June 27, 2018 Articles

Book Review: Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict

A highly interesting book that some readers may find heavy-going.

By Dennis Owens

John Burt
Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict
The Belknap Press: Harvard University Press

John Burt is not a lawyer or a historian. He is a professor of English at Brandeis University. We found his book to be beautifully researched, highly interesting, and quite important. But, G.K. Chesterton wisely wrote: “There are no uninteresting subjects. But we must remember that there are uninterested people.” This is 800 pages of deep scholarship, rigorous analysis, subtle study of very fine points, and extensive exploration of political philosophy and of morality. It is a study of the rhetoric of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We fear that many readers will find it heavy-going. We found it extremely worthwhile. But, then again, we are devoted to Lincoln, and we love reading about history, rhetoric, practical ethics, and political theory.

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