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June 10, 2007

More Of Andrew Ferguson's Hacktastic Hackery

Andrew Ferguson is almost certainly correct that the purported Lincoln quote that Al Gore uses in The Assault on Reason is bogus. Snopes says so, as does the University of Michigan.

What Ferguson is wrong about (beyond his hilarious "no footnotes!" mistake) is this:

...the point of the passage is very un-Lincolnian...Lincoln was a vigorous champion of market capitalism, even when it drifted (as it tends to do) toward large concentrations of wealth.

In fact, the bogus quote is not far from things Lincoln definitely did say. Here's the fake quote, supposedly written by Lincoln in an 1864 letter:

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

And here's Lincoln in December, 1861 in his first State of the Union address:

It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government--the rights of the people...

In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism.

It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government...

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration...

No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty...Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

Indeed, those are close enough that I strongly suspect the bogus quote was directly inspired by Lincoln's real statement—which is pretty famous now, and was more so then. And then there's this well-known Lincoln statement, from 1837:

These capitalists generally act harmoniously, and in concert, to fleece the people.

Yes, vigorous champions of market capitalism say such things all the time. I believe Milton Friedman had that engraved on his tombstone.

Posted at June 10, 2007 10:01 PM | TrackBack

You should probably post this back to TMW as an update...

Posted by: Mart at June 10, 2007 10:12 PM

And you were probably doing just that while I typed the last comment! :-P

Posted by: Mart at June 10, 2007 10:15 PM

The Snopes link is broken.

Posted by: darrelplant at June 10, 2007 11:23 PM

Ferguson is certainly one of the great liars of our day which definitely makes him fit to write for the Washington Post that bastion of truth, defender of the public trust, a gatekeeper worthy of the highest praise. These are not honest mistakes they are deliberate lies. Ferguson makes me want to vomit. But it is interesting how little things have changed since Lincoln’s day. The only difference is the capitalists are now in complete control. In fact we cannot now take anything off the table except impeachment.

Posted by: rob payne at June 11, 2007 12:05 AM

I think it's pretty amazing that ONE problematic quote should be presumed to indict all of The Assault On Reason while the error-ridden 'footnotes' of Ann Coulter were always used to show how scholarly her irrational attack on liberals was and efforts to demonstrate the innumerable mistakes in her citations were dismissed as the pettish work of envious nerds and losers.

I take it Ferguson doesn't have much to say about the very accurate quote from Alexander Hamilton on p. 74 of The Assault On Reason: "As riches increase and accumulate in few hands; as luxury prevails in society; virtue will be in a greater degree considered only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard."

Posted by: Aunt Deb at June 11, 2007 09:01 AM

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration...

A president who put this in his inaugural address today would be shot. Oh, wait.

Posted by: Nell at June 11, 2007 10:12 AM

Deb -- the comparison to Ann Coulter's footnotery is a bit akin to the feigned outrage over the New York Times not considering it front page news that al Qaeda has a torture manual. Coulter's entire raison d'etre is to be a dim, shrill, psuedo-intellectual Harryhausenesque skeleton beast, so it should be news when she gets something *right*. With Gore, though, any minor error of scholarship gets cited as evidence of his dishonesty or lack of engagement. Partly because it *is* news (he's just so *annoyingly* clever, isn't he?) and partly because these lazy media guys feel the need to bring him down I guess.

Posted by: Joe at June 11, 2007 12:28 PM

Who can blame wingnuts for wishing it was still the good old days of 2000, when using the Washington Post to grossly exaggerate a rare potential trivial inaccuracy in something Al Gore said or wrote was still a hip thing to do?

Those were their glory days.

As always, it's a load of bullspit. Either the quote is a true but disputed Lincoln quote, or it's a style-consistent, traditionally used misquote, sort of like thinking that Mark Twain said "The coldest winter I ever spent in my life was a summer in San Francisco".

It's painfully clear that it's not very relevant to the overall message of the book.

The reason disingenuous wingnuts can find a "misquote" from Gore is that Gore actually wrote a book with extensive quotes and references, putting him at a "disadvantage".

Obviously, as has been mentioned, those who write "conservative" books won't be so scrutinized in the Washington Post, and those who behave secretively won't be scrutinized at all.

Posted by: at June 11, 2007 04:15 PM

I will probably still read the book, but using an iffy quote is damaging to a book which is supposed to be about respect for evidence. I was suspicious when I saw a 57-year-old secondary source was being used. Donald's "Lincoln" would be a well-known, trustworthy source for Lincoln's views on labor and capital.

Posted by: 4jkb4ia at June 11, 2007 11:03 PM