Spengler’s appalling ignorance, clunky historical analogies, and leftist assumptions

(Note: In this entry, the blogger Mencius Moldbug and I engage in an extended discussion about the Civil War.)

“Spengler” has a column about Geert Wilders, the only mainstream politician in the West who has a serious position on Islam. The column has an important theme, which I will eventually get to. But getting there is not half the fun. Indeed, it’s not any fun at all. The piece begins:

Europe’s Man of Destiny is Geert Wilders, the 35-year-old leader of Holland’s tiny Freedom Party.

Not an auspicious opening. Wilders was born September 6, 1963. He is 44 years old, not 35 years old. Spengler gets his age wrong by nine years. Apart from being so far off on such a basic fact, Spengler has presumably seen photos of Wilders. Does he really think that Wilders looks 35?

Then Spengler writes:

Not since lions tore apart slaves for the prurient enjoyment of the Roman mob has Europe witnessed a spectacle as revolting as Hirsi Ali’s appearance last week before the European Parliament. She has lived under guard since Theo van Gogh’s murder in 2004. To its shame, the Dutch government has stopped paying for her security.

This is incorrect. The Dutch government said it would not pay for Ali’s security while she was living indefinitely in the United States. It paid for her security in the U.S. for one year, but at the end of that year, it said no more. The Dutch government will pay for her security if she returns to the Netherlands, but not for her permanent security in a foreign country.

Having gotten wrong two basic facts about two contemporary Dutch politicians, Spengler (whose nationality as well as name are unknown, though he is obviously not American) then shifts to his strong suit, American history. His purpose is to make an analogy between the West’s current Islam problem and the American Civil War. He starts by letting loose with this:

Wilders recalls that authentic American hero, John Brown, the anti-slavery “extremist” whose 1859 raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry hastened the outbreak of civil war in 1861…. Brown also did precisely the right thing.

For Spengler to call Brown an “authentic American hero” and put the word “extremist” in scare quotes in referring to him is a disgrace. John Brown was a religious lunatic who attacked a Federal arsenal and murdered U.S. soldiers in the hope of seizing thousands of weapons and giving them to slaves setting off a murderous slave rebellion against Southern whites. Yes, Brown’s raid was historically important in that it produced the final rupture of feeling between North and South, since the South was so alienated by Northern newspapers’ support for Brown—which was tantamount to justifying an armed black insurrection—that secession became inevitable. But Brown, while a notable historical figure, is not and has never been considered simply a “hero,” let alone an “authentic” one, in the United States, except perhaps among the more extreme abolitionists and leftists. And since when has Spengler been a leftist? As an index of popular attitudes toward Brown, the Hollywood movie in which John Brown plays the largest part is the 1940 “Santa Fe Trail,” with Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, and Raymond Massey as John Brown. Brown in that movie is portrayed as a fanatic, not a hero. When I went to school, John Brown was treated as a fanatic, not a hero. Spcngler seems to have bought into the post-Sixties leftist revisionist view of America.

Then Spengler lets loose with this:

Abraham Lincoln stands out as America’s greatest statesman precisely because he pushed America into war at the earliest opportunity. But the kindly, paternal figure of American memory who called for “charity towards all, and malice towards none” couldn’t have done it without John Brown.

Spengler embarrasses himself. He doesn’t know the first thing about U.S. history, yet makes large pronouncements about it. Lincoln did not “push” America into war. Rather, his election as president, given his party’s opposition to the spread of slavery, led the deep South to secede; the election of any Republican would have had the same effect. When he became president Lincoln sought every means he could think of to bring the seceding states back into the Union. He closed his first inaugural address, March 4, 1861, by addressing the people of the South:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Does that sound like someone pushing the country into civil war?

But Lincoln’s efforts to prevent war didn’t stop with rhetorical appeals. In his desperate effort to win over the South, he and his Secretary of State, William Seward, went so far to offer to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of slavery forever. But then a month after Lincoln’s inauguration the South attacked Fort Sumter, a Federal fort, thus initiating hostilities on the United States and outraging the North. Lincoln called up 75,000 troops, and the upper South seceded. To say that Lincoln “pushed America into war at the earliest opportunity” is one of the most ignorant statements I have ever heard.

Ok, I said that getting there wasn’t fun. But Spengler does finally get to an interesting point. Just as, according to his bone-headed account, Lincoln pushed the U.S. into a civil war, thus ending slavery, Spengler says it would be better to spark a conflict between Islam and the West as soon as possible rather than let the Muslims keep gaining power while the West sleeps; and he hopes that Geert Wilders’s forthcoming movie on Islam may spark such a salutary confrontation. However, it is disgraceful for Spengler to compare Geert Wilders to the murderous lunatic John Brown in order to make that point. Spengler’s argument about Islam is a reasonable one and may well be correct. (By coincidence, two VFR commenters today make a similar argument regarding race relations in the U.S. and the possible election of Obama.) But Spengler should have made that argument on its own terms, instead of constructing a distracting, factually wrong, and tortuous analogy to the American Civil War, which does nothing to help us understand Geert Wilders—about whom, by the way, Spengler ends up saying almost nothing in this article, since almost the entire piece is taken up with Spengler’s irrelevant historical exegesis. The next time Spenger writes a column about Geert Wilders, maybe he could, uh, write a column about Geert Wilders?

- end of initial entry -

If you want to set off a lively discussion, there’s no better way than to talk about the American Civil War.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

Your facts are not exactly incorrect, but I think they could benefit from a little nuance!

The South’s decision to fire on Sumter cannot be considered prudent, but to make it sound like Hitler’s invasion of Poland is a very slanted interpretation, I have to say. [LA replies: Hitler’s invasion of Poland! Hey, talk about needing a little nuance, Mr. Moldbug!] The Southern leaders had been repeatedly assured through multiple quasiofficial channels (basically Seward) that Sumter, which was after all a harbor fort in the South’s leading seaport, would be evacuated pronto. When an armed naval expedition showed up to resupply it, they felt that they had been dishonorably handled, which is probably an accurate interpretation of history. They also felt that if they caved on this, they would soon be caving on everything. This was probably wrong, but they were, of course, incredibly macho and militaristic by today’s standards. As both sides were—but the South with its Cavalier heritage of course was worse. Or better, depending on your point of view. [LA replies: Lincoln was walking a fine line. If there was to be a war, he did not want to be the one who started it, he would let the Southerners do that. That is very different from Spengler’s astonishingly wrong-headed statement that Lincoln deliberately pushed the country into civil war. I don’t see that Mr. Moldbug’s account has changed anything in my response to Spengler’s characterization of Lincoln’s intentions and actions.]

Try reading some pre-1940 Civil War history, such as that by Dunning, Randall, CF Adams Jr, etc. “Ethics of Secession” by the last—a Union Army general and son of perhaps the North’s leading abolitionist politician—may be a good start. If this is interesting, his “‘Tis Sixty Years Since” and “Shall Cromwell Have a Statue?” are other meditations on the same issue.

I think your characterization of John Brown is pretty straight on. Note, however, that liberals have recently made strong efforts to rehabilitate him. [LA replies: That’s right, and Spengler himself has obviously been influenced by such liberal rehabilitation, as I said.] See, for example, this volume, which softsoaps all Brown’s crimes and plays up his heroic advocacy of racial equality.

The parallel between Brown and Osama bin Laden is by no means a stretch, IMHO.

Gintas J. writes:

Spengler’s ignorance on America is appalling because he presumes to speak authoritatively on that which he does not know, “John Brown as hero” being the perfect example. He seems to combine a keen insight or intriguing point with grandiose error in every column, no matter the topic. It’s as though his pride does not allow him to make small, careful points confined to what he knows well. He reaches for the stars—all the stars—and when he hits one, it can be fascinating. But there’s a lot of space out there.

LA replies:

Spengler: Pseudo-Intellectual to the Stars.

Albert Nock writes:

I noticed you recently had a post on the errors in a Spengler column. I was never a fan of his, but I was still stunned a while back by the chutzpah with which he misled. I discussed that here.

Mark G. writes:

Your dim view of Spengler is more than justified, but your denigration of John Brown goes too far. Yes, he was a fanatic and a violent extremist, but the system he fought was beyond monstrous. You say he sought to set off a “murderous slave rebellion against Southern whites”, and it’s true, but how can it be wrong for slaves to rise up and slay their masters? If freeing slaves can’t justify violent rebellion, what can? Certainly not the taxes that prompted the American Revolution, nor the desire to be free of mere foreign domination.

LA replies:

Since Mark G. acknowledges that my characterization of Brown’s intentions was correct, how can Mark say that I have denigrated Brown? Mark is just dissatisfied because I have not joined Mark in the left-liberal rehabilitation of Brown and approved him for seeking to launch a mass-murderous slave rebellion against Southern whites.

Paul Cella writes:

You really made mincemeat of poor Spengler. Sometimes he is just two clever by half. My suspicion has long been that what hampers him is that same Darwinian materialism that shackles so much of our public dialogue. He tries to understand religion—he really does—but in the end he cannot, and thus he comes out making a totem of demographic projections and other materialist indicators related to religion.

LA replies:

Thank you. But can a Darwinian overlay and a failure to understand religion explain why Spengler thought, e.g., that Geert Wilders is 35 years old? I think Spengler’s epistemological problem is even more fundamental than you have suggested. He’s locked up in his own fat (Ps. 17:10). He’s detached from the world to such a degree that he cannot bother actually paying attention to it or learning about it. So instead he always looks for some grand theory, like that of Franz Rosenzweig whom he’s referenced in several columns, or, in this case, a big-sounding historical analogy, in order to discuss contemporary events. Lacking both an appropriate conceptual framework for understanding the world around him, and any genuine empirical interest in the world around him, he indulges in these gaseous intellectual exercises. See, for example, this discussion by me of an earlier Spengler article.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

Okay, “Hitler’s invasion of Poland” was a bit much.

But “if there was to be a war, [Lincoln] did not want to be the one who started it” is still a weird way to describe the situation. The issue in 1861 was whether the lower South would be able to leave the Union peacefully, or whether it would be “coerced” (this is the word used at the time, “coercion”) into staying. President Buchanan’s position had been that the Federal government had not been granted the power to use its military to force states to stay in the Union. In this he was supported by the opinions of most reasonable people, the text and history of the Constitution, etc, etc. He was opposed by romantic nationalism, Daniel Webster’s “higher law,” Seward’s “irrepressible conflict,” etc, etc.

However, a substantial fraction of Northern public opinion had caught the war fever and favored coercion, and it was clear that in any war the North had a military advantage. Thus Lincoln’s problem was how to start the war without simply invading the South, a policy he had repeatedly renounced, and one which would not have been politically practical. Once it got started, it would go on its own, as it did. In the Sumter crisis he found a way, by using means short of violence to goad the South into shooting first. FDR faced the same problem in getting the US into WWII, and used much the same methods on the Japanese.

Bear in mind, I’m not saying that the South was not on crack as well. There were plenty of cool-headed strategies by which they could have successfully seceded, or even just preserved slavery locally. That these strategies were not employed shows that the Southern collective mind was not thinking straight. But since the Confederacy was defeated, the history of Confederate romantic nationalism is not terribly relevant to our present predicament. Union politics is much more interesting, and I don’t think there is any way to look closely at it and still find it good and sweet and true.

LA replies:

Even if I accepted your account, which I don’t, it still does not add up to Spengler’s formulation that “Abraham Lincoln stands out as America’s greatest statesman precisely because he pushed America into war at the earliest opportunity.”

And I don’t accept your account. To say Lincoln deliberately goaded the South into war is a very tendentious way of putting it. He was maintaining the existence of Federal authority over Sumter by supplying the men there with food, and carefully avoiding any provocation to violence. It was the South that made a war out of it. Read the letters by Jefferson Davis at this time. The Southern leaders were saying to each other that they had to start a war with the Union, otherwise, the Southern people would drift away from secession. That was not Lincoln’s machination. That was the South choosing to start a war against the United States. And you are right that the South was not thinking straight. They were acting under a collective madness. For example, they all convinced themselves that as soon as Lincoln became president, he would invade the South. In their paranoia, they brought on the war that ruined them.

However, I reject your suggestion of an equivalence between North and South. You say that North was “on crack.” That is an absurd characterization of Lincoln’s and the North’s attitude. Consider Lincoln’s continuing care and restraint, as compared with the fanaticism of the South. You also say:

“Union politics is much more interesting, and I don’t think there is any way to look closely at it and still find it good and sweet and true.”

A liberal sentiment. The implication is that the absence of some perfect goodness renders all values and arguments relative. An outrageous act, and righteous outrage at that outrageous act, are morally equivalent.

As for a unilateral right of secession, which you imply was the case, let me say this. Since the United States came into existence by a mutual act of consent, it seems reasonable that a state can lawfully leave the Union only through a mutual act of consent. Of course, there is always the right of revolution, but that has to be won by force. The South’s non-consensual, contemptuous, and violent rupture of the Union was a revolutionary act, not a lawful act. The issue therefore could only be settled by arms, and it was.

I always say, and it seems you at least partially agree with me, that if the South had proceeded in a reasonable way, for example, saying to the Northern states, “Look, we are really not compatible with each other, let us depart from each other in peace,” that would have been very different and they would have stood on more reasonable ground. But the South did not do that. It said “screw you” to the United States of America, and started the war that led to the South’s own ruin.

By the way, if 140 years later that “screw you” still triggers anger in me, imagine how the people of the Union felt at the time.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

You obviously have strong feelings about this 140-year-old event, and I doubt much I can say would change them!

I really, really recommend against conceiving 1860s politics in terms of good guys and bad guys. All these people are dead. If we were to apply the political theories of the 1860s, Northern and Southern alike, to the world of today, the results would seem utterly insane to us, Northerners and Southerners alike. Doubtless the same would appear in reverse.

Again, I recommend reading post-1900 and and pre-1950 accounts. Randall’s “Civil War and Reconstruction,” from the ’30s, which I just read, is excellent and extremely unbiased. (Avoid the more recent revisions.) And Sen. Albert Beveridge’s Lincoln biography is magnificent. None of these people were either liberals or Confederate symps.

The past is another country. Think of it that way and you will find it much easier to understand, I suspect.

LA replies:

You trivialize my position when you say that I’m looking at this in terms of good guys and bad guys. I didn’t say anything like that. I said that in my view the South’s actions were wrong, that their fanaticism brought on that war. That is a judgment that I make. I share that judgment with, for example, William T. Sherman. Here are some quotes from Sherman: Fighting Prophet, Lloyd Lewis, 1932:

On December 24th Sherman in his Seminary office opened the newspapers and saw that South Carolina had seceded:

Sherman began pacing the floor, tears falling, his tongue flinging despair—a tragic man walking up and down in his sadness, walking and walking until it became a sort of march that he was doing on the Louisiana floor, a march that might have been an omen, had the Virginian Boyd been able to read the future. Now and then Sherman stopped and addressed Boyd as if that mild professor of ancient languages were indeed the whole Southern people. Boyd always remembered that the superintendent talked as if broken-hearted.

You, you the people of the South, believe there can be such a thing as peaceable secession. You don’t know that you are doing. I know there can be no such thing…. If you will have it, the North must fight you for its own preservation. Yes, South Carolina has by this act precipitated war…. Perhaps the liberties of the whole country, of every section and every man will be destroyed, and yet you know that within the Union no man’s liberty or property in all the South is endangered….

Oh, it is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization.

Then this:

[Louisiana’s secession] assured war … for in Sherman’s view there could be no peace between two confederacies one of which owned the source and the other the mouth of the Mississippi River. The laws of trade and commerce would force the two nations into war. How could it be otherwise, with the agricultural South insisting upon free trade and the industrial North holding to its protective tariff? … No; there was no rhyme or reason in Southern dreams of a peaceful future.

Think of it, the great achievement of creating a great, unified country, of preventing foreign powers from controlling the Mississippi; and then the Confederacy attempted to destroy that.

So Sherman formed a judgment about the secession. I also form a judgment about it. Your advice to me, “Don’t think in terms of good guys and bad guys” really means, Don’t form judgments.

As far as the expression of my own feelings were concerned, I mentioned my feeling of anger objectively, as a piece of evidence which would help us to understand the outrage in the North that was triggered by the South’s actions. My argument about the Civil War is not based on my feelings, but on my judgment.

You write:

“The past is another country. Think of it that way and you will find it much easier to understand, I suspect.”

If you have an argument to make about the Civil War, make it. I suggest that you avoid speaking to me in this patronizing and condescending way, which implies that you understand the Civil War and I don’t, without your actually showing that you understand it.

Mencius Moldbug replies:

I apologize for the tone of my last sentence. I didn’t intend it to come across as condescending.

Basically, Sherman is reiterating the message of Seward’s “irrepressible conflict” speech (1858). The same theory will also be found in Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, etc, etc. Note that both Seward and Lincoln are suggesting that unless the slavery issue is resolved, the Southern “slave power” will conquer the North, enslave Irishmen and use them as factory slave labor, etc, etc.

This threat existed wholly in the fantasies of hard-line Northern politicians. The idea that secession made war inevitable is a Northern idea. It is very comparable to the “encirclement” menace that motivated Germany in WW1. You will look very hard for Southern politicians who suggested invading the North. They may have been on crack, but they weren’t on that much crack. The Confederates made every possible effort to secede peacefully, sending peace commissioners with whom Lincoln refused to treat formally. Informally, however, they were assured that Sumter would be evacuated.

Here is an essay from 1850 that I think states the Southern case in a pretty typical way.

I am not saying I agree with the writer’s interpretations entirely, but they are worth comparing to Seward and his ilk. Let alone hardcore Radical Republicans like Ben Wade, author of the infamous screed “Land for the Landless, or Niggers for the Niggerless.” Abolitionism and belief in racial equality was not, at least not in 1860, the strongest strain in Republican ideology. It is very hard to categorize the views of Wade and his ilk today, but comparing them to National Socialism is by no means off the table.

Also, saying that America would be forever crippled because the Mississippi flowed through two countries, or whatever, is a little like saying that Germany would be forever crippled because the Rhine flows through Holland. Sure, it’s possible that if the South had been left to secede in peace, there would have been some other war at some other time. But the big picture is that the Civil War was a Northern invasion of the South, and the North could have ended the war at any time by agreeing to let the South go. Multiple countries can share a continent.

Of course, the South’s intemperate behavior over slavery in the territories hardly helped. My own personal view of the conflict is more or less in accordance with that of the Southern Redeemer Ben Hill, who in his Notes on the Situation wrote: “The Southern people, greatly provoked and misguided, abandoned the Union to preserve the Constitution. While the Northern people, less provoked but equally misguided, made war to preserve the Union, by placing themselves under the lead of men who were the bitter, implacable enemies of the Constitution, and who were foredetermined to destroy or reform it.”

Notes on the Situation is included in this volume (p. 752). I suspect you’ll find the author quite a sympathetic fellow.

LA replies:

Apology accepted.

You write:

“Basically, Sherman is reiterating the message of Seward’s “irrepressible conflict” speech (1858): http://www.nyhistory.com/central/conflict.htm

“The same theory will also be found in Lincoln’s “house divided” speech, etc, etc.”

Not correct. Sherman didn’t care about the slavery issue. What agitated him so deeply was secession, the attack on the existence and integrity of the United States.

The encirclement argument strikes me as red herring. Fear of a Southern invasion of the North was not the North’s driving concern. Saving the Union was their driving concern. I constantly notice how Southern partisans attribute a false motive to the North, because when the North’s motive is described honestly, as saving the Union, it becomes harder to attack than “bloodlust,” “a desire to destroy the Constitution,” and other unworthy motives the Southern partisans ascribe to the North.

On the main issue you address, whether the North or South had right on its side, we obviously disagree very much. The fact that so many people today would have let the Union be dismembered and destroyed is in my view an index of a profound decline of love of country, the same loss of love of country that has allowed so many other bad things to happen, ranging from mass non-Western immigration to the destruction of American identity in our schools to the indifference to the quality of our manners and culture. Today’s critics of the Unionists feel that maintaining the existence of the country wasn’t worth the war and deaths, and didn’t justify what you call the invasion of the South. The Northern people of the time obviously saw it very differently. Because they prevailed, we still have a country rather than a hideously divided continent.

Stephen R. writes:

I am ignorant of the causes of the secession and am enjoying the discussion. In focusing on a couple of your recent posts, something seems amiss to me. You cite Sherman’s deepest sentiments via the passage:

“You, you the people of the South, believe there can be such a thing as peaceable secession. You don’t know that you are doing. I know there can be no such thing….”

You offered this after you posted:

“…if the South had proceeded in a reasonable way, for example, saying to the Northern states, ‘Look, we are really not compatible with each other, let us depart from each other in peace,’ that would have been very different and they would have stood on more reasonable ground.”

Is it reasonable that the South well understood Sherman’s sentiments; and since they already knew the answer, their failure to ask to be let go was not very consequential?

Put another way:

If due to irreconcilable differences a wife wishes to leave a husband and she knows that the husband will physically prevent her from leaving, is her failure to ask for the divorce consequential? And more importantly, does it, in any way, make acceptable the husband’s acts to physically coerce her to stay?

LA replies:

Remember, Sherman had that anguished conversation on December 24, 1860, several months before the attack on Ft. Sumter. I think you are misinterpreting his remark. He’s not simply saying, “There cannot be a peaceful secession because we will use force to stop you no matter how peaceably you seek to leave.” He’s saying that to dismember an existing country will inevitably involve conflict. And this truth was proved in the seizure by the South of various federal properties, forts, armories, federal offices, post offices, and so on, culminating in the bombardment of Sumter . The United States was an integral thing. Federal forts and other property existed in Southern states. So secession inevitably involved conflict over the disposition of those properties, especially as the South did not secede through a process of mutual consent by which the properties could be peaceably disposed but by a series of unilateral actions. So Sherman’s comment could as easily be read as predicting something like the South’s attack on Sumter, rather than threatening the use of violence on the South.

But even if he was doing the latter, that was an expression of his personal view and was not the policy of the U.S. The actual leadership of the U.S., under Buchanan and then Lincoln, did not use force to stop the secession. Union force only entered the picture after the attack on Sumter. So there is no basis for your statement that Sherman was somehow expressing the real intent of the Union to use force no matter what, which in turn justified the South in seceding without seeking mutual consent.

As for the contradiction you see between my position and Sherman’s, note that what Sherman is describing as the “peaceable secession” in which the South imagined itself to be engaged was not the secession with mutual consent that I said the South ought to have sought. The supposedly “peaceable secession” of which he speaks is a secession without mutual consent, and THAT (in terms of my argument) is why it ultimately cannot be peaceable. When South Carolina seceded, it was not seeking mutual consent with the United States. It was acting in the “screw you” manner that I have said was an outrage. So there is no substantive contradiction between my position and Sherman’s position, which I said I agreed with. Both of us are saying that the secession of the South—meaning the actual event, as it was actually carried out—was wrong. Perhaps unlike Sherman, I leave open the possibility that had the South sought secession through mutual consent with the North, instead of through a unilateral rupture, that would have put the South on much firmer political and moral ground.

John B. writes:

I am a Civil War Rebel but not a neo confed or any of that. Your 600,000 deaths could be improved to “Total deaths in the Civil War for both sides may be placed at 623,026, with a minimum of 471,427 wounded, for a total casualty figure of 1,094,453.” The Civil War Day by Day, E.B Long with Barbara Long. p. 711. For those who are impressed with numbers, as those in our current war are, the million figure might work better. Also I like your Jefferson references—right on target.

Wade C. writes:

As a Civil War buff, I want to applaud your discussion with Mr. Moldbug. “Tendentious” is an excellent way to describe his view of the causes of the war. He suggests that you read books by J. Randall and Albert Beveridge to understand things better, and I agree with him, but for a much different reason. Randall’s works especially are an example of the extreme historicism and relativism that you rightly criticize in Spengler’s arguments.

Although he is a neocon who strays very far into “propositional nation” territory at times, Harry V. Jaffa’s books on Lincoln and the War are excellent, especially in his discussion of the right of secession versus the right of revolution, in his takedown of Douglas’ popular sovereignty, and in his takedown of much of Calhoun’s philosophy as relativist and consciously Darwinian in its implications.

Wade C. continues:

Mr. Moldbug is also simply wrong when he talks of the South having no intention to invade the North. Or perhaps he is being tendentious again in his definition of the “North.” Jefferson Davis and most Southerners intended to expand the Confederacy into Kentucky and Missouri from the very beginning, and the South was responsible for breaking the former’s informal “neutrality” when General Pope took Columbus in September 1861, and for guerrilla attacks against the state legislature and federal armories in the latter. Moreover, the South sent an army up the Rio Grande to invade New Mexico and Arizona that same summer—not in response to any provocation, but based on its own claims to those territories.

As for Mr. Moldbug’s characterization of the House Divided and Irrepressible Conflict arguments—more poppycock. By the late 1850s, the South had succeeded in achieving a Supreme Court ruling preventing the federal government or territorial legislatures from banning slavery in the territories. Lincoln and Seward’s fear was that the same legal logic as Dred Scott (property rights must be protected everywhere; slaves are property; slaveowners must have the right to bring their property to and live with their property in the territories, which are the common domain of all states, including slave states) could easily be applied to prohibit states from banning slavery. The issue was not the South taking over the North or enslaving factory workers; the issue was the very real possibility that slavery could be declared legal nationwide. So Mr. Moldbug is right—we should try to step into the shoes of those living at the time; doing so should demonstrate the very legitimate fear of slavery expansion set out by Lincoln.

In addition, by 1860 the South was demanding a federal slave code for the territories if it was not to secede! This was the issue that split the Democratic Party and assured the election of Lincoln, so by definition it was not caused by Lincoln or the Republicans.

Mencius Moldbug paints a very false picture of the events of the 1850s and early 1860s.

James W. writes:

Whether a man or a nation, our censure is first molded in our own nature. The founders knew this, and had profound doubts that we could keep their republic; for there was much unfinished business, issues they knew could not be resolved in their moment.

“It’s a Republic, if you can keep it.”

Lincoln was very clear in his famous letter to Horace Greeley—he would keep the Republic together, whether that meant emancipation, or whether that meant slavery. But he would keep the Republic together.

But why, what was his greatest motivation? I believe it was the Federalist Papers. Hamilton and Madison, in making the case for Union, detailed brilliantly the wretched conditions of contention and war that were inevitable with States in close proximity. Lincoln was a believer.

LA replies:

That’s a correct and acute insight. I agree with you. It may not be the whole explanation of Lincoln’s thinking, but is a big part of it.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 19, 2008 08:43 PM | Send

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