A New Civil War Test Case
Michael Vlahos, who teaches at SAIS, sees one of three outcomes for America. Excerpt:
1-Secession: Some agreed — whether polite or desperate — coming apart of the old Union into local, state, or other-based constitutional entities, perhaps still federated, if more loosely than a nation. While this arrangement is increasingly acknowledged by commentators as potentially avoiding the worst of civil war, its realization nonetheless requires a form of civil war. There is no avoiding war.
2-Blue triumph: The ultimate subjugation of Red by main force, achieved by the preponderance of wealth, ruling institutional leverage, and military power. A social revolution as well as a political transformation: The full outcome must likely reconstitute our constitutional order in ways unrecognizable to us today.
3-Thermidorian Reaction: Exhausted by civil conflict, American society takes a modest counter-revolutionary turn, in which repudiated old traditions are [at least partly] reinstated, and a measure of political toleration and overall equipoise returns to national life, along with constitutional accommodations and firewalls to forestall another descent into civil strife.
You’ll want to read the whole thing.
Vlahos says that the third would be the least bad to his conservative mind. Mine too, but I think it is also unlikely, though not as unlikely as the first. The idea of Red and Blue America on a map distorts the reality that in “Red America,” the cities are usually Blue, and in “Blue America,” the countryside is often Red. This is not like the Civil War.
I see no future other than No. 2: Blue Triumph. I wish — I devoutly wish — it were not so, and I am eager to hear feasible, realistic ways to avoid it. I have no patience for the “you’re a defeatist!” loudmouths. What do you people actually propose to do? Take your militia down to blow up a Hardee’s to get rid of the pedophiles hiding in the Dumpster? Seriously, until and unless you can come up with an achievable plan that would not make things much worse — such as, turning American into Northern Ireland, circa 1969-98 — keep your performative fantasies to yourselves. Now would be a very good time for Republican Party and conservative leaders to come up with a plan that might actually work to keep the State and Surveillance Capitalism off our backs, and for right-wing followers to put aside the crazy Q talk and to understand that the threats to our liberties and the things we value are serious, and require a serious, intelligent response.
Prof. Vlahos says, correctly, that the Blue Triumph outcome would require some form of totalitarianism — meaning, I suppose, constant surveillance, and policing of dissident opinion. You don’t need the author of Live Not By Lies to tell you once again how this can easily be accomplished using “soft” methods.
Here’s a good test case. As you’ll recall, Simon & Schuster dropped Sen. Josh Hawley’s planned book The Tyranny of Big Tech after Hawley became radioactive as a result of his advocacy of election-challenging. Hawley issued a press release saying it was an “Orwellian” move by S&S, which is a rhetorical exaggeration. All publishers retain the right to cancel books. This isn’t the state ordering them to cease and desist. Hawley was free to find another publisher. But what if no other publisher would take his book? The pressure within the publishing industry to conform to anti-Trump norms would be overwhelming. Remember last year how Hachette dropped Woody Allen’s memoir after an in-house protest? We do not live in an era of literary courage. I recognize Simon & Schuster’s right to drop Josh Hawley, but I wish they had not done it.
Which is why I send up three cheers for my friend Tom Spence, who runs Regnery. Tom has decided to publish Hawley’s book. Whether or not you like Josh Hawley or approve of his behavior during the Late Unpleasantness, he has been saying important things for some time now about the power of Big Tech. For me, one of the great tragedies of Hawley’s poor political judgment lately has been how it has hobbled Big Tech’s most vocal opponent in the Senate. I want to read what Josh Hawley has to say about the tyranny of Big Tech — and now, thanks to Regnery, I’ll get to.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Tom Spence explains why he’s publishing Hawley. Excerpts:
I am an independent book publisher, and in recent days I have been taking calls from journalists asking which authors I would refuse to publish. That’s an odd question to ask an American publisher, but suddenly it seems to be on everyone’s mind in our industry. Some 250 self-described “publishing professionals”—mostly junior employees of major houses—have issued a statement titled “No Book Deals for Traitors,” a category in which they include any “participant” in the Trump administration.
Readiness to silence someone because of who he is or whom he associates with is often called the “cancel culture,” but I prefer an older term—blacklisting—whose historical associations expose the ugliness of what is going on. Not so long ago, publishing professionals would have been horrified to be accused of it. Today they compete to see who can proclaim his blacklist with the fiercest invective.
Indeed! The eagerness with which the younger generation wishes to censor is alarming. More:
An independent publisher is vulnerable to today’s Jacobins in many ways, for it relies on large partners to print, distribute and sell its books. Now that dissent from the latest version of progressive orthodoxy is equated with violence and treason, my colleagues and I know we could be next. But we choose to fight back.
We’re proud to publish Mr. Hawley’s book, which his original publisher has made more important than ever. We don’t have to agree with everything—or anything—Mr. Hawley does. We ask only if his book is well-crafted and has something true and worthwhile to say. The answer is yes.
This move by Tom Spence is brave, and deserves support. I believe that Sen. Hawley was wrong to contest the election, but I am very interested in what he has to say about Big Tech. And I am extremely interested in supporting publishers who defy the de facto blacklist emerging in the industry. So should you be. As Tom says, there is a difference between whether one approves of Hawley’s political acts, and whether or not he has something true and worthwhile to say in his book.
When the book comes out on May 4, it will be an important test of our system. As the WSJ reports, Simon & Schuster distributes Regnery books in the US. Will it distribute this one? Will bookstores sell it? Will Amazon? This is the kind of battle that conservatives ought to be focused on, not b.s. fantasies. Tom Spence is doing a brave thing here. Let’s all be more like him, and defy the blacklisters. It’s the American thing to do. If, however, Amazon and other big companies refuse to handle the book, it will be a massively important sign about where we are as a nation: on the way to soft totalitarianism. I remind you that a totalitarian society is one in which everything is politicized. If all major companies involved in the publishing industry come together to prevent a book being published and distributed because they despise the politics of its author, then we are living in a soft version of totalitarianism even if they are within their legal rights to do it.
UPDATE: Here is a link to a pro-blacklist letter signed by a number of publishing people, whose names are important only because they show who would be eager to enforce a blacklist, being patriotic 100 percent Americans and all.
UPDATE.2: A published writer who reads this blog writes (and asks me to keep his name private):
I took at look at that pro-blacklist letter to which you referred in your TAC blog post about Josh Hawley’s book. I suppose you can imagine how gut-punched I felt when I spotted the signatures of two of my friends and fellow authors — reasonable people once, with whom I’ve shared drinks & meals & cordial conversation, they being in the same nook of literary endeavor as I am. It’s rather as though I’d been sitting in a Berlin cafe in 1934, and two of my friends had come in wearing swastika armbands, and they cheerfully said, “We just signed up with the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda! Wanna come to the book burning tonight?”
And these are two writers who are known for a pretty rebellious, edgy, anti-authoritarian type of popular fiction — and here I see them signing up for the Man’s goon squad. Especially depressing after seeing Powell’s Books in Portland, where I’d spent many a happy hour toting armfuls of books to the cash register, kowtowing to the local antifa & taking Andy Ngo’s book off the shelves.
If ever I regarded your dark-tinged warnings as hyperbole, I’m now feeling sick as I revise that opinion. That bit from Orwell about the future being a boot stamping on a human face? He left out the part about the crowd standing around, watching & applauding.
That writer and I are old enough to remember when it was the noble and righteous thing to stand up to the ayatollahs who tried to keep Salman Rushdie’s book off the shelves. It was not a matter of defending what Rushdie wrote, or what he said, but rather defending the right of him to write it, and for people who want to read it to be able to do so without being harassed or killed.
And now writers and publishers are signing a call for blacklisting. Shame!
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