In my previous two installments on this subject, I argued that I don’t believe a ‘hot’ civil war is imminent–a ‘cold’ one is in progress. This was not necessarily cause for rejoicing, as my contention is that what is keeping us from a ‘hot’ war are some formidable ‘speed bumps.’ In the first place, the US military is likely to remain subjected to civilian authorities and stay out of political disputes. Also, at least for another decade or so, it seems unlikely the military will be composed folks who would fire upon their fellow citizens. In the second place, the ‘ideological divide’ fueling the current division does not fall along regional lines. The ‘combatants’ in this conflict are interspersed among each other. To the degree that there is a geographic division, it is between the cities and the countryside. And the cities know they need the countryside, far more than the countryside needs the cities.
Those are two things keeping our ‘cold civil war’ from going hot. In this installment, I want to explain why it is getting ‘warmer.’ Will we watch before our eyes as it comes to a boil? Or it will be a flash-over? Both are possible if the temperature goes up. Neither are likely if the temperature is brought down. By detailing why it is warming up, hopefully some will get a clue, and do their part to cool things down.
So, its a wonder that more people haven’t figured out that much conflict between humans occurs because one group of people wishes to impose their views on other people. How could this not be noticed? The obvious solution to reducing conflict, then, is to radically limit how much people impose their views on other people.
It is a further wonder that more people haven’t figured out that in America over the last 100 years or so, much of that imposition has been in the name of ‘compassion’ and ‘the common good.’ It’s not like we have people proposing the erection of concentration camps replete with ovens and putting that up to a vote! No, everyone has the best intentions behind their proposals, and they expect to have their proposals judged based on the intentions they are put forward.
As far as the Left goes, not only should you evaluate a policy based on the supposedly good intentions behind them, but you must embrace and ratify that policy–or else, you are a bad man.
But, even within the Left, people will disagree about whether or not a policy is good or bad and even if it is proposed with as pure of intention as it is maintained. My point is that every proposal will find people who disagree with it. Thus, every proposal amounts to an imposition of one’s views on other people. Thus, every proposal represents potential fuel for conflict. Every one of them.
It is clear to me that many people do not understand just how unique the founding of America was in the history of the world. Many of the people who came to America were people who were oppressed by Europeans of all stripes. Finding no haven in Europe and powerless to secure their liberty there, they voted with their feet. (It is very important to understand that today, there is no where left to go. The moon, maybe. Or Mars. More on this later.) They wanted to create a system which would counteract, as much as possible, the potential for the abuses they saw in Europe.
The United States, therefore, was the first country in the world formed with opposition to tyranny as its foremost concern. I’m not even sure if any other country has followed suit. At any rate, the US Constitution was designed, literally, to prevent tyrants from oppressing people. Checks and balances were erected at every level because they believed–rightly, as history testifies–that the number one threat to a person is their own government.
One of the big reasons why the temperature is rising is because this system of checks and balances is being steadily eroded. One group of people, namely the American ‘Left,’ has been busily trying to transform America into the very kind of country that the founders tried to prevent.
Imagine a building held up by 100 sturdy poles. You can remove one of those poles, and the building will stand. You can probably remove 10 of them, and the building won’t move. Heck, theoretically, you might be able to remove a full half of them (50, for those in Rio Linda) and the building will stand. And if the weather remains fine and fair forever, one can pretend that those poles were superfluous. Provided one had good intentions (eg, they wanted to use the wood from the pole to make lawn chairs for the poor), and you weren’t threatening the building itself, what’s the big deal?
Ah, but in the real world, the weather does not remain fine and fair forever. No, it is frequently the case that large storms will buffet the building, with winds and waves crashing in from unexpected sides.
That sense that a ‘civil war’ is brewing? That is the building wobbling. It is wobbling because a large number of the supporting poles have been removed. In the face of this impending disaster, conservatives like myself are like, “Man, get those poles back under the building!” Progressives be like, “You heartless ass. Don’t you care for the poor? Now, get out of my way. I’m taking another three poles.”
This analogy also speaks to the problem of prediction. While I believe there are robust defenses against a shooting civil war (today, anyway), that assumes the ‘weather’ remains within observed variations. An unexpected turn of events might serve as a catalyst for rapid collapse. Which way the building actually falls depends on which direction it is hit from and so on. But I do know this: if you remove all of the poles, you will NOT get a floating building. This is reality. It isn’t a utopian dream. Eventually, a building will fall if it does not have a sturdy foundation.
The founders built a building with a lot of ‘poles’ on purpose.
The US Constitution, which I am a fan of, and theoretically, which Republicans are fans of, and American republicans are (small ‘r’–I am an enthusiastic small ‘r’ and reluctant Big ‘R.’) is based on the idea that the State is the primary authorized administrator of violence.
The founders understood that the State is composed of people, and people tend to be rascals, whether they are in or outside of the State; but if they are inside the State, they have an advantage which is ripe for abuse that is different than the abuse those outside the State can inflict: they have increased access to coercive powers, namely, physical force.
They erected a system of checks and balances (poles!) to combat this reality but knew it wouldn’t be enough, given just how power-hungry and ruthless people were. They saw that an ultimate check and balance was necessary: the second amendment. It followed an explicit warrant (in the Declaration of Independence) for the populace abolishing the present government and starting over, if the populace deemed it necessary.
But there are other ‘checks and balances’ built into this system beyond the second amendment and the balancing of the three branches.
The founders also understood what I began with: every proposal represents an imposition and every imposition introduces conflict. To prevent the temperature from getting too ‘hot,’ it was deliberately set up so that the entity with the most access to legitimate force–the Federal government–would also be the most limited in its scope as far as what kinds of things it can impose on the various states and its citizens.
This, too, was a ‘pole.’
If the Federal government is highly restricted in what kinds of things it can involve itself in, the odds are better that even if one group imposes their views on another group, it will be in a very narrow way in a sphere most appropriate for such an imposition. That is to say, if the Federal government concerns itself with the things Federal, impositions are not likely to be too intrusive.
This, too, was a ‘pole.’
As part of this same rationale, it was designed so that in the spheres in which things are most likely to be intrusive, the various states, counties, and municipalities, the people had maximum access to the levers of power so that they could easily reverse measures which offended them.
The founders didn’t delude themselves into thinking that people would not try to impose their views on other people. Instead, they tried to make it so that the most intimate matters were left to the most intimate spheres of governance, and the broadest matters given over to the broadest spheres of governance.
It is in this context that the ‘general welfare’ clause appears. Today, within Leftist circles in particular, ‘general welfare’ refers to every nook and cranny of human existence. But, when the Constitution was written, it was understood that the ‘general welfare’ was basically constrained to the enumerated powers laid out in the Constitution. Remember, under the US Constitution, the Federal government was able to ONLY do that which the Constitution enumerated. I say ‘was able’ because obviously this standard has been abandoned… that is to say, this ‘pole’ has been removed.
It is also in this context that it was determined that members of the House of Representatives would serve only 2 year terms and that the House would control the power of the purse. Nothing happens until money is spent, and only those who are most within reach and removal by their constituents can spend that money. Provided that the Federal government limits itself to administrating its enumerated powers, the damage a Congress can do is quite limited. The sphere it can act is already narrow and it can be rapidly changed, at any rate. At least, that was the plan.
In this context, the 10th amendment explicitly states that the powers not enumerated belong to the states and to the people. In other words, the Federal government can ONLY involve itself in those enumerated matters (theoretically), which means that if the states and the people decide to impose things on themselves, they are also better positioned to un-impose themselves, and vice versa.
Let’s take marijuana just for example’s sake. I do not for a minute believe that the Federal government should be involved, constitutionally speaking, on the legality of marijuana domestically. (Internationally, would be different.) Marijuana should not be illegal federally. But that does not mean I necessarily support the legalization of marijuana. According to the framer’s vision, an individual state can choose to make it legal or illegal. If they foul up their state by their decision, it is far more easier to change the law in your state than it is at the Federal level.
To reverse a decision made at the Federal level requires convincing a majority of 330,000,000 people (or, at least, their representatives) to change the law. This is, pragmatically speaking, a nightmare. To reverse a decision at the state level is much more within the reach of average citizens.
The nationalization and politicization of almost every aspect of human existence is the removal of a ‘pole.’ The more things you place out of the reach of individual citizens to change, the more outrage it breeds. That’s all people are left with: outrage. Moreover, when intrusions are limited to the states, then if you don’t like what your state is doing, and you reach a point where you are ‘fed up,’ you need not mount a revolution. You need not resort to violence. You can move to a new state.
But, if an issue has been nationalized, there is no state you can move to in order to escape the intrusion.
The nationalization of every issue is the removal of a ‘pole.’
The people who fled the tyrants in Europe to come to America had a place to go. Within America, the original design was that if you found yourself under a tyranny within a state, you had a place to go–another state. But, now there is no place to go. If the two options available to us are ‘fight or flight’ and ‘flight’ has been taken off the table as an option, the temperature will go up.
In the Left’s quest to ‘perfect’ society, they have frequently found that they cannot achieve their aims at the state level. They kick their efforts up to the Federal level, which has the added benefit of imposing their views on the entire nation, rather than just one or two states. Whether by legislation or by judicial fiat, they often succeed. Each time this happens, it constitutes the removal of another ‘pole,’ with a difference: the ‘pole’ is used to bean people on the head with.
Most people prefer to avoid violence if they can. If they find themselves in a setting which they cannot in good conscience remain, they will ‘vote with their feet.’ They will choose ‘flight.’ The ‘Left’ is constantly adding issues which offend the conscience of their fellow citizens while making it impossible for their fellow citizens to physically move out of their reach. The general outlook of the ‘Left’ is that you can do this indefinitely, because, well, the house hasn’t blown over yet, now, has it?
But you cannot do it indefinitely. Eventually, you reach a point where people have had enough. And if you reach that point, and ‘flight’ is not an option, what does that leave?
I’m sure if you think just a little bit, you will be able to think of hundreds, if not thousands of examples of what I’m describing. Do I really need to start listing some?
There seems to be no chance that this trend will be reversed. There seems to be no hint that people even recognize the problem in order to reverse it. It is largely a problem made by the ‘left’, but since the ‘right’ has largely accepted the premise, and generally operates within the same paradigm, the problem will compound from all directions.
A very small number of people (eg, like myself) understand that what is really at stake here is the integrity of the building itself. If you do not put the ‘poles’ back, it is going to collapse. Period, end of story. You cannot support a massively intrusive Leviathan on just a handful of ‘poles.’ You can’t do it. You just can’t.
Before I leave off, I want to make a couple of points.
First, if I’m right, its only a matter of time before the whole thing collapses. People are just too dumb to put two and two together. They will remove ‘poles’ willy-nilly and never understand that the reason why the building is wobbling is because THEY REMOVED THE POLES. Plan accordingly.
Secondly, on the very slim chance that we will collectively recognize that we need to radically scale back the scope and reach of the Federal government, we need to wrestle with the reality that even the state governments have too much power. Remember, the 10th amendment reserved the balance of the powers not just to the states, but to the people. This was the framers’ way of ensuring that the states themselves did not get crazy, but clearly, the states themselves are getting crazy.
I don’t just mean in regards to their policies, although that is certainly a part of it. I mean also that many of the states themselves have become so large that pragmatically speaking, even measures enacted at the state level are effectively out of the reach of self-government. We see this especially in California and to a lesser extent, Illinois. Both, not coincidentally, are states where there is frequent talk about splitting up the states into smaller states.
Probably, it would indeed be best if this happened. However, the consequences of not doing so can be forestalled as long as people are able to ‘vote with their feet.’ In other words, if it is possible for people in Illinois to get fed up with the political elite in Chicago imposing their views on the entirety of the state and find another place in the country where they can go, things aren’t likely to come to a head. But if the policies of the political elite in Chicago were to now be enacted at the Federal level, as well, there is now no place for them to go.
With ‘flight’ off the table as an option, the momentum builds for the only option left for free people: Fight.
(At first glance, there is a third option: subservient acquiescence to being dominated. But my point is that if you push the subjugation of people long enough and hard enough, you eventually back them into the corner, leaving them just with the options of ‘fight or flight.’)
If we were to revamp things to put back some much needed ‘poles,’ I don’t think the creation of more states is the only possible answer. Instead, the states themselves could resign themselves to the idea that the state level should also limit itself to enumerated powers. The 10th amendment could be amended to say (assuming anyone cares to restrict themselves to what is actually written):
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people; the powers not delegated to the States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the counties within the States, are reserved to the counties respectively, or to the people.
Some states are way too big to be manageable, accentuated by how invasive and intrusive the states themselves have become. Radically limited the scope of their reach and giving those powers to the counties would go a long way towards turning the ‘temperature’ down.
Thirdly, I began by talking about groups of people imposing their views on other people. The knee-jerk reaction to this is totally predictable. It will be said that limiting the power of the government is itself an ‘imposition.’ No.
There is a categorical difference between telling someone that they have to do X versus not telling someone something at all.
If I do not make you buy health insurance, that is not an imposition. By definition. Duh. If you do make me buy health insurance, that is an imposition. If I leave you entirely alone, I’m obviously not imposing anything–if the word ‘impose’ means anything at all. If you try to impose something on me and I try to stop you, I am not counter-imposing. lol If you say, “You shall not drink 64oz drinks” that is an imposition. If I say, “BUTT OUT. I can drink 64oz drinks if I want!” that is is NOT an imposition. That is me refusing to be imposed upon.
It is clear that there is a fundamental inability to recognize the categorical difference between these ideas. It is largely a feature of the left, though of course not exclusively. It isn’t like the distinction is not known. It’s the whole difference between ‘negative liberties’ and ‘positive liberties’ which I have talked about elsewhere on this blog.
Not telling people what to do does not turn the temperature up. Telling people what to do, does. I am not contributing to ‘hostilities’ by refusing to tell people what to do and refusing to be told what to do. You ARE contributing to ‘hostilities’ by insisting people do what you want them to do and not allowing them to do otherwise, in more and more and more and more and more and more aspects of our every day life.
If you want to see the ‘cold civil war’ turn ‘hot,’ by all means, keep telling people what to do, and keep making it harder for them to escape your clutches. If that’s your goal, ya’ll are on the right track.