ention any major domestic dispute—from monopoly power to abortion and Drag Queen Story Hour—and a certain type of Beltway conservative is sure to shrug and say that it’s best “left to local communities.” If his political vocabulary is a little more evolved, he might justify his refusal to countenance national action by pointing to “subsidiarity,” a Catholic buzzword he imagines is interchangeable with “localism” or “federalism.”
Right Makes Might—a compelling new online documentary on the Lincoln-Douglas debates, handsomely produced by folks in the Claremont Institute orbit—is a potent antidote to such confusion. The film is also a fantastic primer on Abraham Lincoln and the Lincolnian tradition, desperately needed at a time when the book version of the New York Times’s factitious “1619 Project” is still topping the best-seller charts.
The story of Right Makes Might will be familiar to students of the American nineteenth century. The film traces Lincoln’s and Stephen A. Douglas’s 1858 debating roadshow across Illinois, in which Douglas called for the slavery question to be determined by local popular sovereignty in the territories, while Honest Abe advocated a ban. The journey would catapult Lincoln to mass political stardom, even as it clarified the high moral and political consequences in the sectional disagreement threatening to tear apart the Union.
The charm lies in the high production value, including historical re-enactment that, shockingly, is not cheesy, and the erudition on display from such scholars as Lucas Morel of Washington & Lee University and Charles Kesler of Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University. The Claremont Institute’s programmatic insistence that Lincoln is the ideal thinker-practitioner of the American constitutional tradition forms the intellectual heart of the documentary, yet the broad lines of argument will appeal far beyond the circle of “West Coast Straussians.”
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