And yet the America of today, that owes its existence largely to Lincoln’s efforts, barely resembles the ideal society that the Gettysburg Address describes. How is it possible that Lincoln’s struggles, and all similar struggles, have been in vain?
First we must consider historical perspectives. The age in which we live is unlike any that has gone before it. Never has the supremacy of employers been so total: in an age when every employee knows there are a hundred unemployed out there waiting to take the job they do, it is a brave man indeed who will stand up for his rights.
Our situation is similar to that which existed before 1348, when there was a surplus population which allowed feudal masters to pick and choose those to whom they offered paid employment. This situation was only changed by the massive loss of life caused by the onset of the Black Death. After the plague had gone, skilled workers were in short supply, which meant that those workers called the shots.
Now we might consider large-scale extermination of the available workforce as an effective solution to the jobs shortage, but only as a joke – although our psychopathic leaders probably have given it serious consideration. But leaving that aside, it is surely a sign of how little has changed that we, in the science-fiction 21st century, find we are effectively no better off than we were eight hundred years ago.
Without an acceptable solution to the employment problem, those actually in work have ceased to be employees with choice. They have become slaves.
Abraham Lincoln’s central conviction was the abolition of slavery – as he knew it in his time. Neither he, nor those like him who worked for the cause of liberty, could imagine that a representative government would itself become an instrument of oppression, a way of enforcing a far more sinister and persuasive form of slavery than those they freed had ever known.
What, then, is liberty?