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Federalism: theory, advantages and importance

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Federalism is one of the most innovative and important concepts in the United States’ Constitution where power is jointly owned by national and state governments. In the United States, they have always struggled to create a national government because the state existed first and this has always been an inconclusive topic among the jurisdiction, while in Canada, the system of federalism was described by the division of powers between the country’s provincial governments and federal parliament.

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Federalism can be said to be the form of government in which there is a division of power between two levels of equal status. This type of government, generally seen as a compound or mixed mode of government, combined a general government with the regional government in a political system.

Federalism represents the convenient form in the pathway of geographical separation in which the general level is not subordinate to the regional level in the case of con-federalism while the regional level also not subordinate to the general level in the case of devolution. Examples of countries that practiced this type of government include Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, India, United States, and Canada.

Tagalog federalism (federalism in the Philippines) was initially suggested by Jose Rizal in his Essay titled “Las Filipinas Dentro de Cien Anos” published in 1889.

European vs. American federalism

Federalist is a term for describing those who support a joint federal government with dispersed power at national, supranational and regional levels in Europe and many of the federalists want this development to progress within their territory. While in the United States, federalism was referred to belief in a stronger central government. This makes the Federalist Party support a stronger central government when the U.S constitution was drafted, while the Anti-federalist wanted a weaker central government. This brings the union to a conclusion that the U.S constitution was written as a response to the Articles of Confederation, under which the state was with a weak central government under a loose confederation.

However European federalism argues for a weaker central government in relative to a unitary state due to their great history of unitary states that the Americas. Most people were supporting federalism in the United States debate in favor of regulating the powers of the federal government most especially the judiciary. Though in Canada, federalism was believed to mean antagonism to sovereigntist movements.

Reasons for Adoptions for federalist systems

There are four theoretical explanations in the academic literature for the adoption of federalism in the political system.

  1. Infrastructural power theories which state that federalism will likely emerge when the sub-units of an impending federation already have developed infrastructures
  2. Cultural-historical theories state that federalism will likely emerge in societies with ethnically or culturally scrappy populations.
  3. Social Contract theories hold that federalism is likely to be outline between a center and a periphery in the situation whereby the center is not powerful enough to dominate the periphery, and the periphery is also not powerful enough to disaffiliate from the center.
  4. Ideational theories held that federalism was to be adopted where there is a greater degree of ideology commitment to decentralized ideas in a society.

Advantages of Federalism

Federalism has distinct advantages that help to understand why it has been adopted so widely by liberal democracies. These include:

  1. Federalism helps in the expression of local preferences legitimately
  2. This federal form of government provides genuine and active citizens alternate venues to seek policy goals
  3. Federalism allows a peripheral government to act as “laboratories” of public policy which will prevent adverse effects of bad policy and allow for the dispersion of good policies.
  4. Federalism gives citizens the privilege to participate in the various levels of government.

With all the advantages analyzed, it is unfortunate each of these advantages has its shortcomings.

Disadvantages of Federalism

  1. Sensitivity to local preferences may lead to various injustice and local discrimination
  2. Providing an alternate venue to citizens may give activists the chance to “game the system” by playing levels of government against one another.
  3. Being laboratories of public policy may lead to short-term inequities between different jurisdictions which may raise a serious question on justice
  4. Expanded privileged to participate may lead to confusion over which level of government is accountable for addressing public glitches and may even lead to “election fatigue”.

Importance of Federalism

  1. Federalism serves as the basis of the revision of the articles of Confederation
  2. Federalism prevent the possible abuse of the authority represented through the political power distributed to the states.
  3. Federalism is seen as the cornerstone of democracy in the United States
  4. Federalism makes sure there is a series of authority between state and central government, thus discouraging and preventing any abuse of power.
  5. Federalism ensures no kind of autocracy could be implemented or established within the United States with the power distributed to the state ensuring power cannot legitimately be centralized or concentrated without breaking the structure of the constitution.

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