Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Booknotes: Abraham Lincoln’s Statesmanship and the Limits of Liberal Democracy

New Arrival:
Abraham Lincoln’s Statesmanship and the Limits of Liberal Democracy by John D. Schaff (SIU Press, 2019).

Schaff's study "highlights Lincoln’s significance in the development of American power institutions and social movement politics." "Using Lincoln’s prepresidential and presidential words and actions," Abraham Lincoln’s Statesmanship and the Limits of Liberal Democracy "argues that decent government demands a balance of competing goods and the strong statesmanship that Lincoln exemplified. Instead of relying too heavily on the will of the people and institutional solutions to help prevent tyranny, Jon D. Schaff proposes that American democracy would be better served by a moderate and prudential statesmanship such as Lincoln’s, which would help limit democratic excesses."

More from the description: "Schaff explains how Lincoln’s views on prudence, moderation, natural rights, and economics contain the notion of limits, then views Lincoln’s political and presidential leadership through the same lens. He compares Lincoln’s views on governmental powers with the defense of unlimited government by twentieth-century progressives and shows how Lincoln’s theory of labor anticipated twentieth-century distributist economic thought. Schaff’s unique exploration falls squarely between historians who consider Lincoln a protoprogressive and those who say his presidency was a harbinger of industrialized, corporatized America." I don't know. There's no harm in the attempt, but it might be overly speculative to draw grand conclusions about Lincoln's governing ideology when all we have to go on is a single presidential term overwhelmingly consumed with fighting a horrific civil war.

"In analyzing Lincoln’s approach," Schaff "rejects the idea he was a revolutionary statesman and instead lifts up Lincoln’s own affinity for limited presidential power, making the case for a modest approach to presidential power today based on this understanding of Lincoln’s statesmanship. As a counterpoint to the contemporary landscape of bitter, uncivil politics, Schaff points to Lincoln’s statesmanship as a model for better ways of engaging in politics in a democracy."

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