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Importance of Federalism: Different Types of Federations

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Federalism is explained as a combination of ‘shared’ and ‘self’ rule whereby, the politics and people unite for common purposes while at the same time maintaining separate integrities of all parties. Scientists indicate the two components; ideological as a perspective that can guide action and philosophical as its aspiration is ideal in organizing human relations, but its operational aspect of recognizing diversity makes it a living reality. However, argues that federalism has varying meanings and applications in different contexts which makes it more of a ‘programmatic orientation’ as opposed to an ideology. The importance of federalism as context-based with a wide spectrum of its application has been recognized in the lived experiences of federal states so far.

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As federalism differs in its meaning and various application, there are different types of federations depending on the purpose for their formation, degree of power distribution, and region’s relative power and size. Scientists indicate that no blueprint model of federalism is universally applicable. There are multiple types of federations on the purpose of their origin, the pattern of relationship, and their power-sharing characteristics. Based on the purpose of formation, federations could be come together or held together federations. Coming together federation occurs when independent states come together driven by different goals and form a collaboration based on consent. Some examples of such federations are Switzerland and the USA. On the other hand, holding-together federations emerge from the need for unitary states to deal with threats of secession by geographically concentrated marginalized factions or a plurality of ethnicities. In such federations, although the central government maintains the upper hand, constituents are granted specific domains of sovereignty examples include India, Belgium, and Ethiopia. Based on the cconstituents’degree of power, Federations can also be symmetrical (same power and representation among constituents)  and asymmetrical (different powers based on the constituent’s role; economic, political, or other competencies in the federation. Also majoritarian(Canada) or consociational federations like that of Belgium and Switzerland. Federations can hold varying models and can be diverse in their form but despite their differences, there are common characteristics.

Some of the common features that distinguish federal states from other political arrangements are constitutionally Agreed Contracts, distribution or division of power, the participation of regions in federal decision making and accommodating diversity as major features of federalism. The constitutionally agreed contract refers to the strong commitments and mutual consent both by constituents and the central state enter to achieve a common end while preserving their respective integrity. Division of power is a key aspect of federal structure where power is distributed between federal states and constituent units and the division is outlined in the federal constitution this division of power is different from those found in unitary systems with decentralized systems in scope of decentralization but also because of the guaranteed autonomy of constituents. Accordingly, a holding-together federation will constitutionally grant a higher degree of power and autonomy to constituent units while the coming-together federation’s self-governance before forming the federation is respected and maintained. State participation at the federal level is also another characteristic of federations where constituent units participate and have a say in the decision-making process at the federal level.

Federalism like other forms of political arrangements has both its advantage and drawbacks. An apparent advantage of adopting a federal arrangement is its relevance in addressing political issues that are prevalent in countries and its practical solution to real issues; it has been applauded for its function to maintain diversity and unity simultaneously. Proponents of federalism refer to three reasons; 1) efficient allocation of national resources, 2) fostering political participation and a sense of the democratic community, and 3) helping to protect basic liberties and freedom. Also identifies federalism as a means of power compromise, promoting tolerance and reconciliation of historical tensions and developing trust among society. Although any sort of political integration including federalism is difficult to implement in nations where longstanding domination of one group, it is the preferred arrangement in the context where permanent differences in terms of culture, religion, ethnicity, or otherwise exist.

In conclusion, despite its advantages, there are challenges associated with federal systems. One of the major challenges of federalism and the importance of federalism is related to stability. Ostrom gues that instability is an integral feature of federalism, as there is a complex relationship between the two levels of government. Bryce attributes instability to the societal tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces. Moreover, some scholars indicate that rather than promoting diversity, it will reinforce the existing cleavages and be incapable to address non-territorial societal cleavages. The time, cost, and efforts required for decision-making in federalized are much higher than in unitary states due to overlapping structures and services.  

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