David French is one of the most thoughtful Christian conservatives writing today.
That makes Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation worth reading, even if you don’t take the threat of secession seriously.
But if you don’t, French thinks you should.
“It’s time for Americans to wake up to a fundamental reality: the continued unity of the United States of America cannot be guaranteed,” he writes. “At this moment in history, there is not a single important cultural, religious, political, or social force that is pulling Americans together more than it is pushing us apart.”
Divided We Fall, first released in September 2020, recently came out in paperback. French’s insights hold just as true today as they did before the last presidential election, if not more so.
“American civil society is retreating, and as American civil society retreats, politics surges to take its place,” French writes. “Healthy pluralism, whereby citizens find meaning in their communities and civic associations secure in the knowledge that the body politic will ultimately protect their autonomy, is in decline. It’s being replaced by an increasingly bitter factionalism.”
Why is the US so divided?
French makes a number of fascinating observations about our country’s divisions:
Americans have become so partisan, they lose perspective on their shortcomings.
“The normal partisan is able to see flaws on his own side—only a fanatic is totally blind to their side’s faults—but he sees them as exceptional,” French writes. “Flaws on the other side, by contrast, are emblematic. They’re a ‘tell,’ providing evidence of the underlying ideological or moral rot of your opponents.”
The gap between sides is growing.
French summarizes “The Law of Group Polarization,” a paper by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein: “When like-minded people gather, they tend to grow more extreme. The group will sometimes grow more extreme than the most extreme member. The result, over time, has been a flattening of the American bell curve. The left moves left, and the right moves right. We are moving away from each other at increasing speed.”
Common ground seems to be disappearing.
French uses the Overton window, a term for the range of acceptable political discourse, as an example. He says the left has been very effective at moving the window—a generation ago, same-sex marriage was far outside the mainstream. The right has created its own window. “The result is that the forces pushing the right edge of the Overton window have grown so strong that on many issues they’ve pulled the window apart,” French writes. “There is no longer a single window; there are two.”
Progressives have tried to redefine racism.
“Essentially, they’re tied to the notion that anti-white rhetoric and ideas can’t be ‘racism’ because either such rhetoric is justified or it’s not connected to power,” French writes. “In other words, racism doesn’t simply mean ‘hatred for a person because of his or her race.’ It means hatred by the powerful against the powerless on the basis of race.”
The meaning of tolerance has been twisted.
French notes that a psychiatrist who uses the pseudonym “Scott Alexander” recently wrote a piece that said tolerance has simply come to mean, “I like historically marginalized groups.” French writes: “If that’s the case, progressives are not tolerating anything. The word ‘tolerance,’ of course, implies that there is something to tolerate. . . . When there’s nothing to forgive, nothing to overlook, and no patience required, there’s no tolerance.”
I also wrote more on the issue of possible secession in “Is America headed toward another civil war?”
A pathway back to unity
French imagines a scenario where the US breaks up into different countries. Although he is not optimistic about America’s future, he has not lost all hope.
The final chapter, “A Call to Courage,” entreats leaders and ordinary people to speak out for biblical values and American principles, despite what others may say or think. But it also calls for them to show humility and mercy, to show “malice towards none,” to borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln.
That’s the way to unite a divided land.