cover image On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History

On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History

John Patrick Diggins. Yale University Press, $35 (330pp) ISBN 978-0-300-08237-1

""As an ex-Catholic,"" Diggins writes in the preface to this new volume, ""I have no quarrel with being told that the religious beliefs I once held were simply a matter of the circumstances of my birth. But I do have a problem with schools of thought that claim we can get along without the authority of truth."" Fiercely contesting Marxist and poststructuralist theory--as well as what he considers to be the divisiveness of multicultural politics--Diggins offers up a reading of the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. How, he wonders, did the Great Liberator define the ethical foundation of the American nation? And can his complex interpretations of the founding fathers' ideals inform contemporary views of patriotism and citizenship? Examining one by one the three core pillars of Lincoln's political philosophy--the need for Emersonian self-reliance, the sanctity of private property and the necessity for self-determination--Diggins (Max Weber: Politics and the Spirit of Tragedy), a professor of history at CUNY, explains their applicability throughout American history. Lincoln's vision, he argues, was nearly 100 years old by the time he most eloquently articulated it and has animated and united every aspect of the American experience since 1776--and continues to do so now. Polemical and erudite, this book is bound to ruffle a lot of feathers. (Oct.)