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A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War Hardcover – 28 Sep 2000


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield (28 Sept. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847699528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847699520
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 3.7 x 20.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,911,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Jaffa shows the inner unity of Lincoln's words and deeds with an intelligence and loving care never before equaled.--Charles R. Kesler "The Claremont Review Of Books "

About the Author

Harry V. Jaffa is the Henry Salvatori Professor of Political Philosophy Emeritus at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University, a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute, and the author of ten books.

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Strictly speaking, this isn't a book about Abraham Lincoln. Rather, it's a book in which the author, Harry Jaffa, expounds his peculiar brand of conservative philosophy, known to outsiders as West Coast Straussianism. "A new birth of freedom" is essentially a West Coast Straussian exegesis of the writings of Lincoln, Jefferson and Calhoun. The book is of primary interest to conservatives and libertarians, or perhaps people interested in Leo Strauss, the philosopher Jaffa claims to follow.

Only a very brief sketch of Jaffa's argument is possible here. Jaffa paints Lincoln as a philosophical genius, a leader who combined politics, rhetoric and classical philosophy. He compares Lincoln to Socrates, Aristotle and Euclid. By contrast, he sees affinities between Calhoun and Darwin, Marx, Hegel and Kant (thinkers Jaffa rejects).

To Jaffa, the secession of the southern states was unconstitutional. The thirteen colonies did have the right to secede from Britain, but the South did not have the right to leave the Union. The United States were founded on the natural rights of man. The British Empire and the Confederacy were not. It's lawful to rebel against the divine right of kings, but it's not lawful to rebel in order to safeguard slavery. But wasn't slavery accepted by the US constitution? Jaffa argues that this was a temporary tolerance dictated by prudence. The real intention of the founding fathers was to abolish slavery, something Jaffa attempts to prove by quoting the Declaration of Independence, the writings of Jefferson and other documents.

However, Jaffa also attempts to prove that Lincoln was really a moderate, and that all his actions were constitutional even in the narrow sense of that term.
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Amazon.com: 24 reviews
96 of 105 people found the following review helpful
Philosophy as History 17 July 2001
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In 1958, Professor Jaffa published "Crisis of the House Divided" which remains the definitive study of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. "A New Birth of Freedom", published more that 40 years later, is the promised sequel to the book, and in it Professor Jaffa explores with depth the philosophical and governmental ideas that he believes underlie Lincoln's Presidency, his approach to the issue of slavery, and the Civil War and preservation of the Union.
This book is much broader in scope than Professor Jaffa's earlier book and is more engaged in the philosophical analysis of ideas than with the presentation simply of historical fact. Professor Jaffa asks at the outset what, if anything, differentiates the Southern Secession following the election of Lincoln to the Presidency from the actions of the Colonists in declaring independence from Britain in 1776. In answering this question, Professor Jaffa offers a discussion of the Jefferson-Adams election of 1800, showing how for the first time in history how a democratic society could resolve severe disagreement through the use of ballots in an election rather than through the use of bullets.
Jaffa's history has, I think, these two themes: 1.The Declaration of Independence's statement that "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal" did, indeed, apply for Jefferson and his contemporaries to all people, including the then African-American slaves. 2. The Declaration of Independence itself created a perpetual union of what had been 13 separate colonies of Britian and made the United States one country rather than a confederation of separate states.
Underlying these historical claims is a broader philosophical argument that is even more at the core of the book: Jaffa wants to reject arguments of cultural relativism, historicism, skepticism or other philosophical positions that argue agains the existence of objective moral principles. He finds that Jefferson correctly viewed the language of his declaration "All men are created equal" as expressing a moral truth based upon "the law of Nature and of Nature's God." Jaffa argues for a position based upon Natural Law, in the sense that moral standards are somehow truths independent of human will or of historical circumstances. His Natural Law theory, as I find it, is drawn from an uneasy confluence of the thought of Locke, Aristotle, and the Bible.
The book is less of a chronological historical account than a textual analysis and commentary on the speeches and writings of thinkers and politicians in Civil War America. Professor Jaffa offers a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of Lincoln's First Inauguaral Address and of his July 4, 1861 message to Congress following the outbreak of hostilites. His approach is less on the pragmatic conduct of the government (although that is discussed as well) than on Lincoln as a thinker expressing what Jaffa sees as a commitment to Natural Law and the the inalienable nature of the Union which Lincoln strove to preserve.
Lincoln's thought is compared and contrasted, in almost as great detail, with speeches by James Buchanan, Alexander Stephens, Jefferson Davis, Stephen Douglas and John Calhoun. These individuals are shown to reject the principles of Natural Law that Professor Jaffa finds articulated in the Declaration of Independence and by Lincoln. Their though is compared rather explicitly by Professor Jaffa to academic modernism and skepticism regarding the objective character of moral principle.
There are fascinating discussions of Shakespeare's histories, Aristotle, and, particularly the "Federalist" and the works of Thomas Jefferson. In contrast to many modern historians, Jaffa sees Lincoln in the Gettysburg address as reaffirming the position of Thomas Jefferson rather than as effecting a change in the nature of the American ideal.
This is a difficult, thoughtful,challenging book. It is more of value for its philosophical outlook and challenge than for any addition to the store of historical knowledge. For those who want to think about the philosophical bases for our institutions, this book is highly worthwhile. It is a different sort of successor, but a worthy successor, to Professor Jaffa's study of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
66 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Lincoln's Philosophy 5 Jun. 2003
By Peter Stephens - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A New Birth of Freedom is a book about Lincoln's political philosophy, which Lincoln himself said (in so many words) eminated completely from the Declaration of Independence. The book is the sequel to Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided, written over 40 years earlier. In Crisis, Jaffa takes up Douglas' arguments in the famous 1858 debates for the first half of the book and then Lincoln's in the second half. In New Birth, Jaffa backs up from the 1850's to take in a sweep of history and thought from Classic Greece to the present.
If the material in New Birth is far more wide-ranging than in Crisis, the theme in New Birth is much more precise. The south lost the war, but the philosophy behind the justifications advanced by southern leaders such as Calhoun, Taney and Stephens is winning the battle of the minds.
Crisis of the House Divided is like being in philosophy class, but New Birth is like being over at the professor's house later for drinks. Jaffa seems to lazily go over mountains of quotes, philosophers, and arguments, and he returns again and again to make the same points. But it's never tedious. One finds Jaffa's repetitions well-worded and essential in understanding how far we've fallen philosophically. And eventually, toward the end, one gets a sense of the book's structure.
Here's the book's thesis. Most of us admire Lincoln, but most of us wouldn't agree with his political pholosophy. Lincoln really did believe that our nation was dedicated to a proposition -- a proposition that also brought forth natural rights. Mr. Jaffa demonstrates how 19th Century historicism has won out over the Founders' concept of natural rights. Just as Nietzsche bitterly accounts for how Jewish thought won out after the Israelites were defeated, A New Birth of Freedom laments the asecndency of the Confederacy's historical approach in today's political thinking.
Jaffa traces natural rights from Greek and Jewish thought through Locke, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln. Basically, Jaffa teaches that natural rights begin with the doctrine of the "state of nature." In this state, a person has the right to life and liberty, and to property in order to defend his right to life and liberty. People form government in order to better protect these inalienable rights. In so doing, they yield the exercise of some of their rights, but not the rights themselves, which are inalienable. The people reserve the right of revolution, which is strongly asserted in the Declaration of Independence. Legitimate government can only exist through the consent of the governed, by a unanimous compact or contract. The measures of such a government by the majority's will are deemed the will of the whole, so long as the minority's rights are not violated by the measures.
All of this presupposes that all men are created equal. Jefferson found this self-evident, famously pointing out that we don't find some people born with spurs on their shins and others born with saddles on their backs. Natural rights recognizes a distinction beween God and mankind, on the one hand, and a distinction between mankind and beasts, on the other. The historical school finds all of this an accident of history. Picking up with Jaffa:
"The historical school, which by the 1850s had largely displaced the natural rights school of the Founding, had also given rise to the romantic movement of the mid-nineteenth century. It too repudiated natural right, because it repudiated 'rationalism,' insisting as it did that 'the heart had its reasons which reason did not know.' Accordingly, Lincoln's Socratic reasoning was rejected, because the very idea of justification by reasoning had come to be rejected. History, not reason, decided that some should be masters and others should be slaves. This movement of Western thought, from the natural rights school to the historical shcool, culminated in the Nazi and the Communist regimes of the twentieth century."
This was one of Jaffa's few specific references to how the relativism of the historical school has affected modern history. I hope that, in his next book, Mr. Jaffa will give many more examples of how our retreat from the Founders' conception of natural rights -- and the clear distinction among God, people, and beasts underling that conception -- has cost us.
42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
The argument for Lincoln 20 Mar. 2001
By scott sirk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a challenging book, but an outstanding and necessary book. The book states the argument that Lincoln was right intellectually as well as morally in regard to the questions of his day slavery and Union. Further that Lincoln was consistent with the political views of Jefferson and Madison. The Southern argument of Calhoun and Jefferson Davis perverted the Constituion. The key in their failure is set forth by Mr. Jaffa's statement " The right to alter or abolish government is unalienable, according to Jefferson's Declaration only because rights with which all men have been equally endowed by their Creator are unalienable. Davis, like South Carolina demand respect for the conclusion while ignoring the premises. (p.236) The author clearly states Lincoln's goals of preserve free elections, preserve the Union and set slavery on the ultimate course of extinction. Lincoln was a political genius and he was right. Lincoln admired the Declaration of Independence, the Constituion, the Union and the rule of law. He maintained the principles of the Founding Fathers while recognizing the compromises they had to make for the greater good. Slavery must die and he preferrred to see it die incrementally and under the Constituion, but if there was a rebellion then Lincoln at great cost would preserve the Union.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
The Principles of Abraham Lincoln 10 Jan. 2002
By Toby Joyce - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book enthralled me. It is rich in ideas and examples, as befitting a book on a subject of this magnitude. It is an extended reply that Lincoln would have given if asked "What are your principles, Mr Lincoln?"
I critised David Donald's biography for presenting Lincoln as too much the slick/ sly lawyer and politican - all fox and no hedgehog (to use Isaiah Berlin's metaphor). This is Lincoln the man of principle, and is an essential complement to any synoptic biography, of which Donald's is probably the best.
Jaffa argues convincingly that Lincoln was 'at one' with Jefferson and the Founders. Lincoln always argued that the
Founders were ashamed of slavery and hid it away as 'a wen, or cancer' in the constitution. They looked to elimination of slavery over time, but slavery became economically essential to the Old South. Jefferson's foreboding was correct and slavery contributed to the break-up of the Union. Jafa effectively re-iterates Lincoln's criticism's of Calhoun and Stephen Douglas, and the defence of the Confederacy made by Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis.
For me, what struck most was the emphasis on the principles of Moderation and Prudence, the 'better angels' of Lincoln's inaugaural. Or to quote Churchill "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war".
It is clear that if you accept the Declaration of Independence (as Lincoln did) then the only people with the Right of Rebellion in 1861 were the slaves. Why did Lincoln not then support John Brown? Because he knew that slavery could only be ended with the whole-hearted support of the white population under a united government, not by rebellion. Moderation and Prudence demanded that he could not issue any Emancipation Proclamation, or arm black soldiers, until the Border States were safely retained in the Union. Hence he resisted the clamour from the abolitionists until he could safely move forward.
Lincoln once said something like "For a tall fellow, I am pretty sure-footed". He was never more sure-footed than when he moved around these thorny issues, and the consequences of a slip were never more dangerous!
Let no one think that these are dusty old issues - they inform me at the moment contemplating the future of the European Union. For the EU seems to be to be based soldily on Calhounite pinciples - it is the compact of States that Calhoun always claimed the USA to be. Calhounite principles were behind Wilsonian Liberalism that every minority had the right to its own state, or at least an autonomy with in a state.
Jaffa makes me think that this is a trap for the EU and inevitably it will become a nightmare of minority vetoes, minority quotas and stagnation. What is must become is a compact of peoples - but will the large (and small states) of the EU let that happen?
23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant and vitally important book 25 Aug. 2002
By R. Zubrin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is a masterpiece, but it is misnamed. It should have been entitled "A New Birth of Freedom; Abraham Lincoln and the struggle for Natural Law." I say this because the existing title suggests that this is a book whose purpose is to feed the appetites of Civil War buffs. It is not. This book is a brilliant exposition of the theory of Natural Law, using the debates surrounding the slaveholder's rebellion as dramatically illustrative material.
Natural Law is the notion that there are higher laws of justice, discernable by human reason, which supercede any legal statutes, theologies, or customs which contradict them. This doctrine is the basis of the US Declaration of Independence, and indeed all human rights. It was also the basis for prosecuting Nazi war criminals, whose every action was entirely legal under Nazi law. The doctrine of Natural Law has been derided as metaphysical claptrap by Nazis, cultural relativists, Chief Justice Renquist, and other nihilists and nitwits, but it has to be defended because it is the foundation for everything we hold dear.
In the 20th Century, the primary defender of Natural Law theory was Leo Strauss, and Jaffa is a follower of Strauss. Yet his book is better than Strauss' books, because it is clearer and more powerful, with the issue of slavery putting flesh and blood sensuousness on matters that Strauss leaves as obscurely presented abstractions.
In this time of struggle between societies based on human rights, free thought, and the use of the individual human conscience, and those dedicated to their obliteration, I cannot imagine a more important book. It should be made mandatory reading in every high school in America, or better yet, the world.
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