> 1. Social Systems
Search this site
6. A competent scholar with a working knowledge of:
What is the key problem and/or theme that Lincoln outlines in this speech?
What solution does Lincoln offer to the problems he outlines? Do you agree or disagree with his solution? Why?
How would you apply the information in this article to to contemporary society?
Recent events have raised the concern in Lincoln's mind, that while the political experiment to allow the people to govern themselves has proved a success for the past fifty years, there is a danger that threatens the continued success of this political system. He makes it clear that clear that a country so well favored in terms of location, size, natural resources and climate could repel foreign aggression indefinitely. But there is a danger, and he identifies it as one that could spring up from within.
What is that danger? Lincoln says it is the "increasing disregard for law", the "outrages committed by mobs". He anticipates the question, "What has this to do with the perpetuation of our political institutions?" and gives this answer: "By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice." "...by the operation of this mobocractic spirit,... the strongest bulwark of any Government,... may effectually be broken down and destroyed." "If the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their [the people's] rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come."
So Lincoln's main theme is that the freedom and prosperity granted to all Americans under the political system of self-government is put at risk when an attitude of disregard for the law is allowed to pervade society.
Later in his speech, Lincoln identifies other, more subtle, dangers. The war of independence aligned passions and enmities against of common enemy, the British. But that situation is now long past, and in the absence of a powerful, common threat, passion becomes an enemy, not a helper.
Another possibility Lincoln raises is that a powerful leader could emerge with burning ambition and desire for fame and distinction. And finding a good system of government already built and working well, may wish to tear it down and make a name for him/her self. If such a person arose, Lincoln says "it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs."
Lincoln also anticipates the question, how do we solve this problem. He asks the question himself, and gives an answer: "'How shall we fortify against it?' The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others." He asks that "reverence for the laws" be breathed into the very fabric of the American people.
Lincoln's antidote to the threat of passion becoming an enemy rather than a helper is Reason - "Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.--Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws."
If a person like an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon should arise seeking distinction, Lincoln says "it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs."
The solutions Lincoln proposes are probably appropriate for the problems he outlines. However, his analysis of potential problems is not exhaustive, and at least in today's society, there are other threats he has not considered. One possible threat that he did consider is the state of the justice system. He acknowledges that the existence of bad laws cannot be ruled out, and also that laws may be lacking for providing recourse against certain grievances. Lincoln's approach almost seems to favor the status quo, stressing the importance of working within the law and within the system when changes are felt to be necessary. But since his time, bad laws have been disobeyed in this country, in non-violent acts of civil disobedience, in order to overthrow those bad laws. Given that the pace of change seems to accelerate over time, it is possible that Lincoln's approach may respond too slowly to change, resulting in the very violence, tragedy and anarchy he is trying to avoid.
While Lincoln's solutions may have applied well to the times in which he made this speech, much has changed in the way of threats to society. There are many forces at work today that either did not exist at all in his time, or have assumed much more significant proportions in today's society.
Lincoln did not foresee the power of lobby groups and the mass media to influence public officials and to mold and influence public opinion. He did not foresee the time when the isolation and self-sufficiency made possible by oceans and rich natural resources would be nullified by a global economy. Even without the threat of attack by a rival superpower, the American economy is no longer independent of the what is happening elsewhere in the world. This state of affairs has been brought about largely by enormous advances in technology. Business and government now operate in a digital economy, with technology as one of the chief driving forces. And because the rate of change in technology continues to accelerate, successful governments and businesses need to adopt a mode of operation that adapts quickly to change, and is perpetually on the lookout for new, beneficial changes.
Lincoln's proposed approach seems to be to teach people from the cradle to the grave just how good things are the way they are, so in an age of rapid change, he seems to have little to say to contemporary society. However, this conclusion misses entirely the thrust of Lincoln's speech. His appeal is to use "reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason" to "furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.--Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws." And this appeal is specifically to counteract the mindless outrages of mob law, or the "mobocratic spirit", as he calls it. In these days of manipulation of public opinion by the mass media, his warnings may be more appropriate and more urgent than ever, even if new approaches need to be found to deal with the threats.
Who Rules America?
The tone of the article is not overtly judgmental. It attempts to report objectively on studies that have been done, and through analysis, comes to the reasoned conclusion that "the corporate rich and their power elite [are] the dominant organizational structure in American society". This statement does not carry with it any indication that this is either good or bad. However, Domhoff gives 4 reasons why he believes members of the power elite oppose government regulation of business, and these seem to be worthy goals for a government to have: creating jobs, more generous worker benefits, greater rights for workers, helping form unions.
The power elite are portrayed as a social upper class with great wealth and a very privileged lifestyle. The analysis clearly shows that this numerically small class occupies a disproportionately large number of key administrative positions. They use these positions of power to protect their own interests, and that seems to be the issue that is being presented in this article. The power elite operate from the point of view of self interest. They are selfish and privilege seeking, and uncaring about the plight of others, as long as their exclusive lifestyle is not affected.
"Corporate Welfare" is the name given by the authors of this TIME Magazine article (Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele) to the practice where governments (federal, state, or local) provide financial incentives to corporations to locate their plants or offices in their cities or states. These programs go by such official descriptions as "economic development" or "public-private partnerships."
The most compelling value that the authors say is overlooked by these programs is fairness. For instance, "Some companies receive public services at reduced rates, while all others pay the full cost.", etc. "In the end, that's corporate welfare's greatest flaw. It's unfair. One role of government is to help ensure a level playing field for people and businesses. Corporate welfare does just the opposite. It tilts the playing field in favor of the largest or the most politically influential or most aggressive businesses."
A number of other issues are raised in the article:
Who Rules America?
The selfish, uncaring attitude that seems to be evident in the way the power elite go about protecting their interests is completely at variance with the model of servant leadership. Domhoff says, "These studies [on major governmental appointees] are unanimous in their conclusion that most top appointees in both Republican and Democratic administrations are corporate executives and corporate lawyers--and hence members of the power elite." In his conclusion, he claims it is the power elite who benefit, who sit, who win, and who shine. These people may be rulers, but they are not leaders. While it is extremely unlikely that any of us "average" people could be numbered with the power elite, we should not therefore conclude that we are free of the practices that make them powerful. Only by modeling our lives after Jesus is it possible for us to rise above our own naturally selfish ways. By nature, all of us are self serving. All that separates us from the power elite is the matter of scale, and perhaps opportunity. So let us all follow in Jesus' footsteps, for He is the true Servant Leader.
The issue of fairness has to be the one that stands out the most when applying this article to Leadership. Playing favorites and giving unmerited rewards to some but not others is unfair, poor leadership, and is counter-productive.
But fairness does not necessarily mean treating everyone identically. An important role of a leader is to coach/mentor each member of the team. As Robert Cooper says in his book Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations, "look for the greatness" in people. A leader should cultivate the individual strengths of each team member, by encouragement and specific praise.
Created: Saturday, February 03, 9:05 PM
Last Modified: Thursday, June 6, 2002 9:19 PM