The realpolitik of our political society is that many problems lie, for a range of historical reasons and practical reasons, within the context of a particular jurisdiction. Different jurisdictions are given the right and responsibility to deal with different types of problems. Politicians and bureaucrats will cling fervently to their specific jurisdiction as the essential locus of democracy. These jurisdictions often don't make much intrinsic sense. The level of countries faces entities as large as China and as small as a tiny Pacific island. The state/provincial level might see a California or Texas supplying the same number of senators as Rhode Island. A mayor could rule the amalgamated supercity of the Greater Toronto Area or a small farming community along the highway. Could there really be a preferred jurisdiction based on such arbitrary distinctions?
There are many specific problems (where to build a garbage dump) that are intrinsically local and others (dealing with global climate change) that are intrinsically larger scale, and as such have natural jurisdictions to be dealt with. For many other problems, however, there is no obvious preferred jurisdiction and it could equally well be solved at a more local level as a larger level. Blinding ourselves to the specifics of a particular issue which may make a case for one jurisdiction over the other, I submit that there is no a priori preferred jurisdiction.
In the US, so called "states rights", are not just a tactical consideration for other issues, they are an issue in and of themselves. Advocates maintain that issues are fundamentally better solved at the state than federal level with perhaps a few small exceptions such as national defense, immigration, and the like. There tends to be considerable hypocrisy on all sides. That is, jurisdictional issues almost exclusively come up when it helps someone's case but are conveniently forgotten the rest of the time. Take, for instance, the Republicans' consistent state rights rhetoric contrasted with a willingness to legislate federally on gay rights or abortion.
Because I do not think there is a fundamentally preferred jurisdiction, I have the freedom to pick and choose the jurisdiction depending on the issue. Some issues, particularly those with asymmetrically local implications, are best left to smaller jurisdictions that have more first hand knowledge, experience, and connection to the issues. Other issues deal with larger considerations that affect wide swaths of people across jurisdictions and can be dealt with in a larger jurisdiction.
I will go a step further, however. When there are issues that don't have an intrinsically preferred jurisdiction, we get to pick it not based on some intrinsic preference - for there is none - but simply on how it best serves us tactically. Take, for example, the issue of marriage equality. I don't really care what jurisdiction it is solved in, I just want it solved. I find the denial of this to be bigoted and harmful in a way that trumps any argument about whether, say, states would have their rights violated by a federal acceptance of gay marriage. Conversely, if an individual state like New Jersey passes robust anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT youth, I will argue against a federal imposition that defangs it as I did here in the case of Boy Scouts of America. Doing it at the federal level has the advantage of solving it across the country in one feel swoop (although this is pragmatically unlikely during the next election cycle), so I prefer that, but I don't feel this is an issue that has any intrinsically correct jurisdiction.
This should not be confused with the hypocrisy of a states rights advocate ignoring it when one of their preferred issues comes up at the federal level. I don't maintain any intrinsic jurisdictional preference and so am not being hypocritical to abandon this consideration and simply pick whatever jurisdiction the specific issues applies to and best serves me tactically. I ought to be careful not to invoke the language of states rights too much, however, because as soon as that is maintained as a value in and of itself I would be, like so many Republicans are, indeed hypocritical to flippantly violate it when it didn't serve my wishes. Part of the problem has been that by buying into the rhetoric of states rights and not challenging that as intrinsically flawed, it lets us form debates on various issues between doing something that is right with a violation of these so called rights.
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