Federal systems usually consist of two or more territorially-based communities co-existing within a larger community. But the nature of these communities can vary. In societies like Australia, the populations of the different states are very similar in terms of language, lifestyle, and culture; they are distinguished primarily in terms of specific historical traditions and constitutionally-defined boundaries. There are other federal societies, however, such as India, where communities are defined more by race, language, or ethnicity. Political institutions may be important but would not be primarily responsible for defining the boundaries of the communities, which are self-evident. But what are the differences between federal systems based on "institutional" communities and those based on "natural" communities? Are the issues which arise between ethnic communities more intractable than those arising between non-ethnic communities? Is the potential for the secession of territories greater when ethnic communities are involved? How do ethnic differences relate to other patterns of cleavage, such as class or regional economic disparities? These are some of the questions explored in this chapter.
Such questions are particularly relevant to the present Canadian debate. The communities in Canada are both sociological and institutional, and there is a lively debate about which aspect is more important. The position one takes greatly influences both the diagnosis of and the prescriptions for resolving the Canadian dilemma.
Several years ago W.S. Livingston ( 1956) argued that federal systems are largely the product of social forces. Livingston made this argument in response to the older legalistic tradition exemplified by K.C. Wheare ( 1946), who focused largely on the forms, as opposed to the substance, of federal systems. 1 Academic traditions and modes of analysis wax and