April 2, 2006

THAT ARGUMENT WAS LOST IN 1789 (via Gene Brown):

Back to Federalism: The proper remedy for polarization. (David Gelernter, 04/10/2006, Weekly Standard)

FEBRUARY'S COMMENTARY has one of the most frightening essays of recent years, in which James Q. Wilson makes the case that Americans are polarized to an unprecedented extent; bitterly divided. Responsible conservatives should confront this problem and show the country how to solve it. Not to solve it is to invite catastrophe. Why does the burden fall on conservatives? Because they are running the federal government and it is their duty to lead.

Wilson lists several causes of today's profound polarization. He mentions the divided, politicized press, one-issue pressure groups, the polarizing effects of higher education, and the rise of ideological parties in place of the old-style sectional coalitions Americans are used to.

There is another cause too: the collapse of federalism. The Founders designed a vast garment for America that hugs where it should hug and stretches where it should stretch; each state creates its own society, and the Constitution stitches them all together into a comfortable, sensible union suit. "As this government is composed of small republics, it enjoys the internal happiness of each," writes Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 9, "and with respect to its external situation, it is possessed, by means of the association, of all the advantages of large monarchies."

But the collapse of federalism has ruined this valuable arrangement.

It is, of course, absurd to speak of a nation in which the two politicial parties are in relatively near agreement on most issues and where there is absolutely no political violence as divided to an unprecedented degree. Forget the Civil War itself and just recall the draft riots during the Civil War if you want to see a truly divided nation (not to mention immigrants who were genuinely unAmerican). But it's also important to recall that the Federalists were anti-federalist and built the demise of federalism into the system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 2, 2006 12:00 AM

People can be in relatively near agreement on most issues and still be bitterly divided, of course. The vanity of small differences and all. And he's right about federalism: we need more of it, not less, and both parties tend to forget about it, unless it's narrowly in their immediate political interest.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 2, 2006 3:15 AM

It's like faculty politics: the fights are so bitter because the stakes are so small.

Posted by: Mike Morley at April 2, 2006 9:05 AM

Having lived as an adult in both eras, pre/post Roe, I'm inclined to agree with Gelertner. The review you linked to was interesting and to the point, but in essence, supports Geletner as well.

His comparison of the Supremes to the House of Lords: "...We used to have a Supreme Court; today we have a House of Justices, not a Supreme Court but a Supreme Council, which dominates the two other branches... While Britain has gradually reduced the Lords to impotence, America has gone the other way, allowing the Supreme Court to increase its power..." is the fulcrum of his argument for a return to federalism and I'm inclined to agree. His recommended remedy also makes sense but may never be achieved in todays politically and ideologically polarized climate.

Posted by: Genecis at April 2, 2006 12:33 PM

Gen, the Supreme Court's power was increased by design because the left couldn't get their agendas passed in Congress where the Constitution decrees laws are to be enacted.

The Roberts court is likely to return the Supreme Court to its constitutionally correct place as one of the three equal parts of our government each with a very specific list of duties and responsibilities.

I believe this is the most important reason, even more important than the WoT, to keep the left in the minority, if not permanently, at least long enough for the current crop of moonbats to have gone on to their reward.

Posted by: erp at April 2, 2006 4:24 PM

The stakes are small?

Posted by: joe shropshire at April 2, 2006 9:16 PM