Federalism essay:

It is clear when we look at the globe that many countries are too large for all the administration to come from the capital. The process of de-centralization (distributing the functions of the government) is, therefore, a more agreeable option. There are various forms of de-centralization. These can be through systems of Local Government, which is multi-functional with ‘significant’ autonomy in decision making. The most important of these forms of de-centralization, however, is that of federalism, where legal sovereignty is shared between central and regional governments. In this essay I am going to explain Wheare’s definition of federalism, provide some criticism to it, and try to apply it to federal states.

Wheare’s definition is a principle by which governmental powers are divided so that the general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, co-ordinate and independent. In my opinion this definition is relatively vague, but Wheare accepts that many students will not accept his definition. In his book on the subject of ‘Federal Government’ he outlines the meaning of the federal principle and comes to the definition as a conclusion to this. I am going to outline his arriving at this decision. Wheare gives a loose meaning of the term federalism. He says that the majority of people who use the term all agree that it is “…an association of states, which has been formed for certain common purposes, but in which the member states retain a large measure of their original independence” (Chapter 1 of Federal Government; K. C. Wheare). He then goes on to say that these theorists differ when it comes to the question of the form of association that a federal system should have. Wheare decides to take the Constitution of the United States of America as his example. He maintains that it has become so that any definition of federalism which does not mention this Constitution is not adequate (despite the fact that he states that the US Constitution does not mention the words federal or federation at all). In this case the central government is independent on certain matters, and the state governments are independent on other matters. The citizen, therefore, is subject directly to two governments. These governments, however, are not subordinate, but co-ordinate with each other. It was only through amendments to the original Constitution that it got to be this way. The old Constitution saw the government as an agent and the state government dependent on the central government; now they have equal positions. He comes to the conclusion that each federal government is different to the next, but that it universally thought that the United States is the prime example of a federal state. He concludes by saying: “By the federal principle I mean the method of dividing powers so that the general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, co-ordinate and independent.

Of course, it is very difficult to define federalism. It is given that it is a Constitutional concept where authority is geographically divided, and the US Constitution is taken as a model. There is naturally the problem of the difference between what is laid down on paper and what actually happens. Other countries have adopted a ‘federal’ Constitution, but they are very differently arranged to the United States. Wheare’s definition of federalism is very difficult to apply, so that the two levels of government are independent from each other. Perhaps it is the idea of federalism which is flawed. Blondel analyzes the definition that Wheare gives us. Blondel cited five of his federal features. In the first one of these he asks how we are to allocate the functions of governments to their respective levels; the division of the fields of governmental activity. He wonders about the number and relationship between the authorities; how many levels of government should there be, and how should they be related to each other. Where should we locate the power to appoint and select authorities? He then asks where should the administrative and implementing areas of the government be. In the last of his federal features, Blondel asks the critical question: Where is the location of constitutional power going to rest? Who is going to provide the answers to all the questions? If constitutional power rests on one government, the other government is dependent on that government. Therefore these powers have to be shared. Blondel comes to the conclusion that Wheare defined federalism in a constitutional way, and not in relation to practice.

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There is a major ambiguity in the concept of federalism in that there is an overlap of sub-national and unitary states. An example of this is comparing unitary Britain with federal Germany. In Britain, local government is administrative. In Germany the administration is carried out by the central government. Does this mean that Britain is more ‘federal’ than Germany? How much de-centralization or centralization does a country need to be defined as a federal state? In a unitary state there is no limit to centralization, and in a federation there is no limit to de-centralization. But even in countries ...

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