Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bipartisan sculpture

It's no secret that different Americans have opposing impressions of Abraham Lincoln.

It occurs to me that the Lincoln Memorial, which features a colossal statue of the late President on a pedestal, seated on an imperious throne whose arms are made of fasces, represents both groups' impressions remarkably well.


  1. Those are the ones without axe-heads though, indicating the power of the state is bound by the people.


  2. I was driving through the mountains of eastern KY the other day and just off the highway was a recreation of that iconic statue. Not in a park, or rest stop...just sitting on the side of the road. I looked it up and it's "19ft high" and weighs, "...well over a ton." The lawyer who commissioned it said, "It's the second largest seated representation of Lincoln in the world." What made it so odd was the "town"...which is truly overstating the case...was Stanville, KY, population 415. Honestly, without the sign, I'd never have known it was a town. Here's a link to the clearest picture I could find of it:

    I probably lean toward the "disdainfully gazing down from an imperious throne" impression myself.

  3. Ian,
    I had in mind the 20th century use of the fasces as a symbol of European fascism, but a trip to Rome works, too. After Caesar, the idea that the people held the power of life and death within the city was, like the Republic itself, basically a polite fiction.

    I'd say that makes the imagery fit even more perfectly with Lincoln... ;)

    That's some pretty spectacular roadside America, right there. It beats the 30' tall fiberglass gorilla with glowing red eyes that I pass sometimes in south Jersey.

  4. At least our polite fiction has outlasted the Roman Republic post-Caesar.

  5. Assuming the Roman monarchy is roughly analogous to the American colonial period and that Rome post-Caesar can be compared to the United States post-Lincoln, Rome had roughly 250 years of monarchy, 450 years of republic, and 450 of empire before devolving into a military dictatorship with revolving figurehead emperors. By the same scale, the US has had roughly 175 years of monarchy, 75 years of republic, and 150 years of federal emperors. We're blazing through the Roman cycle!

    Now, while I'd say a President marching federal troops into sovereign states to kill their people until they submit is flatly incompatible with the values of the American Republic, it wouldn't be out of line to point out that there's a significant difference between Caesar's (both of them) actions post-civil war and Lincoln's. But even if you assume we're still a republic, that's only 225 years--half the Romans' run.

  6. Oh, I was speaking of the time between Alea Iacta Est and the ascension of Octavius. Even if we consider Lincoln's metaphorical crossing of the potomac equivalent to Julius' crossing of the Rubicon and FDR's or Wilson's expansion of federal power as the rise of a dictatorial federal government (which I don't, quite), the US still managed a longer interregnum between republic and empire.

    I don't see the US as being in the period of the Republic that led to JC rebelling or being ruined, though. Not yet...