Yuri Tarnopolsky                                                                                                                          ESSAYS

                                           Essay 43. The Cold Civil War in America

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Essay 43. The Cold Civil War in America



We tend to forget that the warning signs of a historical turn are visible only to a few dedicated bird watchers who acquire the status of prophets only post factum. For a bunch of professional worriers and insomniacs there are scores of optimists who believe that life tomorrow will be like yesterday and the day after, and if not, then something will be done.  

I believe that we do not need an inflamed imagination to see that no great idea, no sanctified by time institution, and no historical document can stand in the way of a sufficient number of educated, unscrupulous, and loaded with their or donated money people determined to turn the country if not around then sharply enough for the rest of us to feel the curve and hold on to their seats.

My most troubling impression since 2000 is that we, Americans, have been given a tasting of a one party system.  I recognize it with my Russian memory, but others may not identify  the unfamiliar taste.  In Russia the system followed revolution and civil war. In America, the Cold Civil War followed the Republican Revolution.

I mean not a temporary one-party rule from elections to elections, but the one-party system, i.e., the result of a revolution, intended to last for thousand years.

: This Essay had been finished before I read One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century by  Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallstein (John Wiley, 2006).

Here are some illustrations to begin with.

Google search on August 1, 2006
generated the following results: (last figure is for August 17)

88 for "democrats are shameless"                      ( 75)

107 for "republicans are shameless"                 ( 81)

705 for "shameless democrats"                           (656)

721 for "shameless republicans"                         (710)

3,460 for "kill democrats"          ( 3450)

636 for "kill republicans"               ( 555)


Results for November 2, 2006:

293 for "democrats are shameless"    357 for "republicans are shameless"

760 for "shameless democrats"        880 for "shameless republicans"

2,850 for "kill democrats"        3,040 for "kill republicans" 

Democrats are still in Halloween mood. Republicans, beware.

Of course, "kill D" or "kill R" should not be taken literally, but it looks like one side is much more bloodthirsty than the other.

Here is an example of vox populi:

The Cold Civil War started the day the Clinton's and their crooked, corrupt, communist gang took over the White House. It only got nasty when they were pushed out. 

                                                Posted by: “PTG” at April 23, 2006 10:05 AM

On August  11, 2006, Google brought about 869 results  for "cold civil war" America 

On August 17   .......                              932  .............


UPDATE, February 17, 2009:   Results 1 - 10 of about 11,100 for "cold civil war" america


UPDATE, April 4, 2016: "cold civil war" america   About 8,930 results .

Détente? Thank God! 

But wait! "american civil war coming in 2016"   About 547 results (0.35 seconds).

At least, not in 2016. Probably. 


The question whether America is in the state of CCW has no answer because we have no established precedent of CCW. Besides, there is a point of view that political parties are a bloodless alternative to hot civil wars between elites. Politics, therefore, means a cold civil war by definition.


With my Russian past I see the one party system as a cold war of the government against its own people. This is how the Russian political life was defined through centuries under whether the czars or Communists. The troubling question I ask myself in America is whether a two party system can turn into a war of a party against at least half of its own people.  Currently, it is still a tug of war. Or is it? 

NOTE (2016). The government shutdown of October 2013 looks like a shot across the bow coming from the Reds. Their Generalissimo is now seeking presidency.


As history testifies, all we need to justify a war is to label the opponents as an enemy, i.e., people with incorrigible flaws, guilty of unforgivable offenses, dangerous, of lower race or not quite human at all, and deserving to be either dominated or exterminated. At any rate, they must be crushed. Imagine, for example, that your opponents are baby killers and marriage breakers. Those are your babies and your spouses, fellow Americans! 


But to start a war is not the same as to justify it. It requires the premise that the war is in national interests. By definition, a civil war is never in national interests. There is a basic ambiguity about civil war, however, because it may lead to a dramatic change in the historical direction of the nation, for better or worse. Many people in America and abroad have a feeling that we are at historical crossroads.



The Cold Civil War in America is nothing but a metaphor . It refers to the degree of despise and hate between the sides, overall level of frustration and anger, deep divisions and irreconcilable differences, offensive tone of allegations, absence of middle ground, territorial segregation of forces, utter cynicism, abandonment of civility and decorum, lack of dialogue, paralysis of the defeated and the jubilation of the victorious, the signs of disarray, decline, and incompetence in various spheres of public  and even corporate life (the military incompetence is most perilous of all), and dozens of other signs. But most telling of all, in my opinion, is the standoff between two entrenched professional armies having no qualms, paid or promised a pay-off,  wired, battle tested in last two campaigns, and ready to attack any moving target. The armies of political strategists, ideologues, campaign managers, analysts, commentators, consultants, pollsters, interns, trainees, volunteers, string-pullers, muckrakers,  mud-slingers, door-knockers, wind-sniffers, check-writers, check-pocketers, and TV-ad-sharpshooters have only one goal: victory at any price. Whether they have any wiretappers, spies, and double agents among them is too early to tell, but I bet they have. Otherwise it would not be war. 


There is another important property that CCW shares with any war: it is not just an exchange of verbal katyusha  rockets between the trenches, but a fight for a territorial gain: the number of seats in the Congress, Supreme Court, and the all-or-nothing possession of the compound at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.  If we look at it with jaundiced political eyes, this great land of ours—from sea to shining sea—shrinks to a yellow post-it note with a few numbers.  The victory in this war is perfectly defined—to the envy of the two hot wars running today, in August, 2006, in parallel: in Iraq and Lebanon.


The front lines in this war move only along the political calendar: from election to election. The current situation could be best described as the occupation of the political space by the Red Army and the deep retreat and disarray of the Blue Army, but the reversal of fortune in wars is rather typical. The Blues might have—must have—their Saratoga, Gettysburg, or Stalingrad victory. Otherwise they could just surrender. 


The de facto one-party system has only one major obstacle on the way to realization: elections. It seems that no group of people, however smart, influential, and unscrupulous, can derail the will of the people, but modern elections, especially the e-elections, have an extensive map of soft underbellies and Achilles' heels all listed in atlases of political anatomy. Watching the last presidential elections, I had an impression that elections, the last line of defense of democracy, could be mined, undermined, and manipulated to an extraordinary extent, technically, as well as by brainwashing. I am certainly hypersensitized by the de jure one party system under which I had spent most of my life in Russia, but I am worried—and encouraged—by the indigenous voices of the bloggers and commentators that seem to read my mind.  Are we the dedicated bird watchers?

NOTE:  I read Too Late for Empire by Jonathan Schell after this essay had been finished.

( http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060814/schell )

The subject of the American politics is inexhaustible. I am not only ignorant of political science, but seem to have caught up the American attitude toward politics, which is an unmixable cocktail of icy apathy and hot substance abuse. I express the point of view of a creature who does not live in the mud but somehow is fascinated by the substance, looking at it from a tree branch. There is nothing edible, but it emanates a mysterious attraction.  Is it dead or alive?

I sometimes  think that in the electronic era we are all political apes and have to start an evolutionary ascend anew.

So, what about the electorate? 

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” (Winston Churchill). I disagree and have a pro-democracy argument.  The  meaning and value of  the popular vote is exactly what it says: the number. It is like the temperature outside (or inside), atmospheric pressure, speed, or the price of oil. We can argue about anything—including the accuracy of the gauge and whether it  is rigged—but not with the number itself.  I think that the electorate has always been the same because of the robustness of human nature, but something around the electorate has dramatically changed as result of the continuing industrial revolution that has switched from making bolts and nuts to making information and disinformation.

In this essay I select only one subject of a general and non-political nature: the driving force of the evolution of complexity because I believe that the true cause of the current political crisis (not yet full-blown) is the unbearable complexity of modern issues that puts the  American style democracy under a pressure to morph under the star-and-striped skin into corporate democracy. This term is mostly used in a very different meaning: as the internal democracy of a public corporation. I understand it as the system that gives the status of individual to associations: creatures made of  thousands individuals, but governed by a few.  With all my political naiveté I believe (I am sure I am not alone) that this limited and illusory but fundamental principle of the ownership democracy or market democracy sooner or later  begins to compete with the equally illusive and limited political democracy.  It does not even matter whether  a company is  public or private or whether an association is ACLU or the Christian Coalition of America. The principle one man, one vote is the essence of political democracy because most people vary only within relatively narrow limits. One  corporation or a large private wealth  can be thousand, hundred thousand, or million times larger than another. The function of corporations and associations is  to maintain inequality.

The concentration of power that used to separate the king from the peasant will always interfere with the well-intended design of democracy. The difference between absolute quantity and concentration (known in science as the difference between extensive and intensive values) is well known to chemists, alcoholics, and politicians.

 The largest corporate creature was (first?) described by Thomas Hobbes, Figure 1. 


Figure 1. Part of the title illustration to Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. The human figure symbolizes a commonwealth (i.e., formed by social contract state, nation, or civil association ). It is made of little individual human figures who hand over their collective will to the ruler.

As we would say today, individuals are the living cells of the social organism.  Joseph Stalin called common people "little screws" of social mechanism. 

I invoke Thomas Hobbes not because I am captivated by his philosophy but because of his powerful political imagination.


A modified representation of a corporate democracy  would be a figure consisting of individual figures of different size as well as of corporate figures of the same design as the all-comprising one. In other words, the structure of the modern Leviathan is fractal (Google “fractal”) , Figure 2.


Figure 2. The fractal Leviathan. 

I am attracted to the term corporate democracy because Hobbes himself used the word corporation for a composite creature. Hobbes anticipated a kind of nested structure of the commonwealth, did not like it, and expressed his vision with great eloquence.

Another infirmity of a Commonwealth is the immoderate greatness of a town, when it is able to furnish out of its own circuit the number and expense of a great army; as also the great number of corporations, which are as it were many lesser Commonwealths in the bowels of a greater, like worms in the entrails of a natural man. (Leviathan, Chapter XXIX).


As result, although the principle “one man, one vote” stands, each individual vote is shaped, warped, twisted, stretched, and turned by a highly complicated power field.  In corporate democracy, which is probably synonymous with free society,  every citizen is a building block of two completely different but interacting systems:  the popular vote power system of equals and the economic power system of anything-but-equals.  This is neither good nor bad: this is how it is. Judging by results, this has been working for America for a long time. How it is going to work in the future is an open frontier for imagination. I suspect that simple natural principles are acting in history. For example, under  a great stress, pressure, and  hunger, the state digests  its  worms  and cuts on pluralism of any kind. This  is not a subject of this Essay, however.  

While the average voter cannot make an informed decision on a complex issue (which may not even have a solution, as Henry Kissinger once said about the Middle East problems),  scores of decisions about complex issues are made on the political battlefield by non-elected political generals, some of them reporting to the Generalissimo elected by the average voter .  

As a believer in the limited repertoire of historical patterns, I feel free to borrow, in spite of my disgust, a term from the Russian Communist past: politburo (political bureau).  Politburo is the true seat of secretive and deceptive power based on personal loyalty. It seems out of place in a multiparty system, but I cannot overcome my gut feeling that the gravitation toward the politburo style is the very essence of the current presidency. This comes as close to the one party rule as number 2 is close to number 1  (See Simple Reason No. 78 in Essay 28).

Unlike most other denizens of the Internet who have come to the same idea (Google, August 16, 2006:  868 for "american politburo" I actually lived under the original Politburo, which does not make me a political expert, but confirms a decent pedigree for a K-9 working dog .


Of course no president is for life, but in the dynamic modern life, eight years is the last unit of time before forever.

It is pretty obvious that the complexity of the world is growing. But how can complexity polarize America?

Let us try to trace the source of complexity in non-political terms. 

There is something obviously wrong with Figure 1: as a living creature it is not differentiated enough. It is simpleFigure 2 adds very little to the complexity because the pattern remains the same: most parts of the system are built in the same manner as the whole system.

Complex structures develop by differentiation. In the most abstract way, the pattern of differentiation looks as a sequence of stages in which new building blocks appear at contact points between the old ones or between the evolving  structure and the external or internal environment.  New building blocks grow and differentiate further.


                Figure 3. Structural differentiation

In Figure 3  we start with a building block of type A (1.1).  A block can consist of  identical  "cells" or components. Differentiation  consists in splitting it into  two new  different blocks of type C and  B (1.2 and 1.3). For  example, B develops between the external environment and A, while C grows between the internal environment and A.


Think about A as a mom and pop company that expands and separates its shipping  and receiving functions. Or imagine a primitive blob of cells that develops a kind of skin (ectoderm) and a kind of digestive tract (endoderm).


Next, along the surface of contact between C and B, a new intermediate kind of block (mesoderm) develops: mesoderm D (2.1, 2.2). This can be a marketing department or, if you wish,  a skeleton with muscles.  It can differentiate further, producing  blood circulation  and  kidneys.  A schematic picture of the creature (3.3) shows its outer layer in red, internal passage in blue, and additional organs in green. This is not intended to render the actual embryological picture, for which you can google ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm.


We can observe the pattern  in all detail in the development of biological species and contemporary social structures. Development of language—individual as well as historical—follows the same pattern of complexification from the simple patterns of Babylonian literature to the convoluted and multi-nested European prose of the twentieth century, now almost extinct.  Science, developing new disciplines in border areas between two established areas (for example, biochemistry and physical chemistry) is yet another example.  Department of Homeland Security is a relatively new organ of the American Leviathan.


The development of embryo starts from a series of cell divisions that produced a small blob of identical cells (morula), which further develops into a hollow sphere (blastula). The sphere caves in like a punctured ball, so that  a kind of a double-wall cup (gastrula) forms.  The external layer is called ectoderm and the internal wall is endoderm. In most animals a new layer—mesoderm—develops between the two first ones. While ectoderm further differentiates into skin  and whatever grows on it, mucous membranes, and teeth, as well as nervous system, endoderm unfolds into whatever constitutes the inner passages for food and air. Mesoderm further develops in a vast array of tissues that are positioned between the external and internal surfaces: blood vessels, the connective tissues, bones, the muscles, kidneys, and the reproductive glands.  Figure 4 illustrates the principle.

Figure 4.  Beginning of embryonic differentiation

History of technology is as much illustrative of the principle as biology.  For example, the computer mouse jumps off  the keyboard. A simple cable between the computer mouse and the computer disappears and a more complex wireless system takes its place.  The newborn cell phone crawls out of one's pocket and grows a case between itself and the owner's body.  Government  flaunts new shiny agencies on top of the old scratched and patched up ones. A heartburn remedy flaunts a  rainbow  of colors and flavors on top of the ancient baking soda.

There is a fundamental difference between complex living objects existing as populations and unique social structures: a "new and improved" but deficient member of a population is eliminated while the population itself only gains from erasing the genetic memory of the failure. A unique social structure usually drops out of the game and is succeeded by a different player.  Human history and natural history are made in different modes, the main consequence being a much faster pace of human history.

The distinction  points to a close  similarity between  species and man-made things: the latter also form populations. The manual typewriter may avoid a catastrophic extinction for a while and the bicycle—as well as a riding horse—can survive along with cars. Institutions do not make copies.  Unlike  unfortunate blueprints of organisms, ideas, whether fortunate or unfortunate, are never forgotten. We remember and admire Thomas Hobbes. Half a century after the defeat of Nazism, Hitler's ideas still flourish in some minds and grow new skins in new languages. Under favorable circumstances they could again capture the minds of millions and declare democracy and humanity evil ideas.  The Confederate Flag  is an embodiment of an idea of resistance. So is the yellow flag of Hezbollah.

To put it all differently, biological organisms and things evolve in the direction of perfection, i.e.,  adaptation to the environment, while leviathans, i.e., artificial men, as Hobbes saw them, develop toward the imperfection that finally kills them, quite like human and animal individuals. 

Individualism is risky and the price and reward for being free are both high.

From this perspective, whoever wins, the victory in a civil war is a truly catastrophic event with deep and long-lasting consequences for a political structure. What never dies is  ideas: the germs of the next civil and not so civil wars survive in the fallow soil of the minds.

I believe that the American electoral mechanism fertilized by enormous amount of money and made technically swift and efficient by modern technology has grown to an unprecedented size and complexity—one can compare it if not with cancer, then, in the spirit of Hobbes, with a gigantic intestinal parasite. It came from the mesoderm and positioned itself between the presidential or other candidate and the electorate with the single  goal of the well-defined victory at any price. The background, appearance, ability, biography, ideals, and personality of the candidate are nothing but means to achieve victory.  They can be faked as anything else—a  military ruse is legitimate in war.  A rectangular box of a teleprompter can be placed between the shoulder blades of a presidential candidate but the hypnotized audience might brush the vision away and the commandos of the army will swipe off all the remaining questions.  In  the complex world,  attention span  cannot  be  longer than a heartbeat.  The more we see and hear, the more we miss.  Thomas Hobbes and Aristotle are symptoms of my nostalgia.

A dour pessimist can see American political life as cold civil war. A cheerful optimist can call it just a spirited political game: football, baseball, whatever. I am sure that Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove have had a lot of fun with it.  Whether war or game,  the pursuit  of victory by two opposing sides excludes any middle ground.  It does not exclude a tie, however, which the dour pessimist would call political paralysis. 

There is an inherent asymmetry between the enemies loosely labeled as liberals and conservatives, which only partly coincides with the party allegiance. The conservatives know what they fight for: it is what they want to conserve. It is like fighting for your home and family: they are here and now, although the old homes are long gone. Liberals fight for a better home and family. As soon as the conservatives win, the liberals start fighting for their own trampled ideas as for the home and family, while the conservatives do not have anything to fight for anymore, until the liberals win. And so the see-saw goes. The conservatives fight for the heritage of dead liberals. The liberals fight for the ideals of future conservatives. But the fight for home and family justifies any means while the fight for liberal ideas justifies only the means already justified by the liberal ideas. This is why the conservatives are, as an average, strong, ruthless, rich, and mean, while liberals are, as an average, bright, poor, civil, and, well, liberal. As some  have already noted, today the Republicans are radicals and the liberals are conservatives. The liberals are bound by the principles and the conservatives are bound by the discipline. I believe that  if a physiognomist sorted out the mug photos of the members of Congress into two stacks, they would more or less reflect the party allegiance.

 If not Cold Civil War, then what is it? An alternative perception could be that the US two-party system, with money hemoglobin in its blood, looks more like a competition between two giant and powerful public corporations, one of them looking more private than public under George W. Bush. The stockholders still have a say, but there is a chance that one or both corporations can be privatized. Anyway, what is competition if not a cold civil war, the Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes reduced to the absolute minimum of fighters? 


WARNING!   In the atmosphere even faintly smelling of a one party system, the greatest error is to identify the will of the leviathans with the will of their chosen leaders. 


The blessing of the Web is that you can silently cry full voice.


For introduction, see Essay 41. The Morning-after Questions.

For my background, see Essay 42. Credentials and Credo.

The chemist's view of the world is being presented at  http://spirospero.net






The main question of the CCW is what is going to happen faster:

1. Further entrenchment and consolidation of the Reds which would crush the resistance of the Blues.


2. A sweeping electoral victory and the reversal of fortune of the Blues, which would not necessarily end the war.


3. A deep change in the US political system as result of the arrival at the tipping point of the historical trend.


4. A new turn in American politics which can be imagined, as we can imagine anything we like or fear, but which is built of known elements. For example, as a pure fantasy, we can imagine a formation of an Alliance of National Unity, consisting of congressmen whose idea of victory does not have any party affiliation and is defined as pulling the nation from the deep mud.  Note that the way toward this rather fuzzy goal can be accurately monitored by the numbers of national debt, trade deficit, military losses abroad,  inequality indexes, crime rate, mortality, healthcare affordability, and quality of environment.


An incorrigible dreamer, I still count any national unity (Appendix 1) as highly improbable.  I have only some intuitive reasons for that, which I am going to present in short.  By generation I mean generation of  leaders, or, as some would say, an elite.


I believe that the generation whose childhood started under the blinking eye of TV is dramatically different from the numerous generations whose childhood flew on the wings of books. The generation of the electronic games and musical videos promises to be even more different.  Generation B (B for books) was connected to the roots of  humanity or at least national roots, which, in the case of America, were those of the West. It was a generation of a long attention span.  Generation  TV is inclined to think in short time intervals around the current moment, with little distinction between reality and appearance.  I suspect that Generation  G will not be connected to anything at all, except, maybe, the very process of perception. As somebody who has lived in America long enough to remember senators Patrick Moynihan and Paul Simon, I do not expect people of that type to appear again. Intelligent and imaginative people are vanishing from public service while  the Public Radio is fading away from the national air. As the sloppy security record of Microsoft testifies, intelligent and imaginative people might be gradually departing the corporate life, too.  I have no idea where they go. 


The general trend that I have been observing for quite a while can be called the shrinkage of the imagination space.


Regarding the ongoing transformation of the modern culture, what is most important amounts to three circumstances. First, immediate sensual perception is given priority over reasoning. Second, because of the competition for time, any prolonged reading  and  thinking has little chance of standing against the flood of sensory data, cell phone rings, and email tickling. Third, we tend to believe that if we wish something very much, it will happen. We see life as a movie with a strawberry jam blood and a happy end.



            Thomas Hobbes, LEVIATHAN (1651) .

          From INTRODUCTION:

For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defense it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment (by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty, every joint and member is moved to perform his duty) are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength; salus populi (the people's safety) its business; counselors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, an artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death. 


The greatest of human powers is that which is compounded of the powers of most men, united by consent, in one person, natural or civil, that has the use of all their powers depending on his will; such as is the power of a Commonwealth: or depending on the wills of each particular; such as is the power of a faction, or of diverse factions leagued. Therefore to have servants is power; to have friends is power: for they are strengths united.

Also, riches joined with liberality is power; because it procureth friends and servants: without liberality, not so; because in this case they defend not, but expose men to envy, as a prey.     

The value or worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power, and therefore is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another. An able conductor of soldiers is of great price in time of war present or imminent, but in peace not so. A learned and uncorrupt judge is much worth in time of peace, but not so much in war. And as in other things, so in men, not the seller, but the buyer determines the price. For let a man, as most men do, rate themselves at the highest value they can, yet their true value is no more than it is esteemed by others.

4          See Essay 33. The Corg



I have an alternative interpretation of  what is happening with America.  OK, this is not a civil war. It is a trade war. Two political parties are two public companies in which some American citizens invest money, others vote, and some do not give a damn. The companies advertise their product: the seats in the Congress and beds in the White House.

I foresee the following objection: in the stock market you lose or gain money only, but with this companies you can lose your home and life and never gain another.

This difference does not seem relevant because with some products of agricultural, automobile, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industry you can lose you life, too. 

On the other hand, you invest in a company stock and not in its product. I suspect that the biggest investors into political marketplace buy the stock of Wal-Mart, but never set foot there.

It is a war, anyway. Only not civil.    


 POSTSCRIPT (June 10, 2009): Apparently, the expression “Cold Civil War” was first  applied to America by William Gibson in Spook Country (1982).


March, 2016.  By the End of Barak Obama Administration, the American Cold Civil War looks more like the Republican Cold Nuclear War on Democrats, but its recent result is The Cold Republican Own Civil War.   Ominous historical parallels are discussed in connection with the pattern of Donald Trump drugging a hemisphere of the national brain.



NOTE (2016).  This is the year of the dirty and uncivil war inside the Republican Party and a senseless self-defeating,  a tad less-dirty, and  a bit more civil tug-of-war inside the Democratic party. Two Primaries contestants from each party—Trump and Sanders—have, in essence, no love lost between them and their nominal parties and are driven by pure ambition  and chutzpah. But the electorate wants war or at least a scuffle and cheers them up with screams and whistles.  

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