• Michael Vlahos

Our Hysterical Blindness Will Be Our Epitaph

The following is a response to a letter from a Finno-Swedish colleague and friend. Understandably, he finds the goings-on in America today confounding. Another friend and colleague, a retired flag officer, responds by citing the paradox of the American Revolution, initiated and driven by a minority of colonists. My thoughts follow:


Dear ___, ___ has it about right with the first American civil war. Civil conflicts/revolutions are driven by highly motivated, totally focused and ruthless factions, supported by a much larger constituency of emotional, mobilizable, and malleable potential "street fighters," which in turn is very softly supported by a much, much larger slice of normal society — and even then, all three together are still a minority of the society as a whole: Perhaps 25-30%. 

But this always seems to be enough.

Of course, significant opposition always emerges, usually a composite mirror of the revolutionary coalition. Critically, however, two characteristics distinguish the revolutionaries from the counter-revolutionaries: 1) The revolutionaries are the offensive movement, in attack mode, while the counter-revolutionaries are in a defensive crouch, 2) Dominant elites lead the revolutionaries, while counter-revolutionaries find their strength either in the disenfranchised or "rurales" (including marginal groups that themselves are revolutionary, but without elite support at the center).

This is certainly true of the United States today. As to 1) BLUE is in total offensive mode, flush with aggressive confidence, and will accept no outcome less than total victory. RED, in contrast, is in full "prevent defense" mode, and off-balance to boot. It energy too flows from desperation: Their Sans Culottes/rurales fear the loss of their very way of life and community identity, and unfortunately for them, their fear is justified. From their dominant media vantage, BLUE declares daily the changes that they will enact as soon as they take power, and these changes go to RED identity and way of life. They are truly existential.

Moreover, when it comes to 2) BLUE controls the "Commanding Heights" of American society — meaning, elite society. Mainstream media, social media, nearly all the University and academia, Government agencies and the civil service, the corporate world (especially the entertainment, tech, and financial sectors), and the active duty military (leadership and more than half of the enlisted corps). The "Heights" moreover are very, very rich. In somewhat forlorn contrast, RED is much more marginalized and rural, and has only a slice of main elite sectors, plus the police, elements of the National Guard, some strong national lobbies. RED's 30% is a lot weaker than BLUE's 30%.

Most important, from the standpoint of how, in actual practice, we get to civil war, is the divide in belief system and worldview. The divide is existential, and, at this stage of developing conflict, religious (think, the bloodletting century ending in 1648!). Going further, the two moieties are literally mirrors of each other:

  1. The Other is evil, the enemy. For BLUE, the enemy is inferior, ignorant, childlike, violent. For RED, the enemy is scheming, tyrannical, and traitorous.

  2. The Other will destroy the constitutional order, and thus cannot be allowed to take power — both sides agree here.

  3. The Other is a criminal enterprise which must be brought to justice, and brought down. Leader and believers must be punished.

  4. The reality lens through which RED and BLUE observe and understand each other can only reach judgments within the worldview and belief system of their reality. Within this hermetic reality such judgments seem rational and reasonable, because they are — but only within the severe belief limits of their own respective realities.

[Ask me for more here — the evidence is legion, and in aggregate, shockingly astonishing] As I discuss in my blog, such a Manichaean face-off within society represents a hair-trigger moment in national life, as in Spain (1936), Mexico (1912), Germany (1919), Colombia (1948), and the United States (1860).

I taught a graduate course at Johns Hopkins entitled Insurgency, Revolution, and Civil War, in which I compared nine different societies that came apart in the past century. 


I published a piece two years ago, and a second piece a year ago, in The American Conservative, that examined the evolution and prospects for a third American civil war. Even in the magazine, no one took note until a few weeks ago.

The themes, thesis, and framework of my argument have still not become a part of regular Establishment [DC/LA/NYC] conversation — even near as we are to a reckoning. Neither has anyone else in the Establishment firmament really examined rich and revealing markers and guideposts from other civil conflicts — even though these have been exhaustively treated in the scholarly literature — so that that we might have some serious basis for analyzing our own, urgent situation.

Hence the really interesting question is not about civil war at all. It is about why, on its very cusp, we still cannot have an informed conversation about what is about to happen — to us.

All my best, Mike

(All I say, withal, is for and about Americans. Outsider cultures should never be expected to understand what we ourselves, cannot!)

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