American Decline

Are We Really Facing a Second Civil War?

New York Times

Barbara F. Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has interviewed many people who’ve lived through civil wars, and she told me they all say they didn’t see it coming. “They’re all surprised,” she said. “Even when, to somebody who studies it, it’s obvious years beforehand.”

This is worth keeping in mind if your impulse is to dismiss the idea that America could fall into civil war again. Even now, despite my constant horror at this country’s punch-drunk disintegration, I find the idea of a total meltdown hard to wrap my mind around. But to some of those, like Walter, who study civil war, an American crackup has come to seem, if not obvious, then far from unlikely, especially since Jan. 6.

Two books out this month warn that this country is closer to civil war than most Americans understand. In “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,” Walter writes, “I’ve seen how civil wars start, and I know the signs that people miss. And I can see those signs emerging here at a surprisingly fast rate.” The Canadian novelist and critic Stephen Marche is more stark in his book, “The Next Civil War: Dispatches From the American Future.” “The United States is coming to an end,” Marche writes. “The question is how.”

In Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Thomas Homer-Dixon, a scholar who studies violent conflict, recently urged the Canadian government to prepare for an American implosion. “By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence,” he wrote. “By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.” As John Harris writes in Politico, “Serious people now invoke ‘Civil War’ not as metaphor but as literal precedent.”

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