Image via WikipediaFederalism and separation of powers are two commonly identical democratic concepts that share almost equal connotations and play a pivotal role in the endearing democratic system of governance exclusive to Western governments. Federalism is a political system in which power that was once concentrated in the hands of a central governing body is dispersed to allow for decentralization to take effect and enhance autonomy in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. In other words, federalism is a system of governance where several states or regions surrender power to a central government while maintaining a limited measure of autonomy. To Cameron and Falleti (2004), at the sub-national level, federalism acts as a constitutional pact that guarantees the establishment of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
James Buchanan, an influential American leader, in defense of federalism, is remembered for his resounding political stand regarding the effectiveness of the application of federalism. To Buchanan, competitive federalism was a means to extending the market economy and organizing the political configuration of the nation (Migue, 1996). The system of federalism specified by Buchanan was meant to deny the majority broad powers.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a French politician and socialist who lived to see the historic French Revolution prognosticated the spread of federalism long before anyone contemplated its global significance. Proudhon (1863) succinctly hypothesized the relevance of the spread of federalism and freedom from government in the twentieth century. For Proudhon, failure to implement federalism would have been purgatory for humanity. Proudhon’s political prophesy finally materialized as 40% of world governments today embrace some form of federalism (Cameron & Falleti, 2004).
Separation of powers is embodied in the U.S. Constitution and detailed in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Articles. The framing of the separation of powers in the U.S. resulted in the creation of 50 states. The American system of separation of powers divides branches of government into the Legislative branch which is the House of Representatives and the Senate and depicted in the 1st Article; the Executive branch composed of the President, Vice-President, and the Departments and mentioned in the 2nd Article; and the Judicial branch depicted in the 3rd Article and composed of the federal courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. In essence it is a means to ensuring the existence of checks and balances (U.S. Constitution, 1870).
Federalism and balance of power fare better than other forms of governance where power is concentrated in the hands of a central government. Federalism and separation of powers have been found to be effective political tools in that they are a relief in the effective running of governments and that they allow for checks and balances. Checks and balances help alleviate misconceptions because elected representatives perform their tasks in accordance with the demands of the state. Every leader is held accountable to the state and to the society he or she represents. Leaders found to be underperforming may be subject to disciplinary action at times resulting in removal from office. In oligarchic, theocratic, monarchic, and dictatorial governments, power is concentrated in the hands of a select few. Such governing styles contravene federalism and separation of powers enjoyed in the West.
Cameron, Maxwell A. & Falleti, Tulia G. (2004). Federalism and the separation of powers at the sub-national level. The American Political Science Association. Retrieved from http://www.politics.ubc.ca/fileadmin/user_upload/poli_sci/Faculty/cameron/Federalism_and_the_Separation_of_Powers_Aug11-04b1.pdf
Jean-Luc Migue (1996). Federalism and individual sovereignty: Comment on Buchanan. Th Cato Journal vol. 15 no. 2-3. Retrieved from http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj15n2-3-9.html
Pierre-Joseph, P. (1863). The Principle of federation and the need to reconstitute the party of revolution (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1863), pp. 68-69.
U.S. Constitution (1870). Retrieved from http://www.usconstitution.net/xconst_A1Sec1.html