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The Implosion of American Federalism [Paperback]

Robert F. Nagel
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 28, 2002 0195158415 978-0195158410 New Ed
At a time of unprecedented national power, why do so many Americans believe that our nationhood is fragile and precarious? Why the talk--among politicians, academics, and jurists--of "coups d'etat," of culture wars, of confederation, of constitutional breakdown? In this wide-ranging book, Robert Nagel proposes a surprising znswer: that anxiety about national unity is caused by centralization itself. Moreover, he proposes that this anxiety has dangerous cultural consequences that are, in an implosive cycle, pushing the country toward ever greater centralization.
Carefully examining recent landmark Supreme Court cases that protect states' rights, Nagel argues that the federal judiciary is not leading and is not likely to lead a revival of the complex system called federalism. A robust version of federalism requires appreciation for political conflict and respect for disagreement about constitutional meaning, both values that are deeply antithetical to the Court's function. That so many believe this most centralized of our Nation's institutions is protecting, even overprotecting, state power is itself a sign of the depletion of those understandings necessary to sustain the federal system.
Instead of a support for federalism, Nagel finds a commitment to radical nationalism throughout the constitutional law establishment. He traces this commitment to traditionally American traits like perfectionism, optimism, individualism, and legalism. Under modern conditions of centralization, these attractive traits are leading to unattractive social consequences, including tolerance, fearfulness, utopianism, and deceptiveness. They are degrading our political discourse. All this encourages further centralization and further cultural deterioration.
This book puts the major federalism decisions within the framework of the Court's overall record, including its record on individual rights in areas like abortion, homosexuality, and school desegregation. And, giving special attention to public debate over privacy and impeachment, it places modern constitutional law in the context of political discourse more generally.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Is the U.S. national government becoming more centralized and thus better able to reduce major political and social conflicts? In this controversial view of American federalism, (American constitutional law, Univ. of Colorado Sch. of Law) argues that "our political institutions are collapsing into the center" which isn't good. Discussing U.S. constitutional law, he considers whether current politics is "breaking down the understandings and social structures that maintain federalism." Nagel believes that this implosion of government power is leading to the centralization of authority and homogenization of society, reducing possibilities for both competition among state and national governments and different avenues of political participation. He strongly disagrees with analysts of U.S. Supreme Court federalism decisions, countering that the Court cannot support a robust federalism. Nagel's analysis of longer trends regarding U.S. government structures will interest individuals concerned with current politics and the future of American society. His thoughtful argument is highly recommended for larger public and academic libraries. Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"His voice is conservative but with a surprising twist....[Nagel] suggests that the Court's 'new federalism' jurisprudence falls far short of restoring state government and politics to their full and proper vigor. "--The Washington Post

"A subtle and compelling analysis of the leading cases, which makes up the bulk of his splendid book, Nagel shows, first, that the Supreme Court has not really reasserted federalism but rather "domesticated" it. --The Weekly Standard

"Mr. Nagel...has produced a book that is at once scholarly and engaged...The case he makes is compelling."--The Washington Times

"No recent book matches Nagel's thoughtful and thought-provoking observations on federalism, the Supreme Court, and the state of American politics."--Michael S. Greve, AEI

"Confirms Nagel's reputation as one of the few truly radical thinkers writing on the Constitution....The book will enrage some and trouble others, but no one interested in constitutional law--or the health of the federal Republic--can afford to ignore Nagel's views."--H. Jefferson Powell, Duke University

Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (November 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195158415
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195158410
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,064,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great thesis, good argument, muddled ending. March 13, 2002
In this book, Mr. Nagel explores an underappreciated theme; the increasing centralization of government authority ion the U.S. He attributes this to a few things; America's demand for the 'quick-fix' of the law, myths that our government was created by 'the people of America' instead of 'The people of the United States of America,' even the supreme courts fear of 'rocking the boat,' skirting around issues like abortion for fear of disturbing 'national unity.'
Mr. Nagel backs his thesis up beautifully in this crystal-clear written book, using everything from the supreme court stepping into state business, calling a state-wide attempt to ammend Colorado's constitution 'unreasonable' to the virtual consensus amongst constitutional law intellectuals to argue vehemently for 'nationalism.'
As I said this book is crystal clear and as easy to read as a book like this can be. My only complaint is that the last few chapters are muddled and rushed. His point (so far as I understand it) is to draw attention to the phenomenon of celebrity as assuaging our need for centralization by increasing our isolation from our actual neighbors, thus making us more dependent on a far-off government. This theory is not bad in itself; The problem is that it just doesn't fit with the legal arguments made in the first six chapters of the book. The last two chapters beat the hell out of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal as an example of this and what he calls the 'Yale theory,' which is basically legalese used only to disguise lies. While this is certainly what Clinton did (and Clinton is the hallmark of political celebrity) again, this doesn't fit with the rest of the book. All in all though, the great writing, contreversial, thought-extrapolating theory and well argued case make this a pretty good book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Strong Arguments February 11, 2012
I believe Nagel hits many important points in this book that we as Americans need to contemplate. His arguments are strong, and thought-provoking, which is important in this day and age when I think many of us our worried about the state of this nation. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in political philosophy and the law, independent of their political leanings. I look forward to more book by Nagel.
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