An Uncivil War
Left-wing thinking effectively blanks out the real distinctions between representative government and totalitarian dictatorship.
- Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands
There is a growing consensus among conservative writers and many individual citizens that America has descended into a condition of virtual civil war. It is not, or not yet, characterized by military confrontations on a national scale, as in 1861-65, but the facts on the ground strongly suggest a breakdown of civil order:
· the irreconcilable conflict between the political left and right;
· the belligerence and vituperation that passes for a national “conversation”;
· sporadic acts of violence, flash mobs and organized riots erupting in every corner of the country;
· the dismal lack of local and state leadership;
· Orwellian Ministries of Truth, otherwise known as digital platforms, controlling and censoring information;
· a rabid feminist network intent on destabilizing cultural traditions and mores;
· a president betrayed by his own generals and party senators;
· a rogue enclave set up by malcontents and domestic terrorists in the middle of an American city;
· and racial mayhem fomented and exploited by a class of partisan criminals.
Whether or not we call this situation the preliminary stages of civil war or simply massive social unrest and cutthroat politics may be only a matter of terminology.
What seems most obvious is that a civil war, like any war, requires two sides pitted against one another in outright combat or in destructive ideological engagements. And given the mass capitulation of mayors, governors, police chiefs, media editors, entertainment celebrities, CEOs and members of Congress to the insurrectionary cadres holding the nation hostage -- forces of disarray like Antifa, Black Lives Matter, raging Twitter mobs, hate-promoting institutions like the SPLC, the ACLU, The Nation of Islam and others -- one is hard pressed to locate and identify a respectable “other side” of the struggle.
Admittedly, there is a beleaguered though resolute president (abandoned by many who should logically be his allies, including members of his own party), a small number of conservative commentators who have stood their ground in the public square, and an inchoate “silent majority” (assuming it is indeed a majority), but they scarcely comprise a visible and identifiable “other side” equal in approximate strength to an active, vociferous and bellicose hostile power. That being the case, we cannot say that a de facto civil war is in progress. The side of law and order seems to have surrendered without much in the way of robust and concerted resistance.
We can say that the nation has grown dysfunctional and largely ungovernable -- civil disintegration, not civil war -- and will remain so unless those who believe in the Constitution and re-possess sufficient authority in the military and government agencies, backed by a genuine silent majority emerging at election time, can mount a viable defense against the agents of destruction. This does not mean that the left will be defeated or lay down its arms, only that the playing field -- or battlefield -- will have been made rather more level.
At that point, once a balance of forces is achieved and a meaningful engagement of opposing sides becomes possible, we may have entered a condition of veritable civil war, whether institutional or manifest, unless a resolution or armistice can be worked out. And the only resolution that might make some initial sense is an official divorce between the warring segments of the nation, a secession of states from the federal system, red and blue states going their own ways. Such would inevitably involve manifold complications, with citizens of differing political loyalties abiding in the same state, the division of economic and industrial property, the re-assignment of components of the military, the complexities of foreign relations, and so on.
2016 presidential election by county
licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
In Democracy: The God That Failed, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who teaches at the University of Nevada, has gone more deeply into the intricacies of peaceful separation. Hoppe proposes that “a modern liberal-libertarian strategy of secession should take its cue from the European Middle Ages when, from about the twelfth until well into the seventeenth century, Europe was characterized by the existence of hundreds of free and independent cities, interspersed into a predominantly feudal social structure.” He believes that in this way, “besides recognizing the fact that the liberal-libertarian potential is distributed highly unevenly across the country, such a strategy of piecemeal withdrawal renders secession less threatening politically, socially and economically.”
Regrettably, the problems created by Hoppe’s medieval solution would be insurmountable:
· how to arrange for a nationwide agreement or consensus eventuating in the creation of innumerable small city-states distinct in administration but presumably bound by treaty; how to combine for effective defense against an external or internal aggressor;
· how to equitably divide economic, fiscal, industrial and technological resources spread across an enormous territory and vested in thousands of self-governing pockets;
· how to provide for safe internal travel, and so on.
We are not in the Middle Ages, and a litter of far-flung tiny municipalities is a relic long ago superseded. The problems of secession are real enough and would only be exacerbated in so fungible a scenario.
In Politics, particularly Books I and III, Aristotle defends the polis or city-state as a “natural” development of communal life and as the model political organization. But in today’s far more complex and interconnected world, it is reasonable to assume that he would argue similarly for the nation-state, its “formal cause” being the Constitution and its “material cause,” a given territory. Thus, even when a state or nation breaks up, its constituent residues would also be states or nations, however reduced.
The nation-state and its provision for central authority -- the linchpin of the modern system of international relations -- did not arise out of a vacuum, but out of the Thirty Years War and the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. It came into being for reasons of necessity. Indeed, the nation-state is the culmination of a long historical process. It can neither be reversed nor transcended, dissolving on the one hand into a dispersed congeries of political and cultural particles, or evaporating on the other hand into a Global or One-World Superstate, which would be a throwback to the Bronze Age of vast, ultimately unsustainable empires. The nation-state as such, whether conservative, centrist, leftist, locked in internecine discord, or fissiparous, is here to stay.
What, then, is the solution to America’s potential ills of possible civil war or collapse into a leftist totalitarian regime? How are these devastating alternatives to be averted? Perhaps neither one nor the other of these historical options can be avoided, and the future is uncompromisingly dark. Perhaps separation of red and blue states coalescing into non-contiguous administrative polities or lesser nations may be thinkable, a kind of “velvet divorce” on the model of Czechoslovakia, though far more complicated, with an arranged exchange of populations and a peaceful division of the spoils. Perhaps businesses, industries, manufacturers and increasing numbers of people will emigrate away from blue states, leaving them to malinger in debt and dysfunction, with mounting social problems and a depleted tax base.* Or perhaps the scattered constitutional forces under a dogged and muscular president will improbably prevail -- though without inaugurating an era of unbroken peace.
For better or for worse, America will either persist as a nation-state, internally fractured or under a socialist dispensation, or devolve into a jigsaw of smaller nation-states. Considering that the left has spread its capillaries throughout the body of the nation, leaving no institution untouched and incapable by nature of either negotiation or compromise, as Roger Scruton explains in Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, and considering that a younger generation of disaffected “millennials,” victims of a massive indoctrination program via the universities and the media, are functionally ignorant and politically malleable, it follows that the prospect for a harmonious or pragmatic resolution to “the troubles” seems unlikely. In whatever way the current drama plays out, I fear that we may be witnessing the end of the American experiment in republican governance as we have come to know it. Although it is no consolation, as always history will have the last word.
*Lana on Twitter writes: “We should pick a general location in the north, south, west, east and center of America and all the good folks who aren't leftists, globalists or sell out neocons, move there. No website. No name. Just good folks moving to be in a community of other good folks. Nominations?”
David Solway’s latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London. A CD of his original songs, Partial to Cain, appeared in 2019.