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Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict Hardcover – December 10, 2012
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I'm making space on my overstuffed shelves for Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism. This is a book I expect to be picking up and thumbing through for years to come. (Jim Cullen History News Network 2013-03-18)
Burt treats the [Lincoln-Douglas] debates as being far more significant than an election contest between two candidates. The debates represent profound statements of political philosophy and speak to the continuing challenges the U.S. faces in resolving divisive moral conflicts. (E. C. Sands Choice 2013-10-01)
John Burt writes with real penetration about the arguments that informed the rise to power of the greatest genius of American democracy. At once a detailed history of the crisis of the 1850s and a searching essay on the moral basis of politics, this book goes far to answer two questions: why did Lincoln believe that compromise was the heart of normal politics, and how did he come to define a moment when normal politics must end? (David Bromwich, author of A Choice of Inheritance)
Thoroughly informed by historical learning and philosophical sophistication, literary critic John Burt provides a detailed analysis of the Lincoln–Douglas debates in their original context, scrupulously fair to both parties. This is the most profound exploration of the enduring significance of Lincoln's rhetoric since Harry Jaffa's classic [Crisis of the House Divided] of 1959. A magnificent achievement. (Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848)
Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism is a brilliant, ground-breaking book with fresh insights on almost every page. No one has analyzed the ironies and problems of liberal politics with the rigor, depth, and subtlety Burt displays here. He redeems (or recovers) Stephen Douglas's reputation as a writer, speaker, and political thinker, and, through his deep engagement with Lincoln's writings, Burt also makes the best case available for the significance of Lincoln as a literary figure. And Burt's conclusions about the limits of liberal politics, about democracy itself being the barrier to ending a pervasive evil, have deep resonances for nations today. (John Stauffer, author of The Black Hearts of Men)
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Top Customer Reviews
As did Jaffa, Burt concentrates on the Illinois debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858 for election to the Senate. He tries to be fair to Douglas and to explain how his position differed from Lincoln's. He argues that Douglas tried to compromise on a somewhat ad hoc basis with the goal of preserving the Union and saving it from bloodshed. For Burt, Douglas is frequently but unjustifiably portrayed as a relativist, moral skeptic, or apologist for slavery, The risk of Douglas' willingness to compromise, for Burt, was a moral relativism. Burt offers insightful comparisons and contrasts between Lincoln and Douglas throughout his study. They shared more in common than sometimes supposed.
Much of the book is an explanation of the phrase "tragic pragmatist" that Burt applies to Lincoln in his title and uses to develop Lincoln's thought. Lincoln's position begins with a moral opposition to slavery. But Lincoln showed a willingness to compromise and to accept American constitutional law as it was.Read more ›
The book concerns the historical, political, and philosophical background of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates; it does not deal directly with the debates themselves. (Nor does it purport to). In this regard it is similar to Harry Jaffa's "Crisis of the House Divided." The problem arises when the author goes beyond the differences between the political philosophies of Lincoln and Douglas and starts to deal with the philosophy of political philosphy itself. He largely analyzes John Rawls and posits what his political philosophy might bring to bear on the philosophical differences between Lincoln and Douglas. The abstruse nature of this focus would be complicated and boring enough, but then Burt compounds that mistake by adopting an outrageously pretentious and pedantic style. Here is an example from pp. 72-73 which is, alas, far from unique but manages to cram so much of what is obnoxious about Burt's style into just a single sentence: "The South was not alone in wielding suicidally apodictic statements, and such statements tend to ratchet each other up in a kind of 'Wechselwirkung' that ought to be familiar to anyone who has ever found himself enmeshed in an argumentative economy of reciprocated vituperation." What? John Burt is an English Professor. Surely he must have heard of Jonathan Swift and the Plain Style...if only he had employed it in this book.Read more ›
Burt's work is a treasure to read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a good book, though extremely tedious due to minutia of detail--but then that is actually what I was looking for.Published 12 months ago by Moritz
This book is so poorly written and edited that it is unreadable. The subject matter is fascinating but the work to find meaning in the tangled sentences is just too steep a price... Read morePublished on June 23, 2013 by Brian A. Robideau
A challenging read. The author has written a major examination of lLincoln's political philosophy. Well worth the effort needed to stick with it.Published on June 13, 2013 by William Munn
Fascinating look at the philosophy of Lincoln. Much more than a traditional recitation of the facts, the book shows the evolution of Lincoln's thoughts, in particular in relation... Read morePublished on June 13, 2013 by Nathaniel
The writing is superlative. Lincoln comes across as a prescient thinker and master politician. The authors remarks and prestisginations into outer space really make for great... Read morePublished on April 2, 2013 by John E. Banks
The book seems endless and yet it reveals a history of the US prior to the civil war that is not really known to most of us. Read morePublished on March 26, 2013 by Eric J. Cassell
Buying an electronic book for more than $20 is insane. Where does it end? Put your foot down and send these publishers a message by not buying this book. Read morePublished on February 21, 2013 by Jeff