The Necessity of Memorial Day

Most of our national holidays have some connection with the Civil War. Memorial Day has the most direct relationship, as an expression of national unity between North and South. The remembrance reminds us that a nation cannot be reduced to an army nor to a marketplace. Plato in the Republic and human experience show how the political community embraces those necessary purposes and others beyond them, which fulfill the higher purposes of life. As individuals and as nations we live for those higher purposes.

On the eve of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln plead with the Southern States to renounce secession and remain in the Union. He concluded his First Inaugural with these haunting lines:

I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle–field, and patriot grave, to every living” heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

The Gettysburg Address evokes these musical chords in the great themes of western civilization—reason and revelation, the Declaration of Independence and the 90th Psalm (the source of the “four score” of Lincoln’s poem). America is part of that heritage of science and faith and relives those experiences within itself.

Americans are not just those who find themselves thrown together in temporary coalitions on an issue of the day; they are also bound over generations by inheritance and posterity. Only such a people would think wisdom might reside in the past, to be called forth for the present. Only such a culture could take originalist jurisprudence with full seriousness. Only such citizens would understand the existential meaning of granting citizenship. When we have memories we feel gratitude, realize our obligations, and recognize how to exercise our rights. We remember how to be a free people.

Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He teaches in graduate programs in political science for Johns Hopkins University and for the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University. He has edited Interpreting Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, co-edited The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science, and co-authored and co-edited several other books on American politics and political thought. In addition, he has worked ten years in the federal government as a speechwriter and on policy issues, at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was a special assistant to Chairman Clarence Thomas, and the Departments of Justice and Labor.

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  1. libertarian jerry says

    Abraham Lincoln was a defiler of the Constitution and a tyrant. In essence Lincoln was the American Lenin. He invaded the South and caused a War that killed upwards of 800 thousand people on both sides. He purposely destroyed and wrecked the South to an extent that it took that region almost 100 years to fully recover. Many of today’s problems that are caused and compounded by the Federal Government can be laid at the feet of Lincoln who centralized political power in Washington D.C. There are 2 books written by Thoma DiLerenzo titled “Lincoln Unmasked” and “The real Lincoln.” These 2 books explain, in detail, what Lincoln was all about. They are not “far out” “revisionist history,” but well researched and documented. With that said,all wars that America has fought in after the Revolutionary War,arguably, were wars for territorial expansion, for profit or American hegemony. War is a waste,a racket and is the health of the state. In essence most of the American war dead that are honored on Memorial Day died for nothing.

  2. gabe immordino says

    Really, Jerry! Lenin!!!!! One espouses the inherent dignity of man while the other glorifies the state. It really is not difficult to ascertain which is which!
    the problem with DiLorenzo, (as with many other well researched books) is not the facts but the motives the author ascribes to Lincoln as well as failing to recognize that sometimes men must act in an apparent arbitrary or unlawful manner. after all, the constitution is not a suicide pact.
    And while the civil War did bring some measure of centralization to Washington, (it could not be helped if one wished to win a war), this declined somewhat after the war AND there was no FUNDAMENTAL change in the American approach to centralization until the rise of the Progressives and Woodenhead Wilson. Lorenzo and other “Austrians” would have us fight a war as we should run an economy – not quite the same thing – we do not each get to decide what weapons we like, who we will fight, etc. Laissez faire on the battlefield is a recipe for defeat.
    Have a great memorial Day.
    BTW, DiLorenzo’s “How Capitalism Saved America” was a fine book.

  3. libertarian jerry says

    Gabe……Have you read Dilorenzo’s books on Lincoln? If not,I would ask you to please read them and then decide for yourself on whether Lincoln was the American Lenin or just the 16th President of the United States “who saved the union.” As for the “dignity of man,” Lincoln was a vicious racist who disparaged the Black man and had made plans to ship large numbers of blacks back to Africa. As for fighting a war,the Civil War could have been avoided and thus have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But Lincoln wanted war to consolidate power in Washington. Lincoln was backed by Northeastern Republican industrialists and financiers who wanted to keep the South in the Union for Tariff purposes. Slavery was a side issue.

  4. gabe immordino says

    I could not finish The Real Lincoln as I could not escape the feeling that he was fight a battle that had been unsuccessfully wage over a century ago and employing the same cynical and specious line of argument.
    Let me ask you a question.
    If in 1857, you were asked to produce one document that would predict the outcome of the civil War, what would you choose?
    Try a railroad map of the United states for that era. The North was crisscrossed with major lines while the south had but two (if memory serves me). what does this tell us about the two societies. The North was already well on the way to industrialization AND centralization of its economy (although still primitive by todays’ standards). Centralization was coming whether or not the feudal agararian south wanted it or not. The issue is not centralization – that is inescapable – but rather what is to be done, how is centralization to be employed?
    As Lincoln was more of a “Free Soil, Free labor…” type and not a Northern industrialist, it is not unreasonable to assume that he would not have employed the centralized power to trample on the rights of citizens. There is not a single undistorted utterance of Lincoln’s that would lead one to such a conclusion.
    Lastly, it can be said of any war: IT COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED!!! This is an instance of something being SO TRUE

  5. gabe immordino says

    Oops, did not finish sentence!
    This is an instance of something being SO TRUE that it is without import.
    Ask the French if they would prefer to speak German!! we could have avoided that one too – but at what cost?

  6. libertarian jerry says

    Ken…….There has been a war between the Political Class and the believers in a large centralized government on one hand and the believers in limited government and maximum personal liberty on the other hand. Since Lincoln, the way has been paved for the growth of the leviathan state in America. This is why I call him the American Lenin. Without a Northern victory it would have been very difficult to build America’s Federal Government into the large centralized leviathan government that it is today. Over the last 150 years or so battle after battle has been fought and lost by the believers in Liberty. Let’s face it, the Political Class has won the war to create a large centralized socialist/fascist state in America. All 10 Planks to the Communist Manifest(albeit in modified form)has been sown onto the fabric of America. Our Constitution has been evicerated to the point where it is a shell of its former self. Conservatives and Libertarians have been fighting a rearguard action in trying to preserve some semblance of liberty in America. Despite much optimism,it is clear that the war for liberty has been lost. In the end the victors write the history. This is why the Political Class establishment that writes that history puts monsters like Lincoln,Wilson and FDR on a podium and unquestionably bow down to their history and contributions to the leviathan state. Without Lincoln and his Presidential heirs it would have been nearly impossible to create the American Federal Government of today. This is Lincoln’s legacy.

  7. Ken MasugiKen Masugi says

    Jerry, why omit George Washington and the other founders from the ranks of those you loath? The whole burden of the founding was to create a centralized government that was also a limited government. You make the choices much too easy for yourself. And, btw, you put no blame on the South, in its defense of slavery, which is hardly about liberty.


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