Alex Massie

On Federalism and Subsidiarity

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John Schwenkler makes the case for modesty and humility in politics. That's to say, he'd like the United States to embrace federalism once again. As lont-time readers may recall, this is an old, well-worn, favourite hobby-horse of mine too.

Presenting themselves, not as a single-minded party with an inflexible platform and no place for disagreement, but rather as a group that is focused on enabling local governance and a consequent sensitivity to regional particularities, can help Republicans to overcome their internal conflicts without having to throw the dissenters overboard.

The flip side to this is that adopting a federalist approach to governance will also entail abandoning the attempt to make federal policy decisive on issues like abortion, marriage, drug policy, and euthanasia. But the attempt to impose nationwide policies in such areas is a strategy fraught with danger for social conservatives: not just because it is Constitutionally suspect, but also because there simply isn’t the sort of national consensus on such issues that many conservatives would like there to be. As Jim Manzi and Megan McArdle have recently observed, the alliance between libertarians and religious conservatives that has traditionally been at the heart of the Republican coalition requires exactly this sort of modesty — and it’s far better to win in some states while losing in others than to bet the house on Washington and lose it all at once.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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