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Working Paper

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This essay responds to Heather Gerken’s Childress Lecture, Federalism and Nationalism: Time for a Détente? It first outlines two possible understandings of Gerken’s claim that federalism can be good for nationalism, taking the national to refer either to the federal government or to a cohesive American community. The first understanding would suggest that federalism enhances the power of the federal government, that devolution ultimately yields centralization. The second understanding would suggest that federalism domesticates conflict so as to unify a national polity. This essay rejects both of these accounts and instead sketches a view of the national as ineluctably plural and of states as sites of national diversity and contestation.