TCS Daily


A Second American Civil War?

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - November 29, 2006 12:00 AM

Is America in danger of civil war? Not immediately, perhaps, but famed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card thinks that we're in enough danger that he's authored a cautionary tale entitled Empire that's set in more-or-less present times.

In Card's novel, which is straight thriller fiction a la Jack Bauer rather than the science fiction for which Card is generally known, shadowy forces use terror and assassination to trigger a civil war in an America sharply divided along Red/Blue lines. In the Afterword, Card writes:

"Rarely do people set out to start a civil war. Invariably, when such wars break out both sides consider themselves to be the aggrieved ones."

Such is the case now, he notes, when both Left and Right feel threatened by the other side, and unfairly so:

"Can it lead to war? Very simply, yes. The moment one group feels itself so aggrieved that it uses either its own weapons or the weapons of the state to 'prevent' the other side from bringing about its supposed 'evil' designs, then that other side will have no choice but to take up arms against them. Both sides will believe the other to be the instigator . . . . In America today, we are complacent in our belief that it can't happen here."

Well, I certainly don't believe that it can't happen here. Civil war can happen anywhere and, given enough time, usually does. And it happened here once, after all.

I've noted before that one of the great American accomplishments was to get over the Civil War without the kind of lingering bitterness that often marks -- and reignites -- such conflicts elsewhere. And we can, perhaps, thank the ongoing Civil War reminiscence industry for helping to keep the horrors of that war alive in people's memories. Throughout the remainder of the 19th Century, many people feared a reignition of the Civil War, but it didn't happen.

Nonetheless, Card's cautionary tale is worth bearing in mind. Civil wars are, traditionally, among the most bloody, and the hardest to prevent once the ball gets rolling. So what do we do?

One question is "who's 'we' here?" I don't see much of a sign that the American public -- which, after all, overwhelmingly favored centrists in this month's elections -- is as divided as Card suggests. But -- as Card also notes -- the elites are much more divided, and the media tend to play up those divisions, because division and conflict are good story-drivers. ("We live in a time when moderates are treated worse than extremists, being punished as if they were more fanatical than the actual fanatics.") To the "activist" crowd on the left and right, people who don't share their views 100% are evil, and on the other side. This tends to backfire politically, which I think is why the elections favored centrists this time, but that doesn't stop the polarization. In a way, it tends to make it worse.

I think that we're a long way from a civil war. But I also think that Card's right to warn people against too much division, and too little emphasis on our common interests as Americans. While I don't think that we're in danger of a civil war, I do think that our current political system is unhealthy, with polarization serving mostly as a tool for the folks in power to keep their bases in line, while they pursue agendas that are mostly self-serving. I hope that both the people and the press will make some conscious efforts to moderate the tone, and make that approach less effective.


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126 Comments

Red/Blue Divide
In the last eight years, we have seen one party raise clamorous claims of election fraud. That party is known for having raised the graveyard vote to a national force. When there are outrageous cries for assassination, destruction of campaign posters, thefts of campaign materials or petitions for place on the ballot, it is almost always that party that is involved.
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If the other party ever gets that upset and that unruly, we may be very, very close to election violence.
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I haven't seen anything quite like this combination of venom, irrationality and uncivility. I don't even think the Viet Nam furor went this far around the bend. Perhaps there was something like it between 1890 and 1960, but my reading suggests that this is more like the venom that Lincoln endured.
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If so, we should seriously ask (a) why? and (b) whether the current administration has Lincoln's stature. The second I leave to history; for the first I am inclined to believe Philip Bobbett's notion (see The Shield of Achilles) that we are seeing a change in what we expect (and can expect) of government and nationhood, and we're not all adapting to it in the same way. International terror, international finance, a world where the USA is no longer a superpower, just the pre-eminent power For Now ... and an enemy that is very, very good at using our own skills against us, along with evidence that some people read as discrediting socialism and others read as proof of a conspiracy against it ... there's lot to take in, especially when most people don't read history and didn't learn it--were never taught it--in schools.

... continued
Oops! To finish the thought: not in the last 60 years have we needed more to think our way through things, and not in the last 60 have we been less likely to do so, preferring to grab hold of our most precious ideas and protect them at the cost of our lives--and our personal integrity.

Political polarization is theatre...
We are given to believe that there are substantial differences between the two major parties and such differences are radicalized by both politicians and dramatized by the media. However, moderates from both parties are typically the individuals elected, they are broadly representative of their constituancies and they are otherwise pretty hard to tell apart.

There was some risk in the 1960's of racial civil unrest intensifying into civil war (race war, if you will). The mere idea got Washington's attention big time.

There was never much chance that the young people would revolt violently over the war in Vietnam or the evils of the political process regardless of how bad Chicago looked in 1968 or that tragic day at Kent State.

There would be no point (for anyone really angry) trying to take over the Federal government. What would a revolutionary do with it if he had it? Anyone serious who mobilized, armed and deployed enough fighters to challenge even the local police would face National Guard and then Marines with aircover within hours. Maybe it took FEMA a few days to get on the job in New Orleans. No one should make the mistake that Chrystal City would be slow to respond. The White House would not be sending ATF if anything real was going down.

The generals themselves? Not a chance. Leavenworth.

Life, liberty, health and property. That's the social contract. Washington will hold up its end. Here. Have a beer.



Gosh!! Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, O'Reilly are all so nice!
Mildly pointing out possible errors by people they disagree while not questioning their patriotism, morality or anything else. And to think that people on the other side dare to do otherwise!!! It is SO WRONG!!!

Theft
As taxes rise to pay for a significanly higher percentage of non-Constitutionally mandated programs, I can understand why people might begin to feel crimes have been committed against them and seek justice.

No justice, no peace.

War means people will die
If we are to have civil war then the participants must be willing to die. As I view the hostility in this debate I notice that one side is probably a lot less willing to risk death to achieve its objectives than the other.

Guess which side that is?

A FIRST American Civil War
Just a point of clarification. I know the contretemps of 1861-1865 is referred to as a civil war, but it wasn't. A civil war is a conflict between two or more factions trying to gain control of the central government. In the American War of Secession, the Confederate states were trying to GET AWAY from a government they saw as unjust. And no, it wasn't just about slavery. Not even primarily. The historical analysis of that conflict is beyond the scope of this comment, but if the current disagreements escalate to the level of a civil war (I don't believe it will happen, but it is a terrifying thought), it will be the first American civil war, not the second.

It takes two to start a fight
So the author recommends accomodation and reconciliation. Very good. That, in fact, is what victorious House leader Nancy Pelosi is also recommending.

It's easy to see that when you have two sides dug in, unwilling to give an inch and absolutely unbending in enforcing their party line, war is inevitable. But what do you have when only one side is that way, and the other is patiently trying to build a bridge?

I guess we will see.

Time for the Revolution?
I can sympathise with your sentiments. It's aggravating when someone takes your money and then doesn't spend it the way you would like them to. But as long as we're talking about revolution, let me tell you my experiences.

In the wake of Dr King's assassination the nation's capital was gripped by riots and massive, spontaneous civil disturbance. I was living across the street from a collection point, where National Guard and US Army equipment was being gathered to fight the coming armageddon.

Ragnarok fizzled. The only thing the rioters wanted was to let off some steam and to pick up a few TV sets and stereo systems downtown. So the amassed Forces of Justice stood guard on the street corners, just to make sure the looting didn't get out of hand and someone got hurt.

A couple of days later, calm returned. DC has been through several such riots since then. They've all been handled the same way.

But those were just civil disturbances. If you and your One Percenters show up with a political beef, about a hundred thousand cops are going to rain blows down on your head so hard you won't even wake up until your arraignment on serious charges of sedition. That's no way to go.

If you want to work intelligently toward change, work to change the Imperial Presidency. The concentration of powers is the most corrosive development for the health of Lady Liberty that we've seen in my lifetime. And there's only two ways to go in that direction. Either try to take back Congress so ordinary people have an influnece there, or try to energize The People, so that several millions at the very least gather together to hand Washington a mandate.

We have congress members on both sides of the aisle working for good. If you want to stick with a Republican, support Lindsey Graham. He's a good old fashioned conservative with his head on straight. See what he thinks about all this.

Sorry, it _was_ about slavery
The reason the south wanted to secede was, short and long, slavery. There were disagreements about tariffs, but these could be bridged with compromise. What couldn't was slavery. The talk about it not being about slavery is just denial.

Civil War is Inevitable
Due to the stranglehold the two party system has on America.

All that is needed is verbal encouragement. A small party, that advocated abolishing the current government, and holding a new constitutional convention, and that actually got some votes somewhere, would make enough people think that they could actually do it. Just saying so publicly would be enough.

As technology advances, fewer people are needed to start a war. As Washingtons power increases, more people will realize that voting is for losers. We didn't vote King George out, did we? Some small group will take some tech and start a fight. Freedom is not free, time to enrich the tree of liberty.

A Civil War is Inevitable
Due to the stranglehold the two party system has on America.

All that is needed is verbal encouragement. A small party, that advocated abolishing the current government, and holding a new constitutional convention, and that actually got some votes somewhere, would make enough people think that they could actually do it. Just saying so publicly would be enough.

As technology advances, fewer people are needed to start a war. As Washingtons power increases, more people will realize that voting is for losers. We didn't vote King George out, did we? Some small group will take some tech and start a fight. Freedom is not free, time to enrich the tree of liberty.

If you don't think there is enough hatred to start a civil war, just read the Democratic Underground
...

Saying things you don't want to hear, is not hatred.
With the occassional exception of Coulter, none of the people on your list have questioned other Americans patriotism. Sanity yes, patriotism no.

Try reading the history books, slavery was a third or fourth order influence.
It was about economics and political power.

It takes two to make peace, only one person is needed to fight.
...

Imperial President
Members of Congress are only interested in staying in power and they can only stay in power by avoiding hard issues and keeping most of the electorate happy. This is why neither political party is willing to debate the truly important issues that impact the day-to-day lives of most Americans. And this is why they have abdicated their responsibilities to the Executive branch by giving control of monetary policy to the Federal Reserve, environmental policy to the EPA, education to the Dept. of Education, etc. This abandonment of responsibility by Congress has created the Imperial Presidency we have today.

The creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security fueled a massive increase in Imperial power. State secrets, warrantless investigations and wiretaps, signing statements, executive privilege: the executive branch wields ever more tools for secrecy. Since the middle of the twentieth century, presidents have used myriad tactics to expand and maintain a level of Executive branch power unprecedented in this nation’s history. After September 11, 2001 the power of the Imperial Presidency rose to new heights. The nation’s democracy has been damaged and its Constitution corrupted by staunch information suppression and the creation of “black sites,” “enemy combatants,” and “ghost detainees.”

Most people believe that some degree of governmental secrecy is necessary. But how much is too much? At what point does withholding information from Congress, the courts, and citizens abuse the public trust? How does the nation reclaim rights that have been controlled by one branch of government?

I cannot answer these questions – but when the citizens determine that too much power is concentrated in too few hands – the next American Revolution will take place. If a civil war (or Revolution) is fermenting, it will be caused by Congress’ lack of action and life altering regulations and privacy invasions issued by an unelected agency.

1994
Republican proved that a revolution in politics can occur.

What will be required to sustain such a revolution is a judiciary which believes what the Constitution says, not what it means today.

It would also be useful if the popular press would side with liberty instead of socialists, but the internet is creating much competition for ideas. That may be our salvation.

As is so well demonstrated in Israel every day.

Only 30% supported the American Revolution.
How many Independent voters are out there now?

.. or just read tcsdaily
The negative comments on http://www.democraticunderground.com/ don't rise to the level of the ranting here, to say nothing of michellemalkin, townhall, the corner, ... .

How about "Let's blow the place up!" Rush Limbaugh.

Whoa! Ann Coulter!

The Wall Street Journal Op/Ed page -- now there's an island of respectful debate.

Of course, all that shouting has a purpose. If people would shut up and look for WMDs, they might see that there aren't any.

Really?
I timed myself on how long it would take with simple google searches to disprove this -- took 10 minutes.

Limbaugh - Aug 23, 2005
"[I]t's time to stop dancing around this issue folks, to tell you the truth. It's time for somebody to tell the people on the left, you're damn right we're questioning your patriotism."

Hannity - Oct 10, 2006
(about Ted Turner) You know, Bob Zelnick, we conservatives -- I've often used the term "blame America first," or the "hate America" left, the hard left. Isn't that what you hear here? Is that the fair description?

Savage - Oct 9, 2006
(about Madeleine Albright) In my opinion, she should be tried for treason, and when she's found guilty, she should be hung.

O'Reilly - June 20, 2005
(about Air America) Everybody got it? Dissent, fine; undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all those clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately.

Hey, Mark -- it's called Google. Use it.

I will doubt it
I think the vast majority of Americans are patriotic but I will openly question the patriotism of the New York TImes which publishes classified information endangering troops. I will openly question the patriotism of people who preach hatred of this nation and openly call for it's downfall. I question the patriotism of the ACLU when they attack my religion on the notion that it must be struck from public life.

Yes, I openly question the patriotism of some of you and I will not apologize.

Yes, on the left I do question your patriotism. Not all, but you know who you are.

No Subject
It was about the economics and power of the less populated South which were only viable against the more industrial North via tons of free labor - which was provided by slaves. the Confederacy didn't want to open casinos or institute gay marriage, they wanted to keep the money and power they had and had obtained having keep people as cattle.

From the Georgia Ordinance of Seccession:
"The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery."

From South Carolina's Ordinance of Seccession:
"The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution."

From Mississippi's Ordinance of Seccession:
"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization."

Yeah, it had nothing to do with slavery. You can try and rehibilitate the Confederacy all you want, too bad their reason are on record.

Libs
I know many liberals and conservatives. I find the libs to be bitter angry people who complain about how unfair everything is in life.

That's fine.
I have no problem if you want to question anyone's patriotism. We can debate some other time whether or not your thinking has any merit. I'm simply showing conservatives like MarkTheGreat, who believe that nobody on the right plays that card, that it is indeed played, and played quite regularly.

So, thanks for helping me prove my point!

Try reading a history book for adults written by a real historian
Instead of ax-grinding hack apologists for the confederacy writing face-saving excuses. This isn't a close call for anyone who reads what the people at the time were saying. If you'd like conformation, check out the statements of the various states who seceded as to why they ddi.

Party Realignments
Seems to me it's pretty likely that we're in the early phases of having the centrist elements of both parties actually shearing away to form some other viable political party. There's a huge amount of tension between the libertarian and the social conservative wings of the Republican party, and between the pragmatic "triangulating" and the pacifist/socialist/nutbag wings of the Democratic party.

Given that two-party politics is institutionally very stable in the US, creation of another viable party implies the extinction of one or both of the existing parties. The last time that happened was 1854, with parts of the Whigs and the War Democrats forming the Republican party. As I recall, it led to a certain degree of, uh, military unpleasantness about 8 years later.

On the other hand, the creation of the Republican party caused a further radicalization of the politics of the 1850s. The instability generated by even a centrist party realignment would be bad, but it's hard to imagine the most boring elements of both parties causing too much trouble.

Gosh!! Steisand, Franken, Baldwin, Roberts, Dean, Kerry, Kennedy, etc. all so nice!
Mildly pointing out possible errors by people they disagree while not questioning their intellect, integrity, patriotism, morality or anything else. And to think that people on the other side dare to do otherwise!!! It is SO WRONG!!!

Good! Here's an unpatriotic one. James Earl Carter "my county wrong, right?"
Start with that putrid ex-president James Earl Carter-whose presidency was a disasater and having been judged harshly by the American people-he spends the rest of his worthless life brokering and attempting to broker deals that aren't in the U.S.'s best interest in a vain search for a legacy. The SOB should be tried for treason for his involvement with the North Korea deal.

Add anybody who would subordinate US sovereignty to the UN as unpatriotic. Somehow, on the left, they've screwed up the old expression, "my country, right or wrong" to "my county wrong, right?"

It was more than slavery, that too is on the record
The north had rocky hilly soil. Not good for growing crops, they did have lots of streams that made early mills possible, hence they specialized in machinery, while the south, with it's flat land and good climate specialized in agriculture. If the northerners had had the proper land and climate, they would have had slaves too. In fact, a number of them did, as household servants.

Even Lincoln declared that if he could preserve the union while at the same time preserving slavery, he would do so.

If the war was about slavery, why did Lincoln wait until the war was almost two years old to issue the Emmancipation Proclamation, and why did he, in that same document, exempt slave hold states that had stayed with the Union?

First Civil War Took Work To Make Happen
I think Card is wrong where he implies that the Civil War wasn't started on purpose. In fact, fire eaters like William Yancey had been agitating for secession for a while, and were able to deliberately undermine the 1860 Democratic convention in order to bring it about. Bruce Catton's _The Coming Fury_ is a brilliant history of the politics behind secession and the failed attempts to avert war.

Ironically, this probably adds to Card's larger argument.

I agree, the liberals who post here are full of hate and incapable of thought.
As to the WMD's, those have been found, by the ton.

I'm not surprised that you have forgotten that again.

libs
most liberal are loosers who can't bear to blame themselves for the problems they have created for themselves.

Did I prove your point?
Well he is wrong if he made that assertion.

The NYT just leaked yet another classified document. I used to do classified military work. If I leaked something I went to prison for treason. No questions, nothing. I was gone.

So what makes the NY Times special? I question their patriotism without apology.

Bitter
Yes, read some of beatles1. He is obviously a miserable human. Must be horrible to live in such bitter rage.

1994 revisited
The Republicans won in 1994 on the basis of a series of promises -- most of which they forgot shortly after entering Washington DC. The populace believed them once but do you think the voters are foolish enough to believe them again?

Carter
Yes, the man who gave up the Panama Canal. Now the Chinese run it.
The man who sent a letter of apology to Iran after they took our hostages.
The man who told us that America was over.

What a fine patriotic example he is...

If the war wasn't about slavery, why did the Southern states say it was when they seceded?
You might also consider Lincoln's considerations on the question in the second inaugural:

"One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether""

Superscreamer is always good for calm and rational analysis
Hate? anger? Never. Ever!

I don't remember any of these people calling fellow Americans traitors
Or saying Tim McVeigh's only error was not parking his truck in front of Fox news. Or making incoherent calls for murder of republic red diaper boozer babies. Or any of the wild namecalling that goes on repeatedly on the right. Not to say you can't find nastiness coming from the left. But the right has made a business of it.

thank you, here's the difference
Thank you for clarifying some credibility issues.

As for anger. Liberals might be angry at Bush, but as far as I know, they are not advocating genocide in Iraq. On the other hand, certain conservatives (Rush Limbaugh for one) are advocating genocide against Sunnis in Iraq.

There is a difference between directing foul language at the President, and actively advocating the murder of millions. I'll take the liberal side of that equation any day.

Oh, as long as you don't call people "traitor" anything goes..
Bullshit!

From the mildest questions of IQ to the over-the-top "extra chromosome" references, the latter histrionics being a specialty of Gore and Dean..

the left regularly engages in barrage of insults and accusations accusations of intellect, treachery ("he played on our fears" Al Gore), deceipt, criminality, corruption, conspiracy (where are all the Diebold critics now?), sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, you name it..

Of course before sounding off a new insult, the best tool they left has is a mirror.

Short Memory *NM*
Google that.

Really Foolish
The really foolish are the ones that beieve the Dems have any plan other than raising taxes and will be patrons of spending restraint.

Of course thats not really a plan, its a spastic impulse with them.

Eric, Eric
I wouldn't invest that much energy in you or Carter. Hate produces to many catabolic reactions to be worth it.

I'd like to see you simply get some Prozac and see Carter prosecuted for treason.

Just because YOU can't disagree intellectually, but need the validation of foaming at the mouth rage, doesn't mean everbody else does.

Why is everything emotion with you?

They have a plan
To push the socialist leftist agenda. To get more people to suckle at the nipple of the government so they can forever be voted in.

Why do you suppose that the bottom 50% of taxpayers only pay 5 % or so of taxes? When more people take than produce then you have a captive majority.

Thanks FDR..

Dr. Lemuel would you consider this book acceptaable....or racist???
If we are talking about the US civil war have you reviewed or glanced through "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History"?
This is a most revealing read.
It is written by Thomas Woods.
He holds degrees from some 2nd rate schools as Harvard AND Columbia.
If you still have problems with his books than maybe you just have issues with democracy.

Try reading the entirety of the documents
You will find that they list many greivances, one of which was the controversy over slavery.

I never said that slavery wasn't AN issue, I declared, and the documents that you cite back me up, that slavery was not the ONLY issue. Nor was it the most important issue.

Never said it wasn't an issue, I said it wasn't the only issue. I also said it wasn't the most impo
Read the entirety of the seccession documents, not just cherry picked sections that support your position.

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