It is no longer spoiling the surprise, I hope, to reveal the ending of the new Planet of the Apes movie: As Mark Wahlberg, the human astronaut, returns to modern-day earth his craft lands in Washington D.C. — specifically, he crashes right into the Lincoln Memorial. He seems to be safe and sound, back in the good old USA, until he discovers that the nation's capital is now controlled by our simian rivals, and Abraham Lincoln is an ape!
Many conservatives, surely, would not think a Washington D.C. populated by monkeys an altogether offensive metaphor. And some would even revel in the Great Emancipator portrayed as a brutish, war-mongering sub-human. Indeed this was a common caricature of Lincoln during the Civil War. Even today, Lincoln's reputation among conservatives remains a source of unending controversy — as our recent quarrel with Joe Sobran attests. (For details, see, empoweramerica.org, and lewrockwell.com.)
Though Sobran does not compare Lincoln to a simian beast (to be fair, he also has words of praise), his critique of Lincoln is severe. "Lincoln launched a bloody war against the South, violating the Constitution he'd sworn to uphold." But quite apart from the various and sometimes complicated historical arguments about secession and "state sovereignty," Sobran's anti-Lincolnism is wrong because it completely misidentifies the origins of our current occupying army: i.e., the legions of liberals who, like the apes in the movie, exercise an unnatural dominion over human society. Today's liberals don't, of course, look like apes. Indeed, they are the beautiful people of our time. But in their attitudes toward human liberty, the enviro-thug gorillas, chimpanzee professorate, and orangutan feminists do seem almost of another species from the men who wrote the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
So is Lincoln, as Sobran and others claim, the prime primate; the originator of unlimited government, social engineering, and anti-constitutionalism? Or does modern liberalism have an altogether different source? If we conservatives are to preserve our rights, our liberties, and indeed our humanity we must know the nature and basis of the thing we are up against. This question, then, of liberalism's origin, is of the utmost importance.
In the movie, the apes did not become dominant by any natural process. They were created as the products of scientific engineering by humans, who--at their peril and ultimate destruction--challenged nature's order. In one of the highlights of the movie, Charlton Heston plays the dying father of the ape leader. In his last words he reveals that "in the time before time," humans had been the natural superiors and apes the inferiors. This is the great secret of the ape society. Maintaining this secret is one of the keys to the apes' control over humans. No less today do our apes--liberals--maintain a secret about their own origins and purposes. Only by exposing it can we hope to understand and overcome the greatest obstacle to reclaiming our country.
Sobran says his criticisms of Lincoln are meant to set the historical record straight. In fact, his claim that big-government and social engineering began in the 1860s preserves the liberals' self-justifying myth. Whatever else he may present in his indictment, Sobran cannot attribute to Lincoln the idea that the Constitution was merely an 18th century document, and therefore out of date; that natural rights were a "fantasy;" that modern life — because always changing — required a government that was always growing; and that "progress" meant there was nothing permanently true or right. But these were precisely the opinions voiced by the leading American philosophers, journalists, and politicians in the Progressive Movement. It was John Dewey, Herbert Croly, and Woodrow Wilson — not Abraham Lincoln — who gave us the principles and practice of the modern leviathan state.
Within a generation, however, liberals realized that such radical and honest talk revealed too much. They needed to disguise their purposes in more patriotic language. One of the first to recognize this was Franklin Roosevelt, who spoke of modernizing the Constitution instead of rejecting it. And rather than repudiating the natural rights of the Declaration, liberals would come to speak of "adding" rights — rights found not in our natural equality as human beings, but created in and dispensed from Washington. Now here is the secret: despite the softening of the rhetoric, the liberal project remained the same. Americans would no longer be citizens exercising sovereign control over their government, but a mass of raw materials to be worked upon by the government.
This project finds no foundation in Abraham Lincoln, and Mr. Sobran does conservatives no favor by confusedly placing it there. Space does not permit a complete rehearsing of the arguments, but I refer you to Charles Kesler's brief and excellent article, "Getting Right with Lincoln."
Professor Kesler shows that in his dedication to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution Lincoln is a valuable ally to modern conservatism. Let us be sensible enough to enlist such formidable help, and clear-eyed enough to see the true adversary. The apes are gaining.