April 13, 2011

Understanding Allegiances Through Narrative

Jean LeClair, University of Montreal Faculty of Law, has published Federalism, Socrates and Ulysses. Here is the abstract.

Aboriginal scholars sometimes convey abstract ideas through the use of stories. And so, as a means of introducing a thesis about federalism developed in a longer piece written in French, this short paper relates two stories that express some of the most basic ideas that, according to the author, a normative theory of federalism entails. These stories enable one to understand that federalism could be understood as a conceptual institutionalization of reflexivity; as an intellectual posture that makes it mandatory to think problems with a critical eye toward both ourselves and others.

A true federal spirit requires that we be “gadflies”, “stinging bees” always on the lookout for totalizing approaches. Approaches whose conceptual coherence requires that one aspect of reality be obliterated.

Sovereignty, nationalism, cultural authenticity, rights, as “all or nothing” concepts, are unable to explain the complexity of the relationships between aboriginal peoples and Euro-Canadians. All these concepts call for reality to be jammed into one single pigeon-hole.

Instead of emphasizing the particular nature of the relationships between individuals, between groups and between individuals and groups, these concepts seek to identify a quintessential substance: the existence of a “state” where sovereignty is concerned; of a volkgeist or “spirit of the people” where nationalism is appealed to; a cultural essence where authenticity is invoked and, finally, the definition of what distinguishes so radically a person that it deserves to be elevated to the level of a “right”.

From these perspectives, nurturing many allegiances is oftentimes conceived as a symptom of false consciousness. However, envisaged from a federal perspective, duality, and even ambivalence, is not pathology. At the same time, one must recognize that individuals do sometimes feel a stronger attachment to one particular political community or social group.

Federalism is not only an attempt at acknowledging the existence of these social groups to which the citizen’s multiple attachments are engrafted. It also aims at structuring relationships so that these individuals and groups can coexist peacefully together. Unlike the concept of sovereignty, nation, cultural authenticity and rights, federalism makes compromise, concessions and even renunciation plausible, possible and honourable.
Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

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