Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Necessary War

Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann and Stephan Kinsella.

If this perspective of the Civil War as the “modern State coming to America” is correct, then the war was not unnecessary, as Thomas DiLorenzo suggests, because the minimalist and decentralized Republic of the Founders needed to be replaced by the “rationality” of the modern State, and the war was the means to that end.

So writes Luigi Marco Bassani in his contribution to this tribute to Hans Hoppe.  This essay is to be found in Part Two, entitled “Crossroads of Thought.”  I do not intend on entering some sort of debate between DiLorenzo and Bassani; instead, I offer Bassani’s views as an alternative – and interesting – look at the purpose of the Civil War (and I will use this term for convenience).

Lincoln’s war is viewed by some as “the final nail in the coffin of the American experiment in self-government.”  Bassani recognizes this view, yet asks: was this an unintended consequence or was this, in fact, the intended purpose all along?

Bassani offers the by now well-known statement by Lincoln:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.

It is the form of the Union that Bassani addresses.  Lincoln was not merely one in a line extending from Alexander Hamilton to Danial Webster to Henry Clay:

But with the idea of the Union as an end in itself, Lincoln discovered the Trojan horse for bringing the European categories of the modern State into America.

This was Lincoln’s purpose, and it would mark the end of the idea of safeguards of the individual against the government.

Writing to Albert Hodges in April 1864, Lincoln offers two critical points: first, he views the constitution as organic law; second can best be offered by a direct quote from the letter:

Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution?

By organic law, Bassani notes that Lincoln draws “an unambiguous parallel between a human and collective body.”

In a few sentences one can find all the elements of the modern State theory of European origin, articulated by a man who may never have heard of Machiavelli, Bodin, Hobbes, but was nonetheless singing to their tune. In Lincoln’s mind, the Constitution is in fact an organic law as it is meant to protect and give form to an organic society by creating an organic State.

And given this organic society, if the “nation” was lost, there was no “constitution” – hence, Lincoln justified every violation of the constitution when prosecuting the war.  The idea of the nation had to be made organic in order to make state perpetual.

The emergence of the modern State in Europe went hand in hand with the change in the political lexicon that took place from the 1500s. The State had to be construed by jurists as an artificial person that transcended the person of the princely ruler and, ultimately, his very dynasty, guaranteeing its perpetuation.

What took Europe 300 years to accomplish was resolved in America in a few short decades:

America experienced in a few years, roughly between 1832 and 1865, a telescoped replica of what happened to Europe from 1525 to 1815.

What was this transformation?

In Europe it was the sovereign—first the King and then the assembly—who promised to free all individuals from the tyrannical as well as outmoded loyalties that were the core of liberty in the Middle Ages: church, city, corporation, family and the like. The individual had to be liberated of all previous social ties in order to become a good and free citizen.

Free the individual of all other ties and he can then become an easy mark for the title of “good citizen.”

When confronted with all these threads—Union, Nation, organic metaphors, civil religion—all leading to one single goal, the renewal of the American political community in the shape of a modern State, the historian of ideas faces one big question: “Where was it coming from?”

Bassani offers Francis Lieber as perhaps the inspiration for Lincoln’s awakening.  Lieber migrated to America in 1827, published three books on political ethics, legal and political hermeneutics, and civil liberty and self-government.  With these, he put the knife to any idea of natural law.

Alan Grimes places Lieber at the transition between “the constitutional and legal approach to an understanding of the nature of the American Union, and the rise of the organic concept of the nation.”


In the words of Karl Marx, the Civil War was a “world-transforming . . . revolutionary movement.”

As to Lincoln’s purpose – yes, to save the Union, but not as the Union was considered at the founding:

Lincoln’s primary object was, in fact, to eradicate the eighteenth century opposition between the individual and the State, depriving of any meaning a Constitution that was constructed on such a dichotomy.

Whether Lincoln’s intention or not, it cannot be denied that this was achieved.


  1. Hence why when I was speaking to the (Henry) Clay Township, in (Alexander) Hamilton County, about them screwing up our tax rates for years, I gladly did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

  2. Great post. To generalize one could say that from the time of Civil War onward, US wars have functioned NOT to safeguard the free society so painstakingly bequeathed us by the American founders and framers - but to the contrary to radically transform it, to move it further away from its foundational moorings, while moving it closer to the central planning of socialism. The goal has in fact been to efface the freedom of the free society of the individual democracy in favor of the centrally planned state controlled by a ruling political class.

  3. Regarding Lieber, Luigi Marco Bassani writes, "American 'political science' was -- and remained for decades -- stamped in the mold of
    the Teutonic _Staatstheorie_, albeit without the philosophic subtleties of the Kant-Fichte-Hegel tradition." ("Bassani: Abraham Lincoln and the Modern State," p. 90).

    There he is! Hegel!

    I fear, however, that the reader who is not careful, or not subtle, might be tempted to lump Hegel in with the rest of the architects and apologists of the modern state. That would be unfortunate and constitute a misreading of Hegel. What Lieber and the others did was see the Hegelian forest but altogether miss the trees.

    For the past month or so, I've been asking myself a very simple question: "What would a strict Hegelian critique of our State, the U.S.A.'s State, look like? What would such a critique reveal?"

    I'm not prepared to say anything substantive, as I'm still trying to think through it, but, preliminarily, I think Hegel would say that something has gone terribly wrong in the U.S. Maybe worse than wrong: The U.S. State is a failed State, per a strict Hegelian analysis.

    1. But Hegel in particular, and national-liberals in general were advocates of, and apologists for the modern, unlimited & omnipotent State. The opposition to State Power came from feudal-conservatives such as Karl Ludwig von Haller and Carl Wilhelm von Lancizolle. In his "Elements of the Philosophy of Right" Hegel attacked and denounced von Haller in no uncertain terms, so it's obvious where he stood on the question.