Federalism in the United States
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0024
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0024
Federalism is one of America’s unique contributions to modern political systems. Generally, federalism refers to a political system that unites separate polities into an overarching political organization with protections to maintain the fundamental political integrity of each. This definition limits federalism to a specific governmental structure and emphasizes the state and sovereignty. Federalism is also understood as the institutionalization of relationships via a particular constitutional framework that facilitates autonomy, diversity, and equality among participants, in contrast to the subordinate relationships found in ordered, hierarchical, and centralized political structures and institutions. Federal structures commonly fragment authority and create overlapping jurisdictions to foster coordinative relationships. Federalism studies are interested in the causes and foundation of federal systems, what federal systems require to be self-reinforcing, how different units of government interact with each other and the public, and how federal institutions affect political outcomes, including fostering democratic values, diversity, and good policy.
While modern federalism’s roots are found in the United States, understanding the basic concepts and ideas of federalism is often facilitated with a comparative focus; hence, a few of the following materials introduce federalism’s concepts, terms, and theories via a comparative perspective. A good place to begin one’s study of federalism is Elazar 2006. A more basic introduction, with a comparative approach and specific examples, is Anderson 2008. A video introduction to the basic ideas and elements of federal systems (in a series of ten lectures) is found in Exploring Federalism: The Kingston Session, which uses examples from many federal countries. More-scholarly introductions with references to the literature are found in Watts 1998, the broad investigation of federalism in Elazar 1987, and the Global Dialogue series, which includes books on a specific federal topic and a chapter in each book dedicated to the United States. Hooghe and Marks 2003 introduces readers to the different literatures on multilevel governance and presents an important distinction in federal systems that should be kept in mind as one works deeper into the study of federalism. Kincaid 1995 explains the values and benefits federalism facilitates and the values it neglects or impairs.
Anderson, George. Federalism: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
A small book providing a concise, jargon-free overview of federalism; emphasizes the main elements of federal governments and their likely outcomes. Good for practitioners and beginning students.
Elazar, Daniel J. Exploring Federalism. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1987.
Providing a broad, comparative perspective, Elazar explains how federalism’s fragmentation of power fosters democracy, liberty, and justice and why federalism is expanding. Elazar’s enthusiasm for federalism at times pushes the concepts of federalism to their extreme limits and fails to clearly assess federalism’s deficiencies. Good for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses with a strong comparative focus.
Elazar, Daniel J. “Federalism.” In Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Edited by Joseph R. Marbach, Ellis Katz, and Troy E. Smith, 223–242. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.
A very good general overview of federalism and its definition, major concepts, and components.
Exploring Federalism: The Kingston Session. The Forum of Federations.
Ten online video lectures (lasting from 21–25 minutes) on introductory themes of federalism (including the division of powers, judiciary’s role in a federal union, intergovernmental relations, and fiscal federalism), based on a comparative focus. (Other valuable resources on federalism are available on this website.)
Global Dialogue series: Forum of Federations. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
A series of nine books examining different themes of federal governance. Each chapter describes a different federal country, and each volume contains a chapter on the United States. Volumes are dedicated to such topics as the structure and institutions of federal states, the role of executive and legislative branches in federal states, intergovernmental relations, fiscal federalism, diversity, and more.
Hooghe, Liesbet, and Gary Marks. “Unraveling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-Level Governance.” American Political Science Review 97.2 (2003): 233–243.
Excellent review of various literatures on multilevel governance (international relations, European Union, federalism, local government, and public policy). Divides multilevel governance into two types and explains the advantages and costs of each type. Both types represent alternative responses to fundamental problems of coordination and reflect distinct conceptions of community.
Kincaid, John. “Values and Value Tradeoffs in Federalism.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 25.2 (1995): 29–44.
Describes the values and governing advantages that federal systems theoretically foster (e.g., peace, security, economic prosperity, democracy, liberty, innovation, efficiency, and efficacy), as well the challenges to creating a federal union and the values forgone when a country selects federalism.
Watts, Ronald L. “Federalism, Federal Political Systems, and Federations.” Annual Review of Political Science 1 (June 1998): 117–137.
Provides a good overview of the field of federalism and seeks to provide conceptual clarity between federalism and federation; reviews the extensive literature on the design and operation of federal systems.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Arms Race Modeling
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Big Data in Political Science Research
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Campaign Finance in the Era of Super-PACS
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Economic Policy
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Consolidation
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Ideological Reasoning in Politics
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Immigration Politics and Policy in the United States
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Negative Campaigning
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of India
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaig...
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Transnational Private Regulation
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics