Would James laugh at regionalism in Greece? Actually, he might laugh loudest about this, but I thought his remark about small-country regionalism was a little odd. He wrote:
Spanish regionalism seems absurd because the regions in question are almost laughably small and self-sufficient, from a large-country perspective, only in a petty and dissatisfying way. Back in the old days, Western political theorists worried that a large republic was impossible. De Maistre joked that in all history’s rolls of the regime dice, the side marked LARGE REPUBLIC [his caps] never came up. Not even once.
At the time De Maistre told his joke, he was correct, and one might ask whether it is still true. The Antifederalists, after thumbing through their Montesqieu, kept insisting that the Constitution centralised too much power and attempted to create what they liked to call an “extended” republic whose size would invite, indeed demand, increased power at the center to govern effectively. In the end, the federal republic was consolidated because it came to pass that an extended republic that was not consolidated would break up along regional or sectional lines according to the political differences between blocs of states. Madison’s sleight-of-hand about factions is an amazing piece of work, and he is rightly acclaimed for the clever argument he makes about this, even though it turned out to be almost entirely wrong. In a small republic, factions would be too dangerous, so you needed to have a larger republic that would allow these factional forces to balance each other. The trouble is that they have a centrifugal effect, which causes the center to exert more and more control to hold the entire system together up to and including the use of force, which from the old-fashioned republican perspective would mean the death of republicanism and the beginning of something else.
The survival of regionalism and cultural diversity and their expression through political autonomism even within small, largely homogenous states is a reminder that the centrifugal effects of regional difference are the natural forces that keep resisting the drive to centralise power in a national government. They are reminders of how many existing political and cultural identities had to be suppressed and homogenised to create even relatively small nation-states. To the extent that regionalism in Europe is effectively an ally of supra-national consolidation into the E.U., I’m not sure that it will ultimately survive, and it may simply be a symptom of the weakening of the nation-state, but for my part I find small-country regionalism reassuring that attempts to consolidate diverse regions under a single national regime on much smaller geographical scale have ultimately been unsuccessful. That hints at the possibility that the success of decentralism here is not so much of a matter of if as it is of when.