Returning once more to Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo’s 2008 interview with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN …here’s Dr. DiLorenzo on what he calls the Lincoln “cult”:
LAMB: If you could get everybody that you call the Lincoln cultists or people who are members of the church of Lincoln in front of you, and we don’t have a whole lot of time left, but if you were going to tell them what you think they ought to do, tell them what they ought to change, tell them – just tell them what you think about them, what would you say to them?
DILORENZO: I think they need to get back to pursuing the truth of history in their careers. One of the debates I was in with another Lincoln scholar, he said at one point in a debate that was printed – it was published, eventually – that, uh, well this debate ended over secession, states rights, with the war. And so what was the point of all of this, he was saying, what was the point of bringing this up again? And my answer was, well, the pursuit of truth in history is the point of it. Might doesn’t make rights. Yes, military might was use to prove, so to speak that secession is illegal and unconstitutional, but might doesn’t make right. And so, sort of pursue the truth is what I would tell them. And maybe, I might embarrass a few of them into changing their ways.
LAMB: How would you embarrass them do you think?
DILORENZO: Well, I think, some of the more thoughtful people might look at what they’ve been doing in terms of their work and maybe reevaluate because it is sort of a closed society, this whole Lincoln – what I call the Lincoln cult. And when you only are around other people who think alike, and not only that, who pressure you to think alike and punish you professionally if you don’t think like everyone else, then it’s sort of incestuous and that’s not good for the expansion of knowledge and for the generation of ideas and learning. And I think there are some thoughtful people in the history profession who would get away from that and start considering alternative ways of looking at Lincoln and the Civil War.
LAMB: Is there a leader of the cult?
DILORENZO: Well there are probably several people who like to think of themselves as cult leaders. Harry Jaffa is one person who seems to be the most cult leader-like. He has a number of arguments that he has come up with over the years and he has a number of followers who repeat all of these arguments, and they tend to attack, personally attack people who disagree with their arguments. And the arguments are all basically Lincoln’s arguments; the states were never sovereign, for example. It was Lincoln’s argument in his first inaugural address the union created the states, the states didn’t create the union, which I think is just historically untrue. But that was sort of the mantra of – actually it began with Alexander Hamilton. And so a person like Jaffa repeats these old Lincoln arguments, and he has a number of followers who do this.
LAMB: Who else on your list?
DILORENZO: Well, James McPherson would be up there. He always …
DILORENZO: Princeton, yes. I was – this debate I mentioned with another historian, it was published in ”North and South” Magazine a few years ago. And I was told to meet him, back and forth, we want back and forth several times and I thought it was very good debate and I was confident that I did well in the debate. And when the magazine came out, we did the debate online, the magazine comes out and I open it and there’s a little article by James McPherson in the middle taking my opponent’s side. And I was not informed of that, and I was not invited to respond to McPherson on that. And so he seems to have his fingers poked in everything that has to do with Lincoln and the Civil War. And I thought this was a very dishonest way of conducting himself and the ”North and South” magazine, I think it was a discredit to them to do that as well.
LAMB: Is there one more? We’re going to …
DILORENZO: One more Lincoln cultist? I might as well throw Harold Holzer in there as far as that goes.
LAMB: And why him?
DILORENZO: Well, he’s no different, in my book, than Jaffa and the rest. I guess, I would – I would put him in there as someone who doesn’t seem to tolerate any dissent over – and no right to have a conversation on it is my impression about these things. He was invited to be on a radio show with me and he canceled. And so I think they’re not really willing to have a conversation about these things. They know the truth and anybody who challenges the truth, in capital letters, is not to be debated but criticized or attacked or ignored something like that.
Crossroads Comments: I’m unaware of the existence of this so-called cult. What I see here are a series of attacks upon people as well as a reference to two exchanges mentioned in Kevin Levin’s blog entry — the discussion with Jaffa and the discussion in North & South. Somehow McPherson’s faulted for participating in a discussion on North & South; you can better place the DiLorenzo-Jaffa debate in context given what he says about Jaffa; and, as for Harold Holzer, well, if I say anything there, I’ll have someone complaining that I’m picking on him, so I’ll let that be.
That said, I think DiLorenzo has a point here. In discussing the first exchange with an unnamed antagonist, he presents a good case as to why people still debate certain issues; moreover, I think that if anything he should not argue that the question of secession’s constitutionality was settled by force of arms, because, as he points out, might does not make right. Otherwise he’s conceding that on that point he’s giving in to Lincoln. In fact, I’m surprised at his rather muddled treatment of that issue in this interview.