America's political landscape is experiencing dangerous polarization and fragmentation, with the extremes pulling the country apart. Voices on the left and right clash over different worldviews, definitions of America, and what it means to be an American citizen. The levels of incivility and hostility lead some to invoke the language of a cold civil war or even a looming civil war: one that could split the country in two. Is there any way to step back from this dangerous precipice?
Political philosopher Jim Belcher shows that this is not merely a binary opposition between conservativism on the right and liberalism on the left, but also between conflicting visions of order and freedom on both sides. Through his unique quadrant framework, Belcher traces the people and movements in each position, examines their underlying narratives, and articulates their respective contributions and dangers. This quadrant framework not only reveals how polarization divides us but also shows us how to move beyond the right-left stalemate.
At the core of the competing visions are the seeds of a new vital center, a robust and surprising model that has the ability to transcend political tribalism and bring America back together again before it is too late.
"As American politics becomes more polarized and as more areas of life become politicized, it starts to feel like there's no escape. But if there's a way out of this situation—where politics is increasingly extremist, defamatory, and conspiratorial—surely it's not going to come by just picking a side in the culture wars and trying to impose our own political and moral vision. Surely we need to better understand where we've all gone wrong. For anyone hoping for a way out of the current political mess, Jim Belcher's Cold Civil War is a must-read, and it's clearly the product of the author's many years of curiosity about and careful consideration of diverse moral and political views. Belcher offers a new way of classifying political orientations. He argues that the four main political orientations act as countervailing forces that strengthen the country when in their more centrist forms but tear the country apart in their more extreme forms. The way forward isn't to abandon our ideologies entirely or for us all to agree with one another, but the country does need to move toward the 'vital center.' And Belcher offers a vision of how to do so."
"Belcher's work on our current state of affairs in cultural discourse, marked by hyperpartisanship, incivility, and political, social, and moral instability, contributes a needed perspective borne of clear, careful, and charitable thinking. It is reflective of deep thought and research that has obviously been ongoing for many years, and I'm certain it will spur further dialogue among scholars in the academy and citizens in the public square for years to come."
"As the current pastor of Godspeak Church in Thousand Oaks, California, and the former mayor of the City of Thousand Oaks, I have always viewed my political opponents not as my enemy but as an opportunity. I groped in the darkness to understand how to apply civility in the political arena. Having read Jim Belcher's book Cold Civil War, I now possess a clear understanding of what I longed for but could never fully articulate. American Christianity has abandoned their presence in the public square because politics for most is simply a blood sport. Jim Belcher's book gives a clear road map back to our needed participation in the public square. Civility is the key and wisdom is our strength. I am so grateful personally for this timely work and rejoice wholeheartedly in endorsing it."
"Our country is divided. Jim Belcher in this thoughtful book helps us understand what and who is making the polarization worse. Our country is divided, and Jim helps us consider a new vital center, one that will heal and not fracture. Cold Civil War is an important book to help Christians recover a vibrant public philosophy, one that will empower Christ-followers to lead our society from the tumultuous to the virtuous. Cold Civil War is a hopeful book. Read it."
"Reflecting both his preparation as a political philosopher and his skills as a theologian, Jim Belcher has given us a timely and thoughtful proposal to address public square issues by rebuilding a new vital center for America. Examining the ideas, trends, and developments that have brought about the current philosophical, political, and cultural divide, Belcher offers a bold, challenging, and hope-filled framework to move beyond the fragmentation and polarization on the right and the left. Grounded in an appeal to reclaim the place of both special revelation and natural law, and drawing on insights from Tocqueville, this important volume, while not naive to the difficult road ahead, provides much-needed guidance for shaping a public theology, enabling the church to reclaim its mission, overcome cynicism, and take responsibility for helping to bring healing to the nations. Cold Civil War is worthy of serious reflection and engagement by those on all sides of the issues. Highly recommended!"
"Jim Belcher offers an innovative and empathetic framework for understanding our polarized moment in this thoughtful synthesis of public philosophy and political debate. This introduction to the ferocious argument between left and right is essential reading for anyone concerned about our nation's future."
Foreword by John D. Wilsey
Part 1: How We Got into the Cold Civil War
1. The Evangelical Dilemma and the Search for Public Philosophy
2. The End of the Vital Center
Part 2: Mapping Our Differences: The Quadrant Framework System
3. Freedom Left 2: The Theory of the Godless Constitution
4. Freedom Left 3: From Open Society to Closed Society
5. Order Left 2: The Rise of the Welfare State and the Great Society
6. Order Left 3: The Reified Postmodernism of Antiracism
7. Freedom Right 2: Libertarians and the Quest for Open Borders
8. Freedom Right 3: Radical Libertarians, the End of the State, and the Rise of Utopian Technocracy
9. Order Right 2: Poison Pill Conservatives
10. Order Right 3: The Illiberal New Right
Part 3: Forming the New Vital Center
11. The New Vital Center: The American Synthesis and the Four Souls
12. Patriotic Citizenship: The Sweet Offer for Resident Aliens and Alienated Residents
13. Christianity: The Second Constitution
Conclusion: The Heroic Role for the Church