Vindicating Lincoln?

by David Gordon

Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President. By Thomas L. Krannawitter. Roman & Littlefield, 2008. Xv + 355 pages.

When I reached page 222 of Vindicating Lincoln, I almost threw the book across the room. There I read, "First, the latest iterations of European philosophy during the antebellum period were to be found in the writings of G.W.F. Hegel and Charles Darwin, whose teachings, when transported to the United States, were often interpreted as justifications for, not arguments against, black slavery" (emphasis added).

Can Krannawitter be ignorant of the fact that Darwin did not discuss human evolution until The Descent of Man in 1871? Perhaps the passage was a trivial slip, that only a reviewer intent on blood would highlight. But several pages later, Krannawitter rides again: "In the antebellum South, religious thought incorporated the ideas of Hegel and Darwin to provide a potent defense of slavery that was well received by many Southern whites" (p. 234).

In trying to understand how Krannawitter could be guilty of so gross a mistake, we arrive at a key to the book. He was a student of Harry Jaffa, and his book defends to the last detail Jaffa’s analysis of Lincoln.

I

[Krannawitter] believe in honesty in advertising, and I therefore disclose to the reader that I am a student of Jaffa’s. To be fair, I should have concluded almost every paragraph with a footnote acknowledging Jaffa’s teaching, but I knew that the reader would tire of it, so let me state here that Jaffa’s influence is present throughout the book. (p. xiii)

Now the mystery is solved. Jaffa makes exactly the same mistake, and it has not occurred to Krannawitter to check the claims of his revered teacher.

It would be an even more serious mistake, though, to dismiss Krannawitter’s book as incompetent; whatever his failings, and they are many, he raises an important issue. If we think that slavery is unconditionally wrong, must we not acknowledge that Lincoln’s waging war against the South was correct? By contrast with Lincoln, many of the leaders of the Confederacy thought that slavery was a positive good. Must not all libertarians, then, reject the Southern position that secession was constitutionally justifiable? To think otherwise, he claims, is to support slavery. Why then, Krannawitter asks, has a coalition between libertarians and pro-Southern writers formed to assail the Great Emancipator?

Copyright © 2008 Ludwig von Mises Institute

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