Friday, July 09, 2004
Future Watch: Will Federalism Return? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Jason at Positive Liberty has made some intriguing predictions about the future of our government. He augurs the return of federalism, returning more power to states as a compromise to increasingly contentious ideological divisions:
Euthanasia, abortion, affirmative action, even highway speeds either have been or currently are the subjects of similar divisions among the states, and I suspect that this trend will intensify.

Virtually no one comes to federalism as a matter of sincere principle; they do it out of compromise, out of an inability to win national consensus for a peculiar view. But federalism is a compromise that I suspect we will have to use more and more frequently in the future. American political thought of late has been sharply divided, but even within the current bipolar framework, contradictions, microcommunities, and sub-affinities abound. Through digital networking, many of the people in these groups have reached out to the like-minded, constructing virtual communities as they go. It is only a matter of time until they start building their own real-world communities, too. Federalism is the only strain of our legal thought that will be able to accommodate this process.

On the fringes, more and more groups are already flirting with radical federalist experiments of one type or another. Consider the Free State Project, which is encouraging libertarians to move to New Hampshire; consider also the Christian Exodus Movement, which among a host of other sins now finds gay marriage so offensive that they want to secede from the Union. They're going--where else?--to South Carolina.

They won't be allowed to secede, of course, but their movement is yet another example of federalist thinking at work. Even if Christian Exodus achieves but a fraction of their aims, they will have enshrined a federalist principle that one hopes will be useful in creating designer states and communities across the entire nation: A government of technophile libertarians in California, perhaps; an ecological protectorate in Washington and Oregon; communes of pacifist hammock-makers weaving away in the Virginia hills, and militarist little Spartas all across Montana...

The federalism of the past--states' rights in the vernacular--meant only one thing, the perpetuation of Jim Crow in the Old South. It was a cheap cover for an odious regime. The federalism of the future will mean hundreds of different things; some of them, no doubt, will be just as odious. [read full post]
Jason's got a real point here - I think it could happen.

Looking at the Jim Crow analogy, federalism would become far more of a problem than a solution, with cultural battlefields like abortion and same-sex marriage taking the place of the 19th Century's slavery. If states or otherwise-designated geographic regions [see Commonwealth.org's "Beyond Red and Blue"] could adopt their own Constitutional flavors with greater enforcement mettle, how would residents settle differences amicably without risking the equivalent of a future 'Civil War'? For example, could a state decree an absolute ban on abortion - or a state religion?

As a real-life example of the latter, onsider the Christian Exodus Movement (linked above) which seeks to gather up a large number of like-minded Christian families, who would then move en masse to a designated state (they've chosen South Carolina as their "Zion"), dominate the voter rolls with their own agenda, rewrite the state Constitution, and ultimately secede. While this particular movement doesn't look poised for success (similar Utopian plans have failed in the past) it bears watching as a test case and bellwether.

But - rather than bonafide state secessions, we may see more of large-scale planned religious communities:
In the future, the key freedom will be the right to travel, because where one lives will be a crucial statement about one's personal and societal values. In the future, "America: Like it or leave it" will be an outdated slogan. The real question will be "Where, and with whom, do you want to live?"

Communities that try to shield their members from other ways of life, those that try to prevent members from leaving, and those that deny entry to individuals who want to belong, will all become important matters of controversy. We see the beginnings of this trend in gated communities, neighborhood agreements--and even in religious movements that make particularly high demands on their memberships.

Religion will find its chief future expression not in the new media, but in one of the oldest media of all--the monastic community rule and its relatives. Monasticism itself may or may not come back from the brink of extinction where it now resides, but groups of spiritually like-minded people, living according to strict communal rules, will very likely be an important part of future religiosity.