…is endlessly fascinating. And so I enjoyed Mr. Pomocon’s post below and the responses to it. Here are some random comments that are meant to be provocative in the armchair speculation kind of way:
1. Lincoln could have avoided the war had that been his highest objective.
2. The war was a high-risk move. The South could and should have won. Insurgents usually win.
3. What would we think of Lincoln today had the South won?
4. The South lost because of decisions distorted by slavery and honor. It wasn’t just that the North had more men, more weapons, and more technology generally. Lincoln especially put his rational faith in technology–the telegraph, the railroad, weapons development etc. Lee’s approach to battles was honorable and even worked remarkably well early, but the big-battle (lots of men killing lots of men) approach was bound to favor the North over the long term. The South was far too reluctant too risk slavery (by, say, arming the slaves) to gain victory.
5. The Civil War was horribly bloody–the whole gentleman using high technology thing. A big thought after the war: Was it worth it? That thought, as Louis Menand shows, was a cause of the moral nihilism of our pragmatism and Social Darwinism etc.
Big principles and deep nobility, the thought was, both produce lots of senseless and unspeakably cruel killing. The novelist Marilynne Robinson shows the destructive effect of all that blood on the idealism of the neo-Puritanical, abolitionist MIDWEST. Was this kind of reaction to the war the beginning of of American “nonfoundationalism” that’s especially powerful today?
6. In a certain way, the South won the second civil war, the terrorist movement of the KKK that ended the occupation of federal troops. Those insurgents knew what they were doing. And the South was largely left to itself for almost a century.
7. If the South had won the war, the result might have been the same fate as South Africa–apartheid and isolation. Losing the war made the South the South; Southern literature, for example, is all about the experiences of displaced aristocrats and a kind of very otherworldly Christianity that was the product of political defeat.
8. Lincoln was a great commander-in-chief and a very deep and principled thinker. But to what extent should we build a civil religion around him? What is the relationship between Lincoln’s moral egalitarianism, techno-development, and the individualistic tendencies toward apathetic indifference and commodification? What’s the relationship between being dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and the actual Jeffersonian Declaration? What stand does today’s populist (non-southern) Porcher take on Lincoln? Near the Civil War’s end, intelligent southerners were thanking God for Lincoln, and soon enough they knew his “martyrdom” would be a disaster for them. To what extent should we speak of Lincoln and savior and martyr (as Walt Whitman does)? (These questions are in no particular order and have no particular answer in my mind.)
9. Was the Civil War a result of a defect or defects in the original Constitution that probably only could have been resolved on the battlefield? Is that why the post-Confederate pushing of constitutional issues always seems like whining…?