Kelly Candaele: Film History: Columnists and Historians Assess Spielberg’s 'Lincoln'
Kelly Candaele is a journalist, filmmaker and elected official in Los Angeles. He has written extensively for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Nation Magazine and the Huffington Post. His documentary films include, A League of Their Own (about his mother’s years in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League), When Hope and History Rhymed (about the Northern Ireland Peace Process), Second Chances – Union Made, and El Clasico – More Than a Game (about Spanish history and politics as seen through the soccer rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona). Mr. Candaele is an elected Trustee of the Los Angeles Community College District and was a union organizer in Los Angeles for 20 years.
ONE OF THE MOST gratifying aspects of Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln has been the debate that its release has generated among historians and journalists, a debate more important than the movie itself. What were the complex dilemmas that Lincoln faced as President? What were the political realities and conduct of the time? How should we interpret the decisions that Lincoln and others made? What role did slaves and free blacks play in their own liberation?
Despite the fact that the film focuses on a short period of time in Lincoln’s presidency and deals primarily with the political cut and thrust associated with the passage of the 13th Amendment, there is a real sense in which the film can be described as deeply philosophical. Lincoln is portrayed as a man of discipline, concentration, and energy, all characteristics that sociologist Max Weber defined as part of the serious politician’s vocation. By forging an effective and realized political character — one aspect of Weber’s definition of charismatic authority — an astute politician can change the nature of power in society. By controlling his all-too-human vanity, he can avoid the two deadly political sins of lack of objectivity and irresponsibility. For Weber, a certain “distance to things and men” was required to abide by an “ethic of responsibility” for the weighty decisions that leaders are often required to make.
Lincoln has always been a man for all political seasons. There is Lincoln the principled politician, who believed that war was a necessary and legitimate means to sustain the Union; Lincoln the timid compromiser, who as late as 16 months into the war declared that if he “could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it”; and Lincoln the reconciling healer of “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” of the Second Inaugural....
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