chapter  7
16 Pages

A constitutional comparison between the Soviet and emerging Western models of multinational federalism

As reviewed in Chapter 10 below, classical exponents of republicanism emphasised the importance of cultural uniformity for the viability of representative government. The American federation is fi rmly embedded in that tradition: it was conceived as a national union. James Jay argued for a ‘more perfect’ union among other things because

Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and custom. 1

Its founders were not only unconcerned about the need of accommodating the cultural identities of minorities, but also took preventive action against such a challenge rising in the future. When new territories were added in the subsequent enlargement of the Union, new state boundaries were drawn deliberately with a view that Indians, Hispanics and other groups of earlier inhabitants were outnumbered by Anglophone settlers, and the award of statehood was postponed until such time when this was possible. 2

Not surprisingly, mainstream English-language literature on comparative federalism, where American federalism used to occupy the pride of place prior to the ‘ethnic revival’, was primarily preoccupied with intergovernmental relations and the capacity of the federal system to reconcile local interests, not defi ned in ethno-linguistic terms, with those of the federal centre. 3 Apparently, this is why William Livingston’s intervention with his idea that the heterogeneity of society makes ‘federal society’ and is the cause of federalisation was received by many in American federal studies as groundbreaking. 4 The idea that federal

arrangements may serve to deal with identity pluralism, to integrate different peoples as formal equals in one political community, has become prevalent since then. The emergent consensus in contemporary debates appears to be that the habit of evaluating other federal constitutions with reference, explicit or implicit, to the (early) American model, must be abandoned as unsound. As mentioned earlier, American federalists did not recognise as legitimate the need for the preservation of minority identities by protecting them from assimilation. Indeed, before the age of ethno-nationalism, the issue simply was not on the agenda. Now, that it is, the model faces similar challenges as unitary states and has little to offer. 5 Therefore, attempts to hold up the purely territorial standard as a model, especially when applied to federalisms which address multicultural settings, are fallacious. 6 Even more strongly, Jan Erk has recently argued that mononational federalism has been losing its relevance. Supplying Livingston’s theory with empirical confi rmation in a series of articles, he shows that mononational federations experience unitary pressures, while in multinationals, on the contrary, there occur mutually reinforcing processes of linguistic and institutional segregation. In other words, he seeks to demonstrate that a ‘non-federal’, i.e. homogeneous, society erodes the structures of federalism where they exist, and ‘federal society’ vice versa erodes unitary structures. 7 In a similar vein, Alfred Stepan argues that the US symmetrical model of ‘coming-together’ cannot be of use to contemporary democracies that are rather facing ‘holding-together’ imperatives. 8 It seems that in much of the current thinking represented by these authors, federation has passed from the service of republicanism into the service of cultural nationalism.