Is a second American civil war really possible?

Thom plus logo The cover story of the December 2019 edition of The Atlantic magazine, founded itself in the years just before the Civil War, was ominously titled, "How to Stop a Civil War."

If we are, indeed, on the brink of a second Civil War, it's already being waged as a "cold war," with the occasional armed skirmish being provoked by the so-called Alt-Right movement, which, as of summer, 2020, had murdered thousands of Americans since Tim McVeigh kicked off the modern "boogaloo" white supremacy era.

And, as in the past, this would be a war where the very, very rich - the oligarchs - pit Americans against each other, dividing us by class, region, race and religion simply to gain and hold more and more power and wealth.

This is not the first time we've faced such a crisis as a nation.

Each time, forces of massive accumulated or inherited wealth have nearly succeeded in taking full control of our nation, replacing a democracy, where the will of the people is accomplished through their elected representatives, with a form of government where most government functions reinforce the power, wealth and control of the morbidly rich.

This system of government is among the most ancient, stretching back 7,000 years, and is known to political scientists as oligarchy. Aristotle put it in context: "Tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy... "For oligarchy to totally take down democracy, only three things are initially needed:
  • Control of (or substantial influence over) a critical portion of the media
  • Legalization of bribery of public officials, so oligarchs can achieve majority control of the legislative process
  • Control of the most critical parts of the court system so they can influence legal processes

The fourth element, when the oligarchy is well established and the transition to tyranny begins, is seizure of the executive branch and the formation of a police state, principally using massive surveillance and selective prosecution against those agitating for a return to democracy.

Arnold Toynbee is said to have noted that "When the last man who remembers the horrors of the last great war dies, the next great war becomes inevitable."

Most warriors are in their late teens or early twenties; by the time they've died, three more 20-year generations have come of age, suggesting, if Toynbee was right, a four-generation (roughly 80 year) gap between terrible, nation-altering events.

In the 1770s-1789 era, foreign-aligned oligarchs controlled what we now call America; believers in democracy fought a war to overthrow that British oligarchy.

Four generations later, in the 1860s, massive wealth was controlled by a few thousand very large plantation oligarchs in the South. The South was politically and police-wise run as a full-blown oligarchy on the verge of total tyranny (which it had been for blacks from the beginning), while the North was still largely democratic (the "Gilded Age" northern oligarchs wouldn't fully emerge for another 30 years). The Civil War could thus be recast as a war between oligarchy and democracy, where democracy won by a whisker.

Four generations after that, the Republican Great Depression (what they called it until the 1950s) opened the door to Franklin Roosevelt's "war" against the "economic royalists" (oligarchs), which succeeded in putting them, at least temporarily, in a box despite their explicit efforts, exposed by Marine General Smedley Butler, to overthrow him by force.

Today, four generations after that battle closed with the end of WWII, America's oligarchs succeeded in getting enough of "their guys" placed on the Supreme Court to legalize political bribery (in 1976/1978) for the first time in American history. That event opened the door to this generation's oligarchic control of all three branches of government via the Reagan Revolution and the billionaire takeover of the GOP.

All that was left was to get the populace to support a final transition to full-blown oligarchy, a task undertaken by oligarchs who controlled the media, largely through rightwing hate radio, thousands of rightwing websites, and the efforts of billionaire Rupert Murdoch with Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

As a result, the crisis of oligarchy in America is already upon us; the question is whether it will cement its place, or even morph into tyranny, or whether We, the People will turn it back as we have done twice before in American history.

Are we approaching the end of the great American experiment in representative democracy? Will our children and grandchildren live under a government of, by, and for the People? Or a nation of, by, and for the monopolists and oligarchs, ultimately enforced by a brutal police state?

To answer these questions, it is essential to understand the basic mechanics of the American government.

There are functionally four branches of government in the American model, three explicitly defined in the Constitution and the fourth protected by the First Amendment.

For oligarchy to completely overwhelm and ultimately destroy our democratic republic, turning it into a tyranny, each of these four must be seized by the oligarchs and turned to their service.

The four branches are the legislative, executive, and judicial, followed on by the media, often referred to as "the fourth estate." The media has always been the initial pivot point, though, both for control of public opinion and, through that, control of the government itself.


Excerpted with permission from The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream by Thom Hartmann, Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2020. All rights reserved.


Legend 2 years 38 weeks ago

I would split the Legislative in to the 2 separate branches. The Senate heavily favors small states. The Congress does to a small extent by giving states that do not have the population for Congressional representation 1 Congress seat. Other than that Congress is much more about the Constituents of the areas that they come from. The Mainstream Media is heavily controlled by the wealthy (Oligarchs and Fascists). The Republican Party heavily favors the 1% in its representation and somehow attracts a lot of idiots that it could care less about.

I love it. I have said many times that Trump is a train wreck every day. But some days are better train wrecks. Trumps mouth gets him in trouble one more time. Seems that as early as February 7th he had a recorded conversation about Covid 19 and that it was an airborne contagious virus. But in reality Trump has been against masks from the very beginning. 200000 deaths and we are by far #1 with this virus and he knew all along how bad it was. He also admits to Bob Woodward that he intentionally played it down. He has survived a lot of law breaking. Derogatory remarks about our troops. Derogatory remarks against a Republican war hero. Hush money payments to prostitutes. Why would anybody let him survive this intentional genocide?

djgilbert 2 years 37 weeks ago

Mega countries (empires) are inherently unstable and so is unchecked capitalism. The two have combined to foster a time of crisis.

We are toward the end of a four-generation cycle--about 80 years--or a 4th Turning as described by Neil Howe. The years from early Reagan to about 2007 were the unraveling and now the crisis has risen to the surface. The civil unrest that we now see has been bubbling below the surface for well over a decade. People are very scared, and rightfully so.

What the 80-year model misses is that there are cycles of cycles and we are likely at the end of both the 80-year generational cycle and a more significant end of empire phase. David Murrin describes this in a five-phase cycle of empires.

Murrin's ideas suggest that the legacy phase is next. What does that mean? Probably not a continuation of the current U.S. constitutional government or a unified country. History would suggest a breaking apart or fragmentation. If, when, and how that happens are the most important questions to answer.

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