There will be no second Civil War, but it might be better if there could.
Last week there was a three-way discussion with much commentary on the possibility of a second American civil war, given the apparent deepening and widening divide between the Left and the Right. I’ve written on the topic before, in Pressing the “RESET” Button, What if Your Loyalty is to the Constitution?, and ARE We Headed for Another Civil War?, but this recent discussion started, more or less, with a piece I wrote Wednesday, Sept. 1, Democrat Meltdown where I concluded:
So, here’s my prediction: When Bush wins the election with enough margin to prevent cheating on the part of the Dems, there are going to be riots. There will also be domestic terrorism by the moonbats.
The “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party” has no place to go? They’ve been stirred up past the point of no return. They’re going to go completely nuts.
This was picked up by Ironbear at Who Tends the Fires?, where he wrote a piece entitled “So, is it a Spade, or an ‘Earth Removal Device’?”. Ironbear’s main thrust was that the philosophical divide was too great, that there could no longer be any useful discourse, and when the divide reaches that point we will inevitably fall into civil war.
He made a strong argument, and initially I agreed with him. I was leaning that way anyway. What he argued fell in well with another piece I wrote Saturday (before I read “Is it a Spade…”) entitled How Divided ARE We? that illustrated the apparent uselessness of further discussion between the sides. We’re just too far apart anymore. There can be no consensus, no compromise. I think he’s right about that part.
…I find it hard to agree with Ironbear about where he thinks the divide between the left/right (or Democrat/Republican, or Liberal/Conservative) philosophies is taking us, i.e. to irreconcilable conflict.
…I think that the statism embraced by both major parties has far to much intertia and popular support. And that encapsulates pretty well the reason for my pessimism. That and, as Sobran points out, we have, collectively, forgotten the language of true freedom.
A cogent point, and well made. But that was not the end of the discussion. I wrote a third piece on Sunday 9/5, Freedom, the Constitution, and Civil War referencing all the pieces prior by all parties. It didn’t answer any questions or propose a solution, it was a summary and some suggestions: Learn to think for yourself. Teach your children to do the same. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Because something’s coming, and it isn’t going to be pretty.
In addition, all three of us had quite active commenters, among which were Lynnette Warren of the anarchist group blog No Treason! and Billy Beck of Two-Four. Beck made a post of a comment he left on Ironbear’s essay, and it was good enough that I went out and bought the book he quoted from just so I could read the entire cite. Beck sees civil war looming. Warren thinks not.
I have to admit, morbid as it was I enjoyed reading (and contributing to) the entire exchange. I have, though, spent the following weeks considering and discussing the topic. The weekend at the du Toit’s (not to mention 2,000 miles of windshield time) provided a fertile ground for this. So, here are my current thoughts on the matter.
The divide is certainly real. It is wide and deep and growing. It has passed the point, I think, of reversal. The last time the nation was this divided, we did go to war – an actual, by-god uniforms-and-artillery shooting war.
But this time we won’t. It won’t be that simple. The problem isn’t that we’re divided, it’s that there’s not two sides UNITED.
Let’s look at that last civil war.
In 1860 the Constitution was a mere seven decades old – recent enough that the arguments around its ratification were still living memory for some. It was hardly ancient history for the remainder. Slavery had been the sticking point, and the seeds of the Civil War were sown in the compromise required to secure ratification. The philosophical divide was pre-existing. It took seventy years to fester, deepen, and widen. It was a geographical divide as well, with the geography becoming more defined as time passed. It was also a Constitutional question – how much power did the Federal government have over the States? Even if you disagreed with slavery, that question weighed heavily. And, finally, the South shot first. The attack on Ft. Sumter opened the war. That attack was executed by organized military forces, not guerillas. In all that, there were only two sides, and those sides had single, uniting purposes. For the North, preservation of the Union. For the South, retention of the practice of slavery. (Don’t write letters. That’s what it boils down to, in the end.)
The divide now is philosophical, too, but not as easily demarcated. It isn’t slavery vs. abolition, it’s “Left” vs. “Right.” It’s Libertarian vs. Conservative. Green vs. Democrat. Socialists vs. Capitalists. Anarchists vs. Government. Christians vs. Humanists. Jihadists vs. Infidels. Atheists vs. Christianity. Gun-grabbers vs. Gun-nuts. The perpetually disinterested vs. everyone else.
Grab any six random people off the street – chances are they’ll have strongly held (and largely unsupported) opinions on a variety of topics, and those opinions will stray all over the philosophical boundaries of the merely Left and Right. It’s not a binary division, it’s an n-dimensional space of varying density.
The divide is largely geographical, but again not conveniently so. It’s primarily Rural vs. Urban. The “Red State/Blue State” division is more of a reflection of how heavily urbanized any particular state is rather than a real state division. Remember the Red/Blue county map?
That’s my impression of the sides, and we’re not going to put on uniforms and engage in combat over our ideals. Not gonna happen.
Why no civil war? Because the Left won’t be able to organize themselves to, and without that the Right won’t drop its internal schisms enough to be motivated to. I stick by my argument that there will be riots (small) and guerilla activity (smaller) but there won’t be organized warfare. As the majority of those at the du Toit’s agreed last Saturday, “Bring it on! That’ll be the shortest rebellion in history!” Look, for example, at this piece in the UNC-Greensboro school paper by student Joe Killian predicting the outcome of a Bush re-election. What’s he predicting? Not a mass exodus of Leftists to Canada or EUrope, but a mass exodus from this mortal coil via suicide. There! That’ll show THEM! (Of course the brave author won’t be among the wrist-slitters – he’s going to stick it out.)
There’s no rationality there. None. Organized warfare requires rationality. It also requires, by definition, organization. Terrorism just requires blind faith, and the Left is strong on that (see their 100+ year dedication to the idea that Socialism works.) So is the Right, for that matter.
Now, here’s my problem with what’s happening: Either civil war or terrorism can destroy a society, and we’re already witnessing the slow destruction of what it is we’re trying to save. Civilization is a pretty fragile thing. Freedom is more fragile still. I said in the comments to “Freedom, the Constitution, and Civil War”, I think our system is going to fail. It’s well on its way. I said then that I believed this meant civil war, but upon further reflection, I don’t. Civil war is not required for the system to fail. (It might be better if we could have another civil war if that would settle a specific disagreement that we can no longer settle through negotiation, but the separation is too diverse for that now.)
Loss of belief is the only necessary ingredient.
I’ve had some long exchanges over my contention that a “Right” is what the majority of a society believes it is. This is, however, only a subset of a greater truth: A society is what the majority of the people in it believes it is – and since human beings can be schizophrenic, societies can be too. That schizophrenia need not be destructive, at least not immediately. After all, it did take over seventy years for the American schizophrenia over slavery to produce a societal breakdown, and after five years of intense shock therapy, that schism was – in major part – corrected. Not completely, not even now over 130 years later. There are scars, but there’s not a lot of scab left for the remaining combatants to pick at.
Here’s what it boils down to: America is an IDEA. Its central concept is individual freedom. Personal sovereignty. Independence. As an illustration, money, too, is an idea. We all know it’s just paper printed with inks. Money has no inherent value, but we believe it has value, so it does. We all agree to share in the delusion that a $10 bill is worth, oh, three pounds of ground beef, half a dozen 75W lightbulbs, or two tickets to the matinee. (Nobody believes that another ten-spot is worth a large popcorn and two large sodas, but we pay it anyway.) See? We’re nuts. But it’s a shared insanity. America is the same thing – freedom, independence, individual sovereignty. It’s bullshit, but it’s beautiful bullshit. And as long as we – as a nation – believe it, it is real, and it’s better than anything else humanity has tried. Even in the face of income taxes, Child
Abductive Protective Services, Eminent Domain abuses, invasions of privacy, “Wetland protection”, et cetera, et cetera, we’re free because we believe we’re free. We put up with it because we choose to, not because we have to. We can revolt, we just don’t care to.
Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.
The South tried to “throw off such Government” in 1861 – and lost – but because they, as a people, believed in the bigger part of the American Fantasy, and the North did too, the rebellious states were reintegrated without too much more bloodshed.
Many, many of us still believe we’re free. Bill Whittle believes it. You can feel it in the often aching eloquence of his Silent America essays. James Lileks believes it. You can read it in every paragraph about his daughter, his wife, his home, his dog, his idiosyncracies, and his deep love for his community and his nation. Kim and Connie du Toit believe it. Emperor Misha believes, Charles Johnson believes, Ironbear believes…. Well, you get the idea.
The “Right,” in the overwhelming majority, believes that America, the United States of, is the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. We’re the Sword of Justice, defenders of the oppressed from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, from sea to shining sea (so long as it’s in our National Interest to be.) As long as this belief represents the dominant paradigm, that is the way our nation will act, in the main. We are human, of course. We’re not perfect. We will make mistakes, but as I wrote in That Sumbitch Ain’t Been BORN!, those mistakes are just that. They are not evidence of our evil Imperialist nature, just mistakes. The “Left,” quite simply, thinks we’ve left the tracks if we were ever on them to begin with. To them, we’re oppressive, racist, imperialistic warmongers out to take what isn’t ours and distribute it unfairly among the white males. After all, they have centuries of European exploitive colonization to point to, don’t they? The Greens think we need to give up industry so that we can “save the planet.” They don’t hate America, they hate humanity. Of course, the Anarchists see both sides as delusional and dangerous. They believe that the Free Market is the answer to it all, and that we need to give up this nationalistic fantasy crap and start dealing with objective reality.
As if objective reality would appeal to people who voluntarily share common delusions.
But as long as the majority of the society believes in “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” that society will put up with only so much before attempting to “throw off such Government.” Billy Beck quoted Ayn Rand’s essay Don’t Let It Go on the same topic, which I’ll steal shamelessly from:
Only one thing is certain: dictatorship cannot take hold in America today. This country, as yet, cannot be ruled — but it can explode. It can blow up into the helpless rage and blind violence of a civil war. It cannot be cowed into submission, passivity, malevolence, resignation. It cannot be “pushed around.” Defiance, not obedience, is the American’s answer to overbearing authority. The nation that ran an underground railroad to help human beings escape from slavery, or began drinking on principle in the face of Prohibition, will not say “Yes, sir” to the enforcers of ration coupons and cereal prices. Not yet.
Note the two “yet”s. She wrote that in the 70’s.
The question now is, “Is she still right?” Or, “For how much longer?” Jed thinks we’ve already “forgotten the language of true freedom.” Ironbear stated that the coming conflict would be between
those to whom personal liberty is important, and those to whom liberty is not only inconsequential, but to whom personal liberty is a deadly threat.
He meant “People like us” – i.e., the Right, and “People like them,” i.e., the Left. His thrust being that the Left is directed towards Dictatorship, or as he put it “the boot across the throat.” Jed noted that the “Left,” in the form of the Democrat Party is most definitely Statist, but that the so-called “Right” is damned near as bad. The Anarchists say “hear, hear!” in agreement – all government being coercive and evil by definition.
I think that we’re headed towards tyranny, and I don’t know if enough of us remain who understand “the language of true freedom” so that we can defy “overbearing authority” and “throw off such Government, and…provide new Guards for (our) future Security.” We’re too divided. We’re too poorly educated in the language of freedom, something that, despite Jefferson’s Declaration, is not “self-evident.” We’ve succumbed to the decades-long dumbing-down of ourselves and our children. Too many of the population have been force-fed an “entitlement mentaltity.” Too many, too high up are disconnected from reality, and see what they want to see rather than what is. Example? Madeline Albright – Secretary of State under Clinton, and responsible for the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty with North Korea, was asked point-blank on Meet the Press:
But didn’t North Korea develop a nuclear bomb on Bill Clinton’s watch?
No, what they were doing, as it turns out, they were cheating. And the reason that you have arms control agreements is you don’t make them with your friends, you make them with your enemies. And it’s the process that is required to hold countries accountable. The worst part that has happened under the agreed framework, there was these fuel rods, and the nuclear program was frozen. Those fuel rods have now been reprocessed, as far as we know, and North Korea has a capability, which at one time might have been two potential nuclear weapons, up to six to eight now, we’re not really clear. But in this period of time when there has not enough action been taken, I think that the threat from North Korea has increased.
Imagine that! Korea didn’t develop nukes on Clinton’s watch! They cheated! The Clinton administration got them to sign a nice treaty and they cheated! So it’s not really the administration’s fault at all. Give Madeline an “A” for effort and a gold star! It’s the effort that counts, after all, and how good you feel about yourself. Right? Right?
This from one of the people with her hands on the levers of power.
We’re headed toward tyranny because we won’t look at it. The signs are all there, but we won’t admit to ourselves that it’s possible. I have to agree with the Left on one thing: bloody oppression of our rights is coming, eventually. I just think it’s equally likely to be at their hands as at the hands of the Right. For decades now our government has been constructing the individual mechanisms of it, as the Geek with a .45 once wrote eloquently about. He put it this way:
We, who studied the shape and form of the machines of freedom and oppression, have looked around us, and are utterly dumbfounded by what we see.
We see first that the machinery of freedom and Liberty is badly broken. Parts that are supposed to govern and limit each other no longer do so with any reliability.
We examine the creaking and groaning structure, and note that critical timbers have been moved from one place to another, that some parts are entirely missing, and others are no longer recognizable under the wadded layers of spit and duct tape. Other, entirely new subsystems, foreign to the original design, have been added on, bolted at awkward angles.
We know the tools and mechanisms of oppression when we see them. We’ve studied them in depth, and their existence on our shores, in our times, offends us deeply. We can see the stirrings of malevolence, and we take stock of the damage they’ve caused over so much time.
Others pass by without a second look, with no alarm or hue and cry, as if they are blind, as if they don’t understand what they see before their very eyes. We want to shake them, to grasp their heads and turn their faces, shouting, “LOOK! Do you see what this thing is? Do you see how it might be put to use? Do you know what can happen if this thing becomes fully assembled and activated?”
I’m one of the people the Geek was talking about in his piece. I’ve studied history, philosophy, and our Constitutional form of government, and I’ve seen how it’s been folded, twisted, spindled, mangled and mutilated for expediency, for advantage, for gain. I recognize the mechanisms of oppression that have been built and that simply await final assembly. I’ve watched as we’ve calmly, almost absent-mindedly forged the chains of tyranny, never believing that they’ll ever actually get used for that – the argument being: “Our government would never do that! We’re all about Truth! Justice! And the American Way!” I’ve seen the social-utopists of the Left wreck our schools, producing significant percentages of ignorant drones, illiterate, innumerate, unwilling to learn and unable to reason. I’ve seen the authoritarians of the Left and the Right pass laws “for our own protection” that have been abused and will be perverted – as soon as a sufficiently bad “national emergency” raises its ugly head.
And I see that “national emergency” coming. We’re currently at Threat Level Bert™
because of the Attack of the IslamoFascists. Let’s just have, oh, say a Beslan or two here; a little more home-grown terrorism (more abortion-clinic bombings, more school-shootings, another Branch Davidian compound, another Oklahoma City bombing, Anti-Globalists hurling firebombs at the Haliburton offices in Houston, you get the idea) and see what happens to our individual rights. The Patriot Act holds no dangers? I’m sure whatever administration is in power will be able to find some to exploit. Ironbear is right, to some the idea of personal liberty is a deadly threat, and people like that are heavily overrepresented in government. It’s axiomatic.
We’ve been building the mechanisms and the mindset for decades, perhaps as far back as the last Civil War, perhaps even earlier. The general consensus in the academic and legal communities is that the Constitution is essentially dead. It’s not going to be restored. The courts will not save us, and the People aren’t even conscious of the loss, for the most part. The only remaining questions are “What comes next, tyranny or anarchy?” (The real kind of anarchy, not the idealistic kind.) and “When?”
There’s a chance – a small, small chance – that we can hold off the collapse. Individual freedom rests on the tripod of reason, the free flow of information and ideas, and the ability and willingness to defend ones self and ones property. So long as enough of us retain all three of these, the descent isn’t inevitable. But if we as a people give any one of these up, we are lost. Our future teeters on the edge of a precipice, but far too few will open their eyes to see, and seeing, step back.
UPDATE: Buckethead of the Ministry of Minor Perfidy has a
comment related piece.
UPDATE, 9/19: I hadn’t read it before I wrote this essay, but Orson Scott Card wrote a piece August 22 entitled Who Was On Watch As the Dark Age Approached? – a review of a recent book by Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead. He comments on her ideas:
“Every culture,” she says, “takes pains to educate its young so that they, in their turn, can practice and transmit it completely.” Our civilization, however, is failing to do that. On the contrary, we are systematically training our young not to embrace the culture that brought us greatness.
A civilization is truly dead, she says, when “even the memory of what has been lost is lost.”
I would apply this principle in areas where, as a true Leftist, she would not dream of applying it: For instance, we have now raised a generation that does not even expect that marriage will precede sexual union and cohabitation because they have never seen it work that way. We have spent a generation trivializing the family, debasing it and undermining it until it doesn’t have as much practical value as a stock certificate.
“A culture is unsalvageable if stabilizing forces themselves become ruined and irrelevant,” she says, and she is absolutely right: And the single most important stabilizing force in any civilization is and always has been the family.
Read the piece.
Update, 9/20: Mrs. du Toit expands on her comment. I may have to write a response to that.
Update, 9/22: Matthew at Triggerfinger.org comments. Money quote:
We had entire generations of people who could live under a government in a city or town if they chose, but who also had the choice to go off in the wilderness on their own.
That choice is no longer effectively open to us, because the federal government has abandoned the enumerated powers doctrine and seeks now to regulate almost everything that can be regulated, and there is no place for those who do not consent to this form of government to go. We are, in short, cornered wolves — with no place to run, the teeth are starting to show. And the sheep are no fonder of our presence than we are of theirs.
UPDATE 11/15/13: John Hardin, reader, programmer extraordinaire and all-around great guy, has preserved the original comment thread for this post.