Lincolnian Mythmaking

Americans need myths. The left and the neoconservatives will tell you that Southerners believe in a “lost cause myth” of honorable Southerners fighting for independence and not for slavery.

The left also likes to slap down the neoconservatives for their belief in an anti-slavery and anti-racist founding generation. Some were anti-slavery, yes, but you really can’t find many–or any–that were anti-racism.

Neoconservatives also believe in the “Righteous Cause Myth,” meaning that Abraham Lincoln rode in on a white horse and saved the Union from evil slaveholders like John C. Calhoun. So did Union soldiers by slaughtering thousands of “treasonous” Confederates.

The left’s myth is that non-Europeans created America. For example, the Iroquois contributed to the Constitution, slaves “built” America, etc. While labor of all types, black and white, provided the muscle for the American economy, this is a typical Marxist trope that ignores the symbiotic relationship between labor and capital. You can’t have labor without capital, just as you can’t have civilization without the ideas behind it, and Europeans led the way in this regard.

This is not to suggest that historians should not study the culture and contributions of the “non-great men” of society, far from it, but we should not unreasonably elevate people to a mythical status simply because they were mostly “forgotten” or ignored by traditional histories.

But to the left, non-Europeans are the “good guys” and Europeans are the “bad guys.” Thus we have “systemic racism.”

All of these “myths” rely on a “good guy/bad guy” dichotomy. This is a relatively new development in Western Civilization, one created by the extreme nationalism of the nineteenth century.

There have always been “good guys” and “bad guys” but the lines were often blurred before the rise of the nation state and national identity, which under a nineteenth century definition included race. The modern SJWs are simply nineteenth century progressives who have flipped the old racial charts on their head.

And the good guys and bad guys were not often measured in moral terms but in their deeds and actions. A warrior might have been a real SOB, but he was a hero because he won a great battle against the enemy by whatever means were necessary. Men were measured by the sum of their actions and character not by some moral parable.

Conscious Christians attempted to do the work of Christ, but most failed. This didn’t make them bad people, but real humans.

But Fairy Tales changed how we thought of “good guys” and “bad guys.” You can’t be good unless you are fighting for a morally “righteous cause.” This would have been news to most people throughout history.

This explains, however, why the neoconservatives need Lincoln and the “Righteous Cause Myth.” You can’t slaughter hundreds of thousands of people, destroy an economy, and wreck and plunder a civilization unless there was a morally justifiable reason. Lincoln provided cover by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. To that point, the war was, as James A. Bayard told his son-in-law, a war of extermination and subjugation. It remained so, but now it had the “good guys” fighting the “bad guys.”

They were both Americans and each recognized that fact once the war was over and the smoke cleared.

The Righteous Cause Mythmakers will always resist reconciliation. That makes Allen Guelzo and Victor Davis Hanson as dangerous as Eric Foner and Ty Seidule, perhaps even more so because they are supposed to be “conservative.”

American history has now been reduced to good guys and bad guys. This is unfortunate because in the process we lose our ability to understand. That is the real point of writing history, to understand our past, not to pass modern judgements upon people long turned to dust.

We can still admire and honor them, and in the case of long dead family, love them without agreeing with them.

That would require us to drop our “Righteous Cause Myth” and moral good guy/bad guy dichotomy.

I won’t hold by breath.

I discuss Lincolnian Mythmaking in Episode 450 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

Subscribe to The Podcast

Comments are closed.