Martin Diamond on “Lincoln’s Greatness”

"Martin Diamond on "Lincoln's Greatness"" Interpretation 8.2, 3 (May 1980): 26-28.

In the bleakest days of Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy—when it appeared that democracy, having been rendered unmanly by petty bourgeois concerns at home, would be swallowed up by totalitarian forces abroad—it was not uncommon for graduate students to throw this challenge up to the late Martin Diamond: Granted that the American regime is democratic, how can it at the same time overcome the “softness” that democracy seems to elicit? How can it foster the spirited and wise leadership necessary to sustain America in its struggle against the self-indulgent excesses of commercial materialism, and the military adventures of dialectical materialism?

Mr. Diamond had turned to this question increasingly in his later essays, and “Ethics and Politics: the American Way” probably represents his most comprehensive statement on the issue. But on one occasion, in response to this graduate student’s charge that his democracy was too soft, Mr. Diamond produced from his files a little-known speech entitled “Lincoln’s Greatness,” delivered considerably earlier, in 1960, to a gathering of Republican Party faithful. It shows that he had wrestled with the problem of democracy’s softness long before it had been unearthed by his graduate students. At the same time, it is a delightful lesson in the giving of lessons, addressed as it is, not to a professional academic audience, but to a group of partisan, though educable, laymen. It is, perhaps, a piece more representative of his work than are his scholarly writings, since, as the late Herbert Storing reminded us, Mr. Diamond was above all a teacher.

Interpretation [pdf]