American Decline

Spare us the hyperbole: Another U.S. civil war is not on the horizon

By Toronto Globe and Mail

It will be up to future historians to determine whether the Jan. 6 Capitol riot marked the beginning of the end of American democracy. But that has not stopped countless observers from marking the first anniversary of a day that will live in infamy by warning the world to brace for the worst as the United States descends into political chaos on the road to outright collapse.

“We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe,” writes University of California political scientist Barbara F. Walter in a new book, How Civil Wars Start. “If you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America – the same way you’d look at events in Ukraine or the Ivory Coast or Venezuela – you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.”

Far be it for me to accuse Prof. Walter, a member of a Central Intelligence Agency’s Political Instability Task Force, of hyping her thesis to pump book sales. But including the United States among a list of failed or failing states does seem like an exaggeration. It may be fashionable in academic circles to depict the country as hurtling toward a breakdown, but such depictions are driven more by the politics of those making them than empirical evidence.

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