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Civil War 2.0? Not On Techno-Totalitarians’ Watch

US is running parallel to outbreak of Spanish Civil War, but our Regime has something the Socialists of the 1930s did not: technological supremacy
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Good morning from England, where I'm at a conference. Yesterday, an Albanian immigrant taxi driver, upon finding out that I and a friend sharing the cab with me are American, asked us if he's right that America seems to be headed towards civil war. We said probably not, but it is certainly true that we are extremely polarized, and there seems to be no good way out of this impasse.

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Well, here at the conference I've just met Prof. Nathan Pinkoski, an American academic who wrote an excellent essay last year in Claremont Review of Books, on the subject of the Spanish Civil War. It's worth revisiting in light of our current moment. From the essay:

The Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939) suffered one of the most accelerated cases of democratic decline in European history. In 1931, Spain established a liberal, republican, democratic constitution on a wide basis of popular and elite support. In just a few years, the constitution was in ruins and Spain was at war with itself. How did this happen? Too often, Americans are taught a simpleminded morality tale about this period: the fascists destroyed democracy. But the true story of Spain’s troubled republic is much more interesting and instructive. It shows how democratic regimes can die from self-inflicted wounds.

Pinkoski bases his essay on the scholarship of Stanley Payne, who is the leading history of the Spanish Civil War writing in English. More:

In Civil War in Europe, 1905–1949 (2011), Payne examines Spain in light of Europe’s cycle of revolutionary civil wars that made the first half of the 20th century so violent. Most civil wars before the 20th century concerned either succession—conflicts between potential heirs—or secession—such as the American Civil War. In the 20th century a new, revolutionary kind of civil war arose in Europe, pitting irreconcilable conceptions of state, society, and culture against each other. In these conflicts, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries aimed to establish radically different regimes. Payne is fond of quoting Joseph de Maistre’s dictum: “the counterrevolution is not the opposite of a revolution, but is an opposing revolution.” Once the revolutionary process begins, the old regime is finished. Both revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries—who are ostensibly interested in restoring the status quo ante—must found a new regime. As Carl Schmitt observes in Ex Captivitate Salus (1950), the determination of both sides to establish a new regime is the reason why revolutionary civil wars bring unprecedented levels of violence. The goal is to overturn the whole legal and political order associated with the enemy, leading to the call for the enemy’s absolute elimination.

This is massively important. The Spanish Civil War was not about rivals within a system; it was about the system itself. This is why matters are so irreconcilable in the United States today. The Left has been captured by a revolutionary ideology that will not tolerate rivals at all, and in fact construes tolerance for dissent as an unacceptable compromise with evil. It is pushing the forces of the Right towards radicalization and illiberalism simply for the sake of self-preservation.

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Though a variety of parties helped set the revolution going, Payne argues that the chief culprits were the Spanish socialists. Unlike Bolsheviks, who seek to overthrow liberal constitutionalism by direct means, revolutionary socialists use the constitutional system to provide cover for their plan to dismantle it. They don’t overthrow the legal system, they exploit it. Legalists of the center and the Right struggle to respond to this tactic. In Spain, their failure was particularly acute. In The Collapse of the Spanish Republic, 1933–1936 (2005) and The Spanish Civil War (2012), Payne describes Spain’s descent into a brutal three-year war as the result of the socialist Left’s brazenness meeting the center’s carelessness and the Right’s pusillanimity.

Other European socialist movements began with revolutionary ambitions but mellowed as they grew older and came to respect constitutionalism and parliamentary norms. Over time, Spanish socialists became more radical. The most important leftist leader in Spain, Manuel Azaña (prime minister from 1931 to 1933 and again in 1936), contended that liberalism failed because it was too willing to compromise. He regarded the republican constitution as the beginning of a radical reform project—even calling it a “revolution.” Politicians who didn’t equate constitutionalism with leftism were ipso facto illegitimate.

To Spanish socialists, the Right—which failed to save the monarchy in the 1920s and never articulated a different constitutional basis for the new republic—was a spent force. They were therefore shocked at the result of the 1933 election, when a seemingly stable left-wing coalition collapsed and the Right unexpectedly won. Assured that history was on their side, but now convinced that it needed a strong nudge to stay on course, the motivation of leftists became, in Payne’s assessment, a “visceral” desire to stay in power: “One way or the other, they were planning to hold onto it.”

Our contemporary American Left are not revolutionaries in the classical sense. They have marched through the institutions, and are exploiting the system to effectively overthrow it. And today, when you see the people in the Regime collaborating to delegitimize populism in all its forms, think of the Spanish socialists. More:

Second, the center and center-Left enabled the descent into revolutionary politics by winking at the Left’s violence and punishing the Right’s. The rise of the “anti-fascist” trope in the 1930s, recounted in Paul Gottfried’s excellent Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade (2021)—which Payne himself has recently praised in an essay for First Things—served to stain anyone who disagreed with the Left. In Spain, it excused the violence of young socialists. Centrist authorities were unable or unwilling to stop attacks on private property, businesses, churches, convents, and clergy. Instead, they blamed the victims, arresting not the actual perpetrators but scapegoating monarchists and conservatives. As cultural theorist René Girard understood, this scapegoating does not break the cycle of violence, but intensifies it. When revolutionaries attempt to purify a corrupt state and society through scapegoating, those whom they kill become martyrs, whose sacrifice becomes redemptive for nascent counterrevolutionaries. In Spain, scapegoating monarchists and conservatives converted large sections of the population from apathy to anger. By letting murders go unpunished and unjustly punishing innocents, the Left created martyrs throughout Spain—galvanizing the counterrevolution and turning the conflict into a religious war.

Think of the different response the Regime had to the "mostly peaceful" riots of the Summer of Floyd, versus the January 6 attack. This is NOT to justify January 6, or to minimize its badness. It is rather to say that both violent events were treated very differently by the Regime and its media component. Similarly, today, the Department of Justice's attorney in Boston put out a statement vowing to protect doctors and hospitals that sexually mutilate children from violence. Fine. But think of all the pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that have been hit with violence by the Left since the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. The Regime -- both progressives and center-rightists -- are creating a kind of martyr.

One more Pinkoski quote:

The third factor in the collapse of the republic was the centrist endorsement of unconstitutional action in the name of saving the so-called liberal consensus—what French political theorist Pierre Manent has called “the fanaticism of the center.”

This brought to mind the shocking tweet last week from Gen. Michael Hayden, once America's top spy:

From Gen. Hayden's Wikipedia page:

He was Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) from 1999 to 2005. During his tenure as director, he oversaw the controversial NSA surveillance of technological communications between persons in the United States and alleged foreign terrorist groups, which resulted in the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy.

So you know who Gen. Hayden is, and what he is prepared to do to his fellow Americans to protect the Regime. Here is a passage from my book Live Not By Lies that tells you what we are dealing with:

In 2013, Edward Snowden, the renegade National Security Agency analyst, revealed that the US federal government’s spying was vastly greater than previously known. In his 2019 memoir, Permanent Record, Snowden writes of learning that

the US government was developing the capacity of an eternal law-enforcement agency. At any time, the government could dig through the past communications of anyone it wanted to victimize in search of a crime (and everybody’s communications contain evidence of something). At any point, for all perpetuity, any new administration—any future rogue head of the NSA—could just show up to work and, as easily as flicking a switch, instantly track everybody with a phone or a computer, know who they were, where they were, what they were doing with whom, and what they had ever done in the past.

Snowden writes about a public speech that the Central Intelligence Agency’s chief technology officer, Gus Hunt, gave to a tech group in 2013 that caused barely a ripple. Only the Huffington Post covered it. In the speech, Hunt said, “It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human-generated information.” He added that after the CIA masters capturing that data, it intends to develop the capability of saving and analyzing it.

Understand what this means: your private digital life belongs to the State, and always will. For the time being, we have laws and practices that prevent the government from using that information against individuals, unless it suspects they are involved in terrorism, criminal activity, or espionage. But over and over dissidents told me that the law is not a reliable refuge: if the government is determined to take you out, it will manufacture a crime from the data it has captured, or otherwise deploy it to destroy your reputation.

This, I think, is why any talk of an American civil war is mostly just talk. The Regime -- meaning both the State and private institutional actors -- have the technological power to marginalize those it wants to marginalize. When we become a cashless society -- and the Regime used Covid as an opportunity to move us all towards that goal (remember the "coin shortage" bullshit?) -- it will be impossible to buy and sell if your card is disabled electronically. That's simply true.

I was talking with a couple of academics this morning about all of this, and we agreed that in a very short time, when the captive minds of the Millennials and Generation Z achieve political dominance, there will be a widespread agreement that these measures should be taken against the deplorable dissidents. We Americans today have created a system that can be used against us to crush our liberties -- and a progressive totalitarian-therapeutic culture that will insist on it for our own good.

What do we do about it? What can we do about it, and what must we do about it? We had better start talking about it among ourselves, and innovating, and networking -- while we still can. In a sense, lurid speculation about "civil war" prevents us from talking more seriously about threats to our liberties from this emerging revolutionary bourgeois Regime, and how we can realistically resist it.

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JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
The differences between Spain and the US are enormous. To begin with we are not newly emerged from an absolutist monarchy of many centuries that allowed little to no space for public participation in governance. There's also no analogue in the US for the Catholic Church and the power it wielded-- and so not for the fierce anticlericalism of the Spanish Left. Our economy was and still is far more successful than Spain's ever was. For all the carping about America's "Empire" we have nothing like Spain's vast network of overseas colonial possessions being milked for the benefit of the ruling class.
schedule 3 months ago
    Theodore Iacobuzio
    Theodore Iacobuzio
    Sigh. By 1936 mostly what was left of Spain's "vast network of overseas colonial possessions" was Spanish Morocco and the Canaries, both of which figured prominently in Franco's initial revolt.

    You don't see a resemblance between Spanish anti-clericalism and Wokehood? OK, then.
    schedule 3 months ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      Re: By 1936 mostly what was left of Spain's "vast network of overseas colonial possessions" was Spanish Morocco and the Canaries

      Don't foreshorten history. Spain's empire, and its loss in the 19th century-- culminating in defeat in the Spanish-American War which was still in living memory in 1930-- was hugely deterministic of the development, and slow degeneration, of the Spanish nation. It's very much relevant.

      Re: You don't see a resemblance between Spanish anti-clericalism and Wokehood?

      Not at all. Very different sentiments. Many Spaniards, especially among the disenfranchised classes and also in Catalonia and the Basque region, had a fierce hatred for clergymen in particular, given a long history of abuse, corruption, and oppression. There's nothing like that in US history. We've had some Elmer Gantry types and some greedy, power-hungry jackasses in the pulpit, but separation of church and state has kept religion largely free of the sort of ugliness seen in many older European nations. Nor was Spain unique in that: France had a similar experience, and Russia too-- Rod was quite astounded when he was in Russia and someone filled him in on that history there. Meanwhile in the US specific Christian churches have been a rallying focus for some oppressed people-- black people most obviously. And those same people are crucial to the Left's political coalition. That keeps the American Left from going off the deep end in its secularism. Sure there are people who will rant and rave and froth at the mouth about the eeeeeevils of religion, but they are no where near a majority or even a plurality (the "woke" are somewhere between 6% and 8% of the population) and they are checked by real world necessity.
      schedule 3 months ago
        Rob G
        Rob G
        ~~(the "woke" are somewhere between 6% and 8% of the population) and they are checked by real world necessity.~~

        Yeah, you keep saying stuff like this while forgetting that their power and influence is disproportionate. It's not just about numbers. Plus these are people who believe that "real world necessity" is malleable, and who have the money and power to experiment with such things:
        https://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2022/08/realitys-bite-responding-to-the-reality-privilege-argument/
        schedule 3 months ago
          JON FRAZIER
          JON FRAZIER
          Re: Yeah, you keep saying stuff like this while forgetting that their power and influence is disproportionate.

          Not really. Social Conservatives like Rod tend to brand as "woke" anyone who disagrees with them on social issues. I suppose somewhere someone has applied that label to me, just as I was once branded a "fundamentalist" by a knee-jerk atheist because I give credence to religion. The majority of people in elective, or appointed, office, and running major corporations are not remotely "woke". They are merely socially liberal or moderate. True even of Donald Trump who, though it can be hard to tease out where he really stands, seems to be fairly gay friendly and is on record as supporting SSM.
          One reason I think Rod is making a mistake, professionally, in moving to Hungary is that he will lose touch with America at the personal and experiential level. He, and others too, need to live in America and get to know Americans outside newsrooms and academic hothouses. The vast majority of Americans-- yes, even the Trump base-- are not ranting fanatics and they can hold quite reasoned and cordial (if not always illuminating) discussions of things. Through Rod (hey, thanks!!) I've made long distance friends down in Louisiana-- some folks who are quite conservative. And when I see these people we can discuss public issues without rancor or vehemence, sometimes coming to surprising agreement in generality, or at least understanding one another where we do not. That's much more true of this country than the ranting campus activists, MAGA fearmongers, or self-important celebrities. Such folk as those I leave, with a warning, to the attentions of Nemesis who ever attends the hubristic: they will not escape it.
          schedule 3 months ago
        Eusebius Pamphilus
        Eusebius Pamphilus
        This is a reply to the next comment down but it seems no reply button exists for some reason...

        Anyway, if you think that someone like a Haydon at the CIA has equal influence on outcomes as well, you or me, then you have lost touch with reality. If Bezos and a hand full of other tech oligarchs decide to turn off reporting on this or that issue it become a non event that is scoffed at by people like you. In the olden days newspapers weren't owned by a handful of people so small investigative reporter often broke big stories. Their is research on this. We don't live their now. The oligarchs own all the means of information and they report directly to the NSA. .01% of the population casts a far larger shadow over what people believe than some fabled 6% woke. Maybe you're right. 6% are diehard woke squirrels looking for their next nut. However, 60% of the population wants to just get to the next day unscathed. The vast majority of people are, focused on school, their job, their kids or their health depending on the age we're talking about. If 6% have convinced the .01% to go all in then the normies 60% of the population goes along with the lemmings off a woke cliff. Such is life and that's how the real world works. What percent of the population actually believes whatever squirrel brain nuttery coming out of their mouth is less important to understand than understanding who has the power to influence the heard and what do those people actually believe vs the squirrel brain nuttery coming out of their mouths.
        schedule 3 months ago
Peter Pratt
Peter Pratt
The American Civil War 2.0 has going on for decades. It is a cold civil war, so it wasn't always easy to see.

It started in the 60s with those student radicals. They and their allies are now in charge and they are continuing their war on America.

The problem for those wanting to fight against the radicals is that so few understand that they declared war on the rest of us and are working to destroy our society. Most of the foot soldiers for the radicals just think they are working to fix the country.

So it isn't Big Tech as much as ignorance and complacency. Rod's book the Benedict Option, was poorly received by many religious people because they couldn't see.

That is why the push back against Woke is so powerful and important. The courts are one of the few bastions left and it is thanks to Trump that we even have that much.
schedule 3 months ago
    Peter Kurilecz
    Peter Kurilecz
    I contend that Civil War 2.0 started with the passage of the 16th and 17th amendments. the latter fundamentally changed how the Senate operates. Prior to its passage the Senate represented the states. take a look at how many states are controlled by Republicans, how many by Democrats and how many are split. Right now the Rs control 30 legislatures, the Ds 17 and 3 are split> The R legislatures would appoint 60 Senators probably all conservatives. imagine what could be done with that majority
    schedule 3 months ago
      Chris Karr
      Chris Karr
      This assumes that people would vote the same way as they do now, where the Senators are elected by popular vote in the State. I suspect that you'd see A LOT more turnout among Democrats (who are generally poor at paying attention to local races) if the control of the State legislature determined their representation in the Senate. This would be similar to the recently-activated pro-choice voters who didn't care about politics until the recent overturn of Roe.
      schedule 3 months ago
        JON FRAZIER
        JON FRAZIER
        He also ignores the fact that a number of states had already switched to direct election of senators due to serious corruption problems with the legislature being bribed by wealthy men for Senate seats. "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale" bragged Sen. Clark of Montana on his way to Washington.
        schedule 3 months ago
Breck Henderson
Breck Henderson
Rod -- I was also struck by the parallels we're experiencing with Spain during the run-up to their civil war as I read that piece in Claremont Review. You could be correct that the modern surveillance state makes a successful counter-revolution unlikely. But that view also buttresses the conviction that a secession by a state or handful of states is more probable. The Spanish republicans had a big chunk if the army on their side and were quickly joined by other European powers, unfortunately including the Germans. I think any counter revolution needs a rally point, an existing political body such as the State of Texas to be viable. Today's American military is not going to simply rally around a popular general as happened in Spain. And no one we want to deal with would come to their aid. Just speculation of course, but see Stephen Coonts' novel "Liberty's Last Stand" for a more detailed blueprint for what could happen. I have some liberal friends, about my age, who are convinced that the real threat of authoritarian government comes from the right. They see parallels to NAZIism in Trump's speeches, which is ridiculous, but what are we to do? Like the early American colonies, at some point you just have to cut loose and start over, even if it means a big fight for the right to do so.
schedule 3 months ago