Multinational countries live in a state of permanent trouble, all the more so if economic anxiety makes solidarity an issue and ideologues and politicians dream of cultural homogeneity. Federalism has proved to be the most viable way to satisfy both the need for union and the desire for autonomy; it decentralizes sovereign power and civil society alike. My concern here, however, is not with discord within multinational states, but with the sentiments of disunion arising within countries marked by cultural and political unity. Perhaps an army forced them together, or ambitious or idealist intellectuals fostered their national feelings. Whatever their history, now these people display common characteristics even if they are also locally distinct.
Political institutions contribute to constituting a nation no less than language, religion, and literary and folkloric traditions. A people that has been living under a unitary political system for several generations is, after all, a people without memories of federation. Today this elementary fact is acknowledged even by those intellectuals who dream of a federal Italy. “It is not easy,” Gianfranco Miglio (a former leader of the Northern League) recently wrote, “to construct a federation in a country that does not have a ‘federal culture.'”...
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