Abraham Lincoln, Philosopher Statesman
Joseph R. Fornieri
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What constitutes Lincoln’s political greatness as a statesman? As a great leader, he saved the Union, presided over the end of slavery, and helped to pave the way for an interracial democracy. His great speeches provide enduring wisdom about human equality, democracy, free labor, and free society. Joseph R. Fornieri contends that Lincoln’s political genius is best understood in terms of a philosophical statesmanship that united greatness of thought and action, one that combined theory and practice. This philosophical statesmanship, Fornieri argues, can best be understood in terms of six dimensions of political leadership: wisdom, prudence, duty, magnanimity, rhetoric, and patriotism. Drawing on insights from history, politics, and philosophy, Fornieri tackles the question of how Lincoln’s statesmanship displayed each of these crucial elements.
Providing an accessible framework for understanding Lincoln’s statesmanship, this thoughtful study examines the sixteenth president’s political leadership in terms of the traditional moral vision of statecraft as understood by epic political philosophers such as Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Fornieri contends that Lincoln’s character is best understood in terms of Aquinas’s understanding of magnanimity or greatness of soul, the crowning virtue of statesmanship. True political greatness, as embodied by Lincoln, involves both humility and sacrificial service for the common good. The enduring wisdom and timeless teachings of these great thinkers, Fornieri shows, can lead to a deeper appreciation of statesmanship and of its embodiment in Abraham Lincoln.
With the great philosophers and books of western civilization as his guide, Fornieri demonstrates the important contribution of normative political philosophy to an understanding of our sixteenth president. Informed by political theory that draws on the classics in revealing the timelessness of Lincoln’s example, his interdisciplinary study offers profound insights for anyone interested in the nature of leadership, statesmanship, political philosophy, political ethics, political history, and constitutional law.
2015 ISHS Superior Achievement Award
either hired laborers, or what we call slaves. And further it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fixed in that condition for life. Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed; nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless. Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have
separation of the States. . . . His duty is to administer the present government, as it came to his hands, and to transmit it, unimpaired by him, to his successor.”46 With reference to the rebel siege of Fort Sumter, Lincoln made clear that his official duty as chief executive both obligated and authorized him to enforce the laws and to protect federal property: “the power confined DUT Y 95 to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the
to a higher level of class consciousness and solidarity among the working class. Not surprisingly, Zinn repeats Richard Hofstadter’s disparaging verdict that the Emancipation Proclamation had all “the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.”16 Philosophically, historicism and relativism are both problematic since they undermine their own claim to authoritativeness. Their wholesale denial of absolutes is itself absolute. While rejecting transhistorical principles of judgment, the historicist
the same conclusion about Lincoln’s combined greatness and goodness. The intertwining of these two virtues are essential to understanding Lincoln’s character as a statesman; for greatness without goodness corrupts into prideful self-assertion, while goodness without greatness lacks the wherewithal to prevail in monumental crises. To appreciate further Lincoln’s biblical magnanimity, we must consider the biblical faith that informed his political ethics and how the corresponding Christian norms of
warns against freeing the slaves by enslaving the free.”33 The successful statesman must therefore possess a healthy dose of political moderation. Assuredly guided by principle, he or she strives to prudently achieve as much of the good as possible without being corrupted by power or blinded by radical schemes of utopian perfection. Put another way, the statesman is neither a pragmatist who pursues power without principle nor an idealist who pursues perfection apart from reality. In sum, his or