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Lincoln: The End Justifies the Means – But What was The End?

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Published on: February 22, 2016

Abraham Lincoln is the Christ figure of the Progressive religion. His crucifixion (his suffering and martyrdom by assassination) is the price he paid for establishing his kingdom on earth. His kingdom is of this world — an all-powerful central government with a legal and moral easement, created ex nihilo, to murder people en masse if and when they decide to abolish the government and create a new one. Lincoln’s kingdom is the overthrow of the republic inspired by the Declaration of Independence.

It is essential to sustain our contemporary deconstruction of Lincoln, to declare to the Progressives that they have failed; that they have not been able to program us; that we question everything they take for granted. The Progressives are struggling to establish a culture in which we either embrace the premise that Lincoln was righteous or be condemned as deviants. If Lincoln was righteous, then his kingdom is righteous. The Progressives long to control what we can deduce, what we can think.

The deconstruction of the Lincoln of the Lincoln Cult is one way of piquing at The Establishment and the Progressives until they demonstrate their moral illness which always attempts to misdirect the people by pointing its finger twenty-four hours a day. Its head is exploding as we demonstrate its lack of control. The contemporary Establishment cannot win. It is becoming more and more overtly ugly, punishing people for their religion, their free speech; killing them for resistance. It does not occur to the Progressives that right wing strategists might welcome this. It is the beginning of the end for this establishment. It is hoping to convince the people that those of us who long for freedom are rabid dogs. But as the establishment comes down on us, it will demonstrate its own rabid deviance, just as authoritarian governments always have, over and over again in the past. On the other hand, if the establishment stays calm and moderate, it cannot accomplish its goals. It cannot win.

And so we continue to think freely about the nature of freedom and slavery. We entertain the possibility that Lincoln’s kingdom is the biggest slave owner of all. We now live in a post-liberal age illustrated by Donald Trump. He can tell the truth about Islam, and we can tell the truth about Lincoln, and thrive. Our opponents, Trump’s opponents, do not understand that the post-liberal age has begun. It is the post-Kasich and post-Bush age, for their rhetorical accommodations of modern western liberalism are now self-defeating. Like Trump, it does not occur to us that we have to curb our illiberal speech to win. It is, in fact, the road to victory. This is a Progressive nightmare. At the very moment they thought they were finally in control of the language, we say as we please.

A cornerstone moral and political premise which people on the right will agree with to an overwhelming degree is summarized by (C).

(C) Direct enslavement by the government is just as evil as enslavement to an individual or private corporation, which must be backed up by government.

In other words, it is just as evil for a government to turn people into its involuntary property, a resource at the command of the government, to any degree, as it is for any commercial corporation or individual to do so. The left disagrees, suggesting that direct enslavement by the government should be substituted for direct enslavement by corporations and individuals. The left sees enslavement as inevitable. It sees some strange moral difference between the government directly owning and controlling our involuntary labor versus corporations and individuals owning and controlling our involuntary labor. The difference must be that in the former case the people on the left become the slave owners as the owners of that kind of government. The government may enslave us through corporations, but it must be the ultimate master. The left simply transfers the slaves from the gang that runs the private plantations, to the gang that runs the government. No one denies that the communists have operated like a criminal gang. So what keeps “Progressives” from stepping over the line? We cannot find a good reason in their theories of reason and justice. Did Lincoln have a good reason not to make his central government the only government? Was the military subjugation of the South actually a form of liberal restraint? I guess it’s all relative — radically relative. But the notion that Lincoln was a small “r” republican does not make sense. He destroyed the American tradition articulated in the Declaration of Independence. He was a man of the Left.

Alongside of (C), another premise, very often agreed upon by people on both the left and the right, is that whether or not a particular end justifies a particular means, is very often a judgment call, with no obvious, universal, rational basis. For example, reasonable people disagree about whether or not the goal of ending the war with Japan justified dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the one hand it may have prevented hundreds of thousands of American casualties caused by a full scale invasion. On the other, it may have degraded a bias against using such massively destructive weapons in less obvious circumstances. Other nations, using nuclear weapons in the future, may argue that America legitimized it. Even if we do not believe in the soundness of such arguments, we may admit that it is not always easy to judge the moral validity of the particular means by which a particular end is achieved. A plethora of examples are possible. Should I just shoot someone in the head when he breaks into my home at night, or try to do something less lethal to separate him from the knife in his hand?

And so apologists for Lincoln’s invasion of the South, which escalated into total war, might be willing to admit that it was not an obviously justified means, even if the end is considered axiomatically righteous. The true-believing affirmation of the war is a moral posture without a universal, rational foundation. It is not “science.”

An additional problem for Lincoln’s moral image is that it is not clear that he had both a sincere and righteous end in mind. After the war, the South averred it was all about states rights, and the North that it was all about ending slavery. Exactly who was constructing a new apology after the fact? Jefferson Davis, in his Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, wraps a very tight argument around a library of documentation. His claim that history made the immediate, proximate cause of the war a disagreement about what the states had the legal and moral right to do is logically compatible with the preservation of slavery as a primary and tragic economic motivation. There is no incoherent disclaimer here. By comparison, all the North has is an Emancipation Proclamation which did not free the slaves under federal control and was signed by a white supremacist who thought it might be best if the negroes were repatriated to the other side of the Atlantic. When asked why he could not let the South slip away he reminded us that it was paying for eighty percent of the Federal Government.

It is time for apologists for the northern invasion and occupation of the South, during the so-called “Civil War”, to separate their moral justification of the war from Lincoln himself, to think independently of him. They do not deny that Lincoln started the war to impose the union, not to liberate slaves, which is not clearly worth the expense that ensued. This positions the federal government as a tyrant with nothing more than a technical and controversial legal case. And the notion that Lincoln justified the war, more or less after the fact, as a campaign to end slavery, does not clarify Lincoln or the war, morally. It makes them even more ambiguous. After so much horrifying bloodshed, changing the mission to one which could have been accomplished peacefully, looks like a cover-up. Here again, there is a moral judgment to be made about which reasonable people may disagree. It is the dogmatic authoritarianism of the Lincoln Cult which becomes extreme.

Very ironically, and at first, the idea that the war could be justified as a campaign against slavery was considered perverse, while the goal of forcing some white people to associate with other white people at the former’s expense, was considered patently righteous. This was the utterly strange condition of Lincolnian morality.

The North Vietnamese communists were determined to enslave the South Vietnamese. But leftists thought it was not only non-strategic, but downright evil, to prevent this with military force. The South’s moral assessment of Lincoln and his government should not be surprising to ex-hippies writing American history today.

It is also time for the apologists for the war to step away from the constitution which admits of no simple, vivid legal argument for the invasion, no matter how interested or disinterested in slavery. At this point in the debate, the fascinating moral question is whether or not any apology remains substantial and convincing to anyone standing outside of the Lincoln Cult’s language games, their constructions of their Greek hero’s idealistic relationship to total war, and the constitution’s legal relationship to it, which are intensely controversial whether the cult likes it or not. Historical knowledge is slippery. It is based on faith, on a mountain of background theory. Just telling us that it should not be controversial, that the cult’s reasoning is universal, cannot work. I do not understand why they bother with this kind of modern naiveté, this kind of modern tactic, in what is now a very post-modern era. We are no longer respecters of Academic Persons and their “facts.”

Given the oxymoron of a politically honest culture, The North was more likely to be disappointed in the constitution than The South. The constitution recognized slavery even if it had nothing to do with legalizing it. It enumerated the limited privileges of the central government. It did not explicitly prohibit secession just as it did not explicitly legalize slavery. The former claim is as intuitively valid as the latter. Very few, if any, of the states would have agreed to a no-way-out clause and some made this clear in their bills of ratification. Madison thought the right to secession was implicit in state sovereignty, but should not be encouraged by turning it into positive law. The notion that there was no constitutional sympathy for the South’s shock and dismay when some states started invading other states to kill people, exclusively or primarily to force them to associate, is just too extreme.

The isolation of a strictly moral apology for the invasion of the South, sans all legal pretense, leaves this purely moral position to fend for itself in the face of our intuitions. This method is based on liberal agreement (with Martin Luther King and the South) that the law, even when clothed in the majesty of a constitution, may have nothing to do with morality. It may violate morality. The North and South accused each other of lese-majeste when it came to the constitution. If they were both right (and the arguments go on and on) then natural morality becomes the final referee.

In any event, what does the North’s moral argument, simpliciter, look like when it is stripped of all legal gauze? Just how skinny is the emperor? We need to undress the North’s moral idealism (as if Lincoln pretended to be an idealist), assuming for the moment that it was real and had no obvious obligation to shop for legal petticoats. We must remove the legal whole cloth the moral position is draped in.

There are, essentially, two legal justifications of the northern invasion of the South as the immediate, proximate cause of the war.

(J1) The states were the creation of the federal government. The states were not sovereign. They gave up sovereignty. They had no legal right to leave the union even if they had a moral right. The union was created by “the whole people.” The constitution was ratified by the “whole people.”

Now this notion of the “whole people” sounds suspiciously like Rousseau on the Left, and John Randolph and Nixon on the Right. Rousseau, in effect, thought that experts, good people like himself, could discern the “general will.” As an admittedly metaphysical object, the general will must be spoken for by government officials, by bureaucrats, in actual practice. Democratic majorities, as a collection of concrete votes, are too easily manipulated by existing institutions. This was the new form of democracy created by The Left in the nineteenth century and demonstrated in the French Revolution. (It was a predictably ugly demonstration.) Later, the Marxists would simply refer to the dialectic and “class consciousness” about which they were the experts. John Randolph, our American southern philosopher, trying to preempt democratic conflict between north and south before the Civil War, exploited the general will as a super democratic “consensus” the knowledge of which, unfortunately, varied between southern and northern philosophers and statesmen. Again, it was transcendent of mere democratic vote counting. And Nixon’s apologists, like Agnew, invoked the “silent majority” which, though it could not, or would not explicitly manifest itself as such, was spoken for again by politicians, pundits, and other experts. Perhaps, above all else, it is interesting that German Marxists, having escaped to the United States after their failed nineteenth century revolution, found Lincoln, in his perception of history and government, much to their liking where their liking was identical, they just knew, with the preferences of the people at large. If they did not believe that government was the instrument of comprehensive salvation they would not have needed, so desperately, to take it over. And they would not have found Mr. Lincoln so inspiring. Mr. Lincoln spoke for the “whole people”, whether the people knew it or not, and whether or not they lived south of the Mason Dixon line.

Both the left and right invoke the myth of the “general will” when it serves their relative purposes. It served Lincoln’s purposes, and those of his forebears (Henry Clay, Alexander Hamilton) and contemporaries, who wanted the federal government, equipped with a national bank, to be in complete control. But as Jefferson Davis and Thomas DiLorenzo, among others, have pointed out, the idea that the federal government created the states, while being guided by the “whole people”, this invisible general will, this transcendent consensus directly revealed to Daniel Webster et al, is historical and metaphysical nonsense. The constitutional convention was owned by the state governments. It had no authority that they did not give it. In the meantime, the states, unequally populated, each had equal power to ratify or reject the constitution. The new constitution accepted secession from the formerly “perpetual union of states” created by the Articles of Confederation, in case some states rejected the newly proposed union. The notion that the federal government, the whole people, had created the states after the fact, was a truly rotten rhetorical strategy. Only incorrigibly dishonorable, power hungry men could sink that low, could be that brazen. If the union had been created, super democratically, by the whole people, then each and every state would have had a proportional vote in deciding the fate of the others. This was unthinkable. And the historians know it. The concept of the whole people is just as abstract, metaphysical and phony as the concept of the “general will” which can only be discerned by the people who are in power. Every self-serving government makes this claim.

A more prima facie plausible legal justification for Lincoln’s invasion of the south is that secession constituted “insurrection.”

(J2) Secession was insurrection against legally constituted government. Congress, if not the President, had the constitutional power (not necessarily a natural right) to put down insurrection by calling out the state militia.

What the constitution actually says is that Congress has the power to call out the state militia to put down an insurrection, not the President. It does not clearly define what an insurrection is. The definition is therefore left to Congress and finally the courts, not the President. What kind of history would we be writing today if the copperheads had gained more influence in Congress as Lincoln started to exercise any power he could grab? Would the secession have been converted into insurrection or left alone as a process which was not specifically prohibited?

Obviously there was no insurrection in the northern or southern states in the sense that anyone was attempting to overthrow the existing state governments. The implicit claim being operated on by the federal government must have been that certain people in the south, in this case a majority, were attempting to overthrow the government of the United States. But, of course, the southern states, and their people, were perfectly happy to leave the government of the United States in place for every state which was still willing to suffer under it. So to refine the federal government’s operating premise, it must have been that the mere secession of any state, even one state, constituted the attempted overthrow of the federal government. This cannot be a practical reality for states which have not seceded. It is not even a practical reality for the federal government.

Secession is not the overthrow of any central government which exists, in the first place, only to serve regional governments. Here we have the unadmitted disagreement by Lincoln for whom the federal government was master, not servant. It had to be. The goals of Lincoln and his party could not be realized if the federal government was little more than the servant of the sovereign states.

If the southern states, instead of seceding, had marched on Washington DC, with the intention of replacing the federal government for all of the states, north and south, while the north objected, it would have satisfied a commonly accepted definition of insurrection as the attempt to overthrow the whole government of the whole nation. What it all boils down to, legally, is whether or not the states were explicitly made subject to the federal government in the constitution, and whether or not states had the explicit right to invade one another (as if any state, in 1789 would have agreed to that). In other words, (J2) is anchored in (J1), which is legal nonsense. (J1) cannot be found in the constitution. If the states were actually subject to the federal government then the Tenth Amendment, the delegation clause, and enumerated powers, would make no sense. A lot of sections would not make sense. The Bill of Rights would not make sense.

If (J1) is historical and metaphysical nonsense then there was no insurrection in any meaningful legal or moral sense. There was no practical reality to this claim. The arguments become all too technical and speculative, and in that sense, decadent. They become not just morally uninteresting but legally uninteresting for lack of substance. They are not positive, but all too interpretive. The otherwise recognized legal principle is to allow anything which is not clearly prohibited. If there is a need to clearly prohibit secession then let a new constitution, a new government, make this absolutely perspicuous.

It is not even clear that an insurrection which overthrew a state government would have been the business of the federal government even if the consequence was the state’s secession from the federal government. Let’s say that the Marxists had taken over Mississippi in 1859, through democratic manipulations, and the people of Mississippi rose up to overthrow that state government. Would Buchanan have intervened in favor of the Marxists? Or do specific circumstances and the goals of the politicians determine the impermanent and relative nature of insurrection? If the federal government had become Marxist (maybe it did) and Massachusetts had seceded after overthrowing its state government for acquiescence to Washington, would the other states have invaded or followed suit on the grounds that the constitution was dead? The South thought that Lincoln was throttling the constitution interpreted through the lens of the Declaration. The Northern Copperheads agreed. The counter by Lincoln and his friends was not based on a non-controversial, explicit legal right of the federal government. It was a competing ambition constructing a legal case, as usual. It was no more cut and dried than John Roberts declaring Obamacare constitutional.

Before he became powerful enough to do what he wanted to without popular support, Lincoln asserted the right of the people to abolish any government at their whim. When he made this assertion as a congressman he must have considered it compatible with the Constitution, with American law. Otherwise he was looking forward to his own overthrow of constitutional government, assuming he could make it popular. The secession of the southern states, in any event, did not abolish the existing federal or state governments. The secession was, to be precise, practical, and concrete, the creation of a new government, based on a natural right recognized in the Declaration and, at one point in his life, by Lincoln. This was explicitly compatible with the Declaration as the description of American political morality and not clearly incompatible with the existing constitution. The difference between Lincoln’s creation of a new government, and the South’s, is that the latter was actually popular.

So we abandon the attempt to justify the North’s invasion of the south on technical legal grounds, perhaps because, in an event, technical legal grounds are not morally satisfying. The positive law is not necessarily natural law. Abolitionists took the position that the constitution of 1789 was a legal contract with the devil. They favored the explicit violation of the existing law — the compact they admitted was in force. Abolitionism was anchored in natural law, not the positive law, which it abhorred. But this kind of thinking was not to be tolerated in the South as long as the North could construct a legal case against it.

If the invasion of the south by the north was directed by abolitionism then it was primarily a proud product of morality, not technical legality. Although the Constitution of 1789 did not explicitly legalize slavery in any state, it did not explicitly prohibit it. The north had only recently given up on slavery itself for its economic irrelevance. The constitution explicitly recognized that it was a contract between non-slave and slave states. Even an abolitionist should understand that it could not be honorable for the north to believe, as Lysander Spooner did, that the constitution actually made slavery illegal, seduce the Southern states into a supposedly permanent union by lying about it, and then spring the trap once the deal was made. This is like hiding the fine print of a contract until the other party signs the dotted line and then instantly prosecuting the flummoxed partner for failing with respect to what he was never informed about. The notion that the north had the right to assert the constitutional illegality of slavery in the southern states as incorporated territory, after assuring them that the union was safe for slavery, is the dumbest moral argument in the entire debate. It is itself, a patently immoral argument.

Let’s consider a more serious and more viable moral justification for the northern invasion of the south. It dismisses as supererogatory any technical legal argumentation.

(J3) Slavery is so evil, that even without any technical legal justification whatsoever, the north had the (natural) right to invade the south to end it.

(J3), at a minimum, rings with an authenticity which wins it much more respect, right out of the box, than (J1) and (J2) can possibly inspire.

Now, obviously, on the basis of (J3), the north would have had the natural right to invade Canada, had it been a home to slavery, or many nations in Africa and South America. And it would have had to occupy them in order to prevent the return of slavery ended by an invading foreign army. In fact, it would have had to force such nations into the union, in some sense, in order to continue to enforce the morality of a government in need of overwhelming centralized power. That seems to be exactly what happened after the South became the Confederate States of America — a separate nation for all practical purposes including war. It was invaded, conquered and subdued by a whole new American government which totally rejected state sovereignty. But then, any nation, say the Confederate States of America, might announce its moral right to invade any nation, say the United States, due to profound moral disagreement. Would we have fought the Nazis if they had stayed totally within the borders of Germany, even having taken back the Sudetenland?

(J3) raises moral questions en masse. The moral questions are related to hypothetical imperatives describing competing processes for achieving the stated goal. If (J3) presents us, at a minimum, with an end which justifies some means, we must ask ourselves, “Which means exactly?” And if Lincoln, and his federal government, did not actually embrace this end, but simply exploited it politically, then the means by which the real goal was achieved were morally outrageous. The goal, quite simply, was the subjugation of the southern people. If morality had become paramount, and legality empty, it would have resulted in the North seceding from the South or compensated emancipation as it did in so many other countries in the nineteenth century. It could not possibly have led to total war.

When any party, any nation, takes the position stated in (J3), it should not start out by denying this to their victim states. The idealism in (J3) is incompatible with deceit. When the northern and southern states entered in their compact, (J3) was not a part of the mix. Perhaps it should have been, in which case the union would not have been joined. In that case, would the Northern Country have invaded the Southern Country over slavery? I do not think so. The north was institutionally racist just like the south. It had its own laws based on prejudice, on the goal of keeping blacks out or powerless of they were in; on the goal of favoring white labor. The Northern Country and the Southern Country would have fought over control of the western territories, slave or free. And perhaps this is all the “Civil” War was about, morally and legally speaking.

The coup de grace, slicing through the neck of (J3), is that it was likely to become, and did become, the demonstration of (C) — the moral equivalence of slavery by corporatism and slavery by any central government. In order to defeat what was evil, Lincoln’s government became evil. It killed people who just wanted to be left alone by a whole new government which was clearly in violation of the American revolutionary tradition if not its constitutional tradition. It was government by the monarchists and left over European statists like Hamilton, Clay, and Lincoln. The “Civil” War was the end of the revolutionary tradition in America as the guide to the constitution. It lasted a mere half century, extinguished by men who were perfectly comfortable with slavery, as long as they were the masters.

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