Nationalism versus Federalism

The presidential campaign so far seems filled with nationalistic appeals, which is dangerous for America.  In some places around the world, the difference between nationalism and patriotism may be blurred, but in our country, nationalism is the very antithesis of patriotism.

Nationalism is inherently centralizing, and it is the first step toward totalitarianism.  The most significant change in German government after the Nazis took power was the destruction of the power of the states of Germany.  Bad nations invariably begin with the consolidation of all practical power in nationalism rather than limited central power. 

The greatest single achievement of America was that the sovereign states were persuaded to allow in the Constitution very limited powers to a national government, while states retained the vast preponderance of government power.  The Tenth Amendment put an exclamation point on that fact and the Eleventh Amendment was intended to make clear that federal courts had no power to decide cases involving states. 

The greatest single calamity in America today is that these states have become little more than appendages of federal power in many areas.  The rationale for this long campaign by nationalists against American governmental structure is this "crisis" or that "emergency."  The First World War, then the Depression, then the Second World War, then the Cold War, then environmental issues...and so on.  The Tenth Amendment, like the Eleventh Amendment, has essentially been treated as if these part of the Constitution had been repealed.

National power have been grabbed from citizens and from states.  This power is always grabbed for "emergencies," of course, and the problems the national government pretends to solve are never solved.  The consequences of that for our nation are profound, and more than anything else, this is the source of our problems in America.

The contrast with national solutions to problems rather than federal (i.e., state government) solutions to problems is the difference between monopoly and markets.  When states exercise power over education or labor relations or abortion or civil liberties, then the wise exercise of that power will attract to well-governed states people, commerce, brains, and talent.

This marketplace of governments works in practice and it also allows the sort of diversity which leftists pretend to pine for so deeply.  The greater the nationalization of government, the fewer areas in which states can be truly independent, and the less those independent policies matter. 

Nationalism has another sinister toxin in politics and government.  When our nation was formed, there was no capitol per se, and when the District of Columbia was created, it was intended to be located in the middle of America, as it was in 1790.  Today, the District of Columbia is farther away from much of America than London was from the American colonies when the Revolutionary War began.

As long as federalism kept the national government relatively insignificant, the dramatic isolation of our center of national government power from the rest of America did not matter.  Today, a map of "red" and "blue" states shows quite clearly how proximity to national government is directly connected to lust for national government hegemony. 

When schemes to solve the myriad problems we face through national means, rather that state-by-state ones, are proposed, Flyover Country knows what that means: their interests, their values, and their rights will be subordinated to people who live thousands of miles away by those who scarcely know (or care) about what life is like in these "colonies."   

There are two practical problems in a presidential election with making the case for federalism rather than nationalism in addressing those things that government ought to address. 

First, federal politicians since FDR have bought votes by promising goodies paid for through an unlimited national credit card (something states cannot do) and Federal Reserve fiat money.  Promising national solutions to problems always sounds better than saying states should try many different solutions to perceived national problems.

Second, those who tell America about national government live in the surreal fantasy world of Washington and New York.  These folks quite naturally think in terms of nationalism and not federalism.  This includes not just the pundits who are invested in nationalism, but also the politicians who live in Washington and not where their voters live.  So we hear from these politicians the constant call to "bring us together" though the compression of Americans into a single national glob – a recipe for misery and failure. 

Convincing voters that federalism and not nationalism is the answer to our problems is hard, but it must be done.

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