PostHeaderIcon A House Divided

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln made a speech accepting the Republican party’s nomination for U. S. Senator from the State of Illinois. The best remembered quote from that speech was the line: “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.

As all American school children once knew, two years later, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States and his “house” that was his nation sought to end its division by a bloody Civil War which, in some respects, has yet to truly end – in that the Republic has, since that time, never been truly united. The lesson, if there be one, being that pummeling your opposition into submission is never the same as convincing them of the rightness of your cause and convincing them to join you in its furtherance.

Once again, we are a “house” that is very dangerously “divided against itself”. And while, on the surface, the basis of that division appears quite different from that of Lincoln’s time, at an essential level, the basis is the same.

It is nothing more or less than a terminal disagreement over the proper roles of our Federal, State and Local Governments.

As much as I admire our Constitution and the people who created it, let us leave that aside for a moment and speak of elementary things.

Whatever its specific form and whatever its specific method of choosing its leaders, government is nothing more or less than the arbitrary exercise of compulsory power. Deadly power when need be. Governments exist through the power to enact and enforce certain laws, by whatever means it finds necessary. Period. While there is an obvious necessity for such, there is nothing the least bit grand or noble about it. It is, at its very best, an unpleasant business. And, given the power given to government, and the very nature of that power, ALL forms of government are prone to lapse into a state of tyranny.

It therefore follows, at least for me, that those governments which are, at any moment, least tyrannical are those which enjoy the most support of those they presume to govern. That is, those governments whose actions tend to support rather than thwart the will of the governed. In our Republic, we call this “government by consent of the governed”.

All well and good you say – an attitude well illustrated by the past success of our very own Republic as well as by many of its predecessors.

But, as they say, here is the rub. How can any government, no matter its basic form, govern “by consent of the governed” when the governed represent “a house divided against itself”; when the body politic have such fundamentally opposed views as to the proper role and function of government; when “the people” and their representatives in government have divided into factions so dogmatic that little, if any, compromise and cooperation is possible?

I think it safe to state categorically that the Republic known as “The United States Of America”, at this moment in time, totally fits the above description.

We are nearing the end of yet another unnecessarily contentious contest between two of the major factions in our Republic. A contest that should shock us all in the levels of corruption, dishonesty and viciousness it has fallen to. And, sadder still, a contest in which the contestants exploit the growing differences between us.

The fact is that, no matter the outcome of the present election, at least one third (probably more) of the citizens of this Republic will feel disenfranchised. Will suspect that they are to be mere vassals of a system of government that they in no way support (or consent to).

For my own part, I am a devoted Libertarian. I am such because all my understanding of history, as it relates to individual freedom, inform me that the Libertarian approach is the best of those options currently available to us. Yet I know full well that, were my candidate and my philosophy to somehow prevail this fall, most of my fellow citizens would be upset to the point of opposition that would, in all probability, become violent. Sadly, I suspect the same will be true no matter which of the duopoly candidates prevails.

What this leads me to is obvious. If we are ever again to be among the great Republics, we must come together around some commonly-agreed-to vision of the proper role of government. Indeed, and more fundamentally, we must decide whether we are to be free individuals or members of a herd which is controlled by some manner of all-powerful “shepherd”.

In past articles, I have urged the Republic to engage a Constitutional Convention. My reasoning is that such would be the best way to get us all back on the same page – or, alternately, to honestly admit that the current constituency cannot find consensus in a single vision of government, ergo, would be best served by PEACEFULLY dividing into however many sub-Republics would be necessary to accommodate the various forms of government that could then enjoy the support of its resulting constituency.

Clearly, it seems intuitively better that we remain a single, united Republic. I am certain it seemed so to Mr. Lincoln a century and a half ago when he allowed the tragedy of the Civil War to begin. The active fighting ended in 1865 but the essential division that caused that War has yet to truly heal . The contest called the Civil War was a contest between Federal and State/Local power (and not over slavery which no sane human proposes to resurrect).

If events continue on their current path, I am convinced the War will once again flare up into armed hostility between the various factions. I am further convinced that neither side will win such a contest. It can be nothing other than a lose/lose proposition.

I know that most of the people who read this blog disagree with me over the wisdom of a Constitutional Convention. To this end, I invite all of you to come forth with suggestions as to how we might have a national conversation aimed at truly finding a constructive path forward. It could not be more clear that our elected officials are NOT going to help in this regard. Once again, it is up to those who would be free to clearly define the terms of that freedom then insist that those terms be met, and without imposing such terms on people who reject them.

Think about it.

Troy L Robinson

3 Responses to “A House Divided”

  • Troy says:

    Folks, allow me to be, at the same time, surprised and disappointed.

    In the referenced article, along with several others written by me and Dave in the passt, we have proposed a potential “solution” for America’s current woes that would involve breaking the country up into smaller “Republics”, still under a loose overarching republican structure for purposes of national defense and for other dealings with foreign powers. The resulting “mini-Republics” would then be at liberty to experiment with different methods of governance, somewhat in competition with each other. This would allow Americans of different opinions to “vote with their feet” by moving to that mini-Republic best suited to their opinions as to proper governance.

    The surprise and disappointment comes from what to me is obvious. What we describe is hardly different from the federation of sovereign States as described and intended by our Founders. I thought this so obvious that I eagerly awaited someone bringing it to our attention.

    Alas, my articles are either too subtle or too boring to elicit such a response. I fear the latter.


  • daedalus says:

    Troy, I fear a loose collection of republics would be forever debating the actions needed to secure the protection of the liberties of individual states to the exclusion of taking necessary actions. In foreign policy, secret treaties with China, Iran or Russia could lead one of the “states” to overwhelm their neighbors. Putting everybody back in the same box but in a much worse condition. Presumably the reason for having these separate states is to allow different viewpoints to have their own little community to try out their beliefs. Let us say that the “Western federation” decided that socialistic entitlement practices were the way to go. The “Southern federation” that libertarianism was just their cup of tea. Meanwhile all the deadbeats moved where the gravy was free, but they rapidly started running out of “other peoples money.” The Southern Federation, meanwhile, was piling up lots of wealth. The folks in the Western Federation seeing a better life to the east started migrating in that direction eventually becoming a majority of the voters there and, in their customary manner due to their cultural norms, used need and victim hood to overwhelm their libertarian brethren. Another place to run out of other peoples money. This takes me back to the point I have made many times. The basic problem is not politics or economics, it is the prevailing philosophy in the land. The politics and economics are derivatives of the philosophy. Capitalism is the proper form for the economy, not because it works, but because it is the only moral economic system. Perhaps the only thing keeping the country alive today is the “gut” feelings of the flyover country folks (a la Glen Beck). Unfortunately, in the long run, gut feelings are no match for the university intellectuals. I divert from the topic, so back on point, The founders of the United States set up a novel and revolutionary form of government. Their first attempt, one much as you propose, was a loose collection of states which rapidly became unraveled. The intellectuals of the day went back to the drawing board and came up with the forerunner of the present system. Although the civil war had other immediate causes it was still fought fundamentally over slavery. The original founders had a good deal of trouble with this issue. Some were very opposed to slavery and others were financially dependent on it even though they had views that it might be immoral. A compromise was reached with the understanding that the institution would probably die out in the near future. That all changed with the invention of the cotton gin which gave new life to that old custom. The civil war was largely an upshot of the slavery issue not being resolved.

    • Troy says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful response.

      First, allow me to suggest that I do not propose the collection of mini-republics to be that loose. Like the founders, I propose that they present a united front to the external world. While, internally, they are allowed to take quite different approaches to the minutia of day-to-day governance.

      I concede (and intend) that some of the ideas tried would fail, requiring the failed mini-republics to adopt better means (or be absorbed by the more successful) — and, hopefully, allowing the entire federation to learn valuable lessons in the process.

      My overarching concern, however, is that, similar to our pre-Civil-War days, we have two opposing, totally incompatible visions of the proper role of a federal government. To make matters worse, in this case, at least, both visions are incorrect. Unless (and until?) the various factions can agree on a proper and viable role for the federal government, our only prospect is for continued decline until we ultimately collapse.

      Try as I might, I cannot imagine any practical path from our current state to that which I desire. Allowing the States to reclaim the power and authority that is naturally theirs seems a relatively low risk way to make a no-doubt feeble attempt at recovery. Since I know of no approach guaranteed to work, I am prepared to try risky approaches rather than simply sit by and let the otherwise inevitable happen.

      That said, until rational thought, supported by true education, replaces the ignorance. corruption and emotion driven processes that drive us today, there is little hope for a brighter future. No system based on ignorance, superstition and corruption can provide the platform for the next step forward in human evolution, particularly in the evolution of human society and governance.

      Clearly, our current institutions, including the organized religions, are incapable of providing the moral and ethical foundations required for self government and free markets. IMHO, in the modern world, this can only come from mankind’s capability for rational thought.

      Enlightened self interest has driven every major step forward in human history and it can continue to do so. The “rub” is that the demands of “enlightenment” today outstrip the capabilities of the systems and methods of the past.


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