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Uncivil Wars of Civil Religion

As we approach the most contentious presidential election in living memory, a recent poll suggests trust among Americans is at alarming depths and fear of civil unrest is at dangerous heights. Is this just another 2020 oddity, or is this a sign of something more virulent in the body politic?

Ever since Angelo Codevilla brought the phrase to light in 2017, we have seen an increasing panoply of articles and podcasts from the Right and the Left on the topic of a “cold civil war” prevailing in America. Radio show host John Batchelor and historian Michael Vlahos, for example, have a weekly series called “The New American Civil War.” I grew so intrigued by the increasing number of articles such as these that I started collecting them and now daily aggregate such articles on a dedicated website for others to follow.

Pundits have been straining to see parallels between current events and those from the 1850s that led up to the American Civil War. An article from Vox called Trump’s election “a kind of political Fort Sumter,” and Sen. Tom Cotton this summer likened Leftist protesters in Portland to southern insurrectionists who “tried to take over Fort Sumter.” Similarly Carl Bernstein referred to the Russia probe and the Kavanaugh affair as “Gettysburg and Antietam.” 

To want to draw these analogies is understandable, but there are two problems with this parallel, one geographic and the other what I call religious. These problems could incline us to see things that are not there and dispose us to overlook things we should note.

Problems with the Civil War Analogy

The first problem is that in the 1850s there was a relatively clear geographic divide that physically separated parties to the disagreement surrounding slavery. When the precedent for this division was established in 1820 through the Missouri Compromise, Thomas Jefferson noted the important fact that “a geographic line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” He saw that a moral division that was made geographic would eventually overthrow James Madison’s logic regarding the beneficial effects of having a variety of factions in an extended republic.  

The 2016 election map reveals something quite different from the division in 1861, and the 2018 election suggests this difference is becoming entrenched. Today we are looking at an urban archipelago of progressive strongholds in an otherwise sea of conservatism. Put another way, there are fortifications of concentrated Left-leaning populations in every State that are nearly equal in numbers of inhabitants to the sprawling conservative countryside surrounding them. If progressives are able to enact the regime-altering changes to the Constitution they are proposing (such as packing the Court and granting statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.), these relatively tiny islands of progressivism would be able to rule the rest of the country like feudal barons ruling over a countryside replete with serfs.  

Such a non-contiguous “moral and political” division tests Madison’s logic. He notes that “in the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects, which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place upon any other principles, than those of justice and the general good.” I do not believe, though, that Madison would trust the newest addition to the science of politics—the enlarged orbit—to be able to ameliorate sufficiently the ill effects of our current division. He understood that, such “auxiliary precautions” aside, “dependence on the people” is the “primary control on the government.”  

Today, though, who are “the people”? They are divided more or less into two coalitions animated by opposing understandings of justice and the general good. More than that, they are mixed up with one another geographically in such a way that this division is masked in a manner that the divide between slave and free States never was. The effect is that we have remained largely unaware of how quickly and how starkly this division has grown. We are apt, then, not to notice how severe the division is until it is perhaps too late. This point is largely what made Michael Anton’s “Flight 93 Election” essay so persuasive to many in 2016, and perhaps also his latest book—The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return—so compelling.

What is lost in our infighting is the realization that so long as we share a common space, we share a common good, and the only way to share a common space amicably is with the common language, beliefs, and epistemology of a shared civil religion. 

The second problem with the parallel between the Civil War and our situation today is that the division of the 1860s centered around a single issue, slavery, while reasons for our division today are legion. Our divisions today may begin with lofty differences regarding fundamental questions of justice, but they descend to things like what brand of shoes we wear, what TV shows we watch, what Hollywood actors we like (if any), and even whether or not we choose to sip our drinks with a plastic straw. The political differences today are comprehensive—wholly different conceptions of the good life—and in this way they are variants of religious differences. 

During the Civil War, Lincoln observed that “Both [parties] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” Today, however, each side metaphorically prays to different gods and reads different Bibles. 

Analogy with the Wars of Religion

Given the differences between our situation and that preceding the Civil War of the 1860s, I suggest that a more accurate parallel to our situation is the Wars of Religion in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Our situation today resembles that of the Wars of Religion in that then, as now, the two antagonists were physically intermingled and their religious allegiances emphatically superseded their national loyalties. Protestants and Roman Catholics were mixed throughout European nations, and the fortunes of each changed with the political winds. 

The Edict of Nantes, for example, signed by King Henry IV of France in 1598, granted limited civil toleration to French Huguenot Protestants.* The Edict was an attempt to bring an end to the outbreaks of civil violence between Roman Catholics and Protestants in France, like that which happened during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. The Wars of Religion were more or less brought to a close with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, one legacy of which was the principle cuius regio, eius religio, “whose realm, his religion,” which was basically an agreement to disagree but safely along national lines. 

This imperfect model prevailed in most Christian countries until religious freedom was codified in the United States’ Constitution through disestablishmentarianism. Harry V. Jaffa once noted that “indeed, it was only this separation of religious opinion from political rights that enabled the United States to adopt a republican or non-Caesarian solution to the political problem.” 

Jaffa explained that there is a necessary connection between the possibility for republican government and the institutionalization of religious liberty “because it was only by disestablishment that theological differences—differences which cannot yield to the process of compromise—ceased to be political differences.” If Jaffa is right, republican government becomes impossible if political differences begin to take on the color of theological differences because those differences cannot yield to the deliberative process of compromise. 

When such a condition prevails, we are no longer able to govern ourselves through political speech. Deliberation thus gives way to negotiation. The nature of this difference—as I have heard Paul A. Rahe explain—implies that we are no longer civil friends with a common good, but antagonistic adversaries with conflicting interests. 

We compromise when necessary and swindle when we can in order to wrest our perceived good from the political argument, even at the expense of the welfare of the other side. What is lost in such infighting is the realization that so long as we share a common space, we share a common good, and the only way to share a common space amicably is with the common language, beliefs, and epistemology of a shared civil religion. 

We should not be surprised, then, when political divisions take on overtones of a religious war. National Public Radio published an article in 2018 that gathered the arguments from several different opinion pieces, all foreboding ill regarding the political divisions in America of late, and presenting them in religious terms. One of the articles it mentions is William S. Smith’s “The Civil War on America’s Horizon,” in which the author concludes that “ultimately what is most disconcerting is that the divisiveness is not just about Trump: it’s deeply rooted in two diametrically opposed civic religions. America is no longer one country. These two groups view their national story through different symbolic mythologies.”

Civil Religions in America

In his article, Smith describes the political differences between Americans today in terms of competing civil religions. The “culturally radical and postmodernist narratives” of the Left are based on a Marxist model of pitting a supposedly oppressed class against a supposedly oppressor class in terms of race, class, and gender. According to this narrative, Western heritage and most of American history is described as “a great obstacle to the empowerment of oppressed minorities and the central driver of global crises.” The great antagonist in this narrative is of course “dead European white men.” 

If our ability to talk to one another finally fails, we will be left either with the prospect of separating by breaking up the union or appealing to heaven in what would certainly be a most horrible war over dominion for our common space.

Conversely, Smith mentions the competing narrative as “the true American civil religion,” though he does not say much about what that is. That story is the one that has been retold ever since America’s founding by its faithful statesmen, whether Washington, Webster, Lincoln, MLK Jr., and yes, even Donald Trump, who loves to tell “the story of America” as founded on “the spirit and the courage and the cause of July 4, 1776.”

That story commences with a statement of objectivity that American government is based on certain truths the American Founders held as self-evident. The implications of those beliefs are that legitimate government is based on consent and recognition of equal natural rights. These beliefs bind the American people together while likewise leading them to recognize the authority of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

Vox founder Ezra Klein also recognizes that “there are [two] stories that are fighting each other” in American politics today. On the one hand, there is what he calls “Donald Trump’s sort of cramped defense of national identity.” This is “an America we were”—the original American story, presumably. But Klein chooses to see this original narrative through the same lens he sees the nature of the Left, and so he labels it a project of “white identity politics,” in explicit repudiation of the expressed principles of the Founding. On the other hand, he says, there is “the America we should be.” For this narrative, he claims, “Democrats are going to need to find a message and a story about who we are, who we can be.” He is not making suggestions for a political party platform; he is calling for the founding of a civil religion.

Klein got his wish nine months after making these comments when the New York Times launched its 1619 Project. The project’s original intention (there is now some confusion over the wording of the project’s purpose) was “to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year.”

The peculiar political effectiveness of narrative in the service of civil religion is nowhere better demonstrated than in the 1619 Project and the subsequent responses it elicited, most recently with President Trump’s 1776 Commission. Note that the spokeswoman for the 1619 Project commented that “it would an honor” if this summer’s riots were termed “The 1619 Riots.”

As with the ambitious aspiration behind the Edict of Nantes, is there some civil way we can reconcile our different civil religions peacefully, or must we find a way to part and agree to disagree in the form of the Treaty of Westphalia? 

A typical response to divisiveness is the admonition to be more “open-minded.” But that appeal does not work when trust has broken down and each side is thoroughly convinced that there is nothing good about the other side. Thus the declaration that “hate speech is not free speech” becomes equivalent to “no faith is to be kept with heretics.” 

When Coercion Replaces Persuasion

Today we have two civil religions that are shaping citizens’ souls with opposing understandings of justice. For most of us, so much of how we go about thinking through political questions depends on principles we take on faith. If we begin with different premises, however, we will never end up with the same conclusions. 

The rise of this religious dichotomy explains why it seems as if the only explanation for holding an opposing opinion is a deplorable–or we might say an impious–character. This phenomenon suggests we are approaching the time at which we will no longer be willing or able to talk with one another to political effect. When persuasion through conversation ends, coercion through force begins. 

If our ability to talk to one another finally fails, we will be left either with the prospect of separating by breaking up the union or appealing to heaven in what would certainly be a most horrible war over dominion for our common space. I do not see any other options. Choosing between these two would be dreadful. 

But are we really there yet, and do we not still prefer ballots to bullets? To answer that question we must choose if we can still trust in political speech and particularly the media—both mainstream and social—through which we transmit that speech to resolve our deepening differences. Such a choice requires careful thinking and statesmanship of the highest order. Let us pray we will have both in the days ahead as the election approaches.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article contained two factual errors regarding the Edict of Nantes, both of which have now been corrected. The Edict was signed in 1598 and was not fully revoked until 1685.

Reader Discussion

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on October 29, 2020 at 07:45:06 am

"If progressives are able to enact the regime-altering changes to the Constitution they are proposing (such as packing the Court and granting statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.), these relatively tiny islands of progressivism would be able to rule the rest of the country like feudal barons ruling over a countryside replete with serfs." I am no fan of statehood for DC, and neutral with respect to P.R. (up to the inhabitants, in my view). But this is not a sensible comparison. Acres don't vote, people do. In terms of population, it is Alaska that is the tiny island, not Manhattan.

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Alan Kahan
on October 29, 2020 at 10:55:05 am

The population of DC is even lower than that of Alaska (720K vs. 774K). Alaska, in the far north, has a unique culture and is geographically distinct, again, unlike DC. I agree on PR - let the people decide. But if they don't want to become a state, they should become their own country - the current status isn't fair to anybody.

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Larry Taylor
on October 29, 2020 at 15:14:40 pm

You make a good point about acres not voting. King George might have made the same argument. The Founders understood this and attempted to reconcile the the problem through the Electoral College. Otherwise, the interior of the US would most likely be ruled by the coasts with no meaningful representation. In a test of wills, would you bet on the farmer or the banker? The farmer won the last disagreement as I recall.

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Jason Reiner
on October 30, 2020 at 09:58:56 am

True, but there isn't much to eat in Manhattan without those non-voting acres.

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JR
on October 29, 2020 at 10:31:34 am

If we get there, the Spanish Civil War will likely be the more apt analogy. A fundamental failure of our democratic pillars would need to occur, something which would almost certainly be initiated by the progressive/left (e.g., court packing wherein oligarchy would effectively supplant our democratic republic; still greater forms of civil, political and institutional devolution in urban/conurban progressive strongholds) and then further ignition would in some sense proceed.

The intense, murderous hatred exists, unquestionably, in some pockets, in some quarters on the left for this to be conceived. But I doubt that intensity, those more venomous and vile hatreds on the left have a sufficiently wide base to in fact ignite it all. There is also a rather shallow intellectual/ideological basis for the left/progressive cause. There is much intense finger-pointing, charges of ____ism, posturing, pontificating, etc., much high dudgeon, but it is rare that they ever mount a genuinely substantive argument that cannot be withstood. I've never encounter one, not one. Old school, new school and derivative forms of cultural Marxism are obviously on evidence, That's coupled with post-modern, post-structuralist acids and deconstructions, throw in some nominalism as well. But all that can be answered and surmounted, in essence, on classical liberal grounds, and therein the polity in general would be able to absorb all the contretemps and the more fervent incitements.

There will be dark clouds but if that classical liberal line can be held on principled grounds, and I believe the center-right will in fact hold that line, then the sun will shine.

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Michael Bond
on October 29, 2020 at 11:18:03 am

A most worthy essay by Dr. Humphrey; and one of the better ones at L&L. Perhaps just a little too long to end up not providing a solid conclusion, but he does a good job of walking the knife edge of contrasting opinions/ viewpoints. A number of points and phrasings merit further consideration, which I may attempt to address later today. For now, since he seems to have been thinking about these competing ideas for some time, and makes reference to supporting views on each side, I would have liked to see some deeper presentation of just how he might see each side's success - how might each side "win" or "win enough" to coexist or co-opt the other side? Maybe a little game theory?

At this point, when I feel optimistic, I want to believe that the identity politics, intersectionality, diversity and political correctness extremes will be seen as extreme and eventually be reduced via ridicule. That the largish middle and "left of center" Democrats (like the people who are my otherwise reasonable friends) will recognize just how far their party has been taken over by leftists, and agree we and they need to pull back. That the "systemic" racial situation, the economic "inequality", and the actions of police confronting blacks are not as dire as the MSM would have us believe, although some adjustments in funding and attitude and rules and welfare policy may still be merited. That "my friends" recognize the MSM and the academy have both so distorted their roles as seekers and purveyors of "truth" , that some form of rejection of far left positions will occur (via boards of trustees "waking up", alumni non-funding, reversing "dear colleague" letters, shareholder and BOD actions, perhaps via legislation and/or presidential EO's, etc.) This process might be aided if the "distraction" of Mr. Trump were not on the scene as a focus of blame, but then we would need to believe that voices such as Anton, Codevilla, Carlson, and others would stiffen the spine and rhetoric of the Cotton's, Pence's, McConnell's, Cruz's, et al. and thereby fill the "resistance" gap that Trump currently holds.

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R2L
on October 29, 2020 at 11:18:28 am

To the question, "do we not still prefer ballots to bullets?", one might ask, which kinds of ballots? Those that are valid and attested to by a sound, verifiable process of casting, collecting, and counting? Or the ballots cast by voters who outnumber the population living in the jurisdiction? The ballots found in automobile trunks after election day? The ballots rescued from a ditch? The ballots sent to the long dead, long ago moved voters who never requested them? The adherents of one civil religion in this country have already figured out that ballots are the new bullets and they will never go along with any attempt to rationalize and validate our election processes.

Also, we have already arrived at the place where rational discussion can bridge our divides. Read White Fragility and Kendi's book and you will discover that logic and rationality are the tools of the oppressor. The politically ascendant far left specifically rejects dialog. You must "do the work" according to their dictates or you are irredeemable.

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Lawrence L
on October 29, 2020 at 11:27:49 am

In your 2nd paragraph did you perhaps mean to say "where rational discussion can NO LONGER bridge our divides." ??

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R2L
on October 29, 2020 at 13:36:19 pm

Dr. Humphrey's analysis is clearly well thought out. However, I offer two important notions left out of the essay. First, America's population centers have witnessed unprecedented population flight during the coronavirus pandemic. As many long time city dwellers escaped to lower density locales, did they pack with them their progressive politics or leave them behind? Only time will tell, through a few future election cycles. Second, there are historical conflict analogs to the scenario of densely defended archipelagos surrounded by sparsely populated vast spaces. The island-hopping strategy of WWII's Pacific campaign comes to mind. Formidable defenses become less so, when cut off from resources.

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Jason M.
on October 29, 2020 at 15:43:26 pm

Let no one deceive you, abortion, slavery, the reordering of our beloved sons and daughters according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, in order to justify the engaging in of sexual acts that regardless of the actors or actor’s desires, are in all cases, among all persons, demeaning, are all three cut from the same cloth- the denial of the inherent Dignity of being in essence a beloved son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, father, mother and thus the complementary essence of the human person who is not a means to an end or an end in himself/herself, but who Was Created to live in Loving communion, in Communion with The Ordered Communion Of Perfect Complementary Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity.

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Nancy
on October 29, 2020 at 17:50:04 pm

And lest anyone forget what we are up against in trying to reason with the destructive woke or even assuring that access to factual data is available, there is this from that Fu Manchu "wannabee", Jack Dorsey (see his latest look) of Twitter:

https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/rick-moran/2020/10/29/totalitarian-twitter-deletes-tweet-on-border-wall-by-acting-border-protection-chief-as-hateful-n1106347

I do not understand why anyone to the right of Hillary clinton would ever use this vehicle for high school level gossip.
I make an exception for The Trumpster as he DOES have a voice and he effectively counters the woke (except of course when Dorsey and Zuckerberg delete his tweets.

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gabe
on October 29, 2020 at 19:09:28 pm

My attitude toward the optimism of "Bond, Michael Bond" (sorry, I could not resist) resembles that of Catholic theologian, Hans von Balthasar about whether some are damned to Hell: Salvation is not inevitable, but we must hope that all will be saved. And I hope that Bond is right.Yet, I fear that by now we are damned, that we are well past the point (on which Bond places his hope) where the better argument can still prevail, can still hold the line "on principled grounds,'' and that we have, rather, reached a point of political warfare where words and reason are of no avail and survival strategy, battle tactics, winning battles and crushing the opposition politically is our last best hope. Whether that last best hope might still save us depends on the outcome of November 3.

A country that would elect Obama is approaching the precipice; one that would reelect him is on the edge of the abyss; one that would incite, encourage and tolerate four years of savagery against an outstanding president and then would seriously consider (and very probably elect) an incompetent, demented crook for its president is surely lost to principled grounds of political salvation.

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paladin
on October 29, 2020 at 20:24:47 pm

A couple of thoughts,

At the risk of being repetitive, I again reference the concept that human behavior is affected by inherent bipolar traits, with particular traits favored in distinct environments. The dichotomy here does not apply to individual people so much as to groups, societies and communities, and arises in response to the question "Are humans herd animals or pack animals?" The answer that the bipolar trait/environment model provides is "Both, depending on the circumstances." I mention this in response to the reference to a "Flight 93 election," wherein Flight 93 provides a stark illustration of how humans can exhibit herd or pack traits depending on the circumstance. The explanation of the Flight 93 metaphor provided by Mr. Anton is a classic description of pack behavior. The responses of university administrations, mayors of cities such as Milwaukee, Portland and Seattle, and professional sports leagues represent herd behavior.

Herd behavior is more likely to be exhibited by affluent, coddled people who have the luxury of indulging narcissism in lives of endless adolescence, unburdened by the need to confront the hazards that have otherwise been the rule throughout human history. Safetyism, "safe spaces," "hate speech," "micro-aggressions," "privilege" and cancel culture are phenomena of herd behavior. Affluence, the end of the cold war, vastly higher standards of living over the last 50 years have all inclined the broader society, but particularly urban areas, to herd behaviors. A handy reference: Neville Chamberlain--herd behavior; Winston Churchill--pack behavior.

The people agitating for "change," and those who speak of a "cold civil war" assume that the orientation toward herd mentality is fixed. This is incorrect. The ability to resort to pack behavior is innate and will be provoked in response to the appropriate environmental changes. The assumption that America is soft, that it has lost the belly to stand up for foundational values, that it will roll over for an aggressive and determined adversary is understandable and it might yet be proven correct. But I would suggest that it is not the way to bet.

The second point is that the action in such a new civil war will take place in the same venues in which it started: institutions. These include not only the obvious ones: progressive DAs, feckless university administrators, woke corporations, corrupt media and so on, but also in the most prominent, and paradoxically most vulnerable new entities: Big tech. So far Twitter, Google, Facebook, et al. have had outsized influence because their audiences have been lethargic herd animals; people who take their cues from the responses of others, who conform their conduct to socially approved attitudes, and who are content with the illusion of social approval that online life provides. When these entities inevitably over-reach, which they will because they are based on capturing and holding attention and are unable to distinguish distraction from influence, they will encourage the public to exhibit pack behaviors. These will not be packs of roving vigilantes; they will be ordinary people who make pariahs of individual corporations who are too smug in their woke crusades. They will delegitimize radical academia by organizing alternatives, and refuse to be cowed by the performance art of the new left.

So I tend to agree with Mr. Bond.

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z9z99
on October 29, 2020 at 20:55:14 pm

Thinking about this conflict of civic religions a little more, and that the Treaty of Westphalia and our own 1st Amendment managed to separate real religion out of politics (for the most part), it occurs to me that we have two spheres of concern today and we need to find a suitable mode of separation (or melding) for them, too.

1) We have the whole swirl of ideas treated in this essay, essentially two different "political religions"; and 2) we have a lot of uncertainty of just how the economic world of financialization and globalization vs. labor and meaningful employment will shake out. Service economy, information economy, automation and AI, basic income schemes, training and career paths, etc.: no one really knows where this realm of employment is headed either, but it concerns a lot of people (former blue collar and now many white collar job holders) and they are looking to politics for a solution that perhaps only the marketplace can really, realistically provide. But however that part of our lives shakes out, our economy and employment prospects cannot really be sustained if we have economic boycotts based on people favoring or avoiding commerce based on their allegiance to a given civic religion. Are you going to work for a red firm or a blue firm? Or only buy from one or the other? Could we really survive with a red marketplace and a blue marketplace operating in parallel? I doubt it, or do so and have us remain as prosperous and wealthy as we are now. So somehow enough reality must prevail in the arena of commerce so firms can still employ people of talent whether they are of a red or blue orientation civically or politically. Eventually the "woke" business and academic leaders (or the related shareholders and stakeholders) must awaken to what their overly PC agenda is doing to their green bottom line. The green impact will become even larger as we continue to pull away from the CCP subsidized labor pool for national defense reasons.

It is not a sure thing, but perhaps paychecks will end up speaking louder than politics.

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R2L
on October 30, 2020 at 00:22:30 am

If the worst case that you adumbrate comes to pass, I have to wonder if we will be left alone by the rest of the world to fall into such a fractured civic state with no attempts from outside to gain control by further fomenting physical conflict, much as happened in the Spanish Civil war with interventions by the Russian Communists, and their international minions against the Nazi supporters of Franco. I especially suspect the CCP you mention, but also large scale efforts by Jihadis of various groups that will gather like sharks when the blood starts to flow.
Our potential internal breakdowns are not likely to be left alone for just we Americans to resolve in our own good (or bad...) time.

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RO
on October 30, 2020 at 08:34:19 am

The drumbeats of war dominate Law & Liberty essays of this October 2020. Mark Movesian writes of A Crisis in the Caucasus while Clifford Humphrey speaks to the Uncivil Wars of Civil Religion. Although the public believes that ISIS is dead, they are Syrian Mercenaries fighting in Libya, Syria, and Armenia. Extremely well trained, stateless ISIS troops are in the pay and service of Turkey. Turkey has bookended an Israeli-Greek finding of large natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean. By extending Turkey's, Syria's, and Libya's shorelines, Turkey moves into new disputed natural gas areas and potential war. Turkey is also poised to allow ISIS to move again into the oil fields of Syria and Iraq in which ISIS has supported oil poor Turkey in the past. Turkey also moves against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and other Muslim leaders, attempting to build a Greater Ottoman Turkish Muslim Empire with model leadership as Saladin, the de facto Caliph of the Muslims who once ruled after capturing Jerusalem.
The Turkish government does not trust its military with its secular history of rule after World War I with President Kemal Ataturk and a sense of Democracy. By NATO moving into European Turkey to block Syrian refugees' movement into Europe, initial moves may bring the President of Turkey down to earth. One remembers how Hitler retook the Rhineland peaceably. If the Allies acted, Hitler told his generals he would have retreated.
The Civil War in America has worried some that President Trump will act through the Insurrection Act of 1807 to delay the elections or their results. The President can use emergency powers to call upon the Federal Military or the State National Guard to protect the election. One letter to a national magazine asked for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, to announce free elections' military support.
Generals are either politicians or warriors. President Trump has not gotten along with Northern born Generals acting as politicians whose individualism and desire to justify and write their memoirs leads to high levels of friction. American warrior generals since the Revolution have routinely been born in the South. Douglas McArthur in Arkansas and Dwight D. Eisenhower in Texas. In World War II, American breakout units were led by Virginia-born George Patton's armor and Virginia-born Mathew Ridgway's Paratroopers. I know of only one superior Northern born general, George Marshall, who went to Virginia Military Institute and was frequently at the Robert E. Lee Crypt at Washington and Lee College across the street. Marshall was a direct descendent of Chief Justice John Marshall of Virginia and a Revolutionary War officer. George Marshall is the only American Officer to win a Nobel Prize. The Southern-born general believes in his community, his country, and his Constitution. These Southerners would often wait a long time to fight in wars after years of service. Their loyalty has been unquestioned.
American exceptionalism shows the separation of political rights from a religious opinion that allowed a republican political solution. This statement is somewhat misleading as religion's natural rights were also read as religions reasoned rationally during the great American Awakening. In addition, America's Washingtonian Constitution of 1787 was a product or copy of Augustus Caesar's Constitution for the Roman Republic of 27 A.D.. Various religions in Revolutionary America almost universally supported the American Revolution. The pacifist Baptists of Rhode Island filled Washington's army with its clergy. The Lutheran Pastors would throw off their clerical garb to show an officers uniform to join with their men on the highways of America. Presbyterians were the intellectual firepower of the Revolution like James Madison, Light-horse Harry Lee, and Aaron Burr with their knowledge of Latin and Greek, which would have helped Washington understand the Roman Constitution. After the Revolution, the clergy of the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists moved west with the immigrants as teachers and pastors of the new settlements. Virginian Episcopals and Connecticut Methodists split from the English Church to follow the American Revolution. One must be amazed to find the Churches on Independence Day no longer read the Declaration of Independence. Once their reasoned rationality found a home in America, religions will no longer be a political factor until they regain their Revolutionary religious voice.
We now think of the conflicting secular ideas of 1619 and 1776. Massachusetts men returned to England after 1641 to fight against King Charles I in the English Civil War. They would have been part of what Bernard Bailyn called the Atlantic Civilization. Like model John Winthrop, merchantmen would have dealt with his sons in Antigua and his family of 11 brothers and sisters in England. These men cried for Peace and Profit, and a constitution called The Agreement of the People from 1647 to 1649. John Winthrop wrote a Body of Liberties for the Bay Colony, presaging the Commonwealth period of English history. In 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote part of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin wrote the Constitution of Pennsylvania's Commonwealth. With John Adams, the later author of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, they were the majority of the Committee to write the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin, a tradesman author, perhaps aided by his protégé Thomas Paine, another tradesman author, was the Editor for the second draft of the Declaration and made almost 50 corrections.
Only in America has the business of America be business, with an appeal to the small businessman. Since 1968 the burning of small businesses is the new normal. 1968 Revolutionaries include the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, the Chicago Seven, and others. This year in forty cities, the small businessman was still being looted and burned out. Recently the Chinese Communist Party has funded Black Lives Matter and Antifa from Vancouver on the West Coast to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. In addition, Fentynl has come into this country from China for distribution. With the Pandemic, millions of people will lose their businesses as half the businesses now closed are estimated not to reopen. This is the Marxist Class War in destroying the inventiveness of America through its small businesses. Does anyone believe the Indian in Hotels, or the Chinese in restaurants, or the Jews in clothing stores were subverting other minorities? Without the Middle Class, the Constitution's support will be gone, and a serious split in the glue that binds will become permanent. 0ur Atlantic Civilization will dissolve. Political figures talk of the letter K as the evolutionary picture of our time. The arms indicate the rich are growing wealthier, and the poor are growing poorer. Meanwhile, the middle class is disappearing. Charles Hill in Grand Strategies shows how diplomats will take great literature and turn the insights into statecraft. Short stories during Pre Soviet years by Fyodor Dostoevsky describe Russian Revolutionaries by referring to his short story Demons, which has been described by our authors.

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Leonard Friedman
on October 30, 2020 at 19:19:19 pm

Z9 states he is hesitant to be repetitive;
Why? The left certainly is as detailed in this nice essay at Quillette on "availability cascades."
I would prefer a cascade of rational, accurate information overwhelming the political marketplace (such as we find here at LLB) than the tripe pushed by the left.

https://quillette.com/2020/10/26/how-availability-cascades-are-shaping-our-politics/

This essay goes to the heart of my lack of optimism re: cultural wars.
Perhaps, we need a considerably larger dose of repetitive factual information disseminated across all media platforms, to include personal engagements.
Without such an effort, we are doomed to be 'cascaded" by the Left.

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gabe
on October 31, 2020 at 16:49:12 pm

Gabe,

I recall that, after Obama's election in 2008, some lefty was on cable news proclaiming how that event meant the permanent, irrevocable, ultimate and apocalyptic end of the Republican Party and of conservatism in the United States. "The right side of history" had devastated its enemies or something, and "from now on" there would be a permanent progressive majority in the United States, with conservatives allowed no more than 20% (a number she actually proposed) representation in legislative bodies. They even, as you may recall, started drafting plans for confiscating retirement accounts, replacing them with a government program that would provide a constant 3% return. There were giddy proposals for a Department of Unicorns or something that would be as well-funded as the Department of Defense. Turns out, no. The Democrats lost the midterms and we got Trump.

Recall also the end of the Cold War and the 'Peace Dividend." Slap-happy pundits proclaimed that the dissolution of the Soviet Union once and for all buried the destructive and evil doctrines of socialism and communism. Instead of producing a new Renaissance of human flourishing, respect for human dignity and liberty, we ended up with speech codes, gender neutral bathrooms, rap music, and cancel culture.

These are not anomalies. In 1500 one might have wondered if Spain would ever again be challenged as a global power. The same might be wondered about the Ottoman empire at its height, the Mongol Empire, the British Empire, Alexander's empire, Rome, and so on. The point in mentioning this is not to assert that all empires or great powers eventually collapse and we should sit back and enjoy the ride. It is rather to note that the things that are presumed to sustain power in practice do not.

The gold of the New World that was thought to allow Spain to buy further military power and influence had its limits. The totalitarian apparatus of East Germany and the USSR did not produce the desired legacy. The opportunity presented by fall of the Soviet Union did not produce a Renaissance, but rather allowed all manner of mediocrities, grifters, odd-balls and cranks to prosper in a culture that became increasingly bored of honor, sacrifice, and character. Instead of producing a Burke, a Lincoln or a Charlemagne, we apathied our way to Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan and Mazie Hirono. The point is this: No one can plan the future. This is not a novel revelation; "the best laid plans o' mice an' men/ gang aft a-gley." It matters not that those plans are for social justice or "sustainability," "anti-racism," "equity," "green energy," or whatever. Nature, including human nature, gets not only a vote, but a veto.

History suggests that the forces that produce change either do not sustain it or, as commonly happens, produces counter-change. Right now things seem bleak because of institutional frailty. Ideologues who know little and understand less are in control of academia, big business, technology, media, and so on. Cancel culture and virulent appeals to mass hysteria are cresting. Dumb people seem to be in charge of everything. They can certainly do a lot of damage, but it is important to retain a respect for first principles. The reason that people are susceptible to information cascades (for example) is because their current environment is comfortable and reliable, and therefore they take it for granted. There seems to be no immediate down-side to going along with the crowd, not because they are incapable of doing otherwise, but because they have the luxury of pretending they are enlightened by mouthing the platitudes and aping the antics of the woke. But this is why such circumstances fall apart.

There are a couple of lessons to be taken from the disappointing results of the peace dividend, and the progressive dud that followed the election of Barack Obama. This is suggested by the incontrovertible fact that every mass shooting is supposed to produce a sea-change in support of gun control, yet gun sales are at an all-time high. The explanation is not found in Locke, or Hume or Rousseau or Marx, or Foucault, etc. It is found in Schopenhauer: "A man can do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants." This is a nod to human nature and the ultimate undoing of great movements and great power. Eventually people notice things. They notice that they have interests apart from sustaining a great empire. They notice that the emotional satisfaction that swept them into historic movements wanes with time. They notice that the interests of an abstract collective cannot extinguish the innate motives that make life meaningful, and that arise from the notion that every human on earth has a dignity and value that does not depend on what group he belongs to. People will notice that they do not need social approval to be decent human beings. They will notice that the constant demands of social conformity eventually become obnoxious and are not worth the anxiety. Inside of most people is an innate knowledge that they were made for more than "likes" or other fatuous displays of conformity and social approval.

So, I understand your lack of optimism. It is rational and it worthy of a great deal of worry. I agree that it requires a vigorous defense of our values. But there is nothing that Mark Zuckerberg, or Jack Dorsey or Robin DiAngelo can tell me that will make treat any person differently than I would based only on values of dignity and idea that no person is ordinary.

A man can do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants. Eventually he realizes that socialism, identity politics, and cultural vandalism is not what he wants. So I remain optimistic.

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z9z99
on October 31, 2020 at 21:52:41 pm

You provide some amazingly powerful phrasing here: "They notice that they have interests apart from sustaining a great empire. They notice that the emotional satisfaction that swept them into historic movements wanes with time. They notice that the interests of an abstract collective cannot extinguish the innate motives that make life meaningful, and that arise from the notion that every human on earth has a dignity and value that does not depend on what group he belongs to." And on to the end of the paragraph.

It is probably valid for the vast majority of us and "them" to eventually tire of promoting a flawed ideology. But did a Lenin or Stalin or Hitler or Mao or Xi ever get tired of advancing the cause of their 'great movements"? If we can manage to avoid the influence and impact of foreign actors such as Ro alludes to above, are there any budding Lenin's in our midst who might manage to convert survivable discontent into something more serious? Can we "muddle through" beyond wokeness to re-equilibrate to a rule of law society acceptable to a largish majority? Just guessing, I would suspect our embryonic dictator would be someone 40 to 65 years old, probably but not necessarily male, of any race but perhaps not ensconced within the LGBTQ community. They would manage rhetoric at least as well as Obama but maybe be somewhat smarter and harder working. I could toss out several names of current politicos, but none seem quite as ruthless as would be required.

Then again, the pessimists herein might follow the path of Angelo Codevilla in describing the conversion of the police and the FBI to a more nefarious orientation. If/when certain constraining but seemingly innocuous laws are passed and appear to be gaining traction with law enforcement, who, how, where, when will we resist? For all of history "rhyming" maybe someone needs to elaborate on how the Spanish Civil War came into being (an area of history with which I am very ignorant), if that is the closet past model to our current situation. Do we have a 35 to 45% “don’t tread on me” remnant that will find a way to resist the soft despotism of enhanced regulations, lock downs, etc., that de Tocqueville described?

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R2L
on November 02, 2020 at 11:29:01 am

The philosophy of materialism in post-Christian Europe entered into institutions of higher education in America at the turn of the previous century and now dominates the public educational system, the arts, and most of the media.

"Flat-earth Christians" are essentially trying to compromise materialism with the Christian faith that denies the existence of God, making Christianity a hollow and meaningless cultural ritualism. This is the main cause of the rapid decline of faith in younger generation.

Sudden changes happen unexpectedly, in the course of history, much like markets reversing on popular and "expert" opinions.
In the 1990s(Forbes magazine article)futurist George Gilder forecasted that the new century will be the century of faith! Mr. Gilder is a very broadly informed person and I puzzled over the basis of his prediction.

I now suspect he fully understood the ramifications of quantum physics and the discovery of the double helix of DNA. (Quantum physics negates any possibility of an underlying reality that supports a closed system of cause and effect; essential for materialist philosophy)

Scientific materialism has been destroyed by the sciences and is no longer rationally tenable, but there is tremendous timidity in coming out and saying so.

Dr. Stephen Meyer's new book "The Return of the God Hypothesis" may well be one of the critical turning points of this new century.

A good introductory interview with Dr. Meyers about his book:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JV-FSYQiE5s

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Jpeachey
on November 03, 2020 at 11:51:59 am

For the materialist, consciousness is the "hard problem." Mysteriously from the inanimate, unconscious matter, mostly oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen along with a smattering of macro and micro minerals we have consciousness!

Utterly inexplicable. One school of thought(rabid materialists) utilizes the attributes of consciousness to argue and communicate that there is no consciousness; its' just an illusion!

That is exactly backwards. Consciousness is not a hard problem; it is the solution. Conscious observation causes the wave function to collapse, and your perceived material environment appears everywhere you go.

Outside of your conscious perception, there is the field of potential in the form of the probabilistic wave function. Information causes this field to take form upon observation.

John 1:1-3 (KJV) 1 In the beginning was the Word(information), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The inspiration of that verse could've only come from the Divine. I kind of cringe when considering what's in store for Christian denominations that have made their compromises with materialism

Historian G. K. Chesterton:

...the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.

The question now is: what is going to fill the huge void from the collapse of naturalism. There are now forms of Eastern religious ideas with a mix of shamanism floating around in the West.

The tradition of Christian defeatists is the dark negative outlook -- in the trenches bewailing every setback, (which can be off-putting) lacking faith in the words of Jesus to his disciples: “but be brave! I have defeated the world!" John 16:33.

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Jpeachey
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on November 01, 2020 at 06:56:54 am

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