One of the unmistakable features of modern conservatives is their not-so-veiled hostility toward heritage America. Some attribute this to ethnic hostility, given the infiltration of the Right by neoconservatives. Initially, these people made the journey from communism to anti-communism and were never conservative in temperament. Of course, the royal lifestyles of many conservatives has made them into unpleasant snobs. All of that is true to one degree or another, but it obscures an important point about modern conservatives.
The Official Right has a different interpretation of American history than most normal white people. Blacks, of course, fixate on slavery and segregation, so their view of American history is through hostile eyes. Whites generally accept the conventional narrative. If you ask a normal white American to tell the story of America, he will start with something about how the Puritans came to America to escape religious tyranny. Once the colonist got things going, the King tried to tax the colonists, so there was a revolution.
The Official Right has a different view of American history. They look at the Founding as an imperfect result. First and foremost, they view the tolerance of slavery, and the enshrining of it in the Constitution, as a great sin. Rather than embrace the principle of liberty for all, because all men are created equal, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution created a compromise. While all citizens were free and equal under the law, slavery created a class of people who were not citizens.
In the view of the Straussians, the intellectual movement based on the writing and teaching of Leo Strauss, the Constitution was not just a flawed document, but an immoral one, because it violated that core principle of equality. From this perspective, the Civil War was a purification of the country, removing the origin sin of slavery and forming a new Union, based in equality and universal liberty. For the Official Right, America was reborn in the Civil War and Lincoln was the Moses who ushered in the new republic.
This is why the Official Right has a Lincoln fetish. For example, Rich Lowry, the dull-witted editor of National Review, wrote a Lincoln book. The neocons treat Lincoln as if he is an Old Testament prophet. Jonah Goldberg regularly writes about Lincoln as if he is a god on Mt. Olympus. For the Official Right, Lincoln is the Founding Father. Those guys who wrote the Constitution are not entirely dismissed, but they are secondary figures in the story. For the Official Right, the American story starts with the Gettysburg Address.
A big part of this is due to a guy named Harry Jaffa, who became something of a cult leader for the neoconservatives. His framing of the Civil War as the second founding, allowed the neocons to see themselves as proof of the concept. The original founding excluded them from the narrative, while the second founding not only included them in the story of America, it made them proof of its righteousness. Lincoln’s America was not just for the founding stock. It was for whoever could get control of it.
Of course, the old WASP side of the Official Right was also willing to embrace this notion of the second founding. Since northern conservatism was mostly just a clean up crew that followed Progressivism around, the story of the second founding made their unwillingness to oppose the Left seem noble. Since Reconstruction, the role of what passes for conservatism has been to fill the void after every great spasm of Progressive activism overturned the old order. The Official Right’s job was to make it all work again.
The problem with this telling of history is it assumes a core immorality of the founding stock and the institutions they created. It also locks in the notion that it is the role of Northern reformers to be the guardians of civic morality. The Left need only appeal to the notion of universal equality and liberty and their opponents were disarmed. After all, the party of Lincoln, if it stands for anything, stands for universal equality and liberty. The conservatism of Harry Jaffa is nothing but a complex apologia for Progressivism.
A fun gag is to talk to the grandees of the Official Right about Lincoln’s actual views on race relations. The quickest way to get hurled into the void by angry Buckleyites is to quote Lincoln on the issue. The fact is, Lincoln was a man of his age, when it came to race, despite his zealous opposition to slavery. Like all abolitionists, he did not care about the slaves, he cared about the slave holder. That was the soul he sought to save. The slaves themselves were just props on the stage of the morality play that was abolitionism.
The Official Right can never accept this. One of the criticisms of Harry Jaffa on this score was that he was not a scholar of Lincoln, so much as the chief polemicist for the cult that formed around him. His telling of history left out anything that contradicted his concept of the second founding. This is true not only from an academic perspective, but also from a human one. This telling of history leaves out most of the country. For anyone outside the northern alliance, their ancestors are either villains or non-entities in the narrative.
That’s the source of the low level hostility toward heritage America that has been a feature of the Official Right and that is now its face to the rest of us. Since Gettysburg, the story of America has been the story of northern hegemony. On one side are the reformers and fanatics, always looking for a reason to put the lash to the legacy population. On the other side are the so-called conservatives, who hold most of the same views, but see their role as making the latest fads work, so the overall American project can move forward.
The Lincoln fetish that blossomed among so-called conservatives in the middle of the last century was a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Unable to conjure and sustain a moral opposition to the Left, they embraced Lincoln as their Moses. Their acquiescence to the Left was the result of deeply held principles with roots in the founding, the second founding. They were champions of “a new birth of freedom — that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
This is the great challenge in attempting to overturn the Judeo-Puritan orthodoxy that defines the America ruling class. It requires more than just defeating present day arguments over public policy. It means restoring large chunks of history that have been systematically erased by our zealous overlords. Killing off the cult of Lincoln and the political movement it animates, means telling a better story to the people charged with tearing it down. That inevitably means killing Lincoln as the founder of the nation.