Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Booknotes: A Nation So Conceived

New Arrival:
A Nation So Conceived: Abraham Lincoln and the Paradox of Democratic Sovereignty by Michael P. Zuckert (UP of Kansas, 2023).

This book is part of University Press of Kansas's Constitutional Thinking series, the volumes of which "develop constitutional theory beyond legalistic concerns by examining such matters as institutional development; public policy; and political behavior, culture, and theory."

In A Nation So Conceived author Michael Zuckert "argues for a coherent center to Lincoln’s political ideology, a core idea that unifies his thought and thus illuminates his deeds as a political actor. That core idea is captured in the term “democratic sovereignty.” Zuckert provides invaluable guidance to understanding both Lincoln and the politics of the United States between 1845 and Lincoln’s death in 1865 by focusing on roughly a dozen speeches that Lincoln made during his career. This reader-friendly chronological organization is motivated by Zuckert’s emphasis on Lincoln as a practical politician who was always fully aware of the political context of the moment within which he was speaking."

Through the lens of Lincoln's speeches, the book examines the "paradoxical duality" of one of the central doctrines of American political thought: "created equal." More from the description: "According to Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg, America was new precisely because it was born in dedication to the first premise of the theory of democratic sovereignty: that all men are created equal. Lincoln’s thought consisted in an ever-deepening meditation on the grounds and implications of that proposition, both in its constructive and in its destructive potential. The goodness of the American regime is derived from that ground and the chief dangers to the regime emanate from the same soil." Zuckert's study reveals how Lincoln understood that duality and explains "how his deeds as a political actor constituted a therapy aimed at" addressing its particular "pathological consequences."

In reexamining Lincoln's speeches between 1838 and 1865, endurance of the nation and its political institutions emerges as a primary concern, and Zuckert sees the source of it in Lincoln's worries over the consequences of the duality referred to above. In the author's view, "(t)he problem of perpetuation loomed so large for Lincoln because he considered that proposition, [that all men are created equal] properly adumbrated, to capture the true foundation of political right but at the same time to be the sources of various threats to the survival of the regime" (pg. 1).

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