Lincoln had to deal with a real crisis… not a stage-managed “war on terra.” And-- he was the actual person who had to deal with it… not a sock-puppet “political candidate” Hollywood-gossip tool. Those were simpler times… but we can learn from the way great minds dealt with great problems beyond their grasp. We have far greater knowledge, but far less wisdom today. It’s the same puzzle about the relationship between the “individual” and the “collective.” We have learned little. More is the pity.
The connection between Lincoln and the “invisible hand” is interesting. As all the myth and folklore implies, Lincoln really was a “self made” individual… and believed that the “social contract” (Locke) implied by the Declaration and Constitution for the US was to provide all with the means and opportunity to better themselves. My own opinion of Lincoln is that he was also one of the greatest American intellectuals… a really smart guy… self-taught, voracious reader with an extremely keen ability to analyze, synthesize and “read between the lines.”
In Lincoln’s time, the “Industrial Revolution” was coming to fruition in the US. 1860 (or thereabouts) was the last time that US agricultural exports were greater than industrial. “Economic liberalism” with its roots in the Enlightenment (which Jefferson actually understood), basically let “the market” do its thing. “Self-government,” which Lincoln believed was the “last, best hope” was still a new idea. To understand Lincoln, I believe, one has to understand Hermeneutics because Lincoln was a master at it. It’s usually a century or more before the ideas of great thinkers (like Lincoln) are somewhat grasped by “the public at large,” and then usually in some “kartoon” form.
So we move from monarchy to “self government,” which the aristocracy resisted (for obvious reasons) to “socialism,” which the rich are resisting (for obvious reasons). One of the great intellectuals of Lincoln’s day was Karl Marx, and very few people today grasp the concept of “Marxism,” especially in the US. A quote attributed to Lincoln, “I am for the greatest good to the greatest number…(and against the system which monopolizes the free and fertile territory of our country for a few slaveholders, to the exclusion of thousands upon thousands of the sinewy sons of toil) expresses an idea that was surely embraced by Lincoln. He believed very much in a “classless society” or meritocracy. Am I saying Lincoln was a “socialist?” No. That would be committing the error of “presentism,” which any good historian today takes pains to avoid.
Sidebar: anyone who says the collapse of the Soviet Union “proves” that "communism doesn’t work” has no idea what they’re talking about… on multiple levels.
The “Adam Smith” idea of “capitalism” that was beginning to mature in Lincoln’s day seems now a case of arrested development. Anyone who says that “Christianity” and “socialism” are in conflict doesn’t know much about either one. Individual/ Collective: I believe Lincoln’s religious “skepticism” came more from his hermeneutic ability than any Enlightenment influence… but the two are closely related. There was a lot of “kartoon” religion in Lincoln’s day… which has evolved into Disney World religion today.
Kartoon ethics and "politics" are why economic systems and social systems cannot live in two separate worlds anymore (if they ever did): culture evolves in much the same way that organisms do… and simplistic clinging to dogma can arrest selection pressure for a time… even become part of it… but the choice is between adaptation and extinction. Lincoln was trying to manage the evolution of a Nation from an agrarian culture to an industrial culture. Slavery was simply a fatal allele.
The economic system in the US today that masquerades as “economic liberalism” or “free markets” is little more than looting. You can’t have a real meritocracy when circumstance is so rigged in favor of the few at the expense of the many. Unfortunately, it seems that over 100 years of anti-kommunist propaganda and hysteria have made a less-catastrophic transition to meritocracy highly unlikely.
It also appears that kartoon “religion,” like slavery, is a fatal allele. In the Reagan era, many of us bought in to the “free market” idea before we realized it was just a euphemism for looting. The code-words of the Enlightenment were used to mask a darker agenda, and that agenda was to remove any regulation, for good or ill, that interfered with “maximizing profit.” We bought a fancy box without examining its content.
Lincoln… like Jefferson or Franklin… (and perhaps Ron Paul) was interested in understanding the Truth first instead of twisting it to his own advantage. Not that these guys weren’t ambitious… they were… but they understood they had to ask the right questions before swallowing the sweetest pre-packaged answer. Ask… seek… knock… Such mental candy is why so many self-styled “christians” worship the messenger but ignore the message.
Maybe the newly-awakened "Paulitos" can embrace an idea beyond "social Darwinism" or a celebrity-cult.
We shall see.