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Where Have All The Leaders Gone? : Federalism Is the Great Healer

December 16, 1990|Carlos Fuentes | Carlos Fuentes, a Mexican novelist, has just completed a documentary for BBC on the historical relationship between Spain and Latin America

LONDON — When the European Conference on Security and Cooperation convened in Paris last month, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl warned against "retrograde nationalisms" that could disrupt the building of the "common house" of Europe. He was calling attention to one of the many paradoxes that stud, like sequins, the debutante's gown of the New World Order as it struggles to fashion itself amid the ruins of the Cold War.

This gown could become the shirt of Nessus, which tears away the skin that wears it, unless forms of conciliation are found between the worldwide movement toward interdependence and the multiple nationalist tendencies that are now rising to contradict it. Nowhere is this truer than in the Soviet Union.

Certainly, it is extremely difficult to predict whether Mikhail S. Gorbachev will outlast the changes that he has so courageously initiated, or fall victim to his own Frankenstein. But the cat is out of the bag and is roaming a world of instant communications, available information and visual vocabulary. The new political grammar transforms walls into air, and iron curtains into windows of irony.

But the Soviet crisis does point to one of the great paradoxes of the movements we are witnessing. The trilogy of economic interdependence, technological progress and instant communications can conceivably lead us all--from Moscow to Madrid to Mexico City--to a better world order of shared plenty.

Yet hardly has this door been opened than, in much of the world, the problems of culture and ethnicity have riotously stepped in to break up the celebration.

The paradox: If economic rationality tells us that the next century will be the age of global integration of the world's national economies, cultural "irrationality" steps in to inform us that it will also be the century of ethnic demands and revived nationalisms.

How can you quicken the step toward global integration if you have Ukrainians and Lithuanians, Georgians and Armenians, Moldavians and Azeris yapping at your heels, denying the principle of a worldwide integration of productive forces? This is where political and cultural imaginations must join together to ask: Can we conciliate global economic demands with the resurrection of these nationalistic claims?

Both reason and imagination tell us that the name of the solution is federalism.

My hope is that we will witness a re-evaluation of the federalist theme as a compromise between three equally real forces--the nation, the region and the world.

To this end, "The Federalist Papers" should be distributed in the millions. Although 200 years old, it may hold the secret to making the New World Order work.

"The Federalist Papers" was written by three great North American statesmen, when there was such a thing: Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. The applicability of their 85 essays is, of course, neither universal nor restricted to conditions in 1787. Madison, for example, addressed the human tendency toward factionalism. While clearly understanding that its causes were difficult to uproot, he proposed to control its effects.


Through a seeming paradox: A strong national government, but controlled by checks and balances, separation of powers and federal diffusion of authority. You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

Thanks to "The Federalist Papers," 13 factious little colonies of the English New World became a great modern nation. As the United States, Canada and Mexico today are designing a North American free-trade area, one wonders about the fate of the Iberoamerican republics to the south of the United States? Do they pose problems comparable to those we are seeing in the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe--not to mention Ireland and the Basque country, Brittany and Quebec?

The world transformation has caught Latin America in a vicious crisis--political, social, economic--with scant resources to actively present ourselves in the new, multipolar order.

Yet our contemporary crisis has made us realize that one thing endures in the midst of our political and economic failures. It is our cultural continuity, the multiracial and pluralistic culture we have created during the past 500 years.

Contrary to current events in Europe and Asia, cultural demands in Latin America do not disrupt the national or even the global rationalities. They reinforce them.

If, in Eurasia, the problem is the conciliation of international integration with ethnic demands through a new federalist regime, in Latin America the problem is to conciliate economic growth with social justice through, again, a democratic federalism.

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