A former CIA and NSA director on American Nations and the authoritarian threat to the U.S.

“I am worried about our country, as I was about Bosnia 30 years ago,” General Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency under George W. Bush wrote in a recent article on The Cipher Brief. “We have a fundamental issue. Can we solve it, or not?”

That fundamental issue, Hayden writes, is the democratic backsliding within the United States, itself the result of unaddressed divisions between — yes — the regional cultures I identified in American Nations, the map to which he shares in the piece. “Colin Woodard wrote his prescient 2011 book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America,” Hayden adds. “He really worried about America. I didn’t realize that before, but I should have.”

Like Hayden, my journey to American Nations started in the Balkans and, especially, Sarajevo, where a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, multiethnic city was surrounded with artillery, mortars, and sniper’s nests — many of them planted on the ski slopes of the 1984 Winter Olympics — and Europe and the world just watched on as it was terrorized and destroyed. The veneer of civilization, I took from that, is very thin, as are the institutional, moral, and ethnical sinews that hold it together. It’s never wise for a multi-national federation with a history of civil war to tear away at all of those at once. The collapse into barbarism, as Sarajevans learned the hard way, can come with shocking speed.