COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., August 13, 2014—Political Science Professor Thomas Krannawitter has written a slim volume, “Crisis of our House Divided,” that does what it promises: provides us with “a guide for talking politics without the noise,” as the subtitle notes. The book gives a good, sympathetic picture of each side in today’s debates and points out the basic dilemma that is not much discussed: that the two views of our future are mutually exclusive in their ends. As he concludes, we must become one thing or the other.
There really is no middle ground.
The book is simply brilliant in both concept and execution.
The opening chapter is a plea for civility. He says that there are sincere people on both sides of the debate who only want the best for this nation. A Lincoln historian, Krannawitter reaches back to the pre-Civil War era to show how we’ve been here before. He describes sincerely held Christian beliefs on both sides of the slavery issue.
The Abolitionist side won out and today no one would take the side of slavery. However, it took a bloody Civil War to settle the question. Although Krannawitter doesn’t say this, Russia’s Tsar Alexander II by contrast freed the Russian serfs in 1861. Peacefully.
Believing in one set of principles or the other does not make a person good, or bad.
Before we get to the point of another civil war, Krannawitter suggests that we would be better off to listen to and understand each other.
To help with the dialog, the author invents two countries, each ruled by one of the sides in the current debate. The first he calls New Dealand; the second, Freeland. It may sound corny, but it works.
There are two chapters for each of the sides. The first paints a sympathetic vision of their point of view, while the second is a critique of that vision by the other side. The arguments occupy almost exactly the same number of pages for each.
The New Dealand vision is, of course, that of Progressives. The Freeland vision is of liberty: not exactly just the political liberty of the Founders, but also including the economic liberty. One might actually call it Tea Party.
The arguments are best read in the book: Krannawitter writes better in the original than I can summarize. In fact, he writes a lot like he speaks and so the sentences flow and the reading is fast. He avoids political science jargon. Any literate adult should be able to read and understand the issues he raises.
The reader will find some surprises. If you’re on the right, you might think that the left has no principles. Krannawitter distills left-wing rhetoric into principles. If you’re on the left, you might think those on the right don’t care about people. They do, and Krannawitter shows how right-wing principles are meant to help people.
Those are just two examples. The reader is likely to find a number of things from the other side that don’t sound so bad once you ratchet down the volume and seek to understand.
The book does have its weaknesses. It is very simplistic, but that is on purpose. The majority on the left call themselves Progressive, but in reality the hardcore are plainly Marxists and Communists who have hijacked American Progressivism. On the right, there seems to be a bit too much emphasis on economics at the expense of other elements of conservatism.
And what about Moderates—that so-called middle ground in American politics? The book does not address them, but people who consider themselves “moderate” will read this book and find they are more in one camp than the other.
In the end the flaws are minor, and after reading and perhaps discussing this book, one may be challenged to delve deeper into the issues. Framing the debate the way Krannawitter does may actually simplify positions and ideologies that really aren’t as complex as they seem.
Certainly the good professor has glossed over one thing: there are bad people in the world who have evil intent. They exist on both sides of the debate and they lust after power more than anything else. They will do anything, say anything, in order to get and keep that power—including the destruction of our country.
But those people are a small minority. This book is aimed at the vast majority of Americans who really do want the best for all of us.
Is this the last word in the debate? Hardly. It’s not meant to be. It is meant rather to be a conversation starter, and it will do that very well indeed.