One of the central (and persistent) themes of American public life has been the reconciliation of diversity into a broader, unified republic. Attempting to balance the interests of diverse states along with the claims of a national union, the political doctrine of federalism responds to the challenge of that reconciliation. The federal Constitution (along with the various state constitutions) seeks to maintain individual autonomy within a republic of laws that apply to all through the combination of legislative energies and the recognition of rights.
This enterprise of reconciliation also casts light on the idea of equality in American society. Much of the American social experiment can be understood as an exploration of the concept of equal but not identical, a notion that balances between the assertion of individual distinction and a sense of similarity across all distinctions. We might rephrase “equal but not identical” as the belief in some essential legal, civic, and natural equality in the face of various particular inequalities. There are countless inequalities in American society: Some pay more in taxes, some reap greater economic benefits from the current social order than others, some receive certain subsidies, some benefit from a strong family structure, some resent their parents’ influences, and so on and so forth. But, in complement to those inequalities, there remain certain common and equalizing tendencies: Each citizen receives one vote, or the principle that each person should have equal access to the legal system (and therefore the protection of his or her rights), for example.Read the rest here.