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Losing Federalism

When Did It Begin?

Human liberty has two distinguishable but inseparable dimensions: the liberty of the individual to act according to his own reason and the corporate liberty of a moral community to pursue a vision of the good lived out in institutions and traditions that bind generations.  These two dimensions are necessarily in tension.  The individual’s autonomy can always transcend the current dictates of the community.  Yet autonomy is not meaningful without the authority of an inherited culture through which it can be exercised.

Liberalisms of various kinds are inclined to see only the individual, abstracted from his moral community, as real.  The task of politics, however, is to provide a system of legal protection for the liberty of the individual and for the corporate liberty of a valuable way of life uniting generations.

American federalism seemed the perfect solution to this timeless problem of politics.  The states, as sovereign political societies, created a central government, endowing it with only enumerated powers, the most substantial of which were providing defense, making foreign treaties, and regulating commerce among the states.  What was not delegated to the central government or necessarily implied in the delegated powers was reserved to the states.  Individual liberty was protected both by the state constitutions and by federal authority, which created a vast free-trade...

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