REASON.COM has an article that completely misses the point of history. I try not to criticize articles on either side as I believe that they are helpful in at least talking about the issue.
But this article, and the article it references show a lack of understanding of the nature of civil war.
The jist of their argument is that there are not enough people engaged politically to cause a division that would lead to civil war. The first paragraph is from Ms. Fiorina’s article, the second paragraph a response from reason.com
“Consider some numbers. As of today, there are about 235 million eligible voters in the United States. About one percent of them subscribe to either The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Liberals rail against Fox News and conservatives against MSNBC; they should take consolation in the fact that the Fox viewing audience is about one percent of the eligible electorate while news shows on MSNBC fall short of that. Sean Hannity’s is the highest-rated political show on cable television with an audience of about 1.5 percent of the eligible electorate. On the other end of the spectrum Rachel Maddow gets a bit over one percent. Anderson Cooper 360 draws in a paltry 0.4 of one percent. Granted, these small audiences may spread the word to some non-subscribers and non-viewers, but even taking such second-order effects into account, the simple fact is that the ranks of the politically interested are surprisingly thin.
Fiorina goes on to point out (correctly) that most Americans do not align with the ideological extremes of either party, and that the self-described distribution of liberals, moderates, and conservatives has changed very little over the last few decades. He is also right to emphasize that the kinds of people who avidly follow political news (and the kinds who tend to read blog posts like this one!) are highly unrepresentative. Fiorina could have added that the actual rate of domestic political violence in America today is still much lower than that of the 1960s, when both far-right and far-left groups engaged in it on a far larger scale than anything we have seen in recent years. Yet we did not come close to civil war back then, either.”
Here are the important pieces.
As of today, there are about 235 million eligible voters in the United States. About one percent of them subscribe to either The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
Sean Hannity’s is the highest-rated political show on cable television with an audience of about 1.5 percent of the eligible electorate. On the other end of the spectrum Rachel Maddow gets a bit over one percent.
Anderson Cooper 360 draws in a paltry 0.4 of one percent
If my math is correct (and I think it is), about 3% of 235 million are politically very engaged. That means about 7,050,000 are very engaged politically and divided.
Of course those ratings are an average, and they aren’t the same people watching every day. But let us assume the actual total is only ten million people.
Now let’s give the authors of both pieces a bit of credit here. All ten million people are not inclined towards violence. But it it’s only 30%, that’s still three million people. In the French civil war do you know how many people were inclined towards civil war? About 50. The top of the food chain between the two royal divisions drove that war.
Three million people fighting in the streets will in a matter of days have tens of millions who will take a side. In fairness to Reason.com they acknowledge that those millions who are engage wield powerful political influence.
“Biased activists/political fans are unlikely to cause a new civil war. But they do wield political influence disproportionate to their numbers. That further reduces both the quality of political discourse, and the quality of the policies advocated by both major parties. We should be happy that a second Civil War is unlikely to break out anytime soon. But there is much less cause for celebration when it comes to the overall state of American democracy.”
But the source article I believe shows a lack of historical understanding of the nature and cause of civil wars. It doesn’t take many people to rile up millions.