Learning from Lincoln—Principle and Pragmatism: Getting the Balance Right

Principle and Pragmatism: Getting the Balance Right is part of year-long series of Center activities aimed at re-energizing conservatism in Minnesota and the nation, prompted in part by the Republican National Convention to be held next month, September, in St. Paul. That said, I’m doubly quick to emphasize – and as is the case with everything the Center does – this is a wholly nonpartisan exercise, featuring 29 local and other writers from assorted ideological strains and party denominations. And yes, while it may be conducted under the rubric of “Learning from Lincoln,” and while our 16th president was indeed the first Republican to serve in the White House, I would like to think he rose above party labels a while back. On this last point, you may want to go first to Dane Smith’s very good contribution: “Lincoln: Yours, Mine, or Ours?”

A useful frame for understanding current political contests and debates is to consider, on the one hand, the extent to which politicians, activists, writers, talk show hosts, and others hold fast to what they view as clear-cut principle.

Or, on the other hand, the extent to which such players are open to accommodation, perhaps even eager to reach compromise with their opponents, regardless of whether such foes are outsiders or insiders of their own party.

As witness the current and everlasting presidential campaign, it has been a tension equally relevant to conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, and germane to a wide range of issues, especially keenly passionate ones like immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, and the war in Iraq.

In this symposium, writers responded to subtle questions about principle and pragmatism with commensurately nuanced answers, and I thank them for elevating this election season. I also very much welcome your comments.

Mitch Pearlstein
Founder & President
August 2008