Is California in a “civil war”? In his state of the state speech, the governor said, “I think you would agree that in recent years California’s legislature has been engaged in civil war.”

Have the two sides gone to war over their ideologies? defines “civil war” as a war between political factions or regions within the same country. How can you not argue that we are witnessing a war between political factions, as long as we define war in this instance as intractable rhetorical battles sans bloodshed?

Yet, the term troubles me. It conjures up images of America’s Civil War and the battlefields I have visited where blood soaked the ground and seeped into America’s soul. Differences were settled not by diplomacy but by battle. Perhaps, with the issue of slavery that was inevitable.

But, is war necessary over budget issues? Diplomacy has been found wanting in the budget debate, as well. It has been tried. There have been countless meetings over the three special sessions called by the governor to settle the budget crisis. No “negotiated” settlement has come about as yet.

If settlement is not reached then the analogy of war will proceed to an all out war in which differences will be settled through the initiative process.

That process can also be fairly described as war.

Carl von Clausewitz, the great student of war, famously said war is “the continuation of policy by other means.” War is decisive. One side wins; one side loses, at least in a policy sense. A firm direction is taken as result of war. There is no compromising.

Like war, the initiative process is an establishment of policy by extraordinary means. Initiatives are decisive. One side wins; one side loses. A firm direction is set. There is no compromising.

Consider the following paragraph taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the subject of War. But every time the word WAR is used in the encyclopedia’s definition I will substitute the word INITIATIVE.

“…we might say that Clausewitz was right, but not quite deep enough: it’s not just that an INITIATIVE is the continuation of policy by other means; it’s that an INITIATIVE is about the very thing which creates policy—i.e., governance itself. An INITIATIVE is the intentional use of mass force to resolve disputes over governance. an INITIATIVE is, indeed, governance by bludgeon. Ultimately, an INITIATIVE is profoundly anthropological: it is about which group of people gets to say what goes on in a given territory.”

I’d say that is a pretty fair description of how the initiaitve process is used in fights over policy.

So perhaps the governor’s use of the term “civil war” is on target. And, if we want to avoid the spread of war into a battle of initiatives to settle differences, let us hope that diplomacy works on this budget crisis before it is too late.