Article   |   Volume 166, Issue 2

Our Regionalism

By
166 U. Pa. L. Rev. 377 (2018)

January 2018












This Article provides an account of Our Regionalism to supplement the many accounts of Our Federalism. After describing the legal forms regions assume in the United States—through interstate cooperation, organization of federal administrative agencies, and hybrid state–federal efforts—it explores how regions have shaped American governance across the twentieth and early twenty‐first centuries.

In the years leading up to the New Deal, commentators invoked regions to resist centralization, arguing that state coordination could forestall expansion of the federal government. But regions were soon deployed to a different end, as the federal government relied on regional administration to develop its bureaucracy. Incorporating regional accommodations and regional organization into new programs allowed the federal government to expand its role in domestic policymaking. As interstate regionalism yielded to federal regionalism, the administrative state was propelled forward by a strategy that had arisen to resist it. Even as regions facilitated the expansion of the New Deal administrative state, however, the regional organization and argument that underpinned this development left room for state influence within federal programs and for new projects of multistate and joint state–federal governance. The century’s next regional moment brought this potential to the fore, with regions brokering the resurgence of the states in Great Society programs.

In the early twenty‐first century, new regional undertakings have been celebrated as fluid, nonhierarchical networks. Although the network metaphor has been exhausted, this characterization anticipates the emergence of “regionalism without regions”: collaborations among multiple state and federal actors that need not involve contiguous areas. Just as regional improvisation has responded to governance challenges of past decades, this nascent development responds to today’s polarized partisanship. It betokens both the revival and the transformation of the political sectionalism that has always informed American regionalism, even as it slipped behind an administrative veneer for much of the twentieth century.

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