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Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were both born on February 12, 1809. They changed our world, and the world changed since their passing.

Adam Gopnik in his book Angels And Ages: Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life writes about some of those changes.

Observations from the Book

Darwin’s Elizabethan England was a theatrical society with a shared vision of the world as a stage.  Lincoln’s frontier society was a rhetorical society in which public speaking was central to ambition. We are today a society of images: viral YouTube video, advertising image. Anyone who can’t play the image game has a hard time playing any public game.

What Lincoln learned was not a faith in a constant search for justice, but the habit of empathetic detachment. The “grease” is what the lawyers of his time called all the lubricants of the law – conciliation, backroom deals, plea-bargaining – that allowed conflict to be minimized and trials to be avoided. When we look closely even at the height of the Civil War, Brian Dirck says, “we can see Lincoln the President trying hard to apply a lawyer’s grease to the shrill machinery of war.

Favorite Quotation

I am in favor of a short statute of limitations in politics.” John Hay quoting Lincoln.

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