The New York Times reviews Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism by John Burt in the upcoming Sunday Book Review. Of course, it being President’s Day weekend, not to mention the movie Lincoln being nominated for so many awards, our nation’s 16th president seems to be a popular subject for readers at the moment. The book examines Lincoln as a moral philosopher. Steven Smith cites Harry V. Jaffaâ€™s â€œCrisis of the House Divided,â€ published in 1959.
“A student of the philosopher Leo Strauss, Jaffa argued that the issue between Lincoln and Douglas during the 1850s was the clash between Lincolnâ€™s doctrine of natural right and Douglasâ€™s doctrine of popular sovereignty. This was, as Jaffa declared, identical to the conflict between Socrates and Thrasymachus in Platoâ€™s â€œRepublic.â€ Douglas argued that whatever the people of a state or territory wanted made it right for them. For Lincoln, however, only a prior commitment to the moral law could make a free people.” Now, for the first time in half a century Jaffa’s book has a serious rival, writes Smith, a professor of philosophy at Yale. I’ve already downloaded a sample to my Kindle.