The Next American Civil War?
Sounds interesting. When I bought this book a few weeks ago, I was immediately attracted by the title. I was also persuaded to buy the book because Lee Harris is the author. If Harris had written this book, I knew it was going to be worth reading.
A few years ago, I bought another one of his books, Civilization and Its Enemies, which remains an all time favorite. There is an important discussion in that book about what Harris calls “fantasy ideology” which has never left me.
The fantasist is a common fixture in these circles. Understanding how they operate and see the world enables you to identify and avoid them. It is never a good idea to let yourself become a prop in the role playing fantasy world of others. The fantasist always forgets that you are a person with thoughts and feelings of your own.
In recent weeks, intellectuals have been taken to the woodshed around here. My firm opinion is that most intellectuals are useless. With intellectuals, it is always hit or miss, and usually miss. An intellectual can either bring great clarity to some given problem or hopelessly obfuscate the issue. They either hit the bullseye or fire completely off target.
As proof that the vast majority of intellectuals are useless, I offer the editorial page of the New York Times (which I read daily), the iron curtain of political correctness that reigns over American academia, and what passes for analysis in the academic journals of the social sciences. It goes without saying that most of us find that type of material highly disagreeable.
If we concede that the majority of intellectuals are useless, then we must grant that a minority of them are truly brilliant. This minority is capable of producing valuable and penetrating insights into the nature of their own societies. We would be foolish to ignore their wisdom.
The Next American Civil War is about an impending revolution that is gestating in America. There are two sides in this conflict: the “cognitive elite” with its utopian vision of progressive transformation and the “natural libertarians” who are determined to rule their own lives and are now being pushed to the point of rebellion.
Framing the Argument
There’s a shouting match going on in America between the Blues and the Reds. Fingers are being pointed. Accusations are being made. Grievances are being aired. Battle lines are being drawn.
The gulf between the Blues and Reds – the cognitive elite and the natural libertarians – has grown to the point where neither party speaks the same language, dreams the same dreams, lives for the same future, or can even understand the perspective of the other side. America has bifurcated into two nations.
In the Blue corner, Frank Rich of the New York Times speaks for the “cognitive elite”:
We’re smarter than you. We’re better than you. You’re ignorant, backwards, reactionary, prejudiced, and paranoid. Your kooky ideas are an embarrassment. You’re racist. You’re too White. You’re suffering from irrational anxiety about the future.
The better sort – judges, bureaucrats, technocrats, intellectuals, academics, the media elite – should make all the important decisions in America. You are too stupid to manage your own lives. Your antiquated traditions are standing in the way of modern progress and must be demolished.
We will use the mass media and public education system to nudge and brainwash your children and turn them against you. If force is required to drag you kicking and screaming into our utopian future, as it was required in Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, and now Arizona, then so much the better.
In the Red corner, Joe the Plumber speaks for the “natural libertarians”:
You’re not better than us. This is America. We’re equals here. If you are so smart, how did you spend over a trillion dollars of taxpayer money – collected from little guys like me – and produce depression level unemployment? Given your disastrous track record, why should anyone trust you? I prefer to think for myself.
What you call progress looks more like decline. Undermining the family, the church, the community, the nation, and the entrepreneur weakens the institutions which are necessary to preserve our independence and prosperity. You want to reduce citizens to subjects of government and lord over us, denigrate us, and exploit us like a new aristocracy.
In the name of tolerance, you look down your noses at us and seek to take away our freedom for you can erect new privileges for so-called “protected classes.” The last thing you believe is that ordinary people are your equals. You also want to redistribute our wealth to corrupt interest groups. We’re not going to take it anymore.
I’m as free of prejudice of as man. I don’t hate minorities. Some of my friends are minorities. It is starting to seem like it is impossible to live up to your standards. I am going to be called a “racist” no matter what I do. I’m starting to think you hate me and look down on me because I am White.
This is America. We rule ourselves here. Government rests on the consent of the governed. That means it can be withdrawn.
Keep pushing me. Keep disrespecting me. If you keep this up, I am eventually going to lose my patience, and like a rattlesnake I will strike. You will regret the day you dared to tread on me.
That’s the significance of the Tea Party. It isn’t so much a set of ideas as it is an attitude. It is also a thinly veiled threat. If you keep pushing us and rubbing our noses in the dirt, eventually it will spark a rebellion.
White America is starting to feel like an “outsider.” The “Real America” has been submerged underneath the utopian post-national America of the progressive ruling class. The new outsiders are organizing to “take our country” back.
Insiders don’t rebel. Outsiders do.
White America is now the outsider. How did the descendants of Jefferson and Washington become the have nots? What are the long term consequences of this epochal transformation?
Transformation of the Elites
“If religion is the opiate of the masses, then utopianism is the methamphetamine of intellectuals.” – Lee Harris
In the nineteenth century, the American elite wasn’t nearly as distinct from the American people as it is today. Back then, the rulers and the ruled were drawn from a common Anglo-Protestant ethnic stock.
The rulers shared the same culture and religion as the ruled. In the South, the planter class enjoyed drinking, hunting, chasing women, and playing cards as much as the yeoman farmers. They worshiped the same god in the same churches.
The rulers were average men with the faults of ordinary men. They weren’t necessarily more intelligent or educated than the ruled. At least after the Federalist Party was overthrown and the Jacksonian revolt ushered in the modern two party democratic system.
Over the next two centuries, American society would become increasingly complex. The growing technological complexity of society began to require more in the way of specialized knowledge.
In the mid-twentieth century, America adopted the meritocratic system of selecting its elites. Within a few decades, the WASP elite was displaced by a new elite which remains in place in our own times.
The advent of meritocracy radically shifted the delicate balance between rulers and the ruled. The catch of meritocracy is that it led to the creation of a new elite which puts a premium on high intelligence and education. By its nature, such an elite is highly selective and excludes ordinary people.
The new American elite was drawn from disparate sources. The new ruling class – which is disproportionately composed of intellectuals – came to radically differ from the American people in terms of their race, religion, ethnicity, social class, culture and ideology. They don’t even live in the same regions, much less in the same cities, states, or neighborhoods.
Ever since the French Revolution, intellectuals of all stripes have dedicated their lives to a single model of political organization: a utopian society, one ruled over by intellectuals, in which ordinary people are coerced, nudged, or guided to the realization of the millennium on earth.
Standing in the way of the intellectuals and their realization of utopia, there are millions of “natural libertarians” who are content to quietly live their own lives and enjoy the fruits of their own labor. Most of these people plan to ascend to heaven the old fashioned way. They also tend to be skeptical of delusional progressive schemes that never seem to work out.
Blues vs. Reds
The conflict between the Blues (the cognitive elite and their vassals) and the Reds (the people being nudged toward utopia) has evolved to the point where the Blues have suffered a total and complete collapse of legitimacy.
The Blues are now more unpopular with the Reds than King George III was with the American colonists on the eve of the American Revolution. The numbers are stunning:
– 21% of Americans believe the U.S. federal government has the “consent of the governed.” 61% of Americans believe the federal government does not have their consent. 18% are undecided.
– 63% of the political class (the Blues) believes the federal government has the consent of the governed.
– 71% of Americans consider the federal government a special interest group.
– 70% of Americans believe the federal government and big business are in collusion to hurt consumers.
– 75% of Americans are “angry” at the federal government.
– 63% of Americans believe it would be better if all members of Congress lost their jobs.
– 57% of Americans believe the federal government is a “direct and immediate threat” to their freedom.
– 11% of Americans have a “great deal” or “a lot” of confidence in Congress.
– Over half of Americans have “very little” or “no confidence” in Congress.
– 25% of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers.
– 22% of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in television news.
– 76% of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military.
What institutions do Americans trust? Small business, the military, the police, and the church. What do these institutions have in common? They are institutions which the Reds have traditionally dominated.
A racial breakdown of the numbers would be even more illuminating. It is a safe bet that the Reds – White America – are even more radically alienated than the polls above (which include the Blues) tend to suggest.
A word of caution: it is a mistake to write off these numbers as just the latest example of the usual partisan bickering. The Republican Party and Beltway conservatives are even more unpopular than their Democratic counterparts.
This book is a treasure trove of “unfashionable observations.” There are too many to list here. I highly recommend you check out this book yourself. It was a delight to read.
In hindsight, a more appropriate title would have been something like “A Discourse on the History and Future of Liberty.” Among my favorite little gems of insight:
– Liberty doesn’t come from “natural rights” or any abstract universal theory. It is a living tradition that evolved as a response to a peculiar set of environmental circumstances.
– No one chooses liberty and anomie over the comforts of tradition. Liberty evolves when some emergency or catastrophe knocks a society off auto-pilot and forces men to be free. Some men thrive in these conditions and rise to greatness.
– The only effective check on the ruling class is the character type of the people, specifically, the moral virtues that favor independence.
– It is always a good thing to have a vibrant political ecology that includes multitudes of ornery, independent minded people who dislike being told what to do. Their presence works to the advantage of freedom and acts as a check on the utopian bureaucratic totalitarianism that has become a threat to liberty in our own times.
– Progressive intellectuals really are trying to sap and undermine the foundations of liberty in their delusional pursuit of a utopian society. This project can only end in rebellion and disaster.
– The people have only won their freedom when they have risen up and seized it themselves. Liberty doesn’t come from abstractions, intellectuals, or philosophers. The vital role of mobs, insurgents, and outlaws has been overlooked in the history of liberty.
– There is an inherent conflict between civilization and liberty. An overcivilized society rots and degenerates over time. It increasingly takes on a pyramid form. Uncivilized behavior – mob violence, unlawful rebellion, racial imperialism, extremism – played the critical role in the creation of the free society that progressive intellectuals take for granted.
– The free society that progressive intellectuals take for granted sprung from selfish motives of dead white males. Rich smugglers like John Hancock played a vital role in fomenting the American Revolution. Western speculators wanted access to land beyond the Appalachians. Religious bigotry and pro-slavery sentiment was intertwined with the patriot cause.
If you examine the history of the American Revolution, unfounded conspiracy theories about the Pope and the Crown played a vital role in getting it off the ground. The Indians and negro slaves tended to fight for the British.
– Thomas Jefferson understood that rebellion was needed to renew a free society from time to time. This is an observation we would be well advised to heed in our own times.
The original American Revolution was a bloody affair. There are many parallels with the Tea Party, but this is not one of them. The list of grievances which the Reds could cite to justify their separation from the Blues dwarfs those of the American colonists. The Blues yearn for the cultural, economic, and demographic annihilation of the Reds.
King George III never aspired to anything so radical as the establishment of a complete dictatorship over the mind and systematic the redistribution of American wealth to racial aliens. He never thought so less of his misguided subjects as to appoint the bastard mulatto son of a White woman and an African foreigner as a colonial governor.
In the Civil War, President Lincoln only wanted the Confederates to remain loyal to the Union and respect majority rule, which is why Andrew Johnson served as his Vice President. The rift between the Blues and Grays over slavery was quickly healed once the institution was eliminated and the North abandoned its attempt to transform the South.
There are no “mystic cords of memory” or “patriot graves” or “bonds of affection” to swell the chorus of the Union this time around. The Blues and Reds have nothing in common to rally around and resolve their differences. Nothing but inertia and nostalgia holds our inverted society together.
Eventually, the traitors will be chased from the temples of power, and the meritocratic system which have facilitated their rise will be overthrown. It could happen as a national uprising (1776), a peaceful and bloodless reform (1828), or geographic separation into two nations (1861).
The 1776 route is the most likely scenario. Tellingly, its iconography has already been adopted by White America. The day is fast approaching when some overt act by the federal government will spark a revolution in the United States.
Couples who hate each other this much don’t stay married for long. They’re not going to stay together “for the kids” either.