American diversity not rooted in U.S. federal system

Experts debate diversity in the United States.(clockwise from right to left) John Kincaid, Joseph Marbach, John McCartney, G. Alan Tarr, David Woglom, David Wilkins, Sara Walters, Earl Baker (foreground).

A group composed mostly of American academics recently came to the conclusion that federalism in the United States is hostile to the kinds of diversity that are ordinarily associated with most multicultural, multinational, and plurinational federations.

This conclusion was reached by 14 participants of a recent Global Dialogue roundtable event at Lafayette College, in Easton Pennsylvania. The theme of the dialogue Unity and Diversity in Federal Countries.

The group agreed that although the United States is extraordinarily diverse, it is difficult to find ways to tie that diversity to federalism because American federalism is rooted in concepts of individual rights.

The U.S., in the view of the participants, is not explicitly organized to accommodate territorially rooted diversities based on nationality, race, language, religion, and the like.

The two notable exceptions are black Americans and Indians.

The participants noted that Indians are the only peoples in the United States who have claims to ancestral homelands.

Consequently, Indian Country is territorially distinct, but tribes are not a recognized order of government within the federal system.

The existence of slavery in the Southern U.S. was what some believe gave rise to a federation-like nation made up of two groups: the Northern states and the Southern states, living in their separate communities. This form of separate co-existence is often referred to as bi-communalism.

The U.S. fought a bitter civil war in 1861-65 and, then, during the 1950s and 1960s experienced substantial conflict over the vestiges of American bi-communalism expressed as racial segregation in the American South. De facto bicommunalism came to an end in the U.S. in the 1960s.

Likewise, expressions of sectionalism and regional diversity declined sharply in the U.S. Sectionalism, according to the U.S. History Encyclopedia, "is identification with a geographic section of the United States and the cultural, social, economic, and political interests of that section.”

The Global Dialogue group discussed how these developments brought about considerable centralization in American federalism, a centralization spurred in part by desires to protect the country’s emerging multiculturalism that flourished in the private sector (or civil society) as a result of the various liberation movements of the 1960s.

The group found that the most controversial aspect of their dialogue was the extent to which American federalism can be conceptualized as having been bicommunal, considering that most residents of the Northern and Southern states shared the same language, religions, and British and Northern European heritage.

The group’s debates covered a number of areas of interest such as:

1. the status of tribal governments in the United States,
2. the fact that no group, except Native Americans (Indians), views itself as a "nation,”
3. that only the Communist Party USA once pushed the idea in the 1930s of African-Americans as a separate nationality, and
4. the extent to which public policies of the states vary according to the racial and ethnic composition of their populations.

The roundtable, which was held March 15-16, 2008, consisted of 14 diverse participants—African American, Indian, Latino, white; women and men; scholars and practitioners of federalism; junior and senior professionals; one undergraduate student; and members of various religions from different parts of the U.S.

The participants were:
Dr. Earl M. Baker, Earl Baker Consulting; Prof. Richard L. Cole, University of Texas at Arlington; The Honorable Robert Freeman, Pennsylvania House of Representatives; Prof. Rodney E. Hero, University of Notre Dame; Prof. Kimberley Johnson, Barnard College, Columbia University; Prof. John Kincaid, Meyner Center, Lafayette College; Prof. J. Wesley Leckrone, Widener University; Prof. Joseph R. Marbach, Seton Hall University; Prof. John McCartney, Lafayette College; Prof. G. Alan Tarr, Rutgers University-Camden; Ms. Sara Walter, Excel Scholar, Lafayette College; Prof. David E. Wilkins, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Mr. David Woglom, Meyner Center, Lafayette College.

The event was co-ordinated by John Kincaid, Professor of Government and Public Service and Director of the Meyner Center for the Study of State and Local Government, at Lafayette College.

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