What is Federalism?

Federalism is the sharing of government power between two entities. In the United States, federalism refers to the federal government and the state government. While the federal government takes care of some elements of management of the country, such as foreign affairs and even the postal service, the state government can be responsible for many other laws concerning daily life, such as arms licenses and some regulations of the sector. Federalism is commonly practiced in large countries that have several smaller divisions of government. However, federalism may differ from one country to another.

European federalism originated in post-World War II Europe. However, federalism has been an important part of the US governmental structure since its establishment.

Types of federalism

The meaning of the term “federalism” depends on the historical context.

Double federalism

Dual F ederalism It was practiced from the time of the foundation of the United States of America until the Second World War (in particular the signing of the “New Deal”). The double federalism is sometimes called “lay federalism”, because the state government and federal governments shared mixed functions, in which the roles of each branch of the government are very defined: in the double federalism, the federal government had less power than the state government .

In double federalism, some of the issues controlled by the federal government included:

  • International trade and tariffs
  • Maintenance of state roads

While some of the state-controlled issues included:

  • Types of law (such as family law, banking law and property law)
  • Education
  • Public health
  • criminal law

Duel Federalism

  • New federalism, from about 1969 to present

Cooperative federalism

Cooperative federalism has been practiced since the end of the Second World War (1945) until 1960. In contrast to the “layered” analogy of duel federalism, cooperative federalism is sometimes called “a marble cake”. This type of federalism is defined as a collaboration between federal and state governments. Together, these two governments work together towards a common goal.

In the United States, the federal government can encourage a state government through so-called “aid grants”.

New federalism

New federalism refers to the type of federalism that is practiced in most areas of the world on the modern day. It was popularized by former presidents like Nixon and Reagan. It is somehow a departure from the “marble cake” of cooperative federalism, since it implies a transfer of power at the state level. One way in which power is transferred back to the state includes through block subsidies, which is a type of government funding in which the state has the freedom to decide where it is spent. In the past, the federal government allocated funds for a specific purpose.

Where is federalism practiced?

United States

Federalism in the United States was established as one of the provisions of the Tenth Amendment, drafted in 1791 when the country was gaining independence from Britain. However, before its adoption, the bill received resistance from the anti-federalist movement whose members rejected the creation of a powerful federal government. Federalism in the United States has continued to evolve since its first adoption.


While federalism was officially adopted as a law in Canada in 1982 as one of the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the system of government was conceptualized as early as 1864 during the resolutions of Quebec. The first leadership in Canada favored a unitary governance system, but after witnessing the American civil war, the process to establish the current federal system began. Canada is one of the few countries in the world that practices a federal monarchy in which the jurisdiction of the crown – the only transporter of sovereignty in the country – is devolved to all territories and provinces. There are also crowns 11 which represent the ten jurisdictions present in the country; 10 represents the provinces while 1 represents the country as a whole.

European Union

While the European Union has many characteristics of a federation, the system in which the EU operates is a hybrid of supranationalism and intergovernmental and therefore is not a federation of law. Some institutions developed by the European Union such as the European Court of Justice take precedence over all Member States, a feature found in most federal systems. However, the founders of the EU wanted to create a unified European state as one of the solutions to prevent a repetition of the Second World War, in particular caused by nationalism inspired by extreme ideologies.

by Abdullah Sam
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