Winning America's Second Civil War - Encounter Books

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Winning America’s Second Civil War

Progressivism’s Authoritarian Threat, Where It Came From, and How to Defeat It

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 272 pages
ISBN: 9781641773799
AVAILABLE: 2/27/2024

Winning America’s Second Civil War
Progressivism’s Authoritarian Threat, Where It Came From, and How to Defeat It

Today’s political and cultural divisions leave many wondering how America could have arrived at its present state. This book traces the source to an unlikely historical accident.

The founding principles of the American Revolution—that all individuals have unalienable natural rights to life, liberty, and the fruits of their labor, and that governments should exist only to protect these rights—were a singularity in human history. The nation’s failure to secure the slaves’ equal rights to self-ownership led to a civil war and the constitutional recognition of this vital principle. And yet, scarcely four decades later, social science faculties at the country’s top colleges and universities repudiated the country’s founding principles.

The cause of this startling change was the education that hundreds of American college students and graduates received in German universities in the late 19th century. Germany’s professoriate was dominated by state socialists who taught that individuals had no natural rights, only privileges granted to them by the government. American students absorbed these beliefs and after their return, established this country’s first graduate-level programs, seeding the first generation of PhDs. Inventing the name “progressives” for themselves, their goal was to recast America’s governmental and economic institutions in the image of Germany’s authoritarian government and oligarchical society. Higher education was transformed with disastrous results for the humanities and social sciences. Generation after generation of students, including those who went on to teach, abandoned this country’s traditional relationship of the individual to the state.

Over the next several decades, American politics, journalism, law, and education evolved in directions inimical to the nation’s founding principles, leaving the country increasingly fractured—not unlike the decades leading up to the first Civil War. This book traces those changes, offering ways to alter the trajectory of today’s political and educational culture. It includes a proposal to eliminate personal and corporate income and payroll taxes and raise today’s government revenues with a low (1%) universal sales tax.

About the Author

Jeffrey E. Paul is a research professor in the Social Philosophy Center of the John Chambers College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.

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This book is an account of the preface to two American civil wars. The first, waged from 1861 to 1865, was ultimately the result of an irreconcilable disagreement about slavery—an obvious violation of the individual’s right to liberty that American revolutionaries invoked to justify their break from Great Britain. The second emerged in 2016, when members of the outgoing administration, along with others inside and outside of the government, used their powers illicitly in an attempt to determine the results of a presidential election in order to impose an outcome that reflected their own preferences.

This second civil war is ultimately the result of an irreconcilable disagreement over the central principle that animated the first. And both were preceded by sharp philosophical disputes that began slightly more than a century before the outbreak of each conflict.

The philosophical dispute that led to the first civil war is well-known and thoroughly documented, though I will summarize it. The second philosophical dispute is not well-known and began slightly more than a decade after the defeat of the Confederacy. Its unlikely origins were in Germany, where most of the first generation of this country’s doctoral faculty were educated. This group seeded the graduate programs initiated by American universities in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s.

The American college students and graduates who studied in Germany returned with an opposition to this country’s founding principles—specifically, the natural rights of the individual—as virulent and inflexible as that embraced by the defenders of slavery several decades earlier. They sought to reconstruct and replace America’s governmental and economic institutions in the image of Germany’s autocratic government and oligarchical society. The graduate programs they established and led would appoint their successors in American universities, who would appoint, in turn, theirsuccessors. The cumulative impact on education, law, journalism, and political culture over seven generations cannot be overstated. The effect of their efforts amounted to a new American founding—or more precisely, a counter-founding—by the turn of the 20th century based on principles antithetical to the first. An increasingly common view that this country’s transformation was set in motion by the rise of the New Left in the 1960s, in other words, is off—by almost 90 years.


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