We explain what federalism is, its stories and the types that exist. Also, what are its characteristics, causes and some examples.

What is federalism?

Federalism is understood as the political doctrine that raises the creation of a multiple , diverse State , in which different states, provinces, cantons or regions associate to constitute a single government .

Some of the functions, freedoms and obligations of regional sovereignty are delegated to the central government. This means that many states come together to form the same country and govern themselves together, but without losing their autonomy altogether.

Thus, the States that are governed by federalism have two types of government:

  • Regional or federated government. Its action is autonomous but limited to the limits of its province.
  • National or federal government. Its performance is throughout the country, and in which the exercise of the central executive power and the country's foreign policy resides.

History of federalism

History of federalism

Federalism has its precursor in the alliances between the ancient Hebrew tribes or the city-state leagues of Ancient Greece .

These alliances used to be motivated by the need to face a common enemy.

However, the first theorist of federalism was Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) , author of the first theses on federalism and popular sovereignty.

Later, the theme was developed by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and especially by Charles de Secondant, the Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), author of the most important work of the time on these matters: The spirit of the laws .

In the fight against theocracy in Renaissance Europe , they struggled to separate the State and the Catholic Church , which ruled together in the Old Regime of Feudalism. In this context, the federal republic was proposed as an alternative to the Absolutist Monarchical State, where the King made all the decisions.

Later, the anarchists would take over the term federalism to express their dissatisfaction with the creation of a single and general State, according to the guidelines of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

Opposition to centralism

Opposition to centralism

Federalism and centralism are opposite political regimes. Centralism prefers the formation of a monolithic country , en bloc, which concentrates all power and responsibilities in a single government.

In this type of regime, the government is exercised over the entire national territory through emissaries (elected by the central power) sent to each province.

On the contrary, federalism proposes the organized coexistence of more or less autonomous States, which yield to a central power only part of their powers.

Types of federalism

Two forms of federalism can be distinguished:

  • Symmetric federalism. Based on the equality of competences between the Länder. Each of them has the exact same powers and responsibilities, achieving a more or less homogeneous federal state.
  • Asymmetric federalism. Certain Länder enjoy a greater margin of freedom or autonomy than others, usually due to cultural, social or historical reasons.



An important element in federalism is the possibility of decentralizing power . This means that each province or state exercises the minimum bureaucratic, legal or social competences that guarantee its correct functioning.

In this way, each province operated on its own , without needing the approval or support of the federal government , as far as possible. This refers especially to the management of justice , the administration of basic services, social and educational decisions, etc.

Causes of federalism

The reasons that different territories or national states may have for associating in a federative entity generally point to:

  • The extent of its territory. Federal governments are ideal for vast or extensive countries, since the most basic day-to-day decisions and resources can be made independently and expeditiously.
  • Differences in the population. Often federalist countries are unions of sovereign states composed of populations , culturally or linguistically very different ethnic so in this political system can be grouped without sacrificing their individuality.
  • Weakness in the face of a common enemy. On many occasions, federations arise as a joint response of weak States or nations, which separately would be unable to deal with a serious situation, such as an enemy or a crisis of some kind, and find that by adding their forces they can be more powerful and win. .

Weaknesses of federalism

Weaknesses of federalism

Many federal regimes have failed throughout history due to certain internal conditions, such as constant friction between the federal government and regional governments .

The conflicts were often the consequence of the imbalance of power vis-à-vis the federal structure . In other words, some regions were notoriously and irremediably more influential in decision-making than others, due to their economic, historical or population importance.

In some cases, deep inequalities have led to separatism , especially when it comes to nations that do not share a language , culture or religion.

Federal constitution

The first step towards federation is the drafting of a federal constitution: a Magna Carta where the bases are laid for agreement between the various territories or the various nations that desire a common government.

This document establishes the terms in which the union will take place and the distribution of powers , responsibilities and freedoms is detailed . It is a legal text that goes above the regional constitutions with which each state or province decides to govern itself.

Federalists and centralists

Federalists and centralists

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th in Latin America there were numerous confrontations between two opposing political tendencies . They could not agree on the ideal model of country to found the young American republics.

This situation eventually led to various civil wars (after the Independence Wars against Spain ), in which those who advocated a federal government clashed and those who preferred a centralist one.

Such was the case of the Federal War (1859-1863) in Venezuela , a conflict in which conservatives and liberals (also called federals) faced death for five years

Another example is the Argentine Civil Wars (1814-1880) where the Federal Party and the Unitary Party clashed on numerous occasions to define by arms the model that would govern the Republic .

Differences between federation and confederation

A Confederation allows its constituent members (which may be provinces or national states) to retain large quotas of autonomy, yielding only some of their functions to the central power , and being able to disassociate themselves at will, with few limitations.

Federations, on the other hand, sacrifice such freedoms in exchange for a stronger and stricter global organization . A greater quota of autonomy is sacrificed in exchange for a representative government.

Some examples of confederations are the European Union or the state made up of the nations of Serbia and Montenegro.

Examples of federalism

Examples of federalism

Some cases of federalism exist today in the governments of countries such as Australia, Germany , Burma, Brazil , Canada , United Arab Emirates, Mexico , Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, and Venezuela.

So were the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and the Federal Republic of Central America , both now defunct. Another good example, although in another area is that of FIFA, the International Federation of Football Associations.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Luke is passionate about fostering student involvement and connection. He studied psychology for his major and likes learning about the past. Luke aims to specialize in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. .

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