If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll know which side of this argument I believe to be the accurate one. See Kipling’s The Gods of the Copybook Headings.
Throughout history, one thing sticks out: No civilization, no society, no political body survives forever. The causes for this vary – war, resource exhaustion, internal revolution, etc. – but nothing lasts. However, as Robert Heinlein wrote, the worst thing about living in the declining era of a great civilization is knowing that you are.
While neocons and liberals, or however one categorizes one at this stage, argue over wagging dogs and other fine assortments of beasts and monsters, and while the debate over the merits of real politick vs. salvation politics rages on, there are parts of the world that are going to hell in a hand-basket, reflecting the new cold war climate created by this internal debate. It looks as if America is having a nice cold civil war by proxy over its own identity and future.
The ideological components of this war might be taking place in the halls of academia and the congress and through US and international media, but the physical aspect is taking place in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc. Each camp here is producing, wittingly and unwittingly, its own allies there, both ideological and tactical. And like in all proxy wars, these allies are quite capable of furthering their own particularistic agendas by stoking the debate here.
Well, despite the seemingly irresolvable challenge that a presence like the Syrian regime seems to pose, in truth, solutions can actually be found. But first, this new American civil war, no matter how cold it happens to be at this stage, has to come to an end. Otherwise the war on terror can never be won and Iraq will be followed by Syria, then Lebanon then Sudan, then Saudi Arabia, then… You get the point.
The “Cold Civil War” concept has since spread. Do a Google search on the phrase. In 2012, just before the November election Michael Walsh at PJ Media wrote:
Now we are engaged in a great Cold Civil War. But the decision American voters will make in November is far more than merely an ideological clash about what the Constitution meant or means. For that supposes that both sides are playing by the same rules, and have a shared interest in the outcome. That presumes that both sides accept the foundational idea of the American experiment, and that the argument is over how best to adhere to it.
That is false.
For some, this is a difficult notion to grasp. To them, politics is politics, the same game being played by the same rules that go back a couple of centuries. The idea that one party — and you know which one I mean — is actively working against its own country as it was founded seems unbelievable.
But that is true.
Don’t take it from me, take it from Barack Hussein Obama who famously said on the stump in 2008: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
Peter Robinson, in one of his many interviews of Thomas Sowell for Uncommon Knowledge asked in 2014:
How’s my generation’s project of holding on to liberty coming along?
Thomas Sowell: Not well. One of the reasons I’m glad to be as old as I am is that it means I may be spared seeing what’s going to happen to this country, either internally or as the result of international complications.
Robinson: You think that America’s greatest days are gone? Full stop? That it’s irreversible?
Sowell: Nothing is irreversible. But I think that we’re like a team that is coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth, five runs behind. We can win it, but this is not… I wouldn’t bet the rent money on it.
Robinson: Last question. What would you say – talking about Milton (Friedman) talking to my generation – what would you say to the next generation, to your grandchildren’s generation about the America for which they should be preparing themselves?
Sowell: Since I don’t know what that America is going to be, I don’t want to say anything to them. By the time they get here I think the issue will have been settled one way or the other.
Robinson: By then it will be irreversible.
Sowell: Either we will have pulled out of the dive, as it were, or else it will be all over.
I’m on the record stating that the 2012 re-election of Barack Obama convinced me that the country could not save itself. We’d passed the point of no return.
In April of this year Angelo Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University published another very important essay titled The Cold Civil War. Previously he had written America’s Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution, from which I took several Quotes of the Day and got an essay or two back in 2010. Read that, if you haven’t, before you read The Cold Civil War.
I have ruminated on the idea of a second Civil War (or a second American Revolution) since the inception of this blog – Pressing the “Reset” Button, But What if Your Loyalty is to the Constitution?, While Evils are Sufferable, Freedom’s Just Another Word for “Nothin’ Left to Lose”, Confidence, Part III, and most recently Pressing the “Fuck It” Button, just to list a few. My take on the question has been that there’s too much apathy and ignorance in the general population to support an all-out “hot” war, but that – should things really go pear-shaped – we’re going to get “asymmetrical warfare” like we’re seeing in the Middle East right now. As I’ve said, we didn’t buy those millions of firearms and billions of rounds of ammunition in anticipation of handing them in. Our “austerity riots” are going to be spectacular.
Here in the U.S. the problem is – once again – human nature and Sowell’s conflict of visions. In America’s Ruling Class Codevilla identifies the schism:
Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and “bureaucrat” was a dirty word for all. So was “social engineering.” Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday’s upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.
Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the “in” language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.
The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners — nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God “who created and doth sustain us,” our ruling class prays to itself as “saviors of the planet” and improvers of humanity. Our classes’ clash is over “whose country” America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark’s Gospel: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
“Saviors of the planet and improvers of humanity.” The unending quest to build the New Soviet Person.
In a speech he gave some time back Bill Whittle explained the Three Legs of Liberal Philosophy, the third leg of which was “Let us help you!”
Let us help you.
Let us help you!
You need health care? Fantastic! Let us help you.
You need job training? Let us help you. You need unemployment insurance? Let us help you!
Let us help you, let us help you! What’s wrong with these Republicans and Conservatives? We just want to help you. Why won’t you let us help you? All we want is all of your money and all of your freedom, we’ll help you all you want!
A little later on he explained the three legs of Conservative Philosophy, one of which was “Leave Me Alone.”
Raise your hands out there if you’re the kind of person who likes to be left alone. Most of them do. Now raise your hand if you’re the kind of person who likes to tell other people what to do.
Now some people really do want to tell other people what to do, but I’ll tell you one thing about young people, there’s not a twenty year-old college student – not one – who will raise their hand in a group of their other fellows and say “Yes, I want to tell other people what to do!”
That’s a really uncool thing, man. It’s really uncool to tell other people what to do. So they won’t do it.
So you say, “OK, you want to be left alone?” “Yeah.” “I do too. I want to be left alone too.”
Most of the time I want to be left alone. That means, if I want to start a business, leave me alone. If I want to go into a lemonade stand, leave me alone. If I want to be skateboarding, leave me alone.
We’re the party that says “Leave us alone.” We’re the party that says “Let us do what we want to do, let us keep what we make.” We’re the party that’s about being left alone. They’re the guys trying to tell you that you can’t have a big Big Gulp. They’re the guys telling you how warm your house has to be. They’re the guys telling you what kind of car you have to drive. They’re the guys telling you what kind of things you have to wear, what you have to do, who you have to be, and who you have to hang out with.
But I have a bone to pick with Bill here, and that excerpt from Codevilla’s essay above illustrates it. Robert Heinlein put it more pithily:
The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.
Frank Herbert expressed it in Chapterhouse: Dune thus:
All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.
With apologies to Bill and Michael Walsh, the Ruling Class is both parties, and they all want to tell us what to do. That’s why they end up in government. Daniel Webster back at the beginning of the 19th Century observed:
Good intentions will always be pleaded for any assumption of power. The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.
And in today’s world the subversion of the Constitution is justified because they’re the saviors of the planet and improvers of humanity. They know better. They need to reconstruct humanity. They want to “fix our souls.” They want to use the Rule of Law to bring “human redemption.”
Terry Pratchett has an appropriate quote. From Night Watch:
There were plotters, there was no doubt about it. Some had been ordinary people who’d had enough. Some were young people with no money who objected to the fact that the world was run by old people who were rich. Some were in it to get girls. And some had been idiots as mad as Swing, with a view of the world just as rigid and unreal, who were on the side of what they called “The People.” Vimes had spent his life on the streets and had met decent men, and fools, and people who’d steal a penny from a blind beggar, and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he’d never met The People.
People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so, the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.
As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.
But, per William Godwin, they mean well and that’s what matters. Ignore the piles of human bones!
Founding libertarian Isabel Paterson in her 1943 book The God of the Machine wrote:
Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.
This is demonstrably true; nor could it occur otherwise. The percentage of positively malignant, vicious, or depraved persons is necessarily small, for no species could survive if its members were habitually and consciously bent upon injuring one another. Destruction is so easy that even a minority of persistently evil intent could shortly exterminate the unsuspecting majority of well-disposed persons. Murder, theft, rapine, and destruction are easily within the power of every individual at any time. If it is presumed that they are restrained only by fear or force, what is it they fear, or who would turn the force against them if all men were of like mind?
Certainly if the harm done by willful criminals were to be computed, the number of murders, the extent of damage and loss, would be found negligible in the sum total of death and devastation wrought upon human beings by their kind. Therefore it is obvious that in periods when millions are slaughtered, when torture is practiced, starvation enforced, oppression made a policy, as at present over a large part of the world, and as it has often been in the past, it must be at the behest of very many good people, and even by their direct action, for what they consider a worthy object. When they are not the immediate executants, they are on record as giving approval, elaborating justifications, or else cloaking facts with silence, and discountenancing discussion.
Rush Limbaugh was vilified for stating, after Obama won the Presidency the first time, “I hope he fails.” Right now we’re watching the Ruling Class and its enablers in the media do absolutely everything they can to pull off a coup d’état because the man who won the White House this go-around isn’t one of them. He’s not one of the New Genderless Persons who mean to Do Good, who Care About You, who just want to help.
Codevilla from Cold Civil War:
America is in the throes of revolution. The 2016 election and its aftermath reflect the distinction, difference, even enmity that has grown exponentially over the past quarter century between America’s ruling class and the rest of the country. During the Civil War, President Lincoln observed that all sides “pray[ed] to the same God.” They revered, though in clashing ways, the same founders and principles. None doubted that those on the other side were responsible human beings. Today, none of that holds. Our ruling class and their clients broadly view Biblical religion as the foundation of all that is wrong with the world. According to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance.”
The government apparatus identifies with the ruling class’s interests, proclivities, and tastes, and almost unanimously with the Democratic Party. As it uses government power to press those interests, proclivities, and tastes upon the ruled, it acts as a partisan state. This party state’s political objective is to delegitimize not so much the politicians who champion the ruled from time to time, but the ruled themselves. Ever since Woodrow Wilson nearly a century and a half ago at Princeton, colleges have taught that ordinary Americans are rightly ruled by experts because they are incapable of governing themselves. Millions of graduates have identified themselves as the personifiers of expertise and believe themselves entitled to rule. Their practical definition of discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, etc., is neither more nor less than anyone’s reluctance to bow to them. It’s personal.
On the other side, some two thirds of regular Americans chafe at insults from on high and believe that “the system” is rigged against them and, hence, illegitimate—that elected and appointed officials, plus the courts, business leaders, and educators are leading the country in the wrong direction. The non-elites blame the elites for corruptly ruling us against our will, for impoverishing us, for getting us into wars and losing them. Many demand payback—with interest.
So many on all sides have withdrawn consent from one another, as well as from republicanism as defined by the Constitution and as it was practiced until the mid-20th century, that it is difficult to imagine how the trust and sympathy necessary for good government might ever return. Instead, we have a cold civil war. Statesmanship’s first task is to prevent it from turning hot.
One would hope.
Statesmanship, however, seems to be pretty much absent these days, replaced with overbearing arrogance – “Shut up” they explain.
Well-nigh the entire ruling class—government bureaucracies, the judiciary, academia, media, associated client groups, Democratic officials, and Democrat-controlled jurisdictions—have joined in “Resistance” to the 2016 elections: “You did not win this election,” declared Tom Perez recently, the Democratic National Committee’s chairman. This is not about Donald Trump’s alleged character defects. The Resistance would have arisen against whoever represented Americans who had voted not to be governed as they have been for the past quarter-century. It is a cold civil war against a majority of the American people and their way of life. The members of the Resistance mean to defend their power. Their practical objective is to hamper and otherwise delegitimize 2016’s winners. Their political objective is to browbeat Trump voters into believing they should repent and yield to their betters. This campaign might break the Trump presidency.
In the meantime, however, it exacerbates the spirit of discontent in the land. In 2016 the electorate, following the pattern it had set in 2010 and 2014 (and even in 2012, except for the presidential election), voted Republican to show its desire to reduce government’s intrusion in American life, to get out from under the ruling class’s socio-economic agenda and political correctness.
“Leave us alone!”
But the Republican leadership did not and does not share the electorate’s concerns. Cycle after cycle, Americans who vote to “throw the rascals out” get ever more unaccountable rules piled on by the same unelected bureaucrats; and even modest attempts to hold back capillary intrusion into their lives get invalidated by the same judges. They come to believe that the system is rigged. In short, they want to drain the swamp.
Yet such revolutionary sentiments do not amount to a coherent program to reverse the past century’s course. Donald Trump’s promises with regard to the swamp and to restoring America’s greatness would be extraordinarily difficult to keep even were they matched with due understanding and forceful execution. But the ruling class is so big, so pervasive, and so committed to its ideas, that sidelining it, and even more so, undoing its work, would require at least matching its power, pretensions, and vehemence. In other words, it would take raising the temperature of our cold civil war’s right side to match or overmatch the temperature of its left side. Statesmanship’s task, however, is to maximize peace, not strife.
American society has divided along unreconcilable visions of the good, held by countrymen who increasingly regard each other as enemies. Any attempt by either side to coerce the other into submission augurs only the fate that has befallen other peoples who let themselves slide into revolution.
There’s that “conflict of visions” again. As David Horowitz observed:
(I)f you believe that social institutions can change things by getting enough power, then when you look at your opponents, who are the people who are not going along with the program? You see yourself as the army of the Saints. Who are they? They are, YOU are the party of Satan!
And there’s no Statesmanship in the world that can overcome religious fervor.
It follows that the path to peace must lie in each side’s contentment to have its own way—but only among those who consent to it. This implies limiting the U.S. government’s reach to what it can grasp without wrecking what remains of our national cohesion.
That is what the Ruling Class will not allow. Power, once seized, is never yielded easily, and the Ruling Class sees itself as being made up of New Persons who are bringing us, the Great Unwashed, kicking and screaming if necessary, into their Utopia.
And all Utopias are just one mass-murder away from being achieved.