Rethinking Federalism: Social Order Through Evolution or Design?

31 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2019 Last revised: 12 Mar 2021

See all articles by Rosolino Candela

Rosolino Candela

George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: June 23, 2019


The particular focus of this chapter will be to analyze institutional change from an Ostromian perspective by analyzing the relationship between self-governance, polycentricity, and federalism. Throughout work of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, there exist two consistent themes regarding the importance of federalism for polycentric governance. First, the Ostroms emphasized that the institutional conditions of federalism are a human artifact, based upon choice and deliberation. However, given their emphasis on processes of learning among human beings, this second theme suggests, as I argue in this chapter, a bi-directionality in institutional analysis in the Ostromian framework. Though federalism and polycentric governance are based on deliberate choice, such an institutional framework facilitates learning and the adaptive potential of human beings, leading to innovative institutional changes to reinforce social cooperation between individuals.

Keywords: Federalism; Polycentricity; F.A. Hayek; Elinor Ostrom Vincent Ostrom; Spontaneous Order

JEL Classification: D73; P14; P16

Suggested Citation

Candela, Rosolino, Rethinking Federalism: Social Order Through Evolution or Design? (June 23, 2019). In Jayme S. Lemke and Vlad Tarko, eds. Elinor Ostrom and the Bloomington School: Building a New Approach to Policy and the Social Sciences. Newcastle upon Tyne: Agenda Publishing, 2021, pp. 153–170. , Available at SSRN: or

Rosolino Candela (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

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