March 24, 2012
An old idea. Older than you think...
...But what if the real compromise isn't in forcing the Left and the Right to heel? What if instead the solution is to disempower the national elites who think they've got the answers to everything?
Federalism — the process whereby you push most political questions to the lowest democratic level possible — has been ripe on the right for years now. It even had a champion in Texas governor Rick Perry, and Ron Paul still carries that torch.
The main advantage of federalism is more fundamental than the "laboratories of democracy" idea. Federalism is simply the best political system ever conceived of for maximizing human happiness. A one-size-fits-all policy imposed at the national level has the potential to make very large numbers of citizens unhappy, even if it was arrived at democratically. In a pure democracy, I always say, 51 percent of the people can vote to pee in the cornflakes of 49 percent of the people.
Pushing government decisions down to the lowest democratic level possible — while protecting basic civil rights — guarantees that more people will have a say in how they live their lives. Not only does that mean more people will be happy, but the moral legitimacy of political decisions will be greater.
The problem for conservative and libertarian federalists is that whenever we talk about federalism, the Left hears "states' rights" — which is then immediately, and unfairly, translated into, "Bring back Bull Connor."
But that may be changing. In an essay for the spring issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Yale law professor Heather K. Gerken offers the case for "A New Progressive Federalism."...
If Federalism makes a comeback, it will be because it fits the Information Age much better than it did the Industrial Age. Top-down management by government doesn't work well any more. Actually, management in general works poorly now. Management used to mean something like the Ringmaster in the Disney movie Dumbo directing a parade of slow-moving docile elephants. Now it is like the Ringmaster racking his whip over a thousand scampering cats.
And Federalism is actually an instance of the old Catholic doctrine called Subsidiarity. Which holds that all power should be pushed as far down as possible. That is, we should not only be pushing as much decision-making to the states as possible—that's what the Constitution did until it was subverted—but also pushing power down from the states to the cities and counties. And as much of that as possible should be given to voluntary groups and churches. And, whenever possible, decisions should be made by individuals and families.Posted by John Weidner at March 24, 2012 8:57 AM