Fantasies of Federalism

1420638633moynAOFAEFG666Samuel Moyn at Dissent:

In several essays written in the midst of the Second World War, Hannah Arendt advocated federalism as a replacement for nationalism, which she believed had been rendered obsolete. Adolf Hitler had demonstrated the limits of ethnic homogeneity as a basis for political organization. The idea of “the nation” that had set the world on fire had definitively revealed its shortcomings: it failed to hold up when mapped onto territory shared by different peoples and so often ruled by a permanent majority. “Nowhere in Europe today,” Arendt remarked in 1945, “do we find a nationally homogeneous population.” Furthermore, political federalism of some sort had worked for Americans for a century and a half. Why not Europe? Why let nation-states remain the rule? A federation could grant rights to nationalities dispersed amidst and athwart one other.

Arendt’s federalism—recently recovered by historians Gil Rubin and William Selinger—also applied to the Middle East. It would make Jews and Palestinians equal members of some larger political entity, in which each group would have a measure of self-government in their own affairs and a role in collective decision-making. A land of two peoples within the same state, Arendt wrote in wartime, would in the long run merely reverse the Zionist result of Jewish dominance over Palestinians in the area, substituting one hierarchy for another.

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