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Of Power and Responsibility: The Political Morality of Federal Systems

Daniel Halberstam

University of Michigan Law School

Virginia Law Review, Vol. 90, p. 731, 2004

This Article addresses whether a level or unit of government in a federal system must act only on political self-interest or on an understanding of the needs of the system as a whole. To address this question, this Article compares the dominant U.S. "entitlements" approach, which looks only to political self-interest, with the dominant "fidelity" approach in the European Union and in Germany, which demands that institutional actors temper political self-interest by considering the well-being of the system as a whole.

This Article demonstrates that the fidelity approach actually comes in two significantly different versions: (1) a "conservative" fidelity approach, which undermines democratic federalism by seeking to align the diverse interests throughout the federal system, and (2) a "liberal" fidelity approach, which promotes democratic federalism by preserving constructive democratic intergovernmental engagement throughout the system. This Article concludes that the former should be rejected, but that the latter warrants our attention in the United States as a promising and hitherto neglected alternative to the dominant U.S. approach based on institutional "entitlements."

Number of Pages in PDF File: 95

Keywords: Constitution, constitutional law, European union, Germany, Federalism, interpretation, comparative law

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Accepted Paper Series

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Date posted: April 16, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Halberstam, Daniel, Of Power and Responsibility: The Political Morality of Federal Systems. Virginia Law Review, Vol. 90, p. 731, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=531562

Contact Information

Daniel Halberstam (Contact Author)
University of Michigan Law School ( email )
625 South State Street
316 Hutchins Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
734-763-4408 (Phone)
734-763-9375 (Fax)
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