Monday, May 18, 2015

Can a Return to Federalism Save Us?

The Maverick Philosopher:

Can a Return to Federalism Save Us?

The Problem
I fear that we are coming apart as a nation.  We need to face the fact that we do not agree on a large number of divisive, passion-inspiring issues.  Among these are abortion, gun rights, capital punishment, affirmative action, legal and illegal immigration, same-sex 'marriage,' taxation, the need for fiscal responsibility in government, the legitimacy of public-sector unions, wealth redistribution, the role of the federal government in education, the very purpose of government, the limits, if any, on governmental power,  and numerous others.
We need also to face the fact that we will never agree on them. These are not merely academic issues since they directly affect the lives and livelihoods and liberties of people. And they are not easily resolved because they are deeply rooted in fundamental worldview differences, in a "conflict of visions,"  to borrow a phrase from Thomas Sowell.   When you violate a man's liberty, or mock his moral sense, or threaten to destroy his way of life, or use the power to the state to force him to violate his conscience, you are spoiling for a fight and you will get it.

We ought also to realize that calls for civility and comity and social cohesion are pretty much empty.  Comity (social harmony) in whose terms?  On what common ground?  Peace is always possible if one side just gives in.  If conservatives all converted to leftism, or vice versa, then harmony would reign.  But to think such a thing will happen is just silly, as silly as the silly hope that Obama, a leftist, could 'bring us together.'  We can come together only on common ground, or to invert the metaphor, only under the umbrella of shared principles.  And what would these be?

There is no point in papering over very real differences.
Not only are we disagreeing about issues concerning which there can be reasonable disagreement, we are also disagreeing about things that it is unreasonable to disagree about, for example, whether photo ID ought to be required at polling places, and about what really happened in the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases.  When disagreement spreads to ascertainable facts, then things are well-nigh hopeless.

The rifts are deep and nasty.  Polarization and demonization of the opponent are the order of the day.   Do you want more of this?  Then give government more say in your life.  The bigger the government, the more to fight over.  Do you want less?  Then support limited government and federalism.  A return to federalism may be a way to ease the tensions, some of them anyway, not that I am sanguine about any solution. 

What is Federalism?
Federalism, roughly, is (i) a form of political organization in which governmental power is divided among a central government and various constituent governing entities such as states, counties, and cities; (ii) subject to the proviso that both the central and the constituent governments retain their separate identities and assigned duties. A government that is not a federation would allow for the central government to create and reorganize constituent governments at will and meddle in their affairs.  Federalism is implied by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Federalism would make for less contention, because people who support high taxes and liberal schemes could head for states like Massachusetts or California, while the  conservatively inclined who support gun rights and capital punishment could gravitate toward states like Texas.
We see the world differently.  Worldview differences in turn reflect differences  in values.  Now values are not like tastes.  Tastes cannot be reasonably discussed and disputed  while values can.  (De gustibus non est disputandum.) But value differences, though they can be fruitfully discussed,  cannot be objectively resolved because any attempted resolution will end up relying on higher-order value judgments.  There is no exit from the axiological circle.  We can articulate and defend our values and clarify our value differences.  What we cannot do is resolve our value differences to the satisfaction of all sincere, intelligent, and informed discussants.
Example: Religion

Read the rest.

Bill concludes with the following observation and question:

I understand that my proposal will not be acceptable to either liberals or conservatives.  Both want to use the power of the central government to enforce what they consider right.  Both sides are convinced that they are right.  But of course they cannot both be right.  So how do they propose to heal the splits in the body politic?
TB: The answer, of course, is by an appeal to emotion, deceptive media practices, and coercion.  (Though I'm curious why Bill thinks that the proposal will not be acceptable to conservatives.  Perhaps he has in mind neoconservatives.)

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