The Clare Spark Blog

February 9, 2013

LINCOLN (the movie) as propaganda

Apotheosis of Lincoln and Washington 1860s

Apotheosis of Lincoln and Washington 1860s

How they did it:

First, detaching Lincoln from the (Hamiltonian) Republicans to reattach him to (Jeffersonian) Jacksonian Democrats: the Andrew Jackson administration was famous for initiating the “spoils system” and by promising Democrats federal jobs as a reward for supporting the Thirteenth Amendment, Spielberg’s Lincoln affixed Honest Abe to the Jeffersonian faction. (Contrasting Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians is one route to  making sense of U.S. political history: see Stephen F. Knott’s book on the Hamilton myth.)

Second, the 2012 movie, with its positive portrayal of Lincoln, vindicated the power of the Executive branch today. There is a hidden link to New Deal propaganda, for progressives Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray recommended in their nationally circulated notebooks on “civilian morale” that FDR be joined with Lincoln and Washington, as strong leaders and father figures.  See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/, or https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/. The latter takes up Bill O’Reilly’s efforts to render Lincoln as the pre-eminent healer, one like himself, the good father who is “looking out for you.” (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/30/eric-foners-christianized-lincoln/.)

Third, the unnecessary death scene linked Lincoln to Christ and to national redemption, a tactic that was effective in the North, but certainly not in the South.  See http://tinyurl.com/acbqkza on the religious response to Lincoln’s assassination, the paragraph possibly derived from Michael Rogin.

Fourth, by emphasizing the widespread Congressional resistance to the Thirteenth  Amendment, the impression reinforced the New Left line that racism is the overarching theme of American history, and that blacks are owed reparations. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. I do not intend to minimize the importance of “race” and “race relations.”)

Fifth, the flashback to the Second Inaugural Address, coming immediately after the assassination serves to bind the Nation as an organic entity. This is the most reactionary feature of the movie. In truth, we remain fragmented, and neo-Confederate flags still fly. By relying upon Doris Kearn Goodwin’s book, Spielberg portrayed Lincoln as the moderate man who could unite warring factions, even within his own party. I.e., all conflicts are reconcilable. The irony is the American Civil War (the “irrepressible conflict”) as the primary locale for this “moderate” strategy of manipulation and compromise. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/11/19/abandonment-anxiety-and-moderation/.)

Sixth, Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens was turned into a pragmatist, like Lincoln, not a wild-eyed ideologue like Charles Sumner. This was another reactionary move, designed to counter Stevens’s rehabilitation in the neo-abolitionist historiography. (See https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/. There is much detail here on Sumner and Stevens as they fought to prepare the freedmen for economic and political independence.)

Seventh, the producer-director chose John Williams to score the movie. With the exception of some plausible period fiddle tunes, Williams looted Aaron Copland, except for George Root’s The Battle Cry of Freedom. Ignored was most popular music of the period in question. Also missing in action were Stevens’s and Sumner’s program for Reconstruction, too sizzling for today’s audiences. (On slanderous depictions of Sumner, and by extension Stevens, see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/.) Moreover, by focusing strictly on a narrow period of the Lincoln presidency, there was no opportunity to demonstrate land reform by some of the Northern generals (Sherman!) as they marched through the South.

Taken all in all, I can only suggest that the emphasis on the organic Nation, as led by the moderate men (delineated above), demonstrates how the South won the cultural battle for how we remember the American Civil War. Think of the stately brief portrayal of Robert E. Lee, riding away from Appomattox on his horse Traveler, preceded by  horrific shots of the Confederate dead in Petersburg, Virginia.  That the 2012 LINCOLN movie was done skillfully and under the radar speaks to the propaganda skills of the better Hollywood producers and directors.

D.W. Griffith Lincoln 1931

D.W. Griffith Lincoln 1931

BIBLIOGRAPHY (highly recommended)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs6cIi_mKfg Adlai Stevenson reads text of Copland “Lincoln Portrait” (1942) 15 minutes and well worth comparing the Lincoln of the “fiery trial” with the Lincoln of the Spielberg movie.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Portrait  (1942)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_(2012_film) , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution,

http://tinyurl.com/avdpq2x (James McPherson’s review of Doris Kearn Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln)

http://tinyurl.com/b7kh6ak (Michael Rogin essay on D. W. Griffith and racism in American culture)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaddeus_Stevens

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln_cultural_depictions

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln_(film)

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January 21, 2013

Citizen Obama, political pluralism and the elusive search for Unity

Raft of the Medusa

Raft of the Medusa

Although POTUS nodded in the direction of “the enduring strength of our Constitution” and quoted lines from the God-given Declaration of Independence, and with a cynical reference to “American exceptionalism,” the statism of Citizen Obama’s second inaugural brought us closer to the French Revolution, with its Jacobin emphasis on equality of condition, than to the American Revolution that promised a meritocracy grounded in equality of opportunity. (Recall that France, unlike England, always had a strong central state; recently France voted in a Socialist government that has levied a 75% income tax on the rich.)

What struck me about today’s awesome inauguration speech was its frank partisanship, indeed, its appeal to class warfare, but not only did Citizen Obama appeal solely to his Democratic constituency, he defined “the Nation” in terms that can only be described as anti-pluralist and either socialist or proto-fascist (see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/20/an-awesome-inauguration/, also https://clarespark.com/2012/09/05/proto-fascism-and-the-democrat-peoples-community/).  If Citizen Obama has his way, political pluralism will give way to one party dictatorship, perhaps to rule by executive decree. (See the juridical thought of Carl Schmitt, who made the transition from social democracy theorist to Nazi without difficulty.)

Many “rightist” pundits have noticed the offensive against the Republican Party, that reiterated accusations made by the hard Left during the waning New Deal years that Republicans were, by temperament and policy, Nazis. The line continues that all Republicans are Southern racists, while the Democratic Party, as led by Obama and his multiculturalist followers, are the true inheritors of the civil rights movement, making corrections and reparations to overcome the white male supremacy that was supposedly the basis for American nationality pre-Obama. In this, he has the support of the New Left and the American Studies academics—and all of the cultural studies crowd, who take pride in their freedom from “economic determinism.” In other words, they cannot explain the difference between the economic policies of Lord Maynard Keynes versus Friedrich Hayek versus Milton and Rose Friedman.

guilt and anxiety

But we must not push the analogy to the French Revolution too far. For the French Revolution came to signify war and Napoleon’s bourgeoisification of Europe.  Echoing (?) the infamous appeaser Neville Chamberlain, Obama stands for “peace in our time.” In other words, he is boiler plate anti-imperialist and antiwar, except for the class war necessarily waged on behalf of “the rising middle class,” his new name for what used to be called “the working class”.  Even progressives used to know a petit-bourgeois radical (Obama) when they saw one, but today’s progressives have abandoned accurate nomenclature for populist, triumphalist politics. “Off with their [Federalist] heads.”

Many of the pundits on Fox News recognized the speech for what it was (a socialist screed), while a few seemed to expect a call for a middle ground, that no man’s land where erstwhile progressives feel comfortable in making compromises for the sake of ‘social cohesion’ and ‘political stability’. These are the buzz words of ‘moderate’ conservatism, the “Democratic” inheritors of the New Deal  and Wilsonian “internationalism.”

With the country divided and anxious, this day of bogus unity and bogus reverence for the American Constitution can only be a caesura in an ongoing civil war that was present from the beginning of the United States. (For a recent installment see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/24/culture-wars-and-the-secular-progressives/.)

barack-obama-family-supreme-court-john-roberts-michelle-sasha-malia-inauguration

December 3, 2012

Index to blogs on Lincoln, Sumner, Reconstruction

Lincoln, March 1865

Lincoln, March 1865

https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/. (Sumner’s advanced views and links with Captain Ahab)

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/30/eric-foners-christianized-lincoln/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/. (on attempts to link Lincoln with FDR and other moderates)

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/. (on negative views of Charles Sumner)

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/13/mark-twains-failed-yankee/.

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/09/lincoln-the-movie-as-propaganda/

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