November 11, 2011


Robert Penn Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War: Meditations on the Centennial (New York: Random House, 1961) ("Union, the abolition of slavery, the explosion of the westward expansion, Big Business and Big Technology, style in war, philosophy, and politics--we can see the effects of the Civil War in all of these things. In a sense they all add up to the creation of the world power that America is today. Between 1861 and 1865 America learned how to mobilize, equip, and deploy enormous military forces--and learned the will and the confidence to do so. For most importantly, America emerged with a confirmed sense of destiny, the old sense of destiny confirmed by a new sense of military and economic competence. The Civil War was the secret school for 1917-18 and 1941-45. Neither the Kaiser nor the Fuhrer had read the right history book of the United States." Id. at 46. "The War made us a new nation, and our problem, because of the very size and power of that new nation and the nobility of the promise which it inherits, remains that of finding in our time and in our new terms a way to recover and reinterpret the 'Founders' dream.' Is is possible for the individual, in the great modern industrial state, to retain some sense of responsibility? Is it possible for him to remain an individual? Is it possible, in the midst of all the forces making for standardization and anonymity, for society to avoid cultural starvation--to retain, and even develop, cultural pluralism and individual variety, and foster social and individual integrity? Can we avoid, in its deep and more destructive manifestations, the tyranny of the majority, and at the same time keep a fruitful respect for the common will? We sense that one way, however modest, to undertake this mandatory task of our time is to contemplate the Civil War itself, that mystic cloud from which emerged our modernity." Id. at 48-49. Unfortunately, I suspect that the questions Robert Penn Warren raised in 1961 would be answered, fifty years later in 2011, in the negative given the current state of early twenty-first-century America. Perhaps, just perhaps, as we have begun to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the contemplation of the Civil War will cause us, both individually and collectively, to reassess what we have become, to understand how we got here and, then, to begin to make the necessary corrections . . . if possible and not too late.).