American and Soviet Perspectives on Federalism: A Cross-National Analysis
Sarah F. Liebschutz and Barbara Jancar- Webster
Is America a model for the world? Americans of all stripes have been preoccupied with this question virtually since the founding of the American nation. Recent tumultuous events surrounding the breakup of the Soviet Union have heightened its relevance. A succinct and sage response to the question was offered by Ted Robert Gurr at the 1991 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. After reviewing empirical evidence that would logically lead to a negative answer, he concluded that "the appeal of the American myth to people emerging from authoritarian societies is far more powerful than any critical arguments I can muster."1 The crux of the appeal? "The belief that in America anything is possible."2 That optimism encompasses not only economic and social spheres, but also political institutions.
The central characteristic of the American political system is federalism. Defined by Daniel Elaza most simply as "self-rule plus shared rule,"3 federalism appears to satisfy "the need for people and polities to unite for common purposes yet remain separate to preserve their respective identities."4 As a political principle, federalism emphasizes "the consensual basis of the polity and the importance of liberty in the constitution and maintenance of democratic republics."5 As an organizing principle, federalism has two requisites: (1) that powers are divided between national and regional governments; and (2) that the powers of the regional governments are "consequential." 6
The American federal system--"a centralized national government modified with provisions to preserve the states"7--has been much admired for its 200- year viability. The bases for that viability--unbroken, with one notable exception--however, require examination. As we shall show, the factors that explain the maintenance of federalism in the United States, rooted as they are