Has the United States now arrived at the brink of a veritable civil war?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

How, when, and why, Victor Davis Hanson asks, has the United States now arrived at the brink of a veritable civil war?


Globalization had an unfortunate effect of undermining national unity. It created new iconic billionaires in high tech and finance, and their subsidiaries of coastal elites, while hollowing out the muscular jobs largely in the American interior.

Ideologies and apologies accumulated to justify the new divide. In a reversal of cause and effect, losers, crazies, clingers, American “East Germans,” and deplorables themselves were blamed for driving industries out of their neighborhoods (as if the characters out of Duck Dynasty or Ax Men turned off potential employers). Or, more charitably to the elites, the muscular classes were too racist, xenophobic, or dense to get with the globalist agenda, and deserved the ostracism and isolation they suffered from the new “world is flat” community. London and New York shared far more cultural affinities than did New York and Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, the naturally progressive, more enlightened, and certainly cooler and hipper transcended their parents’ parochialism and therefore plugged in properly to the global project. And they felt that they were rightly compensated for both their talent and their ideological commitment to building a better post-American, globalized world.

One cultural artifact was that as our techies and financiers became rich, as did those who engaged in electric paper across time and space (lawyers, academics, insurers, investors, bankers, bureaucratic managers), the value of muscularity and the trades was deprecated. That was a strange development. After all, prestige cars, kitchen upgrades, gentrified home remodels, and niche food were never more in demand by the new elite. But who exactly laid the tile, put the engine inside the cars, grew the arugula, or put slate on the new hip roof?

In this same era, a series of global financial shocks, from the dot-com bust to the more radical 2008 near–financial meltdown, reflected a radical ongoing restructuring in American middle-class life, characterized by stagnant net income, family disintegration, and eroding consumer confidence. No longer were youth so ready to marry in their early twenties, buy a home, and raise a family of four or five. Compensatory ideology made the necessary adjustments to explain the economic doldrums and began to characterize what was impossible first as undesirable and later as near toxic. Pajama Boy sipping hot chocolate in his jammies, and the government-subsidized Life of Julia profile, became our new American Gothic.

High Tech

The mass production of cheap consumer goods, most assembled abroad, redefined wealth or, rather, disguised poverty. Suddenly the lower middle classes and the poor had in their palms the telecommunications power of the Pentagon of the 1970s, the computing force of IBM in the 1980s, and the entertainment diversity of the rich of the 1990s. They could purchase big screens for a fraction of what their grandparents paid for black-and-white televisions and with a computer be entertained just as well cocooning in their basement as by going out to a concert, movie, or football game.

The Campus

Higher education surely helped split the country in two. In the 1980s, the universities embraced two antithetical agendas, both costly and reliant on borrowed money. On the one hand, campuses competed for scarcer students by styling themselves as Club Med–type resorts with costly upscale dorms, tony student-union centers, lavish gyms, and an array of in loco parentis social services. The net effect was to make colleges responsible not so much for education, but more for shielding now-fragile youth from the supposed reactionary forces that would buffet them after graduation.

An entire generation of students left college with record debt, mostly ignorant of the skills necessary to read, write, and argue effectively, lacking a general body of shared knowledge — and angry. They were often arrogant in their determination to actualize the ideologies of their professors in the real world. A generation ignorant, arrogant, and poor is a prescription for social volatility.

Illegal Immigration

Immigration was recalibrated hand-in-glove by progressives who wanted a new demographic to vote for leftist politicians and by Chamber of Commerce conservatives who wished an unlimited pool of cheap unskilled labor. The result was waves of illegal, non-diverse immigrants who arrived at precisely the moment when the old melting pot was under cultural assault.

The Obama Project

We forget especially the role of Barack Obama. He ran as a Biden Democrat renouncing gay marriage, saying, “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.” Then he “evolved” on the question and created a climate in which to agree with this position could get one fired. He promised to close the border and reduce illegal immigration: “We will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace. We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws.” Then he institutionalized the idea that to agree with that now-abandoned agenda was a career-ender.

Read the whole thing. (I edited down each point.)


  1. Felix says:

    “We are now nearing a point comparable to 1860, and perhaps past 1968.”

    Yep, and This election is the most important in the history of this country!

    This guy needs to get a grip. Turn off his TV. Read something else. Anything.

  2. Harry Jones says:

    If elections solved this sort of thing, there wouldn’t be civil wars or peasant uprisings or revolutions. The democratic process is intended to be a less destructive substitute for all this.

    As such, it’s partially successful. It’s war by other means. But the dynamics are the same. The phrase “politics is the art of compromise” is for the suckers. Politics is the art of getting to where you don’t have to compromise. The strong never compromise with the weak. There’s no point.

    Sun Tzu knew a lot about conflict. He says it’s best to win before you physically fight. Prepare well enough, and the enemy just might back down before it even gets ugly. If not, it’ll be over quick.

    We don’t need yet another call to arms. We need a game plan. The groups in power had a game plan. That’s how they got where they are. They were empirical and pragmatic. They figured out what worked and then they executed. We may not like what they do when they’re in power, but we had better respect what got them there in the first place.

    I once associated with a group of self-styled “political activists” who were all about gathering facts and arguments and then trying to persuade people by force of reason. They never amounted to anything. When they held up signs, I saw a news cameraman just walk past into the state house without slowing down. No pictures. No acknowledgement. They had no comment on that.

    The idea of getting confrontational horrified them. The idea of getting empirical never even occurred to them. They flat out didn’t seem to care about actually succeeding. They only cared about feeling righteous about themselves.

    I tried to reason with them and got nowhere. So much for force of reason. They were all about talking to themselves, telling themselves how right and noble they all were. Nobody listened to them, and I discovered that they listened to nobody.

    The world is unkind to cowards, but they compensate by being extremely kind to themselves.

  3. Bob Sykes says:

    Peter Turchin, the economic historian at UConn, certainly believes so. He says that various indicators show that political discord today is higher than at any time in our history since the eve of the Civil War. He expects major unrest and violence in the early 2020′s, which would be in Trump’s second term, if he is reelected, which is likely barring assassination or impeachment and conviction.

    Modern civil wars are not armies marching through the wheat. They are Hutu/Tutsi wars with machetes and anything available. Civilians are legitimate targets: priests at the altars, students in classrooms, shoppers in malls… Anything goes, anyone can be killed.

  4. Graham says:

    Even an eventually big, full-tilt civil war like Spain’s not only featured Rwanda-like stuff at the margins, it started that way well before the abortive putsch of 1936 that resulted in partial control by the military junta and set the “real” war in motion.

    Not that I can easily imagine a US one going that route now, for a whole host of reasons geographic, demographic and military, but the two kinds are not mutually exclusive.

    Then again, the Civil War of 1861-5 had both, too.

  5. Graham says:

    My suspicion is that none of this will happen, or not much beyond low level.

    There is no actual capacity to resist the progressive transformation of American or Western society, barely even at the conceptual level, less at the rhetorical level, less still at the practical level. And no one capable of matching the march through the institutions even enough to reset the clock at 1992 or even 1995. It has moved too far, to fast, too thoroughly. Pity there isn’t a retrospective textbook.

  6. Kirk says:

    I think the biggest risk is that the far left is going to literally go nuts, once the failures of their program become clear, and the forces of US history start taking us back towards the middle.

    One should remember that the nutters who were doing all the bombings and so forth back in the 1960s were not of the right, at all. They were mostly leftists who were angry that their programs weren’t being taken seriously. Same thing is going to happen again, and the same reaction is going to take place; Antifa is going to morph into the Weathermen, the general public is going to distance themselves at first, and then reject their ideas because of the violence, and we’re going to see a complete freak-out because of that rejection. Trump is a symptom; the reaction to him is just as much of one, and a very telling one. The left got their program in under Obama, and suffered the rejection of it very badly. If a future historian looks at the whole period, they’re likely going to date the end of the classic “left” as dating to Trump’s election and the subsequent insanity in the media.

    This stuff isn’t happening as a result of their confident strength; it’s mostly a freak-out as they realize they’ve shot their bolt, and that whatever comes, they’re irrelevant. Who pays attention to the media, or believes a word they say these days…? They captured the government, and now the trust and faith in the institutions of that government are lower than ever, mostly because of the things the left did with those institutions. Only part of the government with any real trust left in it is the military, and that’s only going to last until the leftoids put into place within it manage to discredit it by losing a major war… Which ain’t entirely unlikely, either.

  7. Harry Jones says:

    Yes,they’ve shot their bolt. But they hit the target. They’re in power.

    They don’t have convince anyone anymore. They can rule by sheer force. Political correctness was once mind control, but it lost effectiveness for that purpose. Now it’s been re-purposed as protection for fragile egos. They don’t want you to agree with them; they want you to pretend to agree with them.

    When they have weakened the institutions enough, those institutions will be unable to protect them. You can’t have your power and eat it too.

    The question is: who or what replaces them? Not the old pre-sixties culture. It was defeated long ago. It wasn’t nimble enough and it got outmaneuvered. We need a new culture, built by salvaging the best pieces from the past, and throwing out whatever didn’t pass the test of time.

    And… can we give the current regime a shove to hurry the process along?

    (No wimps need apply. Any culture that dares not give a shove to topple a weakened structure is unworthy of dominance.)

  8. Pigkeeper says:

    Hanson, who is a very good classical historian, is telling us via “National” Re that our ancestry, heritage, and history is a “cardboard racial cutout”.

    Does this apply to Jews?
    Does this apply to the descendants of black slaves?
    Does this apply to native tribes people?
    Does this apply to descendants of those American citizens once detained in camps for being Japanese?

    If Dr Hanson is indeed saying that individuals with such ancestral histories ought to toss their ancestral identity in the dust bin of “cardboard racial cutouts” then let him stop pussy-footing about the issue and say it clearly.

  9. Lucklucky says:

    Well, cardboard racial cutouts are precisely that, cardboard. They do not represent anything, as a caricature to make a cohort vote a certain way.

    Besides, our identity &mdsah; or should I say identities? — are not binary, but scalar.

    I have never put my feet in the USA, but due to movies, cartoons, study, and technology I have a bit of American identity. I am sure most people do, too.

  10. Sam J. says:

    “…In this same era, a series of global financial shocks, from the dot-com bust to the more radical 2008 near–financial meltdown, reflected a radical ongoing restructuring in American middle-class life, characterized by stagnant net income, family disintegration, and eroding consumer confidence…”

    And the people responsible got bailed out every time. What if there was no mass immigration and the trillions of bail out loans went to individuals instead. Where would the middle class be?

  11. Sam J. says:

    If we have a Civil War it’s because someone paid for it. The Antifa are being paid to attack people. There’s witnesses that publicly went on camera and said they saw Antifa and people with Nazi flags get out of the same buses at Charlottesville.

    I think it was here that someone commented on the 60′s. He said he was with a faction of the Students for a Democratic Society. He said that they had machine guns[M-60] and were firing them like crazy in Michigan. He decided that was too much for him and parted ways. Somebody pays for this.

    This has happened before. I read about WWI where all sides were paying newspapers before it started to inflame people as much as possible.

    I think that the powers that be would love a civil war so they could crack down.

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