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By Bryan Hay

Professor John Kincaid, author of various works on federalism, presented a paper at a recent conference, Federalism, Democracy and National Diversity in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities.

Held at University of Quebec at Montreal, the conference included scholars from various disciplines as well as institutions from across Canada, Europe, and Africa.

“I felt a bit like a fish flopping around out of water,” said Kincaid, “because the United States is not a multinational federation having jurisdictions comparable to Quebec or Oromia. However, the conference organizers wanted a paper on American federalism as an important reference case.”

Kincaid, Robert B. and Helen S. Meyner Professor of Government and Public Service, presented a paper entitled Constitutional Patriotism, Territorial Neutrality, and Polarization in American Federalism. He noted in the work that, unlike multinational federations such as Canada and Belgium, the Constitution of the United States envisions a single people living in a single nation based on constitutional patriotism rather than language, religion, or race.

The Constitution nevertheless reserves to the states all of the powers, especially the police power, strongly desired by national minorities like the Quebecois.

Federal neutrality toward numerous territorial expressions of culture helped preserve national unity. However, one price of that unity was tolerance of slavery in the South, which, by the Civil War, regarded itself as a national minority, Kincaid said in his paper.

This disunifying fault line reappeared by the 1960s in the battles over racial segregation. Other divisive cultural issues such as abortion also entered national politics. Consequently, as the federal government nationalized cultural issues and took sides in the process, polarization increasingly plagued and gridlocked national politics and governance.

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