American Partition

A Timely Thought Experiment




United States, partition, civil war, political division, reconciliation, historical thinking, historical analogy, critical thinking, speculative futures


The current assessment of the state of political division in the United States is foreboding. Americans are more divided than any time since the Civil War, leaving some to opine that these differences may be irreconcilable. This speculative analysis takes seriously as its point of departure the position of a growing number of American commentators and policy experts who argue that the United States exhibits many of the risk factors that could lead down the path toward another civil war. Some of these commentators have advocated breaking up the union to pre-empt this outcome. The critical analysis within this article draws upon historical analogues from states partitioned during the 20th century such as such as the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Palestine, and India. These comparisons are used to evaluate proposals for a geographical sundering of the United States into Red and Blue Americas. My analysis highlights the ways in which any kind of national dissolution, though appealing to some at first glance, would be more politically complex, demographically fraught, and possibly no-less violent than the alternative of civil conflict. The most promising alternative appears to be that of learning to live and work together through difference.