Separate but equal

By Megan McArdle

James Joyner warns of the dangers of particularism:


Schaller'€™s mindset -- and the Republican counterpart that seeks to build 50 percent plus one through a divide and conquer strategy --€” is incredibly dangerous however. In its extreme, it€'s a recipe for another civil war.

To be sure, the nation was founded on the realization that a large country would have diverging interests, whether regional or economic or class based. We'€™ve generally managed to work as a polity, however, by having numerous overlapping interests that caused the coalitions necessary to get anything done in the legislature to constantly shift. We have, in other words, what political scientists term "cross-cutting cleavages,"€ which are contrasted with the very dangerous "€œreinforcing cleavages.€"

One of the clichés of developing world politics is that "the election is a census, and the census is an election." We don'€™t want that to happen here. When it does, those who lose elections see it not, as a temporary ideological setback but as a threat to their culture (or, in extreme, their life). Those who lose elections are given powerful incentives to cry "foul,"€ calling the legitimacy of the system into question. Absent that, they're willing to take up arms to protect their interests.

We'€™ve got a lot of institutional safeguards in place to make extreme outcomes unlikely here. Many of those, however, were in existence in 1860, too.



It strikes to me that this vice is on the rise right now for several reasons:

  • Increasing geographic assortation--liberals are moving to be with liberals, while conservatives move to be closer to conservatives.


  • Increasing communication--we know more about what is going on in different geographical areas. As the divides get sharper, the magnitude of the differences comes to seem unbearable.


  • Increasing federalisation of law--Those weirdos elsewhere are making more decisions for you--or you feel compelled to make decisions for them. The hard-core pro-choicers concentrated on the coasts give relatively little thought to the state of abortion law in Ireland, but are outraged by the thought that women in Alabama might live under different abortion regulations than they do.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/09/separate-but-equal/1942/