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The Spirit that Drove Us to Civil War Is Back

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(Article changed on July 9, 2013 at 15:18)

In our times, a destructive force has emerged in the American political system. This force --- or spirit -- should be understood as the re-emergence onto center stage of what drove the United States to polarize, break apart, and fight a bloody Civil War a century and a half ago.

This destructive force is damaging our nation now just as it did then.

The persistence through time of a recognizable pattern in a culture points to an important part of how the human world works.  Just as Great-grandpa's red hair reappears in a new baby, so also can the patterns of social and political dynamics (in this case, destructive dynamics) move through the generations within a society. Such a pattern, or spirit, can perpetuate itself by socializing individuals in ways that lead them, in turn, to reinforce in the world around them the patterns that had been impressed upon them.

The parallels between the political crisis in America in our times, and the crisis that drove America into a terrible Civil War a century and a half ago, reveal how a spirit of this sort has re-emerged to hold major parts of the American cultural system in its grip and animate the actions, beliefs, and attitudes of millions.

I begin here a series of articles to delineate these telling parallels.  Perceiving the same pattern in these two important eras --- our present crisis, and the crisis that led to the Civil War --- can be revelatory just like the images in the Magic Eye books: out of the stereoscopic image, a startling figure emerges with depth out of a new dimension.
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The play of forces in our society, admittedly, is far more complex than to allow one crisis to be simply a replay of a crisis of a century and a half ago. Each time has its own set of circumstances and its own mixtures and alignments of forces.

Nonetheless, the parallels between the growing crisis of 1848-1861 and that of, say, 1994 to the present-- are significant.  In each case, one finds:

** Insistence on pressing conflict over seeking accord
** Systematic overreaching
** A warped view of reality, driven by bogus and invalid ideas
** A drive toward exploitation masked by deception and self-deception
** Use of divisive tactics to manipulate supporters

These and other parallels will be explored in this series to reveal the dark spirit at work in both eras. In the next posting, some remarks by Abraham Lincoln will help provide a glimpse into one such manifestation of that spirit.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)

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The United States is too large to be one democrati... by Patricia Gray on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 8:55:15 AM
Are you going to do it?... by Gary Glaxon on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 1:27:51 PM
I agree with you, but first and foremost, we need ... by Deborah Dills on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 9:24:58 PM
George W. Bush has appointed 11 fellow Bonesmen to... by Deborah Dills on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 9:52:42 PM
Where's the Army of Northern Virginia and General ... by Gary Glaxon on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 1:19:08 PM
I'm not sure what you're saying here, Mr. Glaxon.&... by Andrew Schmookler on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 2:26:20 PM
Just asking a question and as far as Lee's ... by Gary Glaxon on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 3:22:53 PM
I don't think so. He's been co-opted by the dark s... by Jerry Lobdill on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 4:55:49 PM
This should be a revelatory and much needed series... by judith lawson on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 1:22:40 PM
Just to explain, the term "civil war" has nothing ... by Andrew Schmookler on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 2:39:35 PM
You, Mr. Schmookler, wrote: "These and other paral... by E. J. N. on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 1:29:56 PM
" those who cling to the old "states rights" and "... by Andrew Schmookler on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 2:36:44 PM
I look forward to your series.... by E. J. N. on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 3:52:10 PM
there are parallels, but  I am afraid, one&nb... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 4:18:05 PM
As you say there are parallels but I think they ar... by Ted Newcomen on Thursday, Jul 11, 2013 at 6:24:33 AM
Yes, they are muttering the R word.  They've ... by Andrew Schmookler on Thursday, Jul 11, 2013 at 9:13:04 AM
I still think you are confused - this nation is mo... by Ted Newcomen on Friday, Jul 12, 2013 at 7:06:52 AM
"People from the far left to far right..."Point ne... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 12, 2013 at 11:32:58 AM