This post may get me back into the good graces of my libertarian friends (hi, Tony *grin*). Got clued in via Twitter to a recent review titled “The Despot Lincoln” of a 2002 book, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. (Seems the Republican penchant for unnecessary wars goes back a ways.)
To be fair: I’ve not read this book, only the review of it, so I’m kind of talking about something twice removed. But that’s ok–I’m actually going to be talking around the subject and about the review itself anyway.
So, evidently this book deconstructs the legend and the myth of Lincoln and really gets into the reality of his politics, policies, and socio-political beliefs based on his actions during his presidency and his time in Illinois politics. It turns out that an overarching belief of Lincoln was a strong federal government in control of social organization, individual state affairs and commerce, and the structure of mercantilism (which, by the way, was the socio-economic base preceding true and modern capitalism). And the Civil War was less to do with slavery than about federal (and imperial) control of the resources and wealth of the South.
Years and years ago, even a little into my teens, long before I had any ideas of libertarianism or especially Marxist criticism, I thought there was something wrong with the whole Civil War story we’re taught through both school and culture (the former really being a tool of the later, anyway). War itself is wrong, but that’s beside the point: What’s really going on that half a nation would want to split from the rest, and the side that controlled the organized military should act just like the empire we fought not a hundred years earlier to be free of in using armed force to prevent it? The idea that it was all about freeing the slaves didn’t ring true to me and seemed implausible, and for some vague and esoteric idea of simply keeping One Nation together is an even worse idea. (You don’t wage bloody war against your brother for some phantom notion of nationalism–at least, no rational person does. And if they do, how horrifically immoral and vile of an act is that!?)
No, even back when I still thought Marxism was the equivelent of Satanism, I understood it must have to do with economics, wealth, resources. (Later, as a Marxist, I’d learn that all wars are fundamentally about economics and resources.)
Ironically, this review of the book (and presumedly the book itself) while critiquing Lincoln’s political and war motivations as being economically motivated, (which is what materialist Marxism is all about doing), the review (and, again, evidentally the book) spends some time railing against some early 20th century American Maxist-Leninists who were working hard as historical revisionists to white-wash Lincoln and put a positive spin on his fascio-socialist politics. Now, these guys the review/book mention may very well have been Marxists, I don’t know. I’ll grant them this. And if true, the review/book is factually correct on this count and that’s fine. But the strong implication of both is that this is evidence that goes to the arguement that all Marxists approve of fascism and imperialim and seek to promote the kind of centralized goverment control of all resources and wealth that Lincoln appeared to want. And this mischaracterization simply points up yet again how very little libertarians, conservatives, capitalist bulldogs understand about Marxism.
For example, while it may be true that these particular Marxists the book likely cherry-picked were of the pro-fascism ilk, most of the Marxist critics, democratic-socialists, anarcho-socialists I’m aware of from the same time period would have been appalled at the kind of federalized control of commerce and wealth Lincoln was moving toward, and most especially the idea of waging war to secure that wealth and resources for federalized control. It was Marx and Engles who, before and during the very years of the American Civil War, were in Germany writing about how capitalism was the corrupt foundation upon which unjust, unnecessary, violent, wars just like the Civil War are based upon. They decried the very basis of wealth and resource and labor-exploiting economy that fueled Lincoln’s alleged desire to federalize and command.
Socialist activists like Max Eastman, John Reed, Emma Goldman, fought and were imprisoned for their views on wealth-inspired wars and their anti-war activism… In the 20s. Early anarchists like Bakunin (sp?) fought for anti-federalism (anti-governments in general) and were also socialists and believers in Marxist criticism. Marxist critics like Max Weber and Erich (sp?) Fromm (who identified as a libertarian socialist) were staunchly anti-war and anti-centralized power based on accumulation of wealth and resources! Modern libertarianism owes it’s existance to the early Marxists and scads of anarcho-socialists and libertarian socialists!
But nearly every current (American) self-proclaimed libertarian I know, knows nothing of their movement’s history, knows nothing about the various forms of socialism, erronously groups all socialists as Stalinists, and has no understanding whatsoever of Marxism. And sadly, they tend to have no interest at all in even acknowledging any differences. The differences, for one example, between a Soviet communist and an anarcho-socialist are as stark as night and day. But, when I try to even point this up, I’m usually met with a wall of righteous dismissal and the evident desire to remain ignorant as additional information would simply complicate their black-and-white ideological blanket hatred.
Hmm, OK, this will do nothing to improve the graces of my libertarian friends. Chances are, this may be the end of friendships. 😛
Back to the Lincoln review/book: their anti-Marxist diatribes aside, their critique of Lincoln seems to make complete sense given the evidence. We live in a nation where the federalist North won, and the winners get to write history (and craft the general cultural message of why they won and what it was all about in the first place).
Now, don’t misunderstand me, and no offense meant (…OK, maybe a little offense, sorry…) I’m not only not a Southerner but I really don’t in general like the South. Besides their past hanging on to abhorrant slavery (which, again, had little to actually do with the war and the North was for a long time also a supporter of and a longer time a beneficiary of), I hate their current general racism, scientific ignorance, mysoginistic bigotry, religious zealotry, and food. (*sigh* OK, a lot of offense. Sorry.) In general, stereotyped broad strokes.
But even before I knew the word libertarianism, or the concept of anarcho-socialism, I believed in the message of the Declaration of Independence that stressed that any people have the right to rid itself of government it finds intrusive, abusive, overly controlling, domineering, and counter to the peoples’ desires for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the 10th Amendment that states that all rights not expressly dictated by the Constitution fall to the states and to the people. I believe that includes the right to secede from the union should the constitutional, federal government grossly overstep its rights and bounds and violate the limits of the Constitution and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. (Did I get you libertarians back?)