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Adolf Hitler on Federalism:

One of the relatively few underanalyzed major topics in the extensive academic literature on federalism is the relationship between federalism and totalitarianism. A potential advantage of decentralized federalism is that it might serve as an obstacle to the establishment of an oppressive totalitarian state. Yet most scholars have largely ignored this possibility. One writer who didn't, however, was Adolf Hitler, who had this to say on the subject in Chapter 10 of Mein Kampf (which is devoted to German federalism):

[A] new and triumphant idea should burst every chain which tends to paralyse its efforts to push forward. National Socialism must claim the right to impose its principles on the whole German nation, without regard to what were hitherto the confines of federal states. And we must educate the German nation in our ideas and principles. As the Churches do not feel themselves bound or limited by political confines, so the National Socialist Idea cannot feel itself limited to the territories of the individual federal states that belong to our Fatherland. The National Socialist doctrine is not handmaid to the political interests of the single federal states. One day it must become teacher to the whole German nation. It must determine the life of the whole people and shape that life anew. For this reason we must imperatively demand the right to overstep boundaries that have been traced by a political development which we repudiate. (emphasis added)

Hitler and the Nazis rightly saw German federalism as an obstacle to the realization of their aims - which required a highly centralized state. And it is not surprising that they quickly stripped the German states of most of their authority after taking power in 1933. Other things equal, a totalitarian government is more difficult to establish in a federalist state than in a unitary one, because in the former state and/or local governments will retain greater ability to resist a totalitarian movement that comes to power at the center. If the totalitarians are unable to stifle the autonomy of state governments, then their vision cannot be fully implemented, even if they remain in power at the center. In Hitler's words, federalism makes it harder for a totalitarian movement to "impose its principles on the whole . . . nation." Furthermore, relatively autonomous state and local governments might make it more difficult for the totalitarians to seize power at the center in the first place.

The fact that Hitler didn't like federalism is not in itself a reason to support it; such an argument would be an obvious example of Eugene Volokh's "reverse Mussolini fallacy." But the likelihood that federalism may have the benefit of making the establishment of a totalitarian state more difficult is an important advantage of such a system relative to a unitary state.

Even if federalism obviates the danger of a totalitarian takeover only slightly, that might still be an important advantage given the high cost of totalitarianism. For example, let's assume that in Country A, federalism reduces the chances of a totalitarian outcome from 2% to 1%, and let us also assume that A has a population of 20 million people. Given that totalitarian governments typically engage in mass murder that kills 5% or more of the population, reducing the chance of a totalitarian outcome in A from 2% to 1% has an expected value of at least 10,000 lives saved. That estimate conservatively assumes that the totalitarians would kill "only" 5% of A's population if they succeed in taking over. There are numerous totalitarian states where (including the USSR, China, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia, Germany, Vietnam, and others), where totalitarian rulers accounted for a much higher death toll than that. It also ignores all the lesser human rights violations that occur under totalitarian rule such as forced labor, violations of freedom of speech, and so on.

In some well-established democracies, the background probability of a totalitarian takeover may be so low, that the utility of federalism in driving that probability down still further is insignificant. In less-established democracies, such as that which the Nazis faced in the 1920s, the background probability is considerably higher.

Finally, it's worth noting that Germany is the only example of a federalist nation that fell victim to a totalitarian takeover despite its federalism. Except in cases where totalitarianism was imposed by foreign conquerors, every other transition to totalitarianism occurred under unitary governments. Even in the German case, federalism helped prevent earlier efforts at a totalitarian takeover in 1919 (by communists) and 1923 (Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch). Fascist Italy is not a counterexample, because Mussolini's dictatorship, although oppressive, never rose to the level of full totalitarianism and - not coincidentally - did not engage in mass murder and other atrocities on anything like the same scale as the Nazis did (e.g. - Italian Fascist officials actually refused to take part in the Holocaust).

The degree to which federalism impedes totalitarianism remains an open question. But if it does so to even a small extent, that fact alone might justify establishing a federalist system with strict limits on central government power - even if a unitary state would be preferable otherwise. The choice between unitary government and federalism is an important issue in many new democracies, including Iraq. In making their decision, they should take due account of Adolf Hitler's insight.

Mark Field (mail):
Remember to include in the accounting the federalist system which held slaves.
12.20.2006 11:45pm
Justin (mail):
Hitler was also against SuperAids.
12.20.2006 11:48pm
Ilya Somin:
Remember to include in the accounting the federalist system which held slaves.

During most of that time, the central government supported slavery (e.g. through the Fugitive Slave Law). Had there been a unitary rule on slavery at the time of the Founding (when all 13 states were slave states), it would almost certainly have required permitting slavery rather than banned it. Even after that point, proslavery forces dominated the central government until 1860, and antislavery ones were only able to take control at that time because northern states had had enough autonomy to ban slavery in the preceding decades. A unitary America would have had slavery for a much longer time than the federalist US did.
12.20.2006 11:49pm
Chris MM (mail) (www):
Waiiiit a minute. Is it really a good idea to use Hitler turning a federalist state into a totalitarian one to argue that it's more difficult to establish a totalitarian government in a federalist state? I mean, using an example of totalitarianism being established in a federalist state fairly easily (once he came to power at the center, the federalist state was easily dissolved) to argue that it's a difficult thing to do makes little sense.
12.20.2006 11:55pm
Ilya Somin:
Is it really a good idea to use Hitler turning a federalist state into a totalitarian one to argue that it's more difficult to establish a totalitarian government in a federalist state?

I address this point in the last part of the post:


Finally, it's worth noting that Germany is the only example of a federalist nation that fell victim to a totalitarian takeover despite its federalism. Except in cases where totalitarianism was imposed by foreign conquerors, every other transition to totalitarianism occurred under unitary governments. Even in the German case, federalism helped prevent earlier efforts at a totalitarian takeover in 1919 (by communists) and 1923 (Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch).
12.21.2006 12:00am
Taeyoung (mail):
This may be so, but I think reference has to be made also to the particular historical circumstances in Germany at the time.

Germany had only been unified in 1871. When Mein Kampf was published, 1925-1926, Germany had existed as a unified nation-state for less than sixty years. And the process of unification did not immediately stamp out local affiliations -- to Saxony, to Bavaria, to Schleswig and Holstein, to Silesia, to Westphalia, etc. After all, many of the older generation would have been born not citizens of a German Reich but subjects of the little local kingdoms, duchies, marquisates, etc. Furthermore, it is not clear to me what the political status of the old local governance structures (up to the old kingdoms) was under the German Empire, but at least in name, they seem to have survived as kingdoms and grand duchies and so forth, just under the overlordship of the Kingdom of Prussia, within the German Empire. Bavaria also seems to have enjoyed particular regional privileges, and to have had some kind of parallel army command.

Furthermore, the creation of a single national identity, encompassing all German people was kind of a key element of Hitler's program, no? That whole "ethnic self-determination" thing was the justification underlying the demand for the Sudetenland and the annexation of Austria, after all. It's only natural that, rather than the old political demarcations of formerly divided Germany -- divisions that tracked the patchwork of principalities left over from the Holy Roman Empire, the Bonaparte's invasions, and the restoration of peace afterwards -- he would focus on a single unified Germany, full of people who were, above all, Germans (and not, say, Gypsies or Poles or Jews), without local allegiance to a Sachsen or a Westphalian or Bavarian identity. Ein Reich Ein Volk and all that.

So you may be right in saying that federalism acts as a kind of stopping block against totalitarianism. But I think that when Hitler is going on about "territories of the individual federal states that belong to our Fatherland" and about "political interests of the single federal states," he's not really talking about "federal states" in the same sense that we are -- my lay guess would be that in his mind, he's seeing the Nazi creation of an expansive and unitary German identity as the completion of the 19th century project of German unification, and sees these "federal states" as the remnants of an outdated political system (the Holy Roman Empire) that worked to keep Germany weak and divided while her enemies preyed on her, etc etc etc.
12.21.2006 12:07am
bellisaurius (mail):
Wouldn't feudalism be an example (to varying degrees) of a totalitarian federalistic government?
12.21.2006 12:11am
Ilya Somin:
So you may be right in saying that federalism acts as a kind of stopping block against totalitarianism. But I think that when Hitler is going on about "territories of the individual federal states that belong to our Fatherland" and about "political interests of the single federal states," he's not really talking about "federal states" in the same sense that we are -- my lay guess would be that in his mind, he's seeing the Nazi creation of an expansive and unitary German identity as the completion of the 19th century project of German unification, and sees these "federal states" as the remnants of an outdated political system (the Holy Roman Empire) that worked to keep Germany weak and divided while her enemies preyed on her, etc etc etc.

This point and mine are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, it's important to remember that Hitler was writing about the specific context of the Weimar Republic, which did have partially autonomous states with constitutionally guaranteed powers somewhat (though by no means completely) similar to our own. Also, to the extent that states help reinforce regional rather than national loyalties, that might be an indepedent causal mechanism by which federalism impedes totalitarianism.
12.21.2006 12:12am
Simon (391563) (mail) (www):
A unitary America would have had slavery for a much longer time than the federalist US did.

I think this point is contestable, to say the least.

Finally, it's worth noting that Germany is the only example of a federalist nation that fell victim to a totalitarian takeover despite its federalism.

What other federalist nations successfully resisted a serious internal totalitarian challenge?
12.21.2006 12:13am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I've read that the postwar constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany gave much greater power to the individual Staaten was precisely because of how rapidly Hitler used central authority to create a totalitarian society.

One advantage that Hitler enjoyed that made federalism at most a speed bump on the way to the Third Reich was that why the National Socialists had more support in the southern part of the country, they had substantial support throughout the country. They were a smaller minority in some places than others, but their cause was not that of a few kooks.

Another disadvantage was that Germany had just lowered the voting age to 18 in the 1932 elections, and this powerfully advantaged the National Socialists. The 1932 campaign slogan, "Gemeinnuetz vor Einnuetz" ("common needs before individual needs") spoke powerfully to the idealistic and unemployed young people.
12.21.2006 12:14am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Remember to include in the accounting the federalist system which held slaves.
As others have pointed out, the federalist aspects of the system worked against slavery, as state after state abolished slavery directly or phased it out. The federalist aspects also helped to prevent what became the norm in many Southern states (limitations on freedom of speech, bans on manumission of slaves, prohibitions on teaching blacks to read and write, bans on free blacks voting and possessing arms). Imagine if the central government had the authority to impose its will on every state with respect to these matters, especially in the early days, when slavery was present (in some degree) in just about every state!
12.21.2006 12:18am
Ilya Somin:
What other federalist nations successfully resisted a serious internal totalitarian challenge?

There are quite a few examples, including Malaysia, post-WWII Italy, the Phillipines, and others. Moreover, in some countries federalism might have prevented a serious totalitarian threat from emerging in the first place. I'm not, of course, saying that any of these countries overcame the challenge primarily because of federalism, or even that federalism was a major factor in their success. But if federalism helped even slightly, that was a major point in its favor, given the high costs of totalitarianism.
12.21.2006 12:19am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

What other federalist nations successfully resisted a serious internal totalitarian challenge?
Apparently, the United States. See this article from History Today about the apparent coup d'etat plot attempt against FDR. Not surprisingly, my article points out that federalism would probably have prevented such a plot (if it was what it seems to have been) from being successful, because every governor had both authority, and at the time, the equipment to go to war.
12.21.2006 12:20am
M (mail):
Early in the Russian revolution quite a bit of autonomy was give to/taken by (differently in different places, it seems) various 'republics' in what became the USSR. Now, they had obviously had limited autonmy in Tzarist times, but were actually given more autonomy in the early part of the revolution. The level of autonomy held by the various republics shifted back and forth both during the revolution and afterwards. I don't know that there's a clear moral to draw there other than that things are probably more complex than you've made them out to be here. (In Russia in the last several years the move has been away from federalism, a move that has quite wide-spread popular support, it seems.)
12.21.2006 12:25am
Ilya Somin:
Now, they had obviously had limited autonmy in Tzarist times, but were actually given more autonomy in the early part of the revolution.

Not actually true. Some of these areas were given greater autonomy on paper, but in actual fact the communist government was extremely centralized, probably even more so than the czarist. For more detailed discussion, see Richard Pipes' book Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (1993).
12.21.2006 12:37am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
I tend to feel this argument compares apples to oranges. Sure if we compare the federalist strategy of restraining governmental tyranny to do nothing federalism comes out on top but this isn't a very useful point to make. Federalism is one example of a precaution against totalitarianism. What really ought to be compared is the federalist strategy of restraining national power with other strategies for containing this power.

In effect the federalist system is simply one way of spreading power among many institutions to prevent any one person or group from abusing the power. Other schemes involve a division of power between strong branches of national government (legislature, courts and president). In fact, I would argue the federalist scheme for distributing power is particularly vulnerable to totalitarian takeover.

Federalism, due to it's deliberate rejection of central control, is going to be particularly vulnerable to governmental crisis's where the country is being torn apart (American civil war) or central control is needed to fight off an external threat (look at the central management and direction needed to fight WWII). It is exactly these sort of crisis of government that give charismatic villains the chance to cease power. In fact the Weimar republic is a great example of how a crisis of faith in the power of the national government can provoke totalitarianism.

I would argue that the (not very federalist) current structure of the United States where totalitarianism is fended off by independent branches at the federal level is much more effective because it allows sufficient central direction not to require slapdash constitutional fixes or extra-constitutional measures in times of crisis. In particular the flexible nature of our rules insured by judicial interpretation is very helpful.

--

As for the civil war example it seems to me that had we been less lucky the civil war or it's immediate aftermath would have been a particularly opportune time for someone to seize tyrannical control. I mean suppose after winning the war (and before letting the south represent itself again) Lincoln had started eloquently defending a new set of amendments giving the president massive new grants of power on the grounds that he needed it to prevent anything like this from happening again. I suspect it was more likely to pass then than any other time.
12.21.2006 12:41am
Elliot Reed:
Fair enough, but let's remember that federalism also makes it easier for smaller regions of a country to impose authoritarian restrictions on their people. A strong central government may be the only way to deal with that.
12.21.2006 12:44am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Clayton,

What do you mean when you say that Federalism would have prevented the plot. Their is a whiff of triviality about this argument. Of course almost by definition as long as federalism persists you won't have totalitarianism. But this doesn't speak to the prophylactic value of federalism, just to the fact that it is definitionally incompatible with complete dictatorial control.

So far all the arguments I've seen presented could also be run about guaranteeing democratic rule in your constitution, or hell even just saying 'no amendments to permit totalitarianism will be allowed.' So long as these rules are followed you won't be a totalitarian state. But the question is exactly what rules are least likely to be swept aside in a moment of crisis not which rules if properly followed would make it the most difficult to establish totalitarianism.

--

I mean so far no one has given anything like data which suggests that federalism prevents totalitarianism. The problem is you can't distinguish between federalism happening to persist because totalitarianism happened not to take over and federalism resisting that take over. Most certainly you don't have comparison data about how good other preventative measures compare to federalism.

In short this is an argument which can only sway the already convicted.
12.21.2006 12:50am
MnZ (mail):
It might be helpful to draw a distinction between federalism and unitary governments that devolve power to subordinate entities out of convenience. I realize that there is quite a bit of grey area in there. However, I believe that the example of the early Soviet Union represents the latter.
12.21.2006 12:54am
Respondent (mail):
Of course, a looser central government is more likely to lead to anarchy. It was the totaltarianism/anarchy dichotomy that led to our de jure federalist system of government. Of course our government now is basically federalist only in name, where even police powers (promised by Alexander Hamilton in the 17th federalist paper to be off limits to the central government) are largely in the hands of the feds. Instead of making sure that every law passed by congress is not only necessary, but also proper (namely that it doesn't run afoul of of federalist pricipals by completely outlawing something reserved to the states (banning drug possession instead of allowing a state licensing system for drug possession to keep " interstate commerce" regulation primarily just that), the Supreme Court has made a mockery of the framer's (Hamilton's!) promise of a limited central government.
12.21.2006 1:03am
Ilya Somin:
What really ought to be compared is the federalist strategy of restraining national power with other strategies for containing this power. \

Not necessarily. Even if the other strategies are effective in reducing the risk of totalitarianism, and even if they are more effective than federalism (they reduce the risk more), federalism might still be desirable if it causes an additional reduction of the risk, over and above that which we obtain from the "other" measures. NOt smoking may be more important to reducing the risk of early death than a healthy diet. But that doesn't mean that the life-extension benefits of eating healthy should be discounted.
12.21.2006 1:07am
Ilya Somin:
Federalism, due to it's deliberate rejection of central control, is going to be particularly vulnerable to governmental crisis's where the country is being torn apart (American civil war) or central control is needed to fight off an external threat (look at the central management and direction needed to fight WWII).

Federalism is perfectly compatible with power to counter external threats or major nationwide crises. It does not imply that the central government should have zero power or even that its powers shouldn't be substantial, merely that they be strictly limited in nature.


It is exactly these sort of crisis of government that give charismatic villains the chance to cease power. In fact the Weimar republic is a great example of how a crisis of faith in the power of the national government can provoke totalitarianism.

There is no evidence that the crisis of confidence in the Weimar government came because it had too little power relative to the German states. To the contrary, the last several years of Weimar (when confidence collapsed), saw considerable movement towards greater centralization.
12.21.2006 1:10am
SF:
I'm guessing that the general idea here is that a loose confederacy of states is less susceptible to being turned into a dictatorship than a federal government with centralized control. That would seem to be obvious, but the remainder of the argument--that the risks of becoming totalitarian outweigh the benefits of federal government--still need to be borne out. We also need to consider how separation of powers is embedded in a constitution like ours (US).
12.21.2006 1:12am
NYU 2L:
I hereby nominate this post for "Blog Post most likely to be cited in high school policy debates." They're all looking for that card to put in their Federalism disadvantages to claim tens of thousands of lives saved.
12.21.2006 2:25am
jvarisco (www):
"Given that totalitarian governments typically engage in mass murder that kills 5% or more of the population"

It would be nice to see some actual statistics for this, not some shady website. Notice they include the UK and "Colonialism" among their list of mass murderers. Moreoever, you need to suggest that something about totalitarianism itself is the cause of such murders; considering the small sample size, even if there is a correlation it is not necessarily significant.

Another problem is that you ignore the negative aspects of federalism; the Articles of Confederation were a horrible failure, for obvious reasons. Federalism simply prevents the government from doing much, whether that involves becoming totalitarian and killing people or not. No government actually maintains a federal system during wartime or other national crises, and as states want to become powerful they end up centralizing more, simply because it is efficient. If you want a powerful state, it needs to be more centralized. Would you accept a bit higher risk of become totalitarian and killing people if that was the difference between being the world's main superpower as opposed to just another member of the UN? Besides, without central power we have crazy states trying to secede and making us go down and burn Georgia.
12.21.2006 2:27am
Carl Shulman:
The obvious comparison is Putin's Russia, where he stopped election of regional executives in favor of central-government appointees.
12.21.2006 2:31am
Ilya Somin:
Federalism simply prevents the government from doing much, whether that involves becoming totalitarian and killing people or not.

This just conflates federalism with the total or near-total absence of a central government.

It would be nice to see some actual statistics for this, not some shady website. Notice they include the UK and "Colonialism" among their list of mass murderers. Moreoever, you need to suggest that something about totalitarianism itself is the cause of such murders; considering the small sample size, even if there is a correlation it is not necessarily significant.

The website I linked to is run by Prof. Rudolph Rummel, the leading academic expert on state-sponsored mass murder; he's about as "non-shady" as you can get in this field. As for whether totalitarianism itself is the cause of mass murder, I think it's pretty obvious and noncontroversial that it is. EVERY totalitarian state that has lasted for more than a few years has engaged in mass murder, and those states' ideologies and near-total control of all aspects of economic and social life certainly facilitate mass killing. The probability that all of the twenty or so totalitarian states would engage in mass murder by random chance (in the absence of a causal mechanism linking toto to mass murder), is vanishingly small.
12.21.2006 2:50am
professays (mail):
Federalism is a test for the integrity of any nation. It is an undoubted fact that the majority of multiethnical countries will cease to exist if they adopt a truly federal structure.
12.21.2006 3:11am
Ilya Somin:
It is an undoubted fact that the majority of multiethnical countries will cease to exist if they adopt a truly federal structure.

It depends on what you mean by "truly federal." But the fact is that numerous multiethnic nations exist quite successfully with federalist systems, including some quite decentralized ones, such as Canada and Switzerland. Indeed, federalism is one of the factors that keeps them together, by reducing the fear that minority ethnic groups will be dominated by a majority group that takes control of an all-powerful central government.
12.21.2006 3:22am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Ilya-

Fascist Italy is not a counterexample, because Mussolini's dictatorship, although oppressive, never rose to the level of full totalitarianism and - not coincidentally - did not engage in mass murder and other atrocities on anything like the same scale as the Nazis did (e.g. - Italian Fascist officials actually refused to take part in the Holocaust).

I don't know much about fascist period in Italy, so I'm only going by the movie "Life is Beautiful" here, but didn't the Italian Fascists hand over their Jewish citizens to the Nazis? Was that portrayal inaccurate?

As far as Federalism stopping the development of a totalitarian state: Possibly, but not at a very significant level. Totalitarian regimes seem to use war or some other crisis - like the Reichstag fire - to seize "emergency" powers and then they extend the first crisis or create their own crises to maintain power. Federalism doesn't seem like much of an obstacle when totalitarian regimes use these overarching crises to seize control over the whole state. But I guess every little bit can be a help.
12.21.2006 4:02am
Ragerz (mail):
Mr. Somin makes a fascinating point.

However, one might wonder if Federalism in the United States facilitated another evil. Namely, civil war. Clearly, the issue of civil war is very relevant to Iraq.

Is civil war as likely under a unitary government as a federal one? Wouldn't that depend on how much military power you give to subunits and how antagonistic these subunits are to each other? But doesn't giving some military power to subunits help prevent centralized totalitarianism? Is there a tradeoff between actions that increase the risk of totalitarianism on one hand, and civil war on the other?

I am absolutely certain that Mr. Somin's idea is relevant to Iraq and should be carefully considered. Of course, how you structure federalism is very important. Totalitarianism in Iraq would be bad. So would civil war. Which would be worse? Wouldn't that depend on the nature of the civil war or totalitarian regime? Certainly, a civil war can result in a totalitarian regime at the end, leaving one with the worst possible situation, a civil war followed by a totalitarian regime.

So the question is how to structure a federalist regime in a manner that minimizes the probability of civil war. And perhaps even consider alternatives to federalism to the extent that some risk of increased civil war is inevitable under federalism if (and only if) we think that any risk that cannot be eliminated by clever structuring is greater than the risks of totalitarianism under a regime of clever structuring not using federalism. Assuming that civil war is just about as bad as totalitarianism -- especially since there is a chance that civil war will lead to totalitarianism -- given our total inability to predict the nature of what will result and thus compare the badness of the two scenarios ex ante, I think it makes the most sense to consider civil war and totalitarianism as equally bad outcomes.

But this just raises the big question. How does one go about assessing the probabilities here? Is there any good way to say that federal structure x increases the probability of civil war by n% but decreases the probability of totalitarianism by m% while unitary structure y decreases the probability of civil war by p% while increasing the probability of totalitarianism by q%? Or are we left to our intuitions??
12.21.2006 6:22am
professays (mail):
It depends on what you mean by "truly federal." But the fact is that numerous multiethnic nations exist quite successfully with federalist systems, including some quite decentralized ones, such as Canada and Switzerland. Indeed, federalism is one of the factors that keeps them together, by reducing the fear that minority ethnic groups will be dominated by a majority group that takes control of an all-powerful central government.


Switzerland is an exception to the rule. As to Canada its citizerns of French origin are few, they are dispersed throughout the country and can hardly make up 50% of the Quebeck's population. In spite of it lots of polls have indicated that the majority of French speaking Canadians share the ideas of seperatism. To my mind federalism even with high standards of living and absence of some open leagalized discrimination can't prevent from the split of multinational countries. Probably it is due to the fact that all they were originally created by force, often as empires and their past teems with the facts of the brutal domination of one ethnic group over others, language and cultural supression and fairly open genocides.
12.21.2006 6:59am
Chris MM (mail) (www):
While I saw your short justification at the end of your post, I still think you've defeated your argument with the example you've chosen. Federalism had little, if anything, to do with the defeat of Hitler's 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, and while I can't say for sure, it doesn't appear that it had anything to do with 1919, either. What is clear, however, is that Hitler had absolutely no trouble dissolving the federalist state once in power, and that federalism did nothing to prevent him from ascending to power.

I'm not sure I can think of another historical example in which totalitarianism took hold in a federalist state, but then, then, there aren't really a whole lot of cases of totalitarianism (especially on a large scale), and there is no law of small numbers.

One could argue that Russia is headed in the direction of totalitarianism, and it is a federalist state. I'm not up on current Russian politics to know to what extent federalism is keeping an increasingly powerful central government in check there, though.

Oh, and for a more informed analysis of the effect of federalism on totalitarianism, check out German Federalism: Past, Present, Future. The idea that federalism gets in the way of totalitarianism is not a new one, and I think it's been pretty well established that it's empirically false.
12.21.2006 7:13am
Pete Freans (mail):
...didn't the Italian Fascists hand over their Jewish citizens to the Nazis?

Most WWII Italians went to great lengths to protect their Jewish friends, neighbors, and relatives from harm. There was no formalized or systematic government policy at that time to capture and eradicate Jewish citizenry in Italy. The only valid argument in my opinion regarding this issue is that Fascist officials did not do enough to protect Jews and failed to aggressively rebuff any Nazi influence over their policy.

The stigma and guilt that exists in Germany today does not exist in Italy regarding its fascist past. The fascist party is alive and well in Italy and many WWII Italians who lived through Mussolini recall those years with nostalgia. Whether that's justified or not - of course the passage of time has a tendency to blur reality - I agree that fascism in WWII Italy never rose to the ideological intensity of Nazi Germany.
12.21.2006 7:55am
AppSocRes (mail):
Counterexample: Spain 1936.
12.21.2006 8:17am
AppSocRes (mail):
Let me amend my previous post. Spain's regional autonomy prevented an immediate leftist putsch and slowed the eventually success of the conservative reaction, but ultimately the Spanish republic, despite great regional autonomy, became a fascist dictatorship.
12.21.2006 8:20am
Godwin's Follower:
Two words:

Godwin's Law
12.21.2006 9:25am
paulhager (mail) (www):
It is my view that a major flaw in the Weimar Republic's system was the use of strict proportional representation (PR). I discuss PR in an essay I wrote 4 years ago explaining why I left the Libertarian Party (see the section "Weaknesses of proportional representation" for the discussion). I followed up on this discussion in a posting on my blog titled "A problem with democracy?".

Shortly after the U.S. took out the Baathist regime in Iraq, I became concerned that the creation of a new Iraqi government would result in a unicameral parliamentary system using PR. Since PR systems are unstable and guarantee that fringe/extremist parties will have representation, I expected that civil war was inevitable. Interestingly, because I was so pessimistic about the Iraqi experiment in self government, the reality has turned out to be much better than I expected.

I agree with the thesis that a federal system is more stable than a unitary system. Separation of powers - in particular, separating the executive from the legislative branch - is also important. Parliamentary systems do this poorly since most of the executive power reposes in a Prime Minister chosen by the legislative body. It is necessary to find a balance in power distribution so that the executive has limits placed upon it. Thus, giving an executive "emergency powers" is extremely dangerous and should never be contemplated.

A final area of instability is that in an otherwise effective federal system, there can be a problem of excessive regionalism producing a political centrifugal effect. Exhibit A would be the U.S. Civil War. I consider the Civil War to be a major systemic failure given that it resulted in the violent death of 2% of the U.S. population over a 4-year period. There is reason to believe that the Civil War would not have happened after the 1860 election had there been direct election of the President and the use of Condorcet voting since it is unlikely that Lincoln was the Condorcet winner (CW). The CW in 1860 was probably Stephen A Douglas (see, for example, Tabarrock and Spector's analysis "Would the Borda Count Have Avoided the Civil War?", which applies Donald Saari's geometrical approach to social choice/voting theory to that election).

All of this is of more than theoretical interest - as I pointed out earlier, I considered our nation building effort in Iraq extremely risky because the type of federal republic created coupled with PR voting would produce a very unstable system. Here was what I had to say about this on my blog:

“System is everything” is an adage of mine that conveys the idea that the success or failure of human institutions is largely determined by how they are engineered rather the beliefs or “culture” of the people who comprise them. Thus, I totally reject the idea that Islamic people in the 21st century are unsuited to self-government just as I long ago rejected the idea that Germans have some deep-seated tendency toward militarism and genocide as evidenced by their actions in the 20th century. Germany’s democratic failure was the result of multiple problems with the Weimar Constitution, one of which was strict PR. In fairness, a system that doesn’t use PR can still fail: Pakistan’s parliamentary system was based on the British model and used direct election and first-past-the-post voting. However, Pakistan’s system made it easy for the executive to assume emergency powers and, as a result, has been ruled by a series of dictators over a large part of its existence.

The example of Pakistan demonstrates that a robust political system needs a series of checks and balances such that the “will of the majority” cannot be quickly acted upon and can sometimes be frustrated by a minority. The system should also make it hard for a “man on a white horse” to gain absolute power. These were the guiding principals of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. If the U.S. is going to continue to nation build, perhaps it should require of the next group of representatives charged with setting up a government (probably in Iran), that they read the original U.S. Constitution and the Federalist papers along with the works of the Marquis de Condorcet before they embark on writing their own constitution.
12.21.2006 9:54am
George Liebmann (mail) (www):
Is not the denial to the national government of general police powers, referred to by Hamilton in Federalist 45, basic to American federalism?> There are about one million policemen in this country, less than 10 percent of whom are part of federal law enforcement agencies. Given our past failure to effectively control the FBI, does anyone think that democracy and liberty would survive if we had a million-strong federal police force?

As for the Weimar experience, Justice Jackson, based on his studies at Nremburg, viewed the decisive event in Hitler's rise to power as the supersession of the Social Democratic controlled Prussian police by the Von Papen government in 1932, which made the Nazis masters of the streets before the 1933 elections. That event was made possible by the emergency powers provisions in the Weimar constitution, whiuch the Germans were careful not to replicate after World War II. In submitting to this ukase, which ultimately was only partially upheld by the German Supreme Court, the Prussian minister concerned noted that 'a police force cannot fight an army.' However, if the police had resisted, the army might not have fought against fellow Germans, or if it did, it, rather than the Nazis, would have gained political control.

It is hard to view with equanimity the current American enthusiasm in some quarters for emergency powers, unlimited federal criminal jurisdiction, the expansion of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the new Northern Command, and the proposed dilution of the Posse Commitatus act. 'Liberals' favoring the federalization of almost everything are complicit in almost all these developments.

One of the earlier commentators also made an intesting observation about the 18 year old vote. Both the British ambassador to Germany in 1928-33, Sir Horace Rumbold, and Chancellor Bruning were apopleptic about this development, which Bruning tried to reverse. Rumbold was even upset by the introduction of the 'flapper vote', for women between 21 and 30, in England, a measure taken by the Baldwin government over the objection of only one cabinet member--Churchill!
12.21.2006 10:00am
frankcross (mail):
Enough with the anecdotes, the empirical evidence I've seen doesn't support this hypothesis. See, for example, Lane &Ersson, The Puzzle of Federalism
12.21.2006 10:10am
Cornellian (mail):
The assumption here seems to be that the United States still qualifies as a federal system, but I'm not sure that's the case in any meaningful sense in relation to this issue. The federal government is now so powerful vis a vis the states that there is virtually nothing the states can do to resist nearly any policy initiative that a federal government is determined to pursue. Citing the slavery example means nothing since the pre-Civil War federal government was limited to an extent unimaginable today. Sure the states retain some vestiges of power and sovereignty even today but not likely enough to have any ability to resist a totalitarian federal government.
12.21.2006 10:20am
SF:

The federal government is now so powerful vis a vis the states that there is virtually nothing the states can do to resist nearly any policy initiative that a federal government is determined to pursue.

That's what they all say...until it comes time to accept federal funding.
12.21.2006 10:33am
Justin (mail):
"As others have pointed out, the federalist aspects of the system worked against slavery, as state after state abolished slavery directly or phased it out."

First of all, the alleged proof doesn't support the conclusion. Just because "state after state abolished" slavery (which as I will get to is obviously not true in the sense that it was implied), does not mean that federalism worked "against slavery."

Furthermore, states with an agriculture-based economy did not abolish slavery under their own volition, especcially after the invention of the cotton gin. So to show that the states for which slavery didn't have sufficient value abolished slavery, does not show the "Southern revisionist history" that slavery was dying a quick death anyway, and that the Civil War was unneccesary northern agression in that regards.

So long as agriculture ruled the Southern economy (into the Great Depression), there is no indication that because New Hampshire abolished slavery that Georgia would have as well. Furthermore, had the South actually seceded, and/or FDR hadn't implemented an economic recovery program that directly contradicted many of the principles of Federalism, there is no way of knowing when the South would have abandoned an agricultural economy, nor is there a way of knowing exactly what technological revolution would have been sufficient to reduce the demand of slave labor enough to give the abolitionist movement enough push.

Remember, the South was willing to treat African Americans as subhuman noncitizens until at least the 1960s, when anti-federalist initiatives legally prevented them from continuing that.

To this day, federalism is not a goal unto itself for anyone, not even Somin. It's simply a path to a particular set of outcomes that they think will be easier to accomplish at the state level than the national one. That's why liberals such as myself are "federalist" on issues like gay marriage. Somin believes that governments should be weak and ineffective (in wielding power, not ineffective in the George W Bush sense), and he thinks that his liberterian goals are easier to accomplish at the state than at the national level. If he thought that states would be far more likely to pass laws that were economically-socialist and socially intrusive, he would oppose federalism.
12.21.2006 10:36am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

What do you mean when you say that Federalism would have prevented the plot. Their is a whiff of triviality about this argument. Of course almost by definition as long as federalism persists you won't have totalitarianism. But this doesn't speak to the prophylactic value of federalism, just to the fact that it is definitionally incompatible with complete dictatorial control.
I mean that state governors could have (and probably would have) used their independent control over state military units to fight such a seizure of power.
12.21.2006 10:49am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The assumption here seems to be that the United States still qualifies as a federal system, but I'm not sure that's the case in any meaningful sense in relation to this issue. The federal government is now so powerful vis a vis the states that there is virtually nothing the states can do to resist nearly any policy initiative that a federal government is determined to pursue.
Ever since New York v. U.S. (1992), federalism is alive and kicking. See what happened in Printz v. U.S.--a federal mandate to the states perform handgun background checks was struck down.
12.21.2006 10:51am
Room 237 (mail):
One other point I would make is that the East German communist party destroyed the last remnants of federalism in what became the DDR and turned it into a de jure unitary state.

By the same token, the Soviet Union was in theory a federalist state and the United Kingdom was, until recently, a mostly unitary state (with some home rule for Northern Ireland until the Troubles began).

While I am a big fan of federalism and agree it helps prevent totalitarianism, it is not the only defense.
12.21.2006 11:09am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Justin writes:

"As others have pointed out, the federalist aspects of the system worked against slavery, as state after state abolished slavery directly or phased it out."

First of all, the alleged proof doesn't support the conclusion. Just because "state after state abolished" slavery (which as I will get to is obviously not true in the sense that it was implied), does not mean that federalism worked "against slavery."

Furthermore, states with an agriculture-based economy did not abolish slavery under their own volition, especcially after the invention of the cotton gin. So to show that the states for which slavery didn't have sufficient value abolished slavery, does not show the "Southern revisionist history" that slavery was dying a quick death anyway, and that the Civil War was unneccesary northern agression in that regards.
This is wrong on so many levels. EVERY Northern state had an agriculture-based economy until the Civil War. Many of the Northern states developed significant industrial bases by the 1820s, but agriculture was still dominant.

I have not argued, nor would I argue, that slavery was dying just before the Civil War.

So long as agriculture ruled the Southern economy (into the Great Depression), there is no indication that because New Hampshire abolished slavery that Georgia would have as well.
Nor did I argue otherwise. New Hampshire's abolition of slavery was painless because there were effectively no slaves present. In some of the other Northern states, slavery was phased out over a period of decades because there were significant numbers of slaves. Immediate abolition would have generated substantial opposition from owners, and secondarily, many slaves had not been adequately prepared for freedom, and older slaves would have been dumped on to the street without any provision for their old age. My book Black Demographic Data, 1790-1860 examines this subject in some detail.

Furthermore, had the South actually seceded, and/or FDR hadn't implemented an economic recovery program that directly contradicted many of the principles of Federalism, there is no way of knowing when the South would have abandoned an agricultural economy, nor is there a way of knowing exactly what technological revolution would have been sufficient to reduce the demand of slave labor enough to give the abolitionist movement enough push.
I am not sure what argument you are making here. FDR's policies, we can safely say, had nothing to do with the end of slavery. I am not arguing (nor would anyone familiar with the literature argue) that slavery was going away on its own. From an economic standpoint, it didn't make a lot of sense, but people often pursue policies that are not in their own economic interest, if other desires are more important. In the case of maintaining slavery, the desire for hierarchy by masters, and the desire of poor whites to have someone to look down upon, took precedence over their own economic interests.

Remember, the South was willing to treat African Americans as subhuman noncitizens until at least the 1960s, when anti-federalist initiatives legally prevented them from continuing that.
The use of "subhuman" is both emotionally charged and inaccurate. There is no question that Southern states routinely violated the rights of African Americans, denying them many of the rights of citizenship (voting, jury duty, the right to be armed for self-defense), but to claim that they were treated as "subhuman" is leftist rhetoric exceeding reality.

I would argue that the various measures that corrected these abuses were not "anti-federalist," at least at the beginning. The Voting Rights Act was aimed at federal elections. The 24th Amendment, which played a part in breaking down the old system of voting deprivation, was carefully aimed at voting in federal elections, knowing that the net effect would be to break down barriers in state and local elections.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to interstate commerce--an area where the federal commerce clearly had authority, as the discussion in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. (1964) makes clear. (Later revisions were considerably more questionable as to their validity under the interstate commerce clause.)
12.21.2006 11:13am
Mark Field (mail):

During most of that time, the central government supported slavery (e.g. through the Fugitive Slave Law). ... A unitary America would have had slavery for a much longer time than the federalist US did.


Even in 1860, when the North was beginning to reject its support for pro-slavery measures, the overwhelming majority continued to agree that the federal government had no power to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed. Lincoln conceded that repeatedly.

I see no reason to believe that federal support of slavery prior to 1860 was a sine qua non for the continuance of the institution, nor any reason to believe that slavery would died out any time soon after 1860 in the absence of the War. The federal government of that day was very limited indeed; it's acts, one way or the other, were unlikely to have had much effect.

One can always argue that a federal government which aggressively opposed slavery in the states -- e.g., by banning the interstate slave trade under the commerce clause -- might have had some effect, but that remains unprovable. And, of course, such acts by the federal government would be inconsistent with your thesis.


Had there been a unitary rule on slavery at the time of the Founding (when all 13 states were slave states), it would almost certainly have required permitting slavery rather than banned it.


It's easy to make assertions about counterfactual history. You might be right, you might be wrong, who knows? If you mean by "the Founding" 1776, then I might agree, though I can see good arguments why it might not. If you mean 1789, I don't agree at all. By 1789 there was no likelihood of a unitary system. More plausibly, there would have been two or more nations established, at least one anti-slavery.

But assuming you're right, I don't see how that helps your thesis. If ever there was a weak federal system, it was under the Articles of Confederation (or, assuming you mean 1776, the barely-united colonies). That a system with such a weak central authority might adopt such a tyrannical policy for its new central authority seems to contradict your argument.

Such a reaction, though, is perfectly consistent with the commonly accepted view that tyranny tends to grow out of the weakness of government. Again, this is inconsistent with your argument, as others have noted above.
12.21.2006 11:34am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If you mean by "the Founding" 1776, then I might agree, though I can see good arguments why it might not. If you mean 1789, I don't agree at all. By 1789 there was no likelihood of a unitary system. More plausibly, there would have been two or more nations established, at least one anti-slavery.
I'm not so sure. At least part of why there were concessions made about slavery at the Constitutional Convention was concern that Georgia and South Carolina might not join the new government. Hence, the guarantee about not preventing importation of slaves for at least 20 years. This wasn't an idle threat, either. Rhode Island didn't sign up until Congress started discussions of setting up border fortifications and customs houses along its borders.
12.21.2006 11:43am
DJW (mail):
A nice idea, but I don't think it holds up in detail, because the details kill the comparison.

The individual states that make up the US are difficult to compare with the old, ethnic- and confessionally-colored states that were joined to form Germany. One of the factors that made the Federal Republic function as well as it has is that the forced migrations after the second world war dramatically changed the demographic composition of the newly-drawn states (Länder), with a mix of the German population groups that was previously unknown. Since that time, inner-German migration patterns have accelerated, and while most German may identify with a city or region, these are seldom precisely continguous with a Land. The success of the federal system -- in strong contrast to the weakness of the Weimar state -- has thus come about with the Lands carrying identies more narrowly structured around political and clearly defined local tasks (education, policing, and economic devlopment, in particular) rather than ethnic and cultural matters (Bavaria and B-W may be exceptions, but both of these states include strong sub-regional divisions; a Franconian would be unlikely himself as a Bavarian, for example, but would probably have few objections to the Land itself as a political unit). However, the system of generous financial support transfers from wealthier to poorer lands and the constant consultation on the federal level in all cabinet-level areas creates a system of consensus that is considerably different to that of either Weimar, the centralized Nazi state, or to the US.
12.21.2006 11:47am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

To this day, federalism is not a goal unto itself for anyone, not even Somin. It's simply a path to a particular set of outcomes that they think will be easier to accomplish at the state level than the national one.
I can't speak for Somin, but I emphatically reject that argument. I am generally opposed to unlimited abortion, but it seems clear to me that the federal government's authority to regulate abortion is limited to its highly abused interstate commerce authority. It would be simpler to pass a federal law on this to achieve the positive end of discouraging abortion--but that's not the federal government's job.

Similarly, I find the gun control laws of New York, Massachusetts, and California utterly outrageous. I would find it very convenient to have a single federal concealed weapon permit law equivalent to that of Idaho--but there's a reason for federalism--it allows each state to make decisions based on local conditions and requirements. (I wouldn't be upset if the federal courts would finally go ahead and acknowledge that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, and that the 14th Amendment incorporated that against the states--but that will have to wait for pigs to fly, I think.)
12.21.2006 11:49am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
The federalist system you all decry as the source and wellspring of slavery was nothing of the sort - America and her government did not invent slavery... but they did indeed pay hundreds of thousands of lives in order to end it.

Funny how people can blame federalism for slavery, and simultaneously deny it credit for ending it. One might almost call the disparity inconsistant except in the America-hating aspect.
12.21.2006 12:14pm
NV:
any utilitarian argument that does not even consider the benefits of the alternate approach is deeply flawed. you estimate the differential in civil rights violations (including a high rate of political killings in totalitarian states as opposed to that in a fedarlist state), but do not mention the comparative capabilities of federal and unitary states to save lives by acting on massive scales. a unitary state is arguably better able to efficiently provide beneficial services to its citizens, and is less fraught with collective action issues or races-to-the-bottom among the member federated states. i don't purport to have an estimate of the percentage of lives saved/improved thanks to these features of unitary government, but it is considerable enough to warrant accounting in the calculus. generally, making a utilitarian argument on the basis of a single factor, no matter how heavily it weighs, is suspect if not disingenuous.
12.21.2006 12:29pm
abb3w:
May I suggest that Machiavelli is also relevant? He spoke of Turkish and Frankish states in The Prince. While he was limiting it to Monarchies (and spoke of Republics elsewhere), the distinction is more generally applicable as the relative strength of the central power to the lesser powers that act to support it. When the central power is vastly greater than the servants, it resembles his description of Turkish states; when the serving powers are near-equals, the behavior is more the Frankish character.

He also observed that Frankish states are easy to take, but easy to hold, and that Turkish states are hard to take, but easy to hold. Yet Iraq was a profoundly Turkish state under Saddam? Why is there so much difficulty?

I fear the answer is that power abhors a vacuum. We feared to be seen as an imperial power; therefore, we did not fully grasp for the full control that Saddam held. The result was that some randomly achieved such power, and others not-so-randomly worked to seize it. And thus, we have converted a Turkish State to a Frankish one... but not of our liking.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure this really provides much insight into untangling the current mess over there.
12.21.2006 12:33pm
Mark Field (mail):

I'm not so sure. At least part of why there were concessions made about slavery at the Constitutional Convention was concern that Georgia and South Carolina might not join the new government.


I agree about the purpose and effect of the concessions. There's no way to be certain, of course, but I think the dynamics would have changed dramatically if the price of union had required re-legalizing the slavery that most of the Northern states were in the process of abolishing.
12.21.2006 12:45pm
Byomtov (mail):
The use of "subhuman" is both emotionally charged and inaccurate. There is no question that Southern states routinely violated the rights of African Americans, denying them many of the rights of citizenship (voting, jury duty, the right to be armed for self-defense), but to claim that they were treated as "subhuman" is leftist rhetoric exceeding reality.

Not so inaccurate. Indeed, many southerners did in fact regard African Americans as inferior beings. The rights you mention are hardly the whole picture. Many were denied routine police protection against violence, even murder. That is, their assailants or killers routinely went free. Freedom of speech and assembly were also denied, in effect. And of course there were lynchings.

In other words, it was not merely the sorts of political rights you describe, but even more basic ones.
12.21.2006 1:00pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Fair enough, but let's remember that federalism also makes it easier for smaller regions of a country to impose authoritarian restrictions on their people.

What Elliott said. In Mississippi, I have an easy time remembering that.

to claim that [Southern blacks under Jim Crow] were treated as "subhuman" is leftist rhetoric exceeding reality

Byomtov gives this more than it merits in response; I can only shake my head in wonder. Less "human" than white people, certainly.
12.21.2006 1:08pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):

Indeed, many southerners did in fact regard African Americans as inferior beings.


Of course, the ones that didn't, don't get quoted. But I'm sure you are factoring that in, right?


Fair enough, but let's remember that federalism also makes it easier for smaller regions of a country to impose authoritarian restrictions on their people.


And having the entire country under mississippi rules would have been such an improvement.

Evil that is isolated is more easily dealt with.
12.21.2006 1:32pm
Justin (mail):
Clayton, your position on abortion and guns are convenient when you live in Idaho, where under the first you still end up in a better place resultswise with federalism (but where's your conviction? If each abortion is a murder, how dare you tolerate a holocaust of deaths per year in your own country? Worse than compliant Nazis, since we're on Godwin's favorite subject!), and under the second you personally give up very little, and it preserves many other points. If you lvied in NY you'd be far more credible.

Then, right there while trying to play the equivalent of "but some of my best friends are black" you then say you DON'T want a federalist solution to gun laws, you want it imposed by the Constitution. Way to make a point. My point.
12.21.2006 1:37pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):

Then, right there while trying to play the equivalent of "but some of my best friends are black"...


Ah, and here I was wondering how to effectively demonize someone for having the courage to apply the same principles to himself as he does to others. Thanks for the tip.
12.21.2006 1:47pm
paulhager (mail) (www):
Justin writes:

Furthermore, states with an agriculture-based economy did not abolish slavery under their own volition, especcially after the invention of the cotton gin. So to show that the states for which slavery didn't have sufficient value abolished slavery, does not show the "Southern revisionist history" that slavery was dying a quick death anyway, and that the Civil War was unneccesary northern agression in that regards.


I've seen economic analyses that non-slave agriculture economically outperformed slave agriculture for every crop save one: cotton. Cotton was an anomaly because most (at least 2/3 or more, if memory serves) of the world's cotton immediately prior to the Civil War was produced by the South. The South was the OPEC of its day with respect to cotton. The problem for the South was that our old friend, market capitalism (plus a healthy dose of colonialism) was creating a major competitor: Egyptian cotton. Egyptian cotton was just beginning to become a factor when the Civil War started. Had there been no Civil War, prices would have still created international competition, with cotton grown in Egypt and elsewhere. Thus, the ecomomic premium that made cotton profitable, even with the inefficiencies of slave labor would have evaporated, because there would have been a crash in cotton prices. It's likely that slavery in the U.S. wouldn't have lasted past the 1870s even without a Civil War.
12.21.2006 1:50pm
Justin (mail):
"This is wrong on so many levels. EVERY Northern state had an agriculture-based economy until the Civil War. Many of the Northern states developed significant industrial bases by the 1820s, but agriculture was still dominant."

An economy? No. Go look at their imports and exports. Even so, we're clearly talking relative, and to a large degree, we're talking cotton.

"I am not sure what argument you are making here. FDR's policies, we can safely say, had nothing to do with the end of slavery."

FDR's policies de-emphasized the importance of agriculture in the South. That was the point.

"The use of "subhuman" is both emotionally charged and inaccurate. There is no question that Southern states routinely violated the rights of African Americans, denying them many of the rights of citizenship (voting, jury duty, the right to be armed for self-defense), but to claim that they were treated as "subhuman" is leftist rhetoric exceeding reality."

They were not just people whose "rights" were "violated" but people whose "fundamental rights" were violated by people who believed those "fundamental rights" were borne by all people. Obviously, the only way to intertwine these two beliefs is to divorce black people from the definition of "people."

"I would argue that the various measures that corrected these abuses were not "anti-federalist," at least at the beginning. The Voting Rights Act was aimed at federal elections. The 24th Amendment, which played a part in breaking down the old system of voting deprivation, was carefully aimed at voting in federal elections, knowing that the net effect would be to break down barriers in state and local elections."

This argument is silly for two reasons. One, regardless of the aims, what I was talking about was results - that until the 1960s, when African-Americans were provided full rights as people, they were not treated as such under the law, or (even for some time after, by most) socially. The question isn't whether "federalism" and the CRAs had any relationship, but whether TRUE federalism would give African American basic human rights, and at each step those rights were not given in parts of the country until the actions of the Federal Government (all THREE branches). That's not to say that many people who generally support Federalism but are not absolute believers would condone slavery and Jim Crow, just that true federalism (think Articles of Confederation) would prohibit the actions that we now know contributed to the rights of African Americans.

This argument is also silly because, even by your own admission, the goal of the Federal Government and its actors was to increase African-American human dignity in general, and specifically to influence (though with the careful advice of lawyers and complex negotiations with political coalitions) those rights against the wishes of the majorities of the seperate States.

And overall, you still haven't explained how long, without federalism, you believe it would have taken for it to be eradicated from every State in the country - only that it would eventually have happened, of which I clearly did not disagree (especcially into the modern world that includes both global trade and trade and foreign policy that considers human rights issues).

This will be my last post on this topic, barring it moving to something of more interest than where this has headed so far.
12.21.2006 1:50pm
Justin (mail):
Okay, because someone else made one point while I wrote that, I'll reply.

I specifically referenced cotton in my OP. I think your argument regarding Egypt is retrospective wishful thinking that I've heard from many conservatives. It's wrong for a multitude of factors - the cost in overseas trade would have prevented foreign cotton from seriously affecting the Southern emphasis, particularly given the low price-per-volume and the commodity nature of the product at that time is the most obvious. The lack of substantive alternatives, the cultural emphasis on land in the South, a general resistance to economic risk that often accompanies economies involving the level of inequality that the South had, and imperfect information and self-reinforced perceptions are also major factors.
12.21.2006 1:55pm
paulhager (mail) (www):
I pointed out in my earlier post:

Germany’s democratic failure was the result of multiple problems with the Weimar Constitution, one of which was strict PR. In fairness, a system that doesn’t use PR can still fail: Pakistan’s parliamentary system was based on the British model and used direct election and first-past-the-post voting. However, Pakistan’s system made it easy for the executive to assume emergency powers and, as a result, has been ruled by a series of dictators over a large part of its existence


As others have noted, the emergency power provisions in the Weimar Constitution was one of the reasons that the Republic failed. But, it is important to remember that the proportion of the national vote won by the Nazis in the last election before they took over actually declined from the previous election to around 30%. It was still enough to engineer a takeover. Without PR, the percentage of Nazis in the Reichstag would have been substantially less making it extremely unlikely they and Hitler would have been in a position to “game the system” even with its other defects. Incidentally, Germany abandoned strict PR after the war in favor of a rather complicated system that mixes PR with single-member districts.

With respect to the U.S. Civil War, in my earlier post I described it as a major systems failure. I pointed to Tabarrok and Spector’s analysis which concluded that Stephen A Douglas, and not Abraham Lincoln, was the Condorcet Winner of the 1860 election. The arguments as to why a Douglas victory would not have led to the secession crisis are not something I want to get into in great detail except to say that while “popular sovereignty” was not “popular” in the Southern States, there was no real concern that Douglas was going to try to overturn Dred Scott as was the case with Lincoln and the Republicans.

Back in 2003, I drafted a Constitution for Iraq which I based on the Confederate Constitution minus the slavery provisions plus several additions of my own. Without getting into the details, one of my additions was an explicit set of rules governing secession. It’s important to remember that a Constitutional question that was central to the Civil War was whether or not a state could leave the union once it had joined it. This question has never been satisfactorily addressed – I dismiss ex post facto legal arguments as merely ratifying the victor’s argument, which prevailed by force majeure. There would never have been a Civil War had there been broad agreement that there was a legal avenue for a state to leave the union AND the seceding states followed it. The absence of an agreement on the legality of secession meant that even with the sort of electoral reform that would have avoided the 1860 crisis, a subsequent secession crisis could have arisen over some other issue. Recall that in the run-up to the War of 1812, several New England states contemplated secession and the voting system was not a factor.

The ability of a state or political subunit to withdraw from a federal system is an important check on power consolidation irrespective of what one thinks about the constitutional arguments prior to the Civil War. Ideally, secession should be a peaceful process, as was the case in the U.S. example at the start. State conventions voted articles of secession peacefully, by majority vote. The problem was that things fairly quickly descended into armed conflict. (My personal view was that Lincoln made a bad situation worse.) A modern example of a state fragmenting peacefully is the split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The dissolution of the Soviet State was remarkably peaceful as well. (Although it could have turned out differently. Recall that when the Baltic States split, Gorbachev invoked Lincoln when he sent troops in to secure Soviet bases. Fortunately, the ultimate outcome didn’t lead to a second Russian Civil War.)

My constitutional provision requires that 2/3 of a state’s legislature vote articles of secession which is to be followed by a state referendum in which secession is ratified by a 60% vote of the electorate. There is also a compensation provision for federal property – such as military bases – located in a seceding state. The referendum cannot be held sooner than 30 days nor later than 60 days after the articles have adopted by a state legislature. My reasoning on this is that there needs to be time for public deliberation and the delay provides that.
12.21.2006 1:57pm
prussia (mail):
Another reason for the Nazi takeover was their control of the state of Prussia, which was disproportionately larger and more powerful than the other states within the Weimar Republic. This was a leftover reflection of Prussia's overwhelming power within the Second Reich and its position as a powerful kingdom in its own right within pre-1871 Germany. One action the founders of West Germany did was cut down the size of the individual states within West Germany, a process that was made easier by the pre-war state of Prussia being dismembered beween Easy Germany and Poland post WWII.

So another rule of thumb for successful federalism seems to be a relative equality between the power and resources of the various components of a federal state.
12.21.2006 2:06pm
Byomtov (mail):
Indeed, many southerners did in fact regard African Americans as inferior beings.


Of course, the ones that didn't, don't get quoted. But I'm sure you are factoring that in, right?


Your point is unclear to me. "Many southerners" is not the same as "all southerners." Certainly there were some who did not regard African Americans as inferior. That said, the facts suggest that the other view was dominant.

And it's not a matter of quotes, but of actual events.
12.21.2006 2:19pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Not so inaccurate. Indeed, many southerners did in fact regard African Americans as inferior beings. The rights you mention are hardly the whole picture. Many were denied routine police protection against violence, even murder. That is, their assailants or killers routinely went free. Freedom of speech and assembly were also denied, in effect. And of course there were lynchings.

In other words, it was not merely the sorts of political rights you describe, but even more basic ones.
The barbarism of lynching shows that even at their worst, Southerners regarded blacks as humans, not some sort of animal. You don't torture a rabid dog to death, do you? You just shoot it. The barbarism and very public nature of lynching shows that Southerners were intent on producing terror and compliance among the black population. The analogy to the Nazis intended by the use of "subhuman" really falls apart.
12.21.2006 2:53pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Clayton, your position on abortion and guns are convenient when you live in Idaho, where under the first you still end up in a better place resultswise with federalism (but where's your conviction? If each abortion is a murder, how dare you tolerate a holocaust of deaths per year in your own country?
I'm not quite sure that every abortion qualifies as murder. It bothers me, and I would prefer to see abortion become relatively rare, but the most effective strategy to that end is persuasion. As long as 10% of the population remains rabidly in support of abortion on demand, without limitation, trying to ban it is likely to be ineffective. I'm no liberal.
Worse than compliant Nazis, since we're on Godwin's favorite subject!), and under the second you personally give up very little, and it preserves many other points. If you lvied in NY you'd be far more credible.
I lived most of my life in California. That's another advantage of federalism. You can adjust your residence to conform to your values more easily than in a unitary nation.

Then, right there while trying to play the equivalent of "but some of my best friends are black" you then say you DON'T want a federalist solution to gun laws, you want it imposed by the Constitution. Way to make a point. My point.
Because the Constitution does impose certain values upon the entire nation. The process of amending the Constitution isn't trivial (unlike just telling your puppets in black robes what to do). But we did it to abolish slavery, grant women the vote, deny the authority of the South to use poll taxes as a way to disenfranchise blacks, pass Prohibition, and repeal Prohibition.
12.21.2006 2:57pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

And overall, you still haven't explained how long, without federalism, you believe it would have taken for it to be eradicated from every State in the country - only that it would eventually have happened, of which I clearly did not disagree (especcially into the modern world that includes both global trade and trade and foreign policy that considers human rights issues).
Where did I say that it would have been eradicated without federalism? I didn't. You seem to be arguing with someone who isn't in the room.
12.21.2006 2:59pm
paulhager (mail) (www):
Justin says:

I specifically referenced cotton in my OP. I think your argument regarding Egypt is retrospective wishful thinking that I've heard from many conservatives.



Sorry, I ain't conservative by any stretch of the imagination. That aside ...


It's wrong for a multitude of factors - the cost in overseas trade would have prevented foreign cotton from seriously affecting the Southern emphasis, particularly given the low price-per-volume and the commodity nature of the product at that time is the most obvious.



European markets were a major source of Southern revenue (Britain got around 3/4 of its cotton from the South). For your claim to make sense Egyptian cotton would have had to have cost substantially more to bring it to European markets than U.S. cotton. If a major consumer of Cotton, such as Britain, switched to Egyptian and other cotton, an awful lot of Southern cotton would have ended up rotting in warehouses. Perhaps they would have hit on Milo Minderbinder's idea and tried to market chocolate covered cotton. But I digress ...


The lack of substantive alternatives, ...



This is the crux of the argument. The Southerners actually believed there were no "substantive alternatives" and that the cotton weapon would bring Britain and France in on their side. Turns out they were completely wrong. The cartel prices the South was able to charge created market opportunities for competitors. Those opportunities existed prior to the Civil War and were coming into play as the war started. The history of Egypt and cotton is interesting in its own right but it is tangential to the discussion here. The American Civil war created a huge opportunity for Eqyptian cotton, the cultivation and production of which started to ramp up substantially just before the Civil War began precisely because the British wanted to have a secure source of the commodity and were concerned about a supply interruption. With no Civil War, the ramp up would have probably been slower but it would have still happened.


... the cultural emphasis on land in the South, a general resistance to economic risk that often accompanies economies involving the level of inequality that the South had, and imperfect information and self-reinforced perceptions are also major factors.


I don't dispute that the almost certain crash in cotton prices that would have happened sometime in the 1860's without the Civil War would not have immediately ended slavery. There is a certain amount of inertia in any social/political system. Even so, market capitalism happens to produce, by far, the most rapid changes. Thus, my statement that slavery would have probably ended in the 1870's because the economics were going to turn bad in the 1860's.

In anticipation of one counterargument, I readily concede that Southern plantation owners would have probably changed their position on tariffs and free trade as more and more foreign cotton came on the market to compete directly with them. Things could have gotten very interesting politically for a while but it would not have staved off the inevitable for very long if at all. Ultimately, some sort of compensation provision for slaveowners would have become acceptable as the political price for Southern plantation interests supporting a Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery.
12.21.2006 3:02pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

"This is wrong on so many levels. EVERY Northern state had an agriculture-based economy until the Civil War. Many of the Northern states developed significant industrial bases by the 1820s, but agriculture was still dominant."

An economy? No. Go look at their imports and exports. Even so, we're clearly talking relative, and to a large degree, we're talking cotton.
You are changing your argument again. No surprise.

Some crops were certainly less suited to slave labor than others, such as cotton and tobacco. James Breen's Tobacco Culture makes the point that even before the Revolution, some of the larger planters, such as George Washington, were beginning to move away from these crops because they correctly perceived large scale cultivation was contrary to the idea of freemen farming land--and even though many of them owned slaves, they weren't keen about it, and regarded it as a dying and immoral system. (One that the cotton gin revived.)

The vast majority of Americans in the North were farmers until the Civil War. Industrial production certainly was more valuable per worker, but there were a LOT of farmers.
12.21.2006 3:07pm
Justin (mail):
Paul, if you're going to play the "I'm not a conservative" line, you should think of delinking to your right-winged blog, which calls Rumsefeld "a superb manager" and tells liberterians "to embrace your inner Republican."
12.21.2006 3:57pm
Gabriel Hanna (mail):
It may have come up before, but Weimar Germany had long before Hitler ceased to be a truly federal government. Presidents were ruling by decree on the basis of their emergency powers for the better part of a decade, because the Reichstag had effectively ceased to function.
12.21.2006 6:17pm
Gabriel Hanna (mail):
Justin, in what way is approving of Rumsfeld, and being a Republican, synonymous with being a "conservative"?

I'm a libertarian and I nearly always vote Republican, and I like a lot of things about Rumsfeld. But I'm in favor of legalized abortion, legalizing drugs, and indifferent to gay marriage. So am I a "conservative"?

If all you know of conservatives comes from Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, maybe.
12.21.2006 6:25pm
paulhager (mail) (www):
Justin said:

Paul, if you're going to play the "I'm not a conservative" line, you should think of delinking to your right-winged blog, which calls Rumsefeld "a superb manager" and tells liberterians "to embrace your inner Republican."


Glad you read some of my articles. Remember that in the piece exhorting Libertarians to embrace their inner Republican I also say at the end "Cue the Star Wars Imperial March."

As a little-"l" libertarian and, since 2002, a member of the GOP, I have a lot in common with Conservatives just as I have a lot in common with Liberals - I was, after all, 6 years on the state board of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. (For what it's worth, back when I was on the ICLU board, I first encountered Clayton Cramer's writings on self-defense and RKBA. He was one of several people who eventually convinced me, via online debates and email exchanges, to change my position on the 2nd from the ACLU collective rights view to the individual rights view. BTW, I'm very pro-abortion and don't think the state should be in the business of telling people who they should marry.)

Also, stating that I think Rumsfeld was a superb manager no more makes me a Conservative than it makes me a Liberal to say that there was never any basis for impeaching Clinton or even for Paula Jones' suit (as I said in 1998 and continue to believe today). Hell, I even voted for Clinton in 1992.
12.21.2006 8:00pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
12.21.2006 11:08pm
markm (mail):
Whether a nation is a "federation" matters much less than how the power is actually broken up. The USSR was nominally a federation, but as I understand it, the police power was entirely centralized; every policeman in every Republic (province) reported to KGB headquarters in Moscow. Any separatist movement would have to deal with both the Army (which must be centralized to be effective), and the local police. Aside from that, the formal structure of provincial governments did not matter much, since every legislature and local council would vote the way the Party told them to. Decentralized power doesn't matter if the people wielding it always follow orders from the center.

I do not think that controlling the military alone is sufficient to impose a totalitarian system. A modern military unit lives on a huge and continuous flow of material support from the civilian sector, and it takes police work that troops are poorly qualified to do to keep that support flowing. OTOH, police are trained and equipped both to keep order and to arrest people - and every totalitarian leader soon finds the need to arrest many, many people.

The USA got along for about 130 years with no federal police agency at all, aside from Treasury agents that enforced tax collections, investigated counterfeiting, and provided a Presidential bodyguard. Policing is still very decentralized, with the vast majority of the manpower reporting to local elected officials rather than to state or federal agencies. The threat here is that the local police agencies have become too dependent on federal money and too subservient to federal agencies - to the point that some California cities are contesting a law that simply says that in some cases their police won't do the feds' work of enforcing federal marijuana laws. There used to be only a few crimes that fell under federal jurisdiction; now, every time a local prosecution fails, it seems like a federal prosecutor is checking to see whether there's a parallel federal law that could be applied...
12.22.2006 12:11pm
Eli Rabett (www):
As markm says, its all in how the cake is baked, but that's what is missing in the original post too, and that is why a simple comment, like Union of Soviet Socialist Republics can blow the whole thing up.
12.23.2006 12:12am
gene berman (mail):
My qualification for offering the following comments is simply that, a bit over 50 years ago, someone paid me $100
(a princely sum in those days) to write a term paper for him on "Economics of the Confederate States of America."

What I can remember from my cram-reading of the various sources utilized may interest some here and tend to critique the arguments of others (Justin for one) negatively. The gist is that, even before the war, the south of planter aristocracy was essentially broke and deeply in hock--mostly to northern bankers. It was even a common opinion of the day (in the north, especially) that those of the planter class agitating for seccession were motivated primarily by the prospect of a sanitized default on their loans. Typically, these loans were collateralized by the "going concern" value of the mortgaged properties--a value which included the live stock consisting in the persons of their slaves. The bankers "carrying" these loans certainly might not have done so--had a more thorough
understanding of the economics of slavery been available in that day.

At the time of writing the paper, I had no interest whatsoever in Economics and quickly forgot most of the various details of what I'd read and written. However, certain events caused me to take a renewed interest in that subject (Economics) some 35 years or so ago and to a focus on the Austrian school, most conspicuously exemplified by the writing of Von Mises. I shall quote his eloquent words.

Servile labor disappeared because it could not stand the competition of free labor; its unprofitability sealrd its doom in the market economy.

For anyone remotely interested in this topic, I recommend reading the treatment--approximately 5 pages--devoted to it in Mises' HUMAN ACTION. And that can be done free at the Mises.org site (the relevant passages are in the chapter, WORK AND WAGES.)
12.24.2006 2:31pm