Press Release: Schwartz, Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era
George W. Bush has just left office in the midst of widespread public disapproval. But how will his presidency be viewed decades from now? It’s hard to know: the reputations of American presidents, including such recent ones as JFK and Richard Nixon, fluctuate remarkably in the years following their tenure. And as we prepare to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial, it’s important to realize that even a figure as eminent as our sixteenth president is not immune to the vicissitudes of public memory. As Barry Schwartz reveals in Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era, in the years between his assassination and World War II, Abraham Lincoln became a sort of secular saint, held up as a model for all Americans. But, Schwartz explains, that was the apogee of Lincoln’s popularity; over the ensuing decades, changes in American culture inexorably diminished Lincoln’s standing. Disenchantment with government, a growing understanding of the plight of racial minorities, and a new focus on diversity all contributed to a climate in which no single figure, including Lincoln, could be comfortably held up as a symbol for all Americans—thus, even as the nation grew ever-closer to living the ideals for which he had served as a symbol, Lincoln himself faded into the background of American life.
But is there any way back from this post-heroic era? Even as we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial, can he still offer salient lessons for us? As America prepares to welcome a new president whose very election testifies to Lincoln’s achievement, Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era offers a thoughtful, measured look at how we’ve understood the man—and the nation he helped save.
Read the press release.
Also, read an excerpt.