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Havers Replies to Lincoln Review

Havers Replies To Lincoln Review

Professor Glenn Moots concludes his review on the critical note that my study of Lincoln’s usage of Christian charity will be valued only by readers who need an introduction “to important questions already considered.” In turn, he predicts that my book will not be “an enduring study of Lincoln or his political religion.” I assume that Professor Moots confidently makes this prediction because he believes that I have focused far more on contemporary debates surrounding Lincoln’s legacy than the thought of the man himself. He indicates that I do not “do enough to emphasize what Lincoln actually said on the subject” of Christian charity as a precondition to successful democratic government.

Chapter 3, however,  documents the various times in which Lincoln, even before he became president, attacked the hypocrisy of slavery on the grounds of Christian charity. Long before his 2nd inaugural address in which he called upon his fellow Northerners to act “with charity for all,” especially towards their defeated Southern brethren, Lincoln was determined to persuade all Americans of the simple truth that slavery violated the most basic credo of Christianity and made a mockery of republican democracy.

What Professor Moots calls my “long literature review” of neoconservative or leftist adulterations of this legacy was simply my attempt to document just how unrecognizable Lincoln’s political philosophy has become in our time. I took particular aim at the neoconservative-Straussian position, which now enjoys hegemonic influence in the Lincoln industry, that the president was the pioneer of democratic universalism or “chosenness.” Although Professor Moots believes that readers may not understand “the merits of getting entangled in these debates,” anyone who has studied the Lincoln legacy knows well that the portrait of Lincoln as a promoter of a messianic democracy-promoting foreign policy holds sway over any other competing positions, and is ripe for critical scrutiny.

The “greatest disappointment” of the book, however, is that I never “plant my own flag” or clearly articulate my own position among these competing voices. In the introduction, however, I list the most important assumptions that constitute Lincoln’s political philosophy –the distinction between charity and hypocrisy, the fact that a Christian (Protestant) background is indispensable for understanding charity, the absence of any ambition to export democracy abroad, and a suspicion of claims to being a “chosen people” (pp. 10-11). One chapter is devoted to each of these assumptions. I also cannot think of any other Lincoln scholar or aficionado who has similarly emphasized the vast difference formulated by Lincoln between a humble politics of charity and an arrogant politics of chosenness.

If my book has any enduring value at all, it is a warning against the temptation to read contemporary political agendas back into Lincoln’s legacy. Although Professor Moots is correct that my book appeals to readers mainly with a “conservative inclination,” the conservative camp is in fact sharply divided between paleoconservative isolationists who blame Lincoln for the Iraq war and neoconservative interventionists who credit him for inspiring this adventurism. The last time that most conservatives cherished Lincoln and supported a humble foreign policy would probably be the brief age of Republican dominance between the two world wars. One may still hold out the hope that conservatives like these still exist.


An excerpt of Lincoln and the Politics of Christian Love is here; also see Glenn A. Moot’s review here.

Grant N. Havers

Grant Havers is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Trinity Western University in Canada. He is the author of Lincoln and the Politics of Christian Love (Missouri, 2009) and Leo Strauss and Anglo-American Democracy: A Conservative Critique (Northern Illinois, 2013).

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