48 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2005
Date Written: December 2, 2006
When federalism has not been neglected or dismissed altogether in contemporary political theory, it has typically been justified in terms of exit or voice, with exit justifications resting on Tiebout sorting, competitive federalism, or both. None of these justifications are good fits with the institutional shape of really-existing federalism, in which provinces or states are too big, too rigidly entrenched, too exclusive of more-local levels of government, and too often ethnoculturally demarcated. For a justification of federalism that matches the real institution we are better served looking at a kind of argument that was once common in liberal and constitutional thought, one advocating a separation of loyalties between the central state and provinces (or other units such as ethnocultural nations) in order to keep the central state in check. The Federalist Papers, Tocqueville, Acton, and Constant all relied on accounts like this. This defense of federalism is an instance of a more general category of argument, bulwark liberalism, that relies on intermediate institutions that can correct for tendencies toward the centralization of power.
Keywords: Federalism, liberalism, Federalist Papers, Madison, Tocqueville, Acton, subsidiarity
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