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Responding to Heather K. Gerken’s Childress Lecture, Federalism and Nationalism: Time for a Détente?

In this response, I consider how the nationalist school of federalism reconceptualizes nationalism, and not only federalism. Taking as my starting point Gerken’s claim that federalism can be good for nationalism, that nationalists should “believe in giving power to the states,” I first outline two possible understandings of nationalism suggested by this claim — that “national” refers to the federal government, and that “national” refers to a unified American polity — and explain what it would mean for federalism to serve nationalism so understood. After rejecting both accounts, I sketch the view of nationalism I propose we continue to develop. It is a nationalism that is ineluctably pluralist, one that recognizes multiple and competing national interests, institutions, and constituencies. In brief, then, this response proposes that we do for nationalism what scholars — Gerken foremost among them — have recently been doing for federalism. If important pieces have examined the multiple ways in which states exercise power without separate spheres of action, more work needs to study the effects of state-federal integration on our nationalism. We must grapple with the diversity of the national and examine, in particular, how this diversity is itself generated and instantiated by the states.


Constitutional Law | Law


Posted/Reprinted with permission of the Saint Louis University Law Journal © 2015, St. Louis University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri.