from Greg Weiner at National Review, Edmund Burke and Abraham Lincoln, ‘All in All’:
There is a Yiddish saying: When a man wears a white coat, a speck of dust makes it look dirty. That is true enough, especially if one lives in a world devoid of nuance, where heroes are spotless and sinners can never be redeemed. When Horatio told Hamlet that his father was “a goodly king,” the prince replied: “He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.” The passage on Gordon is troubling. But taken for all in all, Burke was a great and admirable man. The cancel caucus would be unable to see it, and Burke knew why. One of his insights, also in the Reflections, was that “those who are habitually employed in finding and displaying faults are unqualified for the work of reformation. . . . By hating vices too much, they come to love men too little.” The result is that they can destroy but not build.
But for the new moralists, there is no man to be taken all in all, much less one upon whose like we shall not look again. Nor is there context: If Lincoln had not equivocated on equality, he would have had no political future. If he had not won the presidency and preserved the union, slavery would have persisted, perhaps for decades longer, in an independent Confederacy. His first meeting with Douglass took place amid a constant battle to placate border states including Missouri and Kentucky as well as northern Copperheads who would, in a moment, have cut the Confederacy loose and doomed millions to indefinite servitude.
“No one is innocent after the experience of governing,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whom many cancelers have also targeted, remarked. “But not everyone is guilty.” There is a difference. A statesman must choose, and rarely among a buffet of unvarnished goods. He cannot live untainted unless he lives indecisively, which is itself a sin in fateful moments. But guilt implies malignant intent, reckless imprudence, or perhaps a career that, taken all in all, does more harm than good.
The Jacobin mob sews the seeds of its own destruction. The power of the mob is never satiated; it is empowered by contrition. It is as unreasoning and intolerant as any religious zealot; and more dangerous. Political zealotry invades every aspect of society, destroys every moderating institution and shreds the individual rights of constitutional government. It preys on the intellectually weak, political appeasement, and fear.