Sociology Index


Asymmetrical Federalism, Confederation

Federal system where there is a strong federal government and weaker provincial governments, there is centripetal federalism. The opposite of centripetal federalism is centrifugal federalism, where power would be dispersed from the centre to the provincial governments.

Federalism is asymmetrical where a federal system of government does not accord precisely the same legal powers and areas of jurisdiction to all its constituent states or provinces. Federalism can act in two directions: There can be a centrifugally acting federalism, its direction is away from the center in order to achieve diversity in unity by taking away power from the general government to strengthen the parts.

Centripetal federalism strives, on the other hand, to unite separate entities without sacrificing the autonomy of the members. During the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, federalism had a centrifugal tendency. After the creation of the national states in this area, the direction of federalism is centripetal.

Federalism could be called also the federal principle or the federal idea. It explains more than just the legalistic and institutional aspects of this political method. Here are the more enlightening definitions of federalism:

Lang explains federalism by saying: "Its aim is diversity within unity and pointing out that federalism's transcendent or universal character penetrates, but does not absorb. The interaction of each federated part creates an organic unity that avoids a chaos of the dynamic parts. There is an interdependence between the particular and the universal. A federal polity is not an aggregate of its component members, it is not the sum of its local and general governments, it is a synthesis which is greater than, and different from the congregation of its parts. Federalism is a means for establishing order without sacrificing freedom among states that refuse to be amalgamated but realize that they must be united. Federalism, however, is more than political mechanics, it is also a symbol of union. Where there is federalism, political bodies have decided to accomplish some purpose in common, to some degree, under a rule of law. Since the federal structure must rest upon consent as well as a collective purpose, it cannot be imperially imposed. Federalism is simultaneously a political technique and a social synthesis; if is a method, an ideal, a mechanism and a symbol."

Mogi, the Indian scholar of federalism gives the following interesting definition: "The federal idea is the formation of harmony between plurality and unity on the basis of pragmatic utilitarianism on the ethical basis,'. Mogi thinks that the federal idea is not confined to the political sphere of the state, but is the general basis of human organization. "The federal idea is the spirit of the pragmatic interdependence of the pluralistic universe and its theory is the basis of human association of any kind. I may describe the new federative theory as the applied science of that pluralism, which is the guiding principle of the theory on which the harmony between unity and plurality is based, or, in other words, the theory of equilibrium."

Werner Kaegi emphasizes that federalism is not against unity, it is but opposed to the tendency of "Gleichschaltung'. He believes it is a unity in which "die Autonomie der Glieder und damit der Eigenart und Vielgestaeltigkeit im Rahmen des Ganzen Raum laest; es ist eine Einheit, in der die Glieder ein recht haben, Ordnung und Weg des ganzen Verbandes irgendwie mitzubestimmen. Diese Verbindung von Selbstbestimmung und Mitbestimmung -die foderative Freiheit- ist fur jede foderalistische Ordnung kennzeichnend."

Proudhon, the French socialist, wrote in 1863: "Only federation can solve, in theory and practice the problem of an adjustment between the principles of liberty and authority by leaving everyone his proper sphere his true competence, and his full initiative. Therefore, federalism alone warrants on one hand ineffaceable respect for the citizen as well as for the government, and the other, order, justice, stability" Or, as the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences formulates it, "Federalism is characterized by a tendency to substitute coordinating for subordinating relationships, or at least to restrict the latter as much as possible. Federalism develops from the theory of social contract. It replaces the Roman idea of domination by force with voluntary agreement, reciprocity, understanding and adjustment. Its basic aspect is pluralistic, its fundamental tendency is harmonization and its regulative principle is solidarity."

If we accept Wheare's reasoning that both general and regional government should be limited to its own sphere and, within that sphere, should be independent of the other, then the theory that the central government has absolute internal sovereignty, would not hold water. Thus it would be safer to say that federalism is the theory or method of equilibrium in a pluralistic society, which voluntarily has united for some common purpose, under the rule of law in a way to preserve and safeguard diversity and the rights of the component parts. Politically, this union is more than a league or a confederation, internally it grants more than just municipal autonomy to its diverse parts.

The knowledge of the federal theory can be helpful, and the lack of its proper understanding-as we will see-was sometimes the major stumbling block on the road towards the East Central European aspirations for a federal union. But even more important is to understand what are the basic preconditions which are necessary to such plans. These preconditions can be the only foundations on which a federation can be built, and in our case, without these foundations all attempts of unity in this troubled and explosive area, which is so richly endowed by nature's gifts, have little or no chance of success.