that “whatever the political usefulness or the ultimate sincerity of such sentiments, they do seem somehow more impassioned, somewhat less urbane, than those which one associates with Classical political philosophy or (for that matter) with the Declaration of Independence…. Thus philosophy—the ‘essentially Socratic understanding’—seems, by the end of Lincoln’s life, not to have the status one finds assigned to it in Classical political thought.” Anastaplo seems to believe that the rational principles of the Declaration are the ground of rational constitutionalism. But as the American poet, Lincoln precludes rational constitutionalism, as well as Socratic rationalism, by elevating the divine in his poetry. Because of the damage Lincoln caused to the status of reason and nature, Anastaplo suggests that America was probably more open to classical political philosophy before 1800 than after 1860. He even suggests, in a most vague and cautious way, that the rise of pragmatism and behavioralism in the U.S. was caused somehow by the religious and irrational emphasis of Lincoln. This, I believe, is why Anastaplo wants to demote Lincoln, and this is also why he argues against Harry Jaffa, who elevates Lincoln to the highest position in the pantheon of American constitutionalists. This is also why, when Anastaplo sets out to write a book on Lincoln, he writes not merely a biography, but a “constitutional biography,” so as to emphasize that Lincoln was a product of the American constitutional regime, and not vice versa.
Perhaps I am overstating things somewhat, but then, Mr. Anastaplo has a tendency of understating things, or stating them in such a qualified way that it is nearly impossible to decipher what his opinion is, but I believe it is clear that Anastaplo thinks philosophy and constitutional government are in danger in America, and he thinks so because we are alienated from the rational, natural principles of the Founding, caused in large part by the words of Abraham Lincoln. Much can be said here about the relationship between the principles of the American Founding in the service of which Lincoln’s statesmanship and poetry were dedicated, as well as the teaching of the Federalist that passion is not to be—nay, cannot be—eliminated from the people, nor are the passions to be used only in the service of pitting various interests and factions against one another, but, ultimately, that the passions of the people should be shaped by the Constitution, that a passionate attachment to the Constitution is a necessary condition to the success of the Constitution—that to hope for a nation of people who venerate the law simply because of its appeal to their cold, calculated reason, is to hope for something as impossible as a nation of philosophers.
But here I would remind Mr. Anastaplo that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is not wholly or simply irrational. This is certainly true in the case of the Founders’ understanding. Whether one reads the likes of Madison, Jefferson, or Washington, or the corpus of sermons from the Revolutionary era that have come down to us, what one finds is an understanding that at the core of Christianity is a moral teaching supported no less by reason than by revelation. As the Rev, Samuel Cooper stated in a 1780 sermon:
We want not, indeed, a special revelation from heaven to teach us that men are born equal and free; that no man has a natural claim of dominion over his neighbours, nor one nation any such claim upon another; and that as government is only the administration of the affairs of a number of men combined for their own security and happiness, such a society have a right freely to determine by whom and in what manner their own affairs shall be administered. These are the plain dictates of that reason and common sense with which the common parent of men has informed the human bosom.
Or, as the Founders would have put it, reason is no less the voice of God than sacred scripture. This opinion was shared no less by Lincoln than by the American Founders. I believe it is also the case that the appeal to the divine by Lincoln was no less than the appeals made by the Founders. One need only think of Washington’s First Inaugural, or Jefferson “trembling for his country” when reflecting on the problem of slavery.
But in addition I believe it to be the case that not only are the principles of Lincoln, which were the principles of Jefferson, compatible with Christianity, but actually required by it. That Mr. Anastaplo fails to sufficiently appreciate the political problem created by Christianity, and the American answer to that problem, is at the heart of what I believe to be his misunderstanding of Abraham Lincoln. I believe it also at the heart of the misunderstanding of philosophy today, and so by addressing this question, we are led back to the [Lenzner book] review with which I began, and with which I will conclude.
In that review of the Strauss book, Jaffa’s scholarship is criticized as not being faithful to the lessons of his teacher, Leo Strauss. This is especially the case regarding Jaffa’s work on Lincoln. In particular, Lenzner states that Lincoln’s “attempt to synthesize liberal democracy and Christianity” is “distant” from Strauss’s work, and that Strauss would have been “doubtful” about any such synthesis. This seems to be somewhat akin to the arguments Anastaplo makes against Lincoln.
But the “synthesis” of liberal democracy, or, more accurately, constitutional republicanism, with Christianity attempted by Lincoln was no less the synthesis accomplished by the Founders. The cause for suspicion, if not rejection, of Lincoln evidenced by both Mr. Lenzner and Mr. Anastaplo is, I believe, the same: a failure to grasp fully the teaching of Strauss.
Leo Strauss was one of the few men in the modern world to understand and state clearly the problem of political obligation caused by monotheistic religion, or what Strauss referred to as the “theological-political” problem. Strauss understood that Christianity severed the connection between law and God, and that modern philosophy’s most important challenge was to find some ground of obligation upon which law could stand, and which at the same time would not offend the piety of those who lived under the law. We see evidence of this in the second to the last line of Natural Right and History, where Strauss writes, “The quarrel between the ancients and moderns concerns eventually, and perhaps even from the beginning, the status of ‘individuality.’” If piety in the modern world concerns only the relationship of the individual to his God, what moral claims of obligation can positive law have on the citizen?
Unfortunately, Strauss never solved this problem. At least, not fully, or not explicitly. That problem was not solved in the books of philosophers, though many of those books were instrumental, but was discovered by political men: the men who we know as the American Founding Fathers. It was the principles of the American Founding, articulated most succinctly in the Declaration of Independence—principles built upon the ideas of individual natural rights and government by compact, but understood in light of the morally obligatory “laws of nature and of nature’s God, “—that provided for a regime in which one can be a good citizen, a good man, and a good Christian or Jew, simultaneously. Strauss, I believe, caught a glimpse of the genius of the American Founding when, in the middle of his essay “On Classical Political Philosophy,” he cites the republicanism of Thomas Jefferson as an example of what the ancients meant by the “best regime.” But it was Strauss’s student Harry Jaffa who first and most fully understood and articulated the supreme importance of the principles of the American Founding, within the much larger context of the political crisis ushered in by monotheistic Christianity. This also explains the importance Jaffa places on the statesmanship of Abraham Lincoln: for it was Lincoln above all others who saved the only possible grounds of free government, at a critical moment when those principles were attacked and rejected wholesale. (In the wholesale rejection of the principles of the American Founding, our situation today appears not much different than in Lincoln’s day.) In his work on both the Founders and Lincoln, Jaffa was not deviating from the lessons of Strauss. Rather it was the case, I believe, of a student discovering a solution to a problem articulated by his teacher.
As I mentioned earlier, Lenzner argues against Jaffa’s notion that Strauss sought to establish the moral authority of human nature. Lenzner writes that it could not have been Strauss’s intention to establish any sort of authority, moral or otherwise, because the philosopher sees any “authority” as an obstacle to understanding the truth and discovering the true nature of things. What Lenzner seems unable to comprehend, however, is the role of a philosopher in a regime that finds its ultimate source of goodness and truth in nature itself. Lenzner quotes Strauss on the goal of philosophy: “By uprooting authority, philosophy recognizes nature as the standard.” This is silliness, or sloppiness at best, dishonesty at worst: The quotation is yanked out of context from a passage in which Strauss was describing philosophy in the ancient city. All ancient cities were founded on some notion of the divine, usually accompanied by stories of ancient lawgivers that were either gods, or sons of gods. The philosophic problem comes to light when one begins to see that many of those stories contradicted one another, and so the philosophic quest is to find whether there exists some non-arbitrary ground by which the human mind can understand and judge these stories, and the principles of justice they teach. The ancient philosophers found such a standard in nature.
In a modern regime grounded in the “laws of nature and of nature’s God,” however. philosophy, far from uprooting the authority of the natural law, would confirm it. The philosopher in such a regime would look very much like a partisan defender of the regime, from a certain point of view, in a way that would have been impossible in the ancient world, where the philosopher was seen as gadfly-ish and annoying at best, impious or atheistic at worst.
Leo Strauss took his bearings from what he called the “crisis of the West,” which he summarized as the West becoming uncertain of its purpose. This forgetfulness, or confusion, stems from the influence of modern doctrines that understand human life as ultimately purposeless. The proponents of these doctrines have convinced themselves that meaning or truth cannot be discerned by human reason or divine revelation. In response to the crisis, Strauss wrote and spoke on many occasions of the need to return to the orientation of classical political philosophy (something also sought by Mr. Anastaplo). As Strauss writes in the introduction to The City and Man, “We cannot reasonably expect that a fresh understanding of classical political philosophy will supply us with recipes for today’s use.” This is so because monotheistic Christianity and modern philosophy have ushered into the world a kind of politics utterly unknown to the ancients. Nevertheless, “an adequate understanding of the principles as elaborated by the classics may be the indispensable starting point for an adequate analysis” of present-day society by “us.”
But what is it about the principles of classical political philosophy that Strauss thought so indispensable for our understanding of things today, especially in light of the fact that Strauss himself said the precepts of classical thought cannot be applied today? In arguing for the return to the classical way, Strauss distinguished classical from modern political philosophy by “its direct relation to political life.” Classical philosophy begins from the perspective of the citizen, which is a perspective guided by the distinctions of right and wrong, justice and injustice. In short, the things that are paramount for the citizen, and the things by which classical philosophy takes its bearings, are the claims of moral virtue. Thus, insofar as Strauss worked to rediscover the older understanding of things, the claims of moral virtue did indeed “fundamentally animate and inform his writing,” Mr. Lenzner to the contrary notwithstanding.
The distinction between morality and immorality are presented to us in the clearest way by the life and words of the greatest statesman. One might argue that no one has better understood, or articulated more clearly, the intrinsic relationship between morality and freedom, than Abraham Lincoln. One might argue that today, in a world that is dominated by the modern doctrines of historicism, relativism, nihilism, and positivism, Abraham Lincoln may be our best guide to restoring an authentic understanding of moral reality and returning us to the true perspective of the citizen, thus better enabling us to fulfill the Socratic dictum to know thyself, by being able to know what it means to be a human being. The study of the statesmanship of Abraham Lincoln and the study of political philosophy are not only compatible, but one could argue that the former is a necessary condition of the latter. As Mr. Anastaplo writes, perhaps exoterically, but I believe, truly, “an attempt at the most noble imitation [of Lincoln] is worthy of our greatest efforts if we are to understand who we are, what we aspire to, and why.”
These remarks are taken from John A. Murley, “In re George Anastaplo,” in Kenneth L. Deutsch and John A. Murley, eds., Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), pp. 188-89, n. 44.
Throughout his works on the Constitution, Anastaplo addresses the issues and implications related to the existence, the defense, and the abolition of slavery, with special attention paid to the Declaration of Independence, to the attractions and pitfalls of equality, and to Abraham Lincoln. See Anastaplo, “The Declaration of Independence,” p. 390. See also Murley, “Our Character is Our Fate,” pp. 61-63. See, for Anastaplo’s single most extensive published treatment of slavery thus far, “Slavery and the Constitution: Explorations,” pp. 677-786. Worthy of the extended discussion by itself is his study of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862-1863. This is chapter 11 in The Amendements to the Constitution. (It is included in his Abraham Lincoln book.) His close reading of the Emancipation Proclamation has given us new insight into the Proclamation, reflecting the heights a truly superior President, acting as Commander-in-Chief, may attain. In a message, dated August 25, 1995, and titled, “A Tribute to George Anastaplo,” Harry V. Jaffa wrote:
With the publication of his Commentary on the Amendments Anastaplo has complemented and completed his Commentary on the Constitution of 1787. This is a major event in the history of the Constitution itself. George’s commentaries, unlike any others, belong to a tradition very different from that of legal commentaries, as usually understood. They have more in common with Leo Strauss’s The Argument and the Action of Plato’s “Laws” than with any other contemporary work. As Strauss approached the Torah of reason with the reverence of the Torah of revelation, Anastaplo has brought a lifelong devotion to the American Constitution to his task.
Since it will be some time before I can have assimilated his magisterial work, I mention here only one of its features. The chapter on the Thirteenth Amendment is preceded by one on the Emancipation Proclamation. This is absolutely necessary, although George is perhaps the only one who would have recognized that fact. After nearly a half century of constant reading and re-reading of Lincoln, and about Lincoln, I can say categorically that this chapter is the finest scholarly writing on Lincoln’s words that I know. My feeling is that George must have sat at Lincoln’s elbow as he composed the Proclamation of September 22, 1862, and discussed it with him, paragraph by paragraph. As proof of the possibility that one can understand a great writer as he understood himself, it is the definitive refutation of historicism.
This generous tribute to Anastaplo was prepared by Jaffa for a panel, “The Scholarship of George Anastaplo,” sponsored by The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, Illinois, August 31, 1995. Thereafter it was included in “George Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen,” for “The Scholarship of George Anastaplo—A Symposium,” pp. 12-13.
This is the most recent installment of a forty-year dialogue between Jaffa and Anastaplo. Nearly two decades ago, Anastaplo described Harry Jaffa as “the most instructive political scientist writing in this country today.” See Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, pp. 476-81. See also Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, pp. 61-73; “American Constitutionalism and the Virtue of Prudence,” p. 165; “On the Historic Significance of Abraham Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ Speech: For Harry V. Jaffa, Seventy-five and Still Counting,” prepared for The Lincoln-Douglas Debates Symposium (Ottawa, Illinois, August 28, 1993) (published in Anastaplo, Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography). See as well the exchanges in Harry V. Jaffa, Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution: A Disputed Question (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1994) (with Bruce Ledewitz, Robert L. Stone, and George Anastaplo). Both Anastaplo and Jaffa published “A Conversation with Harry V. Jaffa at Rosary College,” (River Forest, Illinois, December 4, 1980). See Harry V. Jaffa, American Conservatism and the American Founding (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1984), pp. 48-75; Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, pp. 476-81. A thoughtful introduction to the relationship between the work of George Anastaplo and that of Harry V. Jaffa is found in Laurence Berns’s essay, “Aristotle and the Moderns: On Freedom and Equality,” in The Crisis of Liberal Democracy: A Straussian Perspective, eds. Kenneth L. Deutsch and Walter Soffer (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1987), pp. 148-66. See, as well, Anastaplo, “Don Quixote and the Constitution,” p. 94, n. 3.
A discussion in Thomas L. Krannawitter, Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), pp. 246-49, 261.
Lincoln’s Political Theory
With erudition and beauty, Lincoln demonstrated in his first and second inaugural addresses, with the Gettysburg Address situated between them, that slavery was the main cause for the Civil War. But even these great monuments of American political rhetoric are not without detractors. In Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography, George Anastaplo takes issue with Lincoln’s most famous utterances on the Civil War and slavery.
The title of his book’s central chapter, “The Poetry of Abraham Lincoln,” perhaps best states Anastaplo’s thesis. He argues that poetry, as opposed to rational argument, was central to Lincoln’s thought and speech, and therefore Lincoln’s legacy has had profoundly undesirable effects on American politics. Anastaplo is concerned that Americans have made too much of Lincoln, explaining, “I would prefer to see more made of the American regime, and less of Abraham Lincoln.”110 This is because, in Anastaplo’s opinion, “an undue emphasis upon particular personages, as distinguished from the principles of the regime, may make the American Republic precarious in the way that republican Rome was when it depended as much as it did on someone such as Marcus Brutus to reverse the decline into Caesarism.” But America is not Rome. Rome did not find its justification in self-evident truths rooted in human nature. Further, no one was more conscious of the dangers of modern Caesarism than Lincoln, who spoke directly to the problem of Caesarism in his 1838 Lyceum speech:
Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon? Never! Towering genius disdains a beaten path…. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen.111
In some instances, however, Anastaplo praises Lincoln and argues that at certain critical moments he exercised his political and poetic skills in the service of constitutionalism and in defense of natural right. So, why does Anastaplo seek to lower Lincoln’s status in the American mind?
Anastaplo’s chapter on the Gettysburg Address provides part of the answer. That chapter moves from Lincoln’s Lyceum speech to the Gettysburg Address. In his analysis of the earlier Lyceum speech, Anastaplo directs the reader’s attention to Lincoln’s emphasis on reason as providing the “critical support for the regime.” In that speech, Lincoln argued against the dangers of the “mobocratic spirit” that was growing in parts of America, as evidenced by increasingly frequent mob violence against abolitionists and other critics of slavery, and explained that “passion has helped us, but can do so no more.” Passion, Lincoln argued, “will in the future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense. Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the Constitution and laws.”112 The reverence for the laws, Lincoln urged, should become the “political religion” of the nation.
When Anastaplo turns to the Gettysburg Address, however, he finds something very different. Instead of an appeal to “cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason,” he reads a speech dripping with religiosity and religious sentiments. In his treatment of Lincoln’s two last major speeches, the Gettysburg Address and the second inaugural, Anastaplo focuses almost exclusively on their religious connotations and orientation. These utterances by Lincoln, writes Anastaplo, are “biblical,” “prophetic,” and “messianic.” As Anastaplo notes, the Gettysburg Address is like a prayer, opening with an invocation of the paternal (“Four score and seven years ago, our Fathers brought forth on this continent”) and concluding with a vision of the ever after (“that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”). The second inaugural almost reads like a passage from the Old Testament, as Lincoln interprets the suffering of the Civil War as a divine punishment for the sin of slavery:
Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”113
Lincoln’s appeal to the religious is highly problematic, Anastaplo insists, because religion is related to, if not identical with, emotion, passion, and unreason; he describes it as “mystical.” Anastaplo’s account of Lincoln’s more religious-sounding speeches, in fact, is strikingly similar to those offered by earlier historical revisionists who charged Lincoln with “emotionalism.”114 The problem, according to Anastaplo, is that Lincoln, in effect, refounded America on principles far more religious and far less rational than those of Jefferson and the Founders. Anastaplo agrees with Garry Wills, whose Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (1992) won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. According to Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg “performed one of the most daring acts of open-air sleight-of-hand ever witnessed by the unsuspecting.” “Everyone in the vast throng of thousands,” he asserts, “was having his or her intellectual pocket picked” by Lincoln, who had cleverly “substituted” a new constitutional understanding “for the one they brought with them.”115 According to Wills, modern America owes far more to the “values created by the Gettysburg Address” and far less to the principles of the Founders, which both Wills and Anastaplo see as largely incongruent to, if not incompatible with, one another. But while Wills seems willing to celebrate Lincoln’s veiled transformation of the American regime, Anastaplo has serious reservations.
According to Anastaplo, the Founders had “presented divinity in the image of the political,” as the divine was subordinate to, or understood in light of, the rational principles of the regime. But Lincoln reversed this and presented the “political in the image of divinity.” According to Anastaplo, Lincoln’s rhetorical politics appeals far too much to the supernatural and ignores far too greatly nature and reason.
Toward the end of his Gettysburg Address chapter, Anastaplo writes, “The passions aroused by the terrible fratricidal struggle proved to be such as to permit, perhaps even to compel, the public identification of the entire experience with the Passion.”116 Anastaplo then argues that Lincoln “helped turn serious American thought away from. . . classical political philosophy,” while the “divine takes the place in Lincoln’s thought of nature.”117 This is a problem because it is nature, not the divine, “upon which classical political thought rests.” Anastaplo goes on to write that
whatever the political usefulness or the ultimate sincerity of such sentiments, they do seem somehow more impassioned, somewhat less urbane, than those which one associates with classical political philosophy or for that matter with the Declaration of Independence. . . . Thus philosophy—the essentially Socratic understanding—seems, by the end of Lincoln’s life, not to have the status one finds assigned to it in classical political thought.
Anastaplo seems to agree that the Declaration’s rational principles are the ground of rational constitutionalism. But as the American poet, Lincoln renders rational constitutionalism, as well as Socratic rationalism, difficult, if not impossible, by elevating the divine in his political poetry. Anastaplo suggests that antebellum America provided much richer intellectual ground for reasoning than postbellum America because Lincoln denigrated the status of reason and nature. Anastaplo even suggests, in a vague and cautious way, that the religious and irrational emphasis of Lincoln’s rhetoric somehow caused the rise of pragmatism and progressivism in the United States.118 This is why Anastaplo wants to demote Lincoln and argues against his defenders and celebrators. This is also why his book on Lincoln is not an ordinary biography, but a constitutional biography, emphasizing that Lincoln was a product of the American constitutional regime, not vice versa.
Anastaplo’s problem lies in his failure to understand the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in their fullness; in particular, he fails to see the firm moral ground upon which reason and revelation intersect and the American constitutional order was constructed. From the Founders’ point of view, passion can never be eliminated from the human soul: they believed human nature to be unchanging because they believed that human beings always have been, and always will be, a combination of passion and reason. The Founders would see any attempt to remake human beings into singularly rational, unimpassioned creatures as both impossible and tyrannical.
This is perhaps best demonstrated by contrasting the American Revolution with the French….
110. George Anastaplo, Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 150.
111. Lincoln, Collected Works, I:114.
112. Lincoln, Collected Works, I:115.
113. Lincoln, Collected Works, VIII:333.
114. See chapter 4.
115. Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 38-39.
116. Anastaplo, Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography, 241.
117. Anastaplo, Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography, 347.
118. Anastaplo, Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography, 350.
George Anastaplo’s preferred title for his first (1999) Abraham Lincoln book was Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln: A Discourse on Prudence. His working title for his second Lincoln book is Further Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln: A Discourse on Chance and the Good. He does not recall reading either the Garry Wills book or the H. L. Mencken item cited (in notes 115 and 130, respectively), in Professor Krannawitter’s challenging book.
These are the concluding sections in George Anastaplo,
“War & Peace in the Bible” (November 13, 2008).
It can be wondered whether the Bible looks to the same ends as those prescribed by nature. Neither the Hebrew Bible nor most of the Greek Bible has any explicit recognition of the natural in human affairs. The Christianity promoted by the Greek Bible even came to speak (unlike Judaism) of the fallen nature of human beings.
The term, nature, is used in the Book of Acts and in the Epistles, primarily in writings attributed to Paul. But an implicit reliance on nature can be seen to result from the very language in which the New Testament chanced to be written, no matter what the language was that Jesus and his immediate followers had happened to use in the Holy Land. And with that language seem to have come presuppositions about the very ordering of things, inanimate as well as animate, that were quite different from the emphatically community-minded Hebrew language of what we know as the Old Testament.
Consider, for example, what happens to “God” in the celebrated phrase of the Declaration of Independence: “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The God shaped (if not even governed) by Nature is quite different from that God in the Hebrew Bible who can identify Himself as “I am who I am” (or, better still perhaps, “I will be who I will be”). How relations among human beings should be understood may depend on what one regards as the promptings of nature with respect both to their appetites and to their potentialities.
Of particular interest to us here is whether war is indeed natural for human beings. Certainly, there is among us an intense yearning for self-preservation, which war can both serve and threaten. And we do seem to be taught by the Hebrew Bible that the preservation of one’s people is useful, if not essential, for one’s enduring personal safety.
Christianity, on the other hand, is often regarded as counseling against any overpowering concern for one’s life here. But there can be found among Christians even more massive organization of war-making efforts than was ever seen among the Israelites. The recourse to the seemingly endless Crusades of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, as well as to the devastating Thirty Years War of the Seventeenth Century (and to the incredibly foolish Thirty Years War of the Twentieth Century)—all this reminds us of the tremendous war-making that Christians are capable of.
How the Bible, or at least the militant religiosity attributable by some to the Bible, can contribute to the glories of war may be seen, among us, in The Battle Hynn of the Republic (1862). A more cautious reliance on Biblical authority for one’s war-making may be seen in Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865), which includes these observations:
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause [slavery] of the conflict [the Civil War] might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the others. It may seem strange that any man should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully.
Then the President said:
The Almighty has his own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by which the offense cometh.”…Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
It can also be wondered how Lincoln would have interpreted, from the perspective of the Bible, that “mighty scourge of war” known as the Holocaust of the Twentieth Century. That did seem to be the dreadful culmination of at least a millennium of intermittent wars on the Jews by Christians. Lincoln would have remembered, of course, the many campaigns of exterminating wars recorded in the Bible, including even some ordered by the Lord.
Would Lincoln also have sought to discern the salutary long-term purposes of the Almighty somehow served by such a catastrophe? Where, for instance, does the recent re-emergence of the State of Israel fit into such divine calculations? And what should the Holocaust catastrophe (as well as such developments as the routine obliteration bombing of cities during the Second World War) oblige Christians and Jews alike to think of Biblical teachings about war and peace?
The moral standards that most Westerners bring to the judgment of contemporary catastrophes do seem to depend, in large part, on the Bible, not least upon the Ten Commandments. We have seen that the Lincoln who had reminded his audience that “[t]he judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,” had just (in his Second Inaugural Address) wondered how “any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of others men’s faces.” This suggests that there is available in Biblical texts guidance that may be used to reinforce the moral standards that thoughtful human beings may naturally come to recognize, and not only with respect to questions about war and peace.
This passage is taken from George Anastaplo, The Amendments to the Constitution: A Commentary (John Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 432.
Today, students of [Abraham] Lincoln and the Civil War are fortunate to have available to them the pioneering work of Harry V. Jaffa…. My own considerable debt to Mr. Jaffa is evident in this volume. It is [also] appropriate to notice, considering how much I draw upon the classics in my work, that comparable to the contributions in recent decades of Harry Jaffa to the study of American political thought have been the contributions of Seth Benardete to classical scholarship. Both of these remarkably (if not even enviably) gifted and radically imaginative men studied with Leo Strauss who was one of my own teachers at the University of Chicago.