Beinstein column: A Lincolnian take on nationalism
Many in the establishment scoff at nationalism as some archaic, backwards philosophy. And yet, read Abraham Lincoln and you’ll find many nationalist urges.
In a speech called “Fragments of a Tariff,” Lincoln outlined a policy of protection. Believing each nation should take action that would maximize employment and wealth for its own citizens, he advocated for a policy of tariffs.
In a speech about the Mexican-American war, he outlined the foolishness of sacrificing U.S. lives in faraway places for the glory of a bloodthirsty political leader.
Responding to the charge that he was a religious infidel in his 1847 run for Congress, he doubled down on America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Lincoln said he could never vote for a man who scoffed at the Christian religion.
In speaking about the Revolutionary War, he treated George Washington like a near idol. And, in his own home he hung portraits of Senators Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. Noticeably absent were depictions of any British or French aristocrats.
Although he would sometimes escape into Shakespeare or the poetry of Lord Byron, Lincoln retained the diction of a Kentucky farmer. He was never ashamed to sound or act like an “American” as opposed to some of his more Europeanized colleagues. The greatest snobs of his time thought that his sometimes poor grammar and incorrect spelling barred him from high office. The people obviously knew better.
Relatedly, he believed hard work and real accomplishment far outweighed any aristocratic pedigree. He was proud of his son Robert for graduating from Harvard and yet still thought he must prove himself. Interestingly enough, Abraham Lincoln never left the soil of America.
Unlike those on the left who criticize wealth, Lincoln flatly rejected socialism. Don’t tear down the house of another, he’d say, work hard enough to build your own, thus assuring the safety and protection of your own residence from violence.
A lawyer by trade, Abraham Lincoln believed in law and order. And yet he also believed in mercy, handing out a record amount of pardons as president.
He really did love veterans of the Civil War, sometimes sleeping in close proximity to them. His affection seemed so genuine one soldier remarked he really is worth dying for.
Lincoln, with a passion, hated the speculators. Sometimes called globalists in our day, he believed speculators drove up the cost of borrowing for the Union. And he showed his animus toward the banks, refusing to pay 18-plus percent in interest to European bankers.
And his favorite book really was the Bible. Equally comfortable in quoting King David’s Psalms or the words of Jesus, he read the Good Book with religious fervor. Even the atheist writer Christopher Hutchins said Lincoln quotes the Bible so much he must have been a true believer.
And so here we are today, with a politics gripped by nationalism. Those in the establishment keep lampooning its adherents and followers.
But nationalism is a good and healthy impulse. Each country has its own set of traditions and cultures. We can’t and shouldn’t all become the same. Read the story of Babel if you think God approves of some UN plan to destroy our culture and sovereignty.
America is an exceptional country with a special heritage. We reject aristocracy. We value substance and hard work more than flash or coming from the right family. We don’t make fun of people who quote the Ten Commandments, we honor them.
If, heaven forbid, we do lose men and women in war, we treat them like sacred heroes, we don’t treat them like a statistic the way Stalin or Mao would. We revere our Bill of Rights, ensuring all have equal access to justice, freedom of the press, freedom of faith, and the freedom to bear arms.
We treasure the Gettysburg address, when we recommitted ourselves to ensuring the freedom of every individual. And we love our Constitution, limiting the government’s power over us.
Our leaders are right to bask in this history and to celebrate it. Nationalism, I hope, is here to stay. We’d live in a sad world without it.
Alex Beinstein is a millennial who grew up in Aspen, lived in Carbondale for a while and now writes from Washington, D.C. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.