The second American civil war: what it's about

Posted: Oct 14, 2003 12:00 AM

Whatever your politics, you have to be oblivious to reality to deny that America today is torn by ideological divisions as deep as those of the Civil War era. We are, in fact, in the midst of the Second American Civil War.

Of course, one obvious difference between the two is that this Second Civil War is (thus far) non-violent. On the other hand, there is probably more hatred between the opposing sides today than there was during the First Civil War. And I am not talking about extremists. A senior editor of the respected center-left New Republic just wrote an article titled, "The Case for Bush Hatred," an article that could have been written by writers at most major American newspapers, by most Hollywood celebrities, and almost anyone else left of center. And the conservative hatred of former President Bill Clinton was equally deep.

In general, however, the similarities are greater than the differences. Once again the North and the South are at odds (though many individuals on each side identify with the other). And once again, the fate of the nation hangs in the balance. The two sides' values and visions of America are as incompatible as they were in the 1860s.

For those Americans who do not know what side they are on or who are not certain about what the Second American Civil War is being fought over, I offer a list of the most important areas of conflict.

While the views of many, probably even most, Americans do not fall entirely on either side, the two competing camps are quite distinguishable. On one side are those on the Left -- liberals, leftists and Greens -- who tend to agree with one another on almost all major issues. On the other side are those on the Right -- conservatives, rightists and libertarians -- who agree on stopping the Left, but differ with one another more often than those on the Left do.

Here, then, is Part One of the list of the major differences that are tearing America apart:

The Left believes in removing America's Judeo-Christian identity, e.g., removing "under God" from the Pledge, "In God we trust" from the currency, the oath to God and country from the Boy Scouts Pledge, etc. The Right believes that destroying these symbols and this identity is tantamount to destroying America.

The Left regards America as morally inferior to many European societies with their abolition of the death penalty, cradle-to-grave welfare and religion-free life; and it does not believe that there are distinctive American values worth preserving. The Right regards America as the last best hope for humanity and believes that there are distinctive American values -- the unique combination of a religious (Judeo-Christian) society, a secular government, personal liberty and capitalism -- worth fighting and dying for.

The Left believes that impersonal companies, multinational and otherwise, with their insatiable drive for profits, have a profoundly destructive effect on the country. The Right believes that the legal system, particularly trial lawyers, lawsuits and judges who make laws, is the greater threat to American society.

The Left believes multiculturalism should be the ideal for American schools and for government policy. The Right believes that the Americanization of all its citizens is indispensable to the survival of the United States.

The Left believes that the Boy Scouts as currently constituted pose a moral threat to society. The Right believes the Boy Scouts continue to be one of the greatest moral institutions in the country.

The Left believes in equality more than in liberty. The Right believes more in liberty. For example, the Left believes that for the equality's sake, men's clubs must accept women. The Right believes that for liberty's sake, associations must be free to choose their own members.

The Left believes that when schools give out condoms to teenagers, they are promoting safe sex. The Right believes that when schools give out condoms, they are promoting more sex.

The Left believes that poverty, racism and psychopathology cause violent crime. The Right believes a lack of self-control, lack of religious practice and lack of good values are the primary causes of violent crime.

The Left believes that "war is not the answer." The Right believes that war is often the only answer to governmental evil.

Any one of these differences is enough to create an entirely different America. Added together, the differences suggest people who live in different worlds that are on a collision course.

And I have only listed some of the conflicting views.

Next week, in Part Two, I will discuss the other major conflicts making for the Second American Civil War.