Lincolnism Today

In the Anglo-American experience, the partisans of concentrated wealth and advocates for political centralization have long been connected.  Over the last three centuries, that connection has grown stronger, and in the United States this process accelerated dramatically during and after the Lincoln administration.  Lincolnism, the idea that the central state can and should use its coercive apparatus to serve the narrow interests of an economic elite at the expense of the commonwealth, prevailed decisively in the War of Secession and during the decades that followed, with high tariffs, railroad subsidies, and the apportionment of public lands.  Times have changed and so, too, have the specific policies that Lincolnists champion.  But their basic goal remains the same, and the interests being served by Lincolnism over the years are remarkably similar in kind to those championed by Lincoln himself.  In the end, Lincolnism is essentially a form of state capitalism, which Clyde Wilson has defined as “a regime of highly concentrated private ownership, subsidized and protected by government.”

Most of the commentary and reporting on the federal government’s financial-sector interventions remarked on the supposed irony of a “pro-market” administration embracing an expansive role for government in response to the crisis, but throughout its tenure the Bush White House consistently geared its policies and regulations...

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