Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why;
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.
One feels the urge to weep when standing before Lincoln’s tomb, mourning not the loss of an individual but an opportunity to avoid the next Civil War.
The schism that arose out of the “American Experiment” remains with us to this day. It is a “fire bell in the night,” and yet—we will not awaken. The polarization presented itself so simply then (to our 21st Century perspective), and it is too simplistic to categorize the Civil War as a war about slavery even though slavery was the primary symptom of the solipsistic disease. Now, “libertarians” blather about “States’ Rights” and “libertarians” have refined the polarization into dogma. Easy enough to critique, the dogma is a distraction. The ancient question is the nature of the relationship between the individual and the collective , that broad concept of “Union.”
The present “libertarian” treacle denies the Union, a danger clearly recognized by Lincoln. Far from “canonizing” Lincoln or subscribing to the “Great Emancipator” myth, one need only recognize intellectual talent and its nature to appreciate its application. Of all the contemporary “smart guys” in 1865, nobody had a handle on it better than Lincoln and was able to do something about it. Grant and Sherman realized this. So did Lincoln, and he kept his own consul. Unfortunately, an assassin’s bullet destroyed the brain that had the possible prescience and position to deliver us from where we are now. All this, of course, is hindsight… a historical parlor game.
What is important is that Lincoln was aware of Marx’ international labor movement and he may have been open to its implication just as he was to “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.” A few “Invisible Hand” evangelists like T. DiLorenzo grasp these factoids to describe Lincoln as “totalitarian,” a dwarfed conception not only of Lincoln and History; but a stunted perspective of the nature of the American Experiment itself. For example, look at Lincoln’s cabinet.
Few “executives” today have the desire or the ability to assemble a “team of rivals,” preferring instead a cadre of sycophants and toadies, packing the organization with boot-lickers of all different colors, shape and gender and calling it “diversity.” Lincoln was far wiser than that. If he did not apply total subordination to his own cabinet in time of war, he certainly would not have applied it to the more complex project of reconstruction . True, recognition of “national authority” was essential, but he proposed to “let ‘em up easy.” It was a concept Lincoln called “kindness,” a noble motive to be sure, but beneath it was a wise and practical method.
Historian Philip S. Paludan wrote: "Kindness meant finding and shaping new directions that fit into existing habits and institutions. Lincoln's instinct was to implement his policies in ways that would enlist support from as many motives as possible and political self-interest was a motive he understood well." Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, wrote: "Lincoln's program of reconstruction can perhaps be understood best as the product of reactive leadership — that is, as a series of calculated responses to changing military and political conditions.” Think about that: “reactive leadership.” Far from being “reactionary,” it’s more like the ability to “adapt and improvise.” The empty-suit hair-helmets running organizations and seeking office today bark about being “proactive,” highly unlikely when dealing with complex systems.
Lincoln’s successor would wreck his career attempting to deal with the complexity of reconstruction, likely because his technique was more reactionary than reactive. The same blockheads as the "Redeemers" evolved almost unchanged into the same group/ forces that polarize us today. It appears that Lincoln was grappling with the "metaphysical," or at least the possibility of forces beyond understanding at present. It is a glimpse into his "reactive" genius, so little understood in this era of chest-thumping "pro-actives." Lincoln was not above throwing out a sop to the pious at all... and it’s quite possible his references to Providence and the Almighty were his own personal metaphors for the non-understood forces. His second inaugural address portends what is quite likely for the US for another (and perhaps final) great struggle.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it--all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and others would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
On a personal note, I cannot truthfully blunt what seems obvious in such hopeful terms as it “may” be too late or we are “in danger” of fascism. The course of what was once the USA is likely out of mortal hands now, barring a great and sudden shift in cognition… highly unlikely without a voice with Lincoln’s skill in hermeneutics, and so far… there is no such voice… and none is likely to arise in time. The “neofeudalists”among us say they are fully prepared to defend their position by force… and I take them seriously, for the same reason that dueling and war were a popular idea among the Confederates. Again, Lincoln speaks:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting piece, among ourselves, and with all nations.
The “Right-Wing Authoritarians” have declared their purpose. The “libertarians” are hanging on to their coattails because they don’t like paying taxes.. or doing anything that costs anything on behalf of the “collective:” solipsism. So now the USA “totters toward its own destruction.” What will finally emerge in light of peak oil, peak water, peak food… and add to that: “peak intellect” is anybody’s guess. As Lincoln said:
The Almighty has His own purposes.