Distinguishing Civil War from Social Anarchy

The antics of the left since the 2016 election have proven beyond any doubt that leftists are not going to give up their agenda quietly.  Their street activists have shown themselves more than willing to engage in violence – creating a mob to evict a Trump rally from Chicago even before the election, beating up Trump-supporters on numerous occasions, and threatening members of the administration in public.  Leftist-dominated universities have long had the habit of lionizing 1960s and '70s domestic terrorists – in some cases granting them professorships.

Also worth mentioning are various "lone wolf" assassinations and attempted assassinations almost certainly inspired by leftist rhetoric, notably a string of police killings by the Black Lives Matter movement and the shooting of Republican House whip Steve Scalise.  Antifa is no more a "protest organization" than Mussolini's blackshirts were.  Assaulting people in the streets doesn't normally fit under the constitutional rubric of "free speech."  Antifa's goal is to influence politics by creating fear of bodily harm among its opponents.  That is the very definition of terrorism.

Nevertheless, mob violence and even political assassination still fall far short of an actual civil war.  In the increasing volatile and dangerous atmosphere of our time, we cannot lose our heads. We must, despite provocations, do our best to understand clearly what is happening around us.

Civil wars are made by certain distinct actions of public officials and are not simply an emergent condition that occurs after a certain level of street violence is reached.  Simply defined, a civil war occurs when two irreconcilable governing authorities seek to control a single country by mobilizing organized bodies of armed men to fight each other.  It is an attempt to accomplish by direct and unambiguous force what such authorities have given up accomplishing by ordinary political means.  The domestic terrorist incidents we have seen so far have largely been attempts to cow either the public or our representatives into submission.  This is different from the deployment of actual troops to seize and hold key targets of military, political, or logistical value.  There were terrorist incidents before the American Civil War, but it wasn't really a war until the Confederates fired artillery on Fort Sumter, and the Union marched an army into Virginia three months later in response.  At that point, the niceties of political maneuverings were suspended.

Both major political parties in the United States are themselves deeply divided.  The only "moderate" position left between them is a desire by corrupt establishment politicians on both sides to maintain their personal status quo.  In truth, that status quo has already been swept away by an increasingly polarized public.  Conservatives wish to roll back the damage that the socialists have done; socialists wish to finish their social experiment at any cost.

One or the other must now happen.  Bipartisanship is dead.  We have, therefore, met one of the preconditions of civil war – we have two utterly irreconcilable camps of governing authorities.  The aging club of career political hacks in the middle are retiring with as much money as they can carry to avoid the storm.

At the same time, incidences of the collapse of the federal government's attachment to the rule of law have become too numerous to keep track of.  From Bush's signing statements to Obama's autocracy by executive order, the executive branch has made a mockery of the Constitution's spirit, and sometimes of its actual letter.  Administrations from both parties have felt free to pick and choose the laws they were inclined to enforce and blatantly disregard the rest.  States and municipalities, too, have snubbed federal law.  One need look no farther than marijuana legalization or sanctuary cities.  The law is no longer respected as an institutional framework for society; rather, it has become a kind of procedural plaything for politicians and their retinues of attorneys.  Since laws are only as meaningful as the willingness to enforce them, we have transitioned, little by little, from a nation of laws into a nation of authorities ruling by thinly disguised fiat.  Law, as such, has ceased to be a moderating force as it has ceased to be respected.

Two things stand between the current situation and an actual civil war.  The first is that most politicians and other high officials are lawyers and tend to think like lawyers.  While they are willing to violate existing laws and invent new ones on the fly, they are nevertheless trapped within a legalistic mindset.  They see the law as the de facto means for achieving every possible end.  Thus, it did not seem preposterous to them for a pipsqueak federal judge in Hawaii to block Trump's travel ban.  Both sides took it seriously.  Politicians may have contempt for the Constitution, written as it was by old dead racist white men, but they still have considerable faith in vestigial human authority left over from more rational times.  If a federal judge declared the laws of gravity null and void, our political class would probably consider them suspended, pending a higher court's ruling.

This brings us to our second obstacle to actual war: while politicians on the left are happy to make use of street agitators and domestic terrorists like BLM and Antifa, they still consider them merely as a means of rigging the legal game.  BLM and Antifa are like witness bullying writ large.  The political class doesn't think of such people as instruments of real military force.  Again, they are like Mussolini's blackshirts – useful for beating people up, but pathetic as actual troops.

Before the American Civil War, the South levied and trained fairly formidable militias.  The North had control of most of the federal army.  These instruments were the genuine article – the real tools of actual war.  Should the militant wings of the Democratic and Republican parties decide to settle their differences in the brutal and time-honored way, they will find themselves completely unprepared.  They will be rolling the dice on the loyalties of regular military units and state national guards.  There are currently no other viable troops.  Something of this sort actually occurred during the Spanish Civil War, but such a gamble would take more nerve than today's leftist politicians appear to have.

Calling on the public to "resist" or even to "harass conservatives" is a kind of weaklings' road to violent conflict, knowing that the public will suffer the consequences and you won't.  Throwing the legal game completely out the window, on the other hand, by honestly declaring war could end in finding oneself on the wrong end of an infantryman's rifle or an executioner's syringe.  Real war is for keeps.  There are no secure retirement options when the odds are something like 50-50 that your cause will prevail.

Right or wrong, a true civil war would require the courage of real men.  It is not an undertaking for the spineless apparatchiks and demagogues who now skulk around the halls of Congress or chair our political parties.  It is hard to imagine any of today's Democrats, other than perhaps James Webb, engaging in anything as culturally distasteful as formulating battle plans.  They've despised the military for fifty years.  That reflexive hatred is now a part of them.

The biggest danger in the near term probably isn't a civil war per se.  Although the creation of large, well organized militias isn't utterly out of the question, they are not materializing yet.  There are still law enforcement entities willing to suppress them.

The immediate threat continues to be the uncontrolled escalation of social anarchy.  The left has let the genie out of the bottle.  The leftists' leaders are now beginning to discover that the genie has a mind of its own.

Decades of leftist indoctrination have created a weaponized generation of loosely organized, pseudo-anarchistic, multicultural dreamers.  A small but relevant proportion of them will be willing to burn, loot, and kill in the name of tolerance and social justice.  Their soft, ex-hippie progenitors cannot restrain them.  As the saying goes: Once the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend.

Unlike the hippies of the 1960s, today's young radicals have no state of normalcy to return to once the drugs and the political poetry wear off.  Many social justice warriors learned to hate long before they took their first tottering steps in a university-sponsored protest.  It is hard to imagine them dropping their placards and becoming insurance agents – as many ex-hippies actually did.  Even without the danger of militia armies, we are facing a kind of hideous synthesis of Mao's Red Guards and the Manson family.  This is not a military force, but a home-grown cadre of terrorists, dedicated to Western civilization's destruction.  The longer it takes the Trump administration to take them seriously and slap them down, the uglier and more destructive their actions will become.  It may still be possible to suppress them with the police, but it would require a level of resolution unconcerned with our opponents' level of outrage.

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