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For Constitutional Federalism, but not the Dissolution of Nation States

I am all for vigorous debate on the site, but I am sorry to say that Michael Greve has misunderstood my post. I do not think it would be at all sensible for Scotland or other nations to secede from their nation states for some of the reasons that Michael discusses. In particular, I do not agree at all that security threats in Europe have declined so as to  justify dissolution.   In my original post, I say they are perceived to have declined, but  expressly observe that Putin should be a “wake-up call.” I am sorry that I was too subtle, but my observation that Europeans regarded Ukraine as  “faraway country of which they know nothing” was a sarcastic reference to Neville Chamberlain’s comment about Czechoslovakia in 1938, showing that I agree that ignoring security concerns is indeed partying like it is 1938. I also made an essential  distinction in my post between dissolution of European nation states and federalism within those nation states.   Federalism involves greater devolution of powers within a traditional nation state, not the creation of new states within a construct like the EU. I think if nations get the rules right, competitive federalism can be a very good thing for liberty, because it creates a market for local governance  and a government more responsive to local preferences.   I quite agree however, as both Michael and I have put the point in other contexts, that there is always a risk that the subunits will conspire to create a cartel. That is a problem of bad federalism rules or manipulation of the rules.  But I would consider it a gain for human freedom and prosperity if Brittany got more autonomy under sound federalism rules from over-centralized France. Whether sound rules will emerge  from reassertion of cultural attachments is a large question and I do not have a firm opinion on it..

While I am enthusiastic proponent of constitutional federalism, I am not an enthusiast for the EU other than as a free trade pact.  Part of the reason is implicit in my original post. (Another is that the EU’s rules are not sound, but that is a discussion for another day).  Constitutional federalism can flourish as a political regime  in part because of peoples’ dual attachments to their nations and their region. (To be clear, I do not think that protecting attachments is the normative justification for federalism, but it is often an impetus and a protection  for federalism).  Federalism  flourished in the United States at some times in the past more than it does today, in part because those attachments were more in balance.

I think it possible that the UK and other nation states might take advantage of these dual attachments to create a system better constitutional federalism than they currently have. But people other than certain elites and EU bureaucrats have no allegiance to the EU and are very unlikely to gain such an allegiance to a construct that does not appeal to their history and traditions. Thus, dissolution of current nation states within Europe is not recipe for federalism.

Michael Greve says he agrees with my analytics, which was the point of my original post. I think he has picked a largely imaginary normative fight.

Reader Discussion

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on September 16, 2014 at 18:23:38 pm

Thanks for the clarification, John, and apologies for the misunderstanding. The sentence that threw me off was the notion that "constitutional federalism likely has a greater future in Europe than in the United States," which I mistakenly took to refer to the EU. We don't disagree about much here. Best!

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Mike Greve

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