It is commonly accepted wisdom that the United States fought a Civil War to end slavery. While true, the need to remove that stain from the fabric of American society was not Lincoln's primary motivation for prosecuting the war. It was instead his unshakable belief in the absolute necessity of preserving the Union, for by "giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free…We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth." Lincoln surely believed that the dissolution of the Union would sentence the people of the United States, indeed most of humanity, to a future of poverty, enslavement and degradation.
There were several notable separatist efforts early in US history. But since the defeat of the Confederacy, no serious movement to sunder the Union has arisen. The country has been blessed with a century and a half of unity, prosperity and freedom – during which time it came to lead mankind toward those goals, by its example and by force of arms when freedom was threatened by tyrants and totalitarian regimes.
However, in that same period – especially in the latter two thirds of it – the US has undergone a fundamental transformation (if I might channel the phrase used by the latest engine of that change). Until roughly the dawn of the twentieth century, virtually all of the (free) American people were content that the principles upon which the nation was founded were sound, essential to the character of the society and worthy of continuation as the governing ideals of the country. But at that dawn, the nascent progressive movement began a century-long effort to radically alter the country's political and cultural axioms.
The nature of the transformation has been described countless times by numerous authors. Suffice it to say that: the ultimate ideal of individual liberty has been superseded by the quest for equality and fairness; the reliance on free markets, democratic capitalism and entrepreneurial endeavors has been supplanted by an entitlement mentality and government control of business; American exceptionalism – the idea that the US has a special role to play in spreading the blessings of liberty around the world – has been jettisoned in favor of a multilateral approach to foreign affairs; and the notions of limited government, consent of the governed and constitutional federalism have given way to a mighty behemoth, i.e., the federal government, which dominates the lives of its citizens. This transformation, which took a century to bring about, was accomplished primarily via the progressive movement taking nearly complete control of the opinion-molding organs of American society: the media, universities, legal profession, libraries, seminaries, foundations, educational establishment, etc.
The miracle is that any resistance to the progressive putsch manages to survive. Truth be told, much of traditional America has been asleep at the switch for nearly a century. On the one hand, conservatives thought that perhaps some of the progressives' explicitly stated objectives might conceivably smooth out a few of the rough edges that were natural consequences of America's traditional rugged individualism – so conservatives acquiesced in their implementation. On the other hand, conservatives completely failed to appreciate how deeply and broadly the progressive initiatives were undermining traditional American mores, economics and politics. But there are signs that a substantial proportion of (what remains of) traditional America has finally awakened to the realities of the progressive onslaught. Moreover, that group of discontented conservatives is determined to stop the onslaught and restore the country that has been yanked away from them.
And so the nation finds itself sharply divided. With the advent of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid assault, the goals and methods of the progressive camp came into sharp focus. Many American conservatives are saying: no more compromise, no more blindness. It's time to return America to its traditional moorings. But perhaps an equal number are satisfied with the progressive trajectory and have no desire to reverse course. Thus in the last few years, the nature of the sharp differences between the two sides has come into clear focus. As a consequence, the signs of disunity abound:
- Washington is thoroughly dysfunctional as the two sides can find no common ground upon which to govern.
- The current presidential campaign is marked by vitriol, hatred and a total lack of empathy as each side attributes lethal motivation to the other.
- Thus our government – and thereby, our people – cannot come to grips with our problems – or even agree on what they are.
- Supreme Court judgments are viewed as illegitimate.
- There is a near universal dissatisfaction with standard politics, giving rise to non-standard movements, like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.
- Each side blames the other for perceived signs of the decline of America.
- The nation is on a crash course toward disaster as entitlements, the debt and deficits spiral out of control.
- The culture is marked by moral squalor more than by wholesome morality.
What's to be done? The current situation is unsustainable. One of two things must happen: Either one side or the other will win the argument – the losing side will accept defeat and agree to live peacefully in a nation governed according to the precepts of its rival. Or not! That is, the stalemate will persist, grow more intense and result in a calamity for the nation – the exact nature of which is almost impossible to predict.
How might one side win? One can envision two scenarios – of totally different natures. First, the Left might triumph through demographics. The organs described earlier have been doing an effective job of brainwashing the body politic. That might continue and accelerate. Furthermore, the Left's favorite constituents – e.g., women, minorities, immigrants and, alas, the poor are growing faster than those groups who gravitate to the Right. (It's true that the Leftists are having fewer babies and killing more in utero than the Rightists are – but that effect is overshadowed by the rapid growth of the Leftist constituencies.) Thus the current 50-50 split in the nation might become 2-1, or even 3-1 for the Left, and the Right will be silenced.
How might the Right win? I can only envision one way. A very serious spiritual/moral/religious revival sweeps the country, blowing away the secular, dependency-driven milieu that nurtures Leftist ideology. It's a big stretch to imagine, but not totally beyond the realm of possibility.
But maybe neither of these eventualities occurs. Then one must contemplate that perhaps Disunion is preferable to Civil War. It's a horrible thought, terrifying to contemplate. But if the country remains roughly evenly divided between two fundamentally different and irreconcilable visions for its future, then it is hard to believe that the unity and cohesion, civil calm and common sense of purpose, and faith in a shared destiny that has characterized American society for so long will endure. An amicable divorce might be preferable to the inevitable civil strife. Is it feasible? Can American liberals and American conservatives imitate Czechs and Slovaks?
Probably not! The reasons are legion and could fill a book. They range from legal to geographical to financial to the allocation of resources. In short, no matter how desirable it might become, it is impossible to imagine a peaceful division of these United States according to the dual philosophies that divide its citizens.
So, either the Left wins; or the Right wins; or an endless, fraternal, yet internecine, struggle saps the vitality of the US and leaves it adrift, with diminished stature, unexceptional, no longer dynamic, prosperous, patriotic or free. Ronald Reagan said that: "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on to them for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States when men were free." God forbid that this is the generation whose advent Reagan feared.