From my Facebook vault from 2016 – true, though, sadly. I ended a very long friendship with someone because he invariably resorted to cursing, finger pointing and charges of racism whenever I stressed that the social and political cleavages in this country were dragging us closer and closer to an impasse that ultimately could lead to a national breakup.
Five years since this post the possibility strikes me as even more likely and even prominent intellectuals on both sides of the great divide are now weighing in on this troubling trend.
Somethings I fall into the temptation of regarding myself as a bit of an amateur political prophet, though I make it a point to dispel any sort of grandiose thinking and self-regard as a matter of principle.
The “s” word increasingly is becoming more bandied about in public discourse – and why shouldn’t it? Yes, we really do have to consider several geopolitical threats, notably China, but it is becoming increasingly apparent to growing numbers of American that one size simply doesn’t fit all.
The best alternative would be what some have proposed in Britain to stave off Scottish and conceivably even Welsh secession: the transformation of Britain into a rather loose federation sovereign states, with the central government in Westminster assigned a few all-union responsibilities. It may be that we will undergo a similar debate in this country as the national fabric becomes more frayed.
To re-affirm what I have stated time and again on this forum, I am a Southern nationalist. And if that doesn’t strike the average reader as strange enough, I’ll add that I am the rarest of Southern nationalists: I am one who wants to dispense with the perennial fixation with the Lost Cause and “saving Confederate money” (on the basis that “the South will rise again”). I choose instead to concentrate on the South as it exists today, more specifically, how it has changed during the last 150-plus years.
I have held to this view for the last quarter century, ever since sitting down with 40 distinguished Southerners to organize the rather ill-fated League of the South. Though I was small and marginalized voice among this august group of scholars and writers, I was certain of one thing: that the South would not rise again on the foundation of the Lost Cause, the old Confederacy. I argued instead that whatever merged from meeting should function as both a think tank and clearing house for secessionist and radical decentrist ideals. In fact, I even argued that it was not necessarily in the South’s interests to secede ahead of the other regions or, at the very least, to demand radical autonomy from the rest of the country.
Yes, the South is different enough from the rest of the nation. Yet, even then, such deep cleavages were forming between what is now known as blue and red America that a new constitutional arrangement sooner or later would have to be worked out, not only to resolve this impasse but even to avoid another civil war. And emerging reality essentially would work to free up the South to pursue its own destiny.
I essentially argued that all we had to do was to work assiduously to popularize concepts of neo-secessionism and radical decentralization. The deep cultural and political fissures forming within the country – recall the League organized shortly after the 1994 GOP congressional sweep – essentially would complete the work for us.
It wasn’t to be. There was a handful of diehard Confederate restorationists on hand who would carry the day for the Lost Cause narrative. They believed that the anger welling up over the growing assault on Confederate symbolism and heritage would supply a sufficient center of gravity for a new Southern nationalist movement.
They were proven wrong within the next 5 years.
For my part, I went along with it, albeit rather grudgingly, until 1999. Shortly thereafter, I broke with the League and developed a web presence known as “Home Rule for Dixie!” that made the strong case for the wholesale abandonment of the Confederate restorationist narrative, calling instead for an entirely new approach to Southern self-determination that factored in all the changes that had transpired since the collapse of the Confederacy in 1865.
I argued that there were legions of contemporary Southerners who never would be won over to be Lost Cause narrative but who could be persuaded that the 15 historically cultural Southern states, which included historically Unionist West Virginia, ultimately could be won over to the argument that the South represented the best of what remained of fraying American Republic. It would, over the course of time, constitute the declining Republic’s moral and cultural lifeboat.
The “Home Rule for Dixie!” concept sparked a lot of acrimonious debate in the Southern movement before its effective collapse a few years later. After concluding that my message likely was premature, I abandoned the effort in 2003.
Since the 2016 presidential election, I am now more convinced than ever that such a movement not only is viable but likely foreshadows how events will play out in the future.
One of the nation’s premiere conservative intellectuals, Victor Davis Hanson, apparently shares a similar view. Hanson, a Straussian conservative, believes that the South and the rest of Red America, far from representing the region of the country where Lost Cause rhetoric and animosities still are being nursed, now comprises the well-spring of American values and virtue and possibly even the foundation on which these values will be re-affirmed and renewed. Hanson even goes so far to argue that the “New North” has become the Old South, and the New South the Old North.
It many ways, his argument comes very close to the one I made a generation ago through the “Home Rule for Dixie!” effort.
As Hanson contends, the New North in many ways embodies the racial exclusivity, single-party hegemony and single-crop economies ascribed to the South a half century ago. And amidst all of this, a remarkable sorting-out effect is ensuing in which the South and other red states have begun to bear the hallmarks of a functional America.
As Hanson argues:
It seems that Hanson essentially has arrived at the same conclusion I did a quarter century ago: that the South, despite all its historical blemishes and setbacks, really does represent the most redeemable part of America – truly the most viable part, the moral and political lifeboat.
The South is going to rise again, albeit in a distinctly America form, though embodying those traits that, generally speaking, have set the region apart from the rest of the country: civility and unwavering devotion to faith, family and personal liberty.
Speaking as a member, albeit a rather nominal one, of the theologically and culturally beleaguered United Methodist Church, this article, published recently in the New Yorker, makes for fascinating reading at several levels – all the more fascinating because it is written by an elite columnist from a center-left perspective.
I personally find it interesting for three reasons: first, because it underscores how the United Methodist Church’s divisions, which at this point will end in a formal, negotiated breakup, merely serve as a bellwether for deepening, if not intractable, divisions at the national level. Recall that a similar breakup of the Methodist Episcopal Church foreshadowed the breakup of the American Union in 1861.
The second reason is because roughly a quarter century ago, a prominent United Methodist cleric as well as a university professor anticipated these schisms in a book they jointly authored titled Downsizing the U.S.A. At the time of publication, the authors were fellow Duke University faculty members: the Rev. William Willimon, dean of the University Chapel, who would later serve as bishop of the North Alabama United Methodist Conference, and Dr. Thomas Naylor, a Duke University Economics professor, who, following his retirement, relocated to Vermont and became active in the Vermont Independence Movement.
The third and final reason is because this article reflects how growong numbers within our national clerisy and commentariat are discerning the deep and likely unbridgeable divisions increasingly becoming evident in the United States. The country really appears to be careening toward some form of breakup, which is why it behooves the nation’s political leadership in both political camps to work out some kind of contingency plan to mitigate the effects – something that the United Methodist leadership, faced with its own impending schism, set out to do and apparently has effectively achieved.
To revisit a theme that I have raised time and again in this forum, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was faced some 30 years ago with a similar set of circumstances in his country. In fact, he undertook a frenetic effort to negotiate what he called a new Union Treaty in an attempt to stave off a Soviet crack up, though he was overcome by the rapid pace of events.
Perhaps there is still hope that our political elites can engineer some sort of new federal compact whereby states and/or regions still can share a common monetary and defense policy.
Indeed, facing a similar set of conditions a few leaders in post-Brexit Britain, notably former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have conceived a similar proposal whereby the traditional nations of Britain – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – essentially would function as sovereign states, though ceding a number of general powers to the government in Westminster.
As turns out, a few very perceptive thinkers among the U.S. political class perceived these fissures forming as far back as thirty years ago. One of them was a famous diplomat and renowned Sovietologist, George F. Kennan, who was predominantly associated with Democratic administrations. He discerned this approaching political impasse in his 90’s.
In his valedictory memoir, written in his 90’s and published in the early 1990’s, Kennan envisioned states with strong cultural and political affinities, merging into what he called “constituent republics,” which would wield the bulk of domestic policy. He also advocated the same status for a few of the country’s largest cities – NYC, Chicago, LA, etc.
In many ways, this concept resembles former British Prime Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s proposal for Britain, which basically was conceived as a means of staving off Scottish secession following the Brexit outcome.
As with the Brown proposal, the general government would be left to handle larger national issues, such as monetary policy and defense. I remember Kennan’s proposals causing a brief flurry of interest and for a while this nonagenarian even was featured in the national talkshow circuit.
However, sometime later, Kennan became associated with Thomas Naylor, whom I mentioned earlier, becoming a vocal proponent of the Vermont Independence movement. Many of his peers found this surprising, needless to say.
In the end, proponents of radical decentralization and even secession may, like Kennan, be forced to look beyond attempts at national brokerage to grassroots efforts in which individual states and perhaps even municipalities act unilaterally.
Whatever the case, many of us who have observed these trends perceive an impasse fast approaching, one that may outstrip the ability of present-day political elites to assist with brokering a deal.
It truly is fascinating how even the blue-coastal commentariat are discerning and even embracing the merits of secession. At this rate, public awareness of long-term unsustainability of American unity will soon be regarded as the proverbial elephant in the room.
I have been fighting this battle with my very modest resources more than a quarter century now.
As endeavors go, it hasn’t always been pleasant. My father, a retired U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Colonel and staunch American nationalist, became so exasperated with my Jeffersonian/secessionist views at one point that he jumped out of his seat, flailed his arms and called me a traitor. We eventually made up.
Today, I feel largely vindicated. In fact, I am more convinced now than a quarter century ago that the moral and intellectual underpinnings that have sustained American unity, however tenuously, for the last almost quarter millennium are fraying rapidly. As this author, who writes from an unmistakably center-left, blue-coastal perspective, readily perceives, many of us already have reached a kind of intellectual separation with the rest of the country. And it likely will not be too much longer before formal calls for a political solution to these deep cleavages emerge.
Yet, as I have argued time and again, the pace of events may outstrip our ability to react quickly enough. We are fast approaching what I have come to call our Gorbachev moment – the point at which we must improvise provisions for what was previously considered unthinkable, a national breakup – though, unlike the ill-fated Soviet president, we haven’t begun to conceive anything resembling a contingency plan.
Question if the day: Why do we still pretend to comprise the same country?
We’re constantly being served up accounts by the mainstream media about how the right specializes in fomenting division, though New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to spew more venom than any other public official official in America and in ways that only exacerbate these deep divisions.
His most notorious stunt of late is his warning to the President of the United States that he would be wise to carrying along an armed guard to walk the streets of his state’s major city
As memory serves, this is the same governor who said that there is no place in New York for pro-lifers and the same city that has featured artwork depicting red-staters in the vilest of ways.
All of his poisonous rhetoric simply serves to underscore that various regions of the country have evolved different views on governance and even personal morality. And, hopefully, more Americans ultimately will be forced to conclude, however reluctantly, that this divergence will be settled in only in one of two ways: through centralized tyranny or undertaking radical decentralization up to and including secession. We seem to be rapidly approaching an inflection point.
Indeed, with each passing day I marvel at how prophetic Jeffersom has proven. He perceived that a continent this size simply was too vast to accommodate a single republic and predicted that a myriad of republics ultimately would emerge. He was right, just off by roughly a quarter millennium.
A perversely interesting read, and, frankly, I find it fascinating that this scholar made no mention of Mikhail Gorbachev’s furious efforts to negotiate a new union treaty that would have transformed the post-communist Soviet Union into a union of sovereign states.
The fact is, the United States is also fast approaching a similar inflection point – its own Gorbachev moment – the point at which it dawns on most everyone that existing constitutional arrangements simply are not equipped to handle the stressors playing out around the country. This partly stems from the fact that the hard left is banking on full-blown hegemony and has little use for the Madisonian protects that once safeguarded American liberties.
Meanwhile, the right, for it’s part, is so invested in flag waving and nationalist rhetoric that it can’t summon the courage to admit that everything is falling apart and that the most viable solution lies in the radical decentralization of federal power that would better address all of the cultural rifts playing out in this country. So what we face, as a result, is an impasse, a dangerous impasse, that resembles in some respects the late Soviet Union. Either we find some constitutional means of dealing with these cleavages, namely by returning power to regions of the country with strong cultural and historical affinities, or we face something even more horrendous: authoritarian leftist political and cultural hegemony or civil war or outright dissolution, with all the domestic and geopolitical upheaval this entails.
Yet, I would venture to day that most of us on this group are roundly convinced that the feds will never acceded to this, so the ultimately solution will be states, clusters of states, acting unilaterally, much as they did in 1776,