A short note on two types of political structures

I just came across an excellent review by Herman Belz of a book on American history recently published by Nicolas Barreyre, a French history professor. The main thrust of the book Belz is reviewing has to do with American Reconstruction, but the theoretical thrust of the book is all about state-building and political economy. The whole article is worth your time, but I wanted to hone in on a particular paragraph that caught my attention:

In the 20th century, Progressive “living-Constitutionalism” dedicated to constructing a centralized administrative state […] undermined the Founders’ establishment of a territorial federal republic as the constitutional ground of American liberty. Americans were the territorial people of the United States. Sovereignty resided in the people of the state in which they lived as well as in the states united as a national whole. In the 21st century, the aspirations of Progressive statism reach beyond national borders to the conceit of transnational global authority.

In this paragraph Dr Belz draws a distinction between two political structures:

  1. a centralized administrative state
  2. and a territorial federal republic

The centralized administrative state is a much worse option than a territorial federal republic in Belz’ view (and my own), mostly because in the federal republic sovereignty resides in both “the people” and in the various “states” that have federated to form a republic (Belz suggests this made the United states “a national whole,” but I don’t think that’s true, largely because of Belz’ own description of what Barreyre calls “sectional” politics at the time, but I digress; see Michelangelo for conceptions about “the nation”).

The territorial federal republic is thus a bottom-up approach to a more inclusive, more open society, whereas the centralized administrative state relies on experts, many of whom are unelected and unknown, to govern public affairs.

Belz is largely correct in his summaries of these two political structures, but I think his conclusion (“the aspirations of Progressive statism reach beyond national borders to the conceit of transnational global authority”) misses the mark. This is not because he is right to suspect the Left of wanting to create and sustain a centralized administrative state with a global reach (i.e. the UN), but because he leaves out the possibility that a territorial federal republic can also have a global reach while still avoiding the pitfalls of morphing into a centralized administrative state. Belz is probably more conservative than I am, and hence more pessimistic about the chances of a “transnational global authority” being republican in nature rather than administrative, but I still think my argument is better…

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6 thoughts on “A short note on two types of political structures

    • Thanks Tam.

      I’m interested in hearing your take on Mthwakazi joining the American federation as a “state,” with the possibility of being able to leave such a union, too (provided everything was put to a vote of some sort, of course).

  1. Brandon, I’ve heard you talk multiple times about the idea of a federation of nations, I’m curious about what exactly you have in mind here. What do you think the role of such a “transnational global authority” would be? How would you stop it from morphing into organizations such as the League of Nations or UN and all their problems? What would the institutional structure of such an authority look like?

    • Thanks for your questions, Zachary.

      I’ve been blogging about this idea for a few years now, so there’s lots here at NOL that deals with it. I’d start with this old blog post of mine for a brief introduction into my thought process on this concept. Basically, I am not thinking of a federation of nations but a federation of states. And this federation wouldn’t be a federation between the traditional states that we think of, like the US and Japan, but rather a federation between the sub-states that exist within those traditional states. (So the 50 states in the US and the 47 prefectures in Japan would form a federation.) The best way, in my mind, to combat the dangers of such a federation would be to use the the current Madisonian system in place here in the US, by having the 50 states add (or subtract) polities that would like to join (or leave) the current federation. The institutional structure for such a policy is already mostly in place in the Madisonian constitution, and I think the Madisonian system is the one that allows the most representation of states while also leaving room for the federal level to operate efficiently. (See the dialogue between Michelangelo and myself in this thread for a little further detail.)

      And just for kicks, here are the search terms that I think can help you and others find more of NOL’s work on federation: “world government,” “sovereignty,” and, of course “federation.”

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