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No, Not That Civil War– Fables of the Deconstruction

A Second U.S. Civil War could closely resemble the English and Lebanese civil wars.

By Anatole d’Ecotopia

Photo by Erich Stering

It is equally an article of faith in the mythologies of the extreme Left and the extreme Right that the United States, as we know it… is doomed.

In both cases, some measure of inspiration is taken from the American Civil War– with the extreme Left looking to the underlying economic issues of that conflict, the extreme Right looking to the ideologic issues… and both sides drawing conclusions that are equally wrong.

The gun-toting nimrods of the Right salivate over the idea of the “boogaloo” — the armed uprising that finally will enable them to set right contrary notions of racial equality and social justice, the better to pave the way back to back to a plantation economy where their kind can finally resume their true calling: The Slave Patrol

Meanwhile, ardent Marxist-Leninists are equally excited by the idea of a protracted conflict between competing economic classes (because, to Marxists, that’s what everything is) that will leave the current capitalist system exhausted and finally pave the way for the One True Revolution the prophets of their creed have been predicting since about the time the aforementioned racist trash managed to lose the last U.S. Civil War.

The only problem with this is that the extreme Right and extreme Left are both modeling their preferred transformative collapse on the wrong civil war– they are also ignoring those of us who might prefer that the United States not collapse… but there is nothing particularly new about that. We’re just bit-players and stage scenery in their respective apocalyptic dramas — easily disposed libtards and bourgeoisie, acceptable collateral damage in the pursuit of their respective perceived greater good.

They are also ignoring the necessary precursor to either one of their bloody and senseless apocalyptic LARPs: The fundamental collapse of the United States, rather after the fashion of the United Soviet Socialist Republics. When the USSR collapsed, it took the local economy with it. Between 1991 and 1998, the now-Russian economy lost 40% GDP, with some $150 BN capital leaving the country. A comparable hit to the current U.S. economy would amount to over 8 trillion dollars, with an overall impact to the world economy of some 5-10%. To put this in perspective, a U.S. GDP loss of 30% kicked off what we may well wind up calling the first Great Depression. For anyone who desires the end of capitalism at any cost, this is a great idea. For anyone with a net worth in excess of $50K, this is a good reason to check out base jumping without a parachute. The collapse of global corporate capitalism might be a good idea, it might be a bad idea. Same for the breakup of the U.S. federal union — and either one might well be inevitable. But let’s be clear that these things will involve massive human loss and misery on a scale unseen for almost a half-century. Be careful what you wish for.

Now, to the issue of what a post-collapse civil conflict might look like. What we may well wind up calling the first American Civil War is not a good model. The North versus South split on the fundamental issue of slavery (not “state’s rights” — don’t even the fuck go there) does not apply to our time. Instead, there are a range of issues upon which Americans are becoming increasingly divided — very much and very centrally including issues of race. 

But the distribution of these divided Americans is fairly even across the country. The real breakdown is “rural versus urban” — in Blue states like California or Oregon, the political majorities are in urban areas. In Red States like Texas, rural majorities prevail (although in Texas, gerrymandering plays no small role in this outcome). In almost all cases, proponents of either side in this hypothetical conflict are fairly well distributed in all states. To find a similar distribution of would-be combatants, you need to look to an earlier conflict.

The English Civil War was fought between 1642 and 1651, with battles between Parliamentarians and Royalists distributed across all of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Marxist theory notwithstanding, there was no significant economic component to this conflict. The issues were religion, culture, and the Divine Right of Kings. These issues translate to neither current American divides nor the American Civil War — even though the numbers of Royalists leaving England for what would become the American South would certainly contribute to the “lost cause” cavalier romanticism that would later obscure the brutal reality of The Confederacy. 

Lebanon's Infernal Circle | by Robyn Creswell | The New York ...
A Palestinian woman pleading with a Christian militiaman during the Lebanese civil war, Beirut, January 1976. Françoise de Mulder/Roger Viollet.

An even better model, unfortunately, might be the Lebanese Civil War, 1975 – 1990, in which a country started out divided and disintegrated into smaller and even more bitterly opposed groups split upon increasingly small religious, sectarian, and factional divisions. To some extent, we are seeing this already with the apparently insatiable desire to deface statuary and monuments representing any historical figure who might even remotely be considered “racist” or “imperialist” by prevailing (and continually evolving) standards. Anyone who has ever done any work whatever with activists (of any political leaning, but particularly the Left) is well-aware of the circular firing squad effect. Now, try to imagine that effect played out, not just within the small boundaries of political fringe groups but at the scale of national politics — and played with real guns. That’s what happened to Lebanon… which retains scars to this day that will perhaps never heal.

It’s too soon to say that the United States could go the way of either Stuart-era England or late twentieth century Lebanon — but it is not too soon to consider the cost and possible consequence of this country’s further disintegration. Anyone who plans to foment either class-based revolution or Civil War in contemporary America needs to find a cause that is not only worth fighting and dying for… but also worth contemplating the murder of one’s neighbors.

Even though sending Donald Trump the way of Charles I sounds better with every passing day, simply seeing him voted out of office sounds even better. The sight of him skulking back to the White House after his “yuge” Oklahoma rally barely broke 6K attendance was enormously satisfying. Imagine him leaving the White House — with or without an armed escort — and imagine how truly satisfying that would be. Even though our country has become so dysfunctional as to already be in early stages of collapse… having it back is still a better goal than hastening that collapse.

As our society struggles to regain what was taken for granted as “normal’ mere months ago, it is worthwhile to recall what a truly final resort any civil war must be. The English Civil War cost 200,000 lives, the American Civil War over 600,000. The death toll in far smaller Lebanon still exceeded 120,000. 

The “Boogaloo” will neither be short nor bloodless. It’s a fair bet that Amazon will not be delivering, Applebee’s will not be open for business — and if you think it’s hard to get a haircut in the middle of a pandemic, just wait until you try to get one in the middle of a civil war. 

It is probably as pointless to ask those contemplating such chaos to imagine their own friends and family among the dead and maimed as it is to ask those who insist upon a “right” to go unmasked in the midst of plague to imagine those they love struck down and infected. In the Age of Trump, selfishness and self-absorption trumps all else.

And that, above all else, is what probably makes fables of deconstruction so seductive… and so inevitable.

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