Some observations on federalism by an American

By Cornelius Seon

April 12, 2002

Dear Sir

I find your site very interesting, but I wonder if you – like the rest of the world – realizes that unless you avowed “Federalists” sit down and study the textbook on Federalism that the USA wrote over the last 232 years, and take it to heart, then you are doomed to utter failure as the size of your federal effort grows larger.

The reason for this observation is the fact that the United States of America is so far the largest Federalism effort on the planet – it was the first effort at establishing a continent-wide Federal government – and our experience has shown that it is easy to get things wrong on a scale that large. We got it wrong at first, and had to fight a 100 year-long Civil War which settled such issues as:

1. the permanence of a federal structure.

2. the limits which are permissible on Civil Rights;

3. whether every segment of the federal population has rights which all others are bound to respect;

4. whether the federal government has original jurisdiction for Law Enforcement at the local level.

5. whether thee federal government can successfully tax the entire population to pay for federal bills.

6. whether the federal government can suspend civil rights in time of war.

7. whether the federal government can force components to accept federal services against their will.

8. whether the components have any legal recourse after the Legislative and Judicial systems have been exhausted when their individual sovereignties are violated in the interest of the federal population.

9. whether or not it is important to establish a Single Currency in the initial stages of erecting the Federal Structure.

10. just where does the balance of power exist between Federal and subordinate component sovereignties.

11. Just what are the roles of the various components of the Federal Government, and what are their limits vis-à-vis each other.

12. just where are the tipping points between Autarchy, Democracy and Anarchy in a Federal structure, and how much power is permissible to prevent going to either extreme.

As I see it, the EU is failing to apply the text book that the US wrote on this subject. Their insistence on forcing the issue on the Single Currency is a good indicator of this observation. The United States authorized a Federal Currency from the beginning, but did not raise the issue seriously until the middle of the military phase of the Civil War, when the Federal Government required a unitary form of payment for goods and services in support of the prosecution of that war. Even when the Dollar became the official currency, we did not withdraw the previous State and local currencies, but stopped their manufacture, and let them simply fade away. As the population gained confidence in the Federal Currency, it lost it in the older currencies, and they indeed faded away over time.

Likewise, the EU’s effort at applying the Parliamentary Model at the Federal level is wrong headed, since the United States’ experience has shown that the Triple Lobe model, with a Strong Executive, Strong Legislature, and Strong Judiciary, each with a distinct and elastic level of independence and interdependence, is the best one for a government of such complexity due to the need for fast action in the face of crisis. Likewise, we have shown that Federations are too weak when the Parliamentary model is used, because there is no way to take action in a crisis. This can be proved when you realize that it is the stability and strength which is present in the USA Federal Structure which is the ingredient which has permitted this continental federal structure to become the single Super Power with any staying power. If it is intended that the European Union will eventually rival the USA as a continental power, then that stability and strength will be needed, but will be lacking as long as the Parliamentary model is adhered to. The point, after all, is that if the EU is to become a truly successful Federal Government, it had better follow as many of the tenets laid out in that book on Federalism that the US wrote over the time of its existence. The EU will ignore that textbook at its own peril.

Not only do I give you permission to post my email, I would love to continue the back-and-forth on this subject. Why not list me as one of your “American Correspondents” on this topic? American Federalism has always been one of my favorite subjects, and, after living here for the 53 years of my life – when I was not overseas as part of my Military Career [I am retired from the U.S. Army] – and having experiencing Republicanism and Democracy in other parts of the world, I am eager to discuss this topic with the rest of your members as they see fit.

I look forward to both a successful implementation of Federalism in Europe, and an interesting dialog here.

Sincerely yours

Cornelius Seon
[email protected]

—– Original Message —–
From: Richard Laming
To: Cornelius Seon
Sent: Friday, April 12, 2002
Dear Mr Seon

Thank you for your e-mail. I am very interested in the parallels between Europe now and the United States in the 1780s, and much of what the federalists are doing now in our campaigns is to raise these parallels elsewhere.

One advantage that Europe now has over America then is that many of the lessons have already been discovered. When Hamilton, Madison and Jay were writing the Federalist Papers, the issues they were investigating had never been examined before. Here in Europe, as you rightly point out, we can look at the American experience and draw from it.

As regards the single currency, your point that a federalising process should not start with a currency is, in my view, correct. The EU started with coal and steel, in 1950. The currency was created nearly 50 years later. Slow progress perhaps, but better slow than unsustainably fast.

An important difference between the American and European experiences lies in our choice of a parliamentary rather than a presidential system. The parliamentary model has not been chosen specifically for our federal institutions: it is the model that almost all European countries use at national level, too. It may well be true that a parliamentary system will act more slowly in a crisis than a presidential system – although European countries with their parliamentary systems have proved themselves sadly ready to resort to arms – but I am not sure that today’s European federalists necessarily find that a weakness. Personally, I have no ambition for the European Union to rival the USA as a military superpower. I think that the external relations of the EU should be conducted on a different kind of basis. The principles of democracy and the rule of law should not be limited to the nation state, of course, but they should not be limited to the Europe either. It is sometimes observed that the USA may well have a federal constitution but it is hardly a force for federalism in the world. The moment when the International Criminal Court gains enough ratifications to come into force is a good moment to reflect on this.

Yours sincerely
Richard Laming
Director, Federal Union

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