US divided
Every time the Ray Dalios of the world open their mouths on the risks that the great unwashed masses pose to "Our Democracy™," they make the idea of a political separation sound far more agreeable.

The other day, Ray Dalio, the billionaire investor and founder of Bridgewater Associates, told The Financial Times that he sees the risk of a second American civil war as "growing" and places the odds of such a war at "35-40 percent." According to FT, Dalio's "research" has led him to conclude that "we are now on the brink," although we "don't yet know if we will cross over into much more turbulent times."

On the one hand, it's important to remember that Dalio is nearly universally known as a world-class crank. He's made a lot of money in the markets and has long been considered an astute investor, but he has also long been considered an odd duck, to put it gently. Additionally, the idea that this proclamation and setting of odds are based on "research" is silly. There are no variables one can examine and analyze and then use to calculate an objective estimate of a civil war's occurrence. To pretend otherwise is... well... perfectly Dalio-esque.

On the other hand, Dalio is hardly alone in his belief that tough times are imminent. Virtually the entirety of the ruling class seems to believe that the zeitgeist of the moment is characterized by anger, hatred, and the expectation of confrontation between political adversaries. Hollywood is busy making movies about a potential Civil War. Political magazines are warning that totalitarianism looms just over the electoral horizon. And even the President of the United States is releasing videos that sound more like pre-fight smack talk than political posturing. In short, Ray Dalio is hardly the first major public figure to express his fear/hope that the nation is "on the brink."

ray dalio
Ironically, the part of this story Dalio and his fellow elites are missing is that in which they're the cause of the turmoil that currently plagues the United States, or, at the very least, are exacerbating that turmoil and aggravating the people's frustrations.

Consider, for example, the description Dalio gives of one of the primary causes of this possible civil war:
This election would be a test of 'can democracy work well? Will there be an acceptance of the rules and an ability to work well under those rules?' he said.

[Republican candidate Donald] Trump will follow more rightist, nationalistic, isolationist, protectionist, non-regulatory policies — and more aggressive policies to fight enemies internally and externally, including political enemies. [President Joe] Biden, and even more so the Democratic party without Biden, will be more the opposite....
Ah, I see. It's all Donald Trump's fault. Strangely, Dalio doesn't address the almost inarguable fact that Donald Trump is a symptom of this nation's political dysfunction rather than the cause of it. Whatever one thinks of Trump — good, bad, indifferent — he and his political movement did not emerge fully formed, as if Athena springing forth from the forehead of Zeus. They were the result of decades of political malpractice by both parties, decades of betrayal and decades of self-dealing.

Likewise, Donald Trump remains popular today because both parties, as a whole, remain indifferent to the plight of the country class and are concerned almost exclusively with the needs and wants of Washington and its allies. Billionaire Ray Dalio may think that the people are revolting, but that is, in large part, the fault of the Washington uni-party and its disregard for the people's interests.

Dalio also describes the form that the civil war he so fears might take: "The civil war Dalio imagines was not necessarily one in which people 'grab guns and start shooting', although such a scenario was possible, he said." Rather, the civil war Dalio envisions would involve "people mov[ing] to different states that are more aligned with what they want and they don't follow the decisions of federal authorities of the opposite political persuasion."

To be clear, I don't think that consistently disregarding the actions and decisions of the federal government is something that we, as a nation, should encourage, much less tolerate. At the same time, there's a term for what Dalio describes. It's called "federalism," and it was precisely what the Founding Fathers had in mind almost 250 years ago.

It is worth remembering here that when the Founders debated the Constitution, two primary factions fought over the particulars. The Federalists — James Madsion, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, in particular — sat on one side of the question, while the anti-federalists — Patrick Henry, James Monroe, Samuel Adams, George Mason, and a host of others — sat on the other. The anti-federalists were opposed to the Constitution not because they disapproved of its weak federal government and demanded something stronger, something more like what we have today, but because they disapproved of a federal government at all. In other words, the vision Dalio now derides and implies is the precursor to civil war was, in fact, the most radically centralized of the forms of government considered by the Founders.

Dalio's problem with such a vision of government is undoubtedly closely akin to the problem that much of the ruling class today has with that vision: he wants the people to think and behave as he wants them to, in alignment with his "values." He finds their insistence on thinking for themselves and behaving accordingly irritating and inefficient.

Roughly two years ago, Victor Davis Hanson penned an essay accusing factions of "the left" of engaging in what he called "civil war porn." Some on the left fantasized, he argued, about how the country's majority white right-wing rabble were intent on harming minorities, destroying democracy, and engaging in violence against their enemies. Such fantasies gave them the opportunity to engage in moral grandstanding. They saw themselves as the heroes of the story, noble warriors who would sacrifice everything to save all that is right and good in the world.

Today, that "civil war porn" is the purview of much of the ruling class, people like Ray Dalio, who cosplay as the self-righteously indignant and "rational" grown-ups in the room. They warn that the evil ones, the naughty children, are plotting against the nation, planning a fascist takeover of the government or even secession from the Union.

Again, the irony is that in doing so, in prattling on about the risks that the great unwashed masses pose to "Our Democracy™," the Ray Dalios of the world make it all the more likely.

Every time they open their mouths on the subject, they make the idea of a political separation that would liberate the masses from those who deride and hate them sound far more agreeable.