Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation

Cover of Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation

This excellent book explores the reasons behind our current polarization, presents two believable scenarios where various states might secede from the Union, and offers suggestions on how to bring down the temperature of our civil discourse.

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Highlights

At the core of each narrative is the burning conviction that the other side doesn’t just want its opponents to lose political races, but rather wishes for them to exist in a state of permanent, dangerous (perhaps even deadly) subordination. And, really, if you’re steeped in your own side’s narrative, shouldn’t your opponent not just lose but also be cast down from American politics and culture?

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American civil society is retreating, and as American civil society retreats, politics surges to take its place.

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On Pluralism

America was built from the ground up to function as a pluralistic republic. It can flourish only as a pluralistic republic. …contrary to the beliefs of illiberal activists and intellectuals on the left and the right, America can exist only as a liberal, pluralistic republic. By “liberal,” I do not mean Democratic or progressive but rather the form of government that “conceive[s] humans as rights-bearing individuals who could fashion and pursue for themselves their own version of the good life.”

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to embrace pluralism is to surrender the dream of domination. To embrace pluralism is to acknowledge that even the quest for domination is dangerous. It understands that human beings will not yield that which is most precious to them, even at the point of a gun. Embracing pluralism means embracing the lessons of history and understanding that not even our great nation is immune to the forces that have fractured unions older than ours. Our nation’s angriest culture warriors need to know the cost of their conflict. As they seek to crush their political and cultural enemies, they may destroy the nation they seek to rule.

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To embrace pluralism, citizens truly need only to embrace two real limitations on their quest for ultimate ideological victory.

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First, if you are a citizen of a pluralistic, liberal republic, you need to defend the rights of others that you would like to exercise yourself—even when others seek to use those rights to advance ideas you may dislike or even find repugnant.

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Second, if you are a citizen of a pluralistic, liberal government, you should defend the rights of communities and associations to govern themselves according to their values and their beliefs—so long as they don’t violate the fundamental rights of their dissenting members.

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Let’s start with the absolutely most basic building block of reconstructing a commitment to liberalism and pluralism. Let’s start with a term that conservatives have grown to hate and all too many progressives abuse and misunderstand. Let’s start with tolerance, properly understood.

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Americans must be tolerant of dissent, even when they believe dissenters are offensive and wrong.

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The political class exploits grace. The political class treats it as weakness. Thus, while parts of the public may long for mutual respect and a deescalation of partisan vitriol, even weary partisans don’t want to show weakness. The people who actually drive American politics and policy are committed to escalation, and as they escalate, they drive their committed followers into ever-greater frenzies.

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On Centralization and Federalism

American centralization is a response both to a terrible failure of federalism and to the dramatic external, existential threats of the Axis powers and the Soviet Union.

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In the case of America’s history of race discrimination, federalism enabled evil.

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Federalism has become a tactic, not a principle. It’s a defense mechanism when you’re out of power and an annoyance when you’re in power.

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On Our Attitudes Toward Others

Those who care the most often hate the most, and one of their chief methods of discrediting ideological allies with whom they compete is by portraying them as too tolerant of the hated political enemy. Kindness is perceived as weakness. Decency is treated as if it’s cowardice. Acts of grace are an unthinkable concession to evil.

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The next two qualities, mercy and humility, are indispensable to our national life. Mercy is the quality we display when we are, in fact, right and our opponents are wrong. We treat them not with contempt but with compassion.

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Humility reminds us that we are not perfect. Indeed, we are often wrong and will ourselves need mercy.

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