Modern Federalism: Comparative Perspectives and Lessons for the Commonwealth of Independent States and Russia
Richard P. Nathan and Erik P. Hoffmann
There are a wide variety of federal systems in the world today, and none can claim to be the best under all circumstances. Certain kinds of political behavior and institutions are useful in most or many situations, but the theory of federalism is not settled and widely agreed upon. Although more than one-third of the world's countries have employed federal ideas and structures, the last comprehensive comparison of federal governments was published over 30 years ago.
The approach used in our research rejects theories that emphasize the centralizing, legalistic, or amorphous character of federal systems. We view federalism as a governmental form that seeks to reconcile regional diversity with a level of collective unity and does so in a way that gives a distinctive role and identity to regional governments. We see federalism as a sharing of power in which citizens relate to two governments, each with consequential rights and responsibilities. Inevitably, a degree of tension exists between the central and regional governments over the scope of the federal compact, the boundaries of shared governmental powers, and the relationship of governmental bodies to the citizenry. Existing federal systems vary greatly in how they deal with these tensions, producing diverse patterns and results.
We believe a federal system must be grounded on a democratic pluralist polity that enables citizens to participate in the national and regional political processes. Most successful federal relationships operate under a written constitution that obligates and restrains popularly elected central and regional leaders, involves elected representatives in the constitutional amendatory process, and protects the spiritual and material freedoms of the individual.