Federalism as Instrument for Tolerance

Posted on June 27, 2013 by


Last week I was able to go to Acton University and experience a great intellectual exploration of the intersection of faith and markets.  One of the best features was the diversity of the participants; we had ~850 participants from 85 countries!  Most were Christians (Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox), although I enjoyed one dinner while talking to a moderate Muslim.  While clearly the forum had significant theological differences, there was a spirit of tolerance in the traditional sense of the word:  respecting the right of others to believe things we significantly disagree with.  True tolerance preserves the right for all to have freedom of thought and freedom of religion.  False new age tolerance suggests that 1) all ideas are equally valid (post-modernism), since there is no objective truth, and 2) if your idea claims to be uniquely valid, it must not be made publicly to avoid offense.

At Acton, I met some rather unique people.  One young man was excited to tell everyone why he was committing to be part of “the community,” a commune that he was preparing to live in the rest of his life.  I find that more than a little odd, and I don’t want to be a part of anything like that.  But if that is what he wants to think and do, I have true tolerance for that idea.  One speaker talked about Madison WI, the progressive mecca, as “25 square miles separated from reality.”  As I thought about it, that’s great.  Let all the progressives go to Madison, and let them pass whatever ridiculous ideas they want, but don’t try to impose those values on me.

Isn’t that the point of federalism?  When issues are decided at the lowest level possible, conflict is reduced.  If I don’t have to live under it, it is much less an issue, as long as there is freedom for others to vote with their feet.  It is the progressives that are trying to make all aspects of life political, by letting the federal government have the deciding role for all.  This lack of tolerance, by federalizing and therefore only allowing one thought/idea to rule in anything government related, leads to increased conflict in society.  As government gets larger, there is necessarily less diversity since we no longer believe in federalism.

As we think about the incredible social conflict of the last 50 years (abortion, prayer in school, homosexual marriage, etc.), isn’t it a problem because none of these were decided by the people?  None of these issues are allowed to be localized.  Note that this is not an argument about the role of government per se, but rather, will we allow there to be differences of policies within our country?  Will we allow for true tolerance?

As yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling suggests, the answer is no.  We will not allow there to be these United States, rather it must the United States.

Say yes to Tolerance.  Say yes to Federalism.