Christopher F. ZurnSep 16, 2023
A Democratic Argument for Breaking Up the United States
At the end of the day, I have faith in the wisdom of democracy: the idea that good political solutions only arise from widely dispersed discussion, debate and decision among the broadest group of those affected. This book is intended, then, not as a finalized blueprint or technical report delivered from on high but as a conversation opener for democratic debate among my fellow citizens.
– Christopher F. Zurn, Splitsville USA (2023)
Splitsville USA: A Democratic Argument for Breaking Up the United States (Routledge, 2023) argues that it’s time for us to break up to save representative democracy, proposing a mutually negotiated, peaceful dissolution of the current United States into several new nations. Zurn begins by examining the United States’ democratic predicament, a road most likely headed for electoral authoritarianism, with distinct possibilities of ungovernability and violent civil strife. Unlike others who share this diagnosis, Zurn presents a realistic picture of how we can get to reform and what it would involve. It is argued that “Splitsville” represents the most plausible way for American citizens to continue living under a republican form of government. Despite recent talk of secession and civil war, this book offers the most extensive treatment yet of the issues we need to think through to enable a peacefully negotiated political divorce.
The publisher’s summary above of Professor Zurn’s latest book is a worthy overview, even more are the insightful thoughts and comments he shares in this interview. There is something here for everyone, as he shares insights about two key influences on his work - Honneth and Habermas, as well as his gratitude for his Northwestern graduate school experience under Thomas McCarthy in heady times when Nancy Fraser was still there.
Zurn explains his argument ‘that democracy minimally requires a widely shared precommitment to obeying and accepting the outcomes of free, fair and regular elections for political representatives’ and contends ‘if we look frankly at our current situation, we—the United States ‘we’—no longer sufficiently share this democratic precommitment.’
The professor elaborates on ideas and concepts such as ‘conflict entrepreneurs’ and their manipulation of an existential framing of our political struggles to gain and maintain power. However, he also makes clear that the American public agrees at a ‘high level on the basic values of American society’ and he expands his argument to ‘think about the complex constellation of values we want to realize in our politics’. As you will hear, Splitsville USA was written by an articulate and passionate voice that is both supportive and highly committed to saving representative government.
Some of Professor Zurn’s other books and chapters in edited books mentioned in this interview:
- Deliberative Democracy and the Institutions of Judicial Review (2007)
- Axel Honneth: A Critical Theory of the Social (2015)
- Chapter 12: ‘Social Pathologies as Second-Order Disorders’ in Axel Honneth: Critical Essays - With a Reply by Axel Honneth (2011)
- Introduction to The Philosophy of Recognition: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (2009)
Christopher Zurn is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.