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A Journey through the History of Federalism

Is Multilevel Governance a Form of Federalism?

Frdric Lpine

Chief editor of LEurope en formation, lecturer of Federalism and Governance at the Centre
international de formation europenne.

The general thematic of this issue of LEurope en formation is about the rel-
evance of federalism in the twenty-first century. Indeed, there is nowadays, a
revival in federalist studies. Beyond the classic tradition of comparative studies,
this discursive revival addresses mostly the nature of the federal phenomenon,
trying to define new meanings, or to organise the phenomenon into a coherent
That revival may be traced from the beginning of the 1990s. It has its origins
in many reasons, that coincide with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of
the Soviet system. Although all the reasons are not all directly linked to that series
of events, the implosion of the communist world and of the bipolar orderand
its specific ways to control conflictsopened politics to new configurations, fea-
turing at the same time integration and devolution and a process of globalisa-
tionand the weakening of the modern stateas well as the emergence of new
These new configurations can be followed through the development of con-
temporary integrative and differentiative political processes: a growing decentrali-
sation in industrialised states; the development of new international organisations
coordinating or integrating nation-statesthe most prominent case being the
European Union; the use of federal instruments to manage domestic conflicts
or, more broadly, to accommodate multinational states; and last but not least, the
attempts to solve the current financial crisis with supranational tools.

1. Ronald L. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, Third Edition, Third Edition ed. (Montreal & Kingston:
McGill-Queens University Press, 2008). 1-7. Dimitrios Karmis and Wayne Norman, The Revival of Federal-
ism in Normative Political theory, in Theories of Federalism: A Reader, ed. Dimitrios Karmis and Wayne Nor-
man (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 2-5. Daniel J. Elazar, From Statism To Federalism: A Paradigm
Shift, Publius: The Journal of Federalism 25, no.2 Spring (1995).

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22 Frdric Lpine

Eventually, this renewed interest in federalism may be traced trough recent

publications, from the beginning of the 2000s. Besides numerous scientific arti-
cles on the issue, some important monographs or edited books have been pub-
lished. They can be classified in three types. The first type considers surveys of
comparative federalism, and emphasises theoretical developments on the study of
federal states.2 A second type is composed of collections of articles attempting to
encompass the diversity of the federalist phenomenon, through original papers
or selected classical passages.3 Eventually, a third category clusters monographs
especially devoted to new developments of federalism.4 Whatever is the specifi-
city of each approach, all these works aim at studying federalism in a renewed
However, they seem more to address the polymorphous nature of federal-
ism than setting out a renewed conceptual framework, and raise more questions
than they give answers. They record the contemporary division of federal studies
in several branches: normative and analytical, domestic and international, com-
parative, regional integration, fiscal federalism, multinational federalism, conflict
management, regulatory federalism In other words, they reflect the difficulty
to organise a general federalist conceptual framework from systematic studies of
federalist theories and practices.
Therefore, a general question addressed by Rufus Davisand still unan-
swered by this authorcan be raised again: How do we capture all this teeming
and changing variety in any generality that would serve federal theory, let alone any
theory at all?5
The aim of this article is to come up with an attempt to find a way to a general
coherence of federalism, a prolegomena to further research on the specificity of
federalism in political thoughts.

2. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, Third Edition. Thomas Hueglin and Alan Fenna, Comparative Federalism: A
Systematic Enquiry (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2006). A Global Dialogue on Federalism, a collec-
tion of seven edited books on the federal comparative studies of states, published by the Forum of federations,
IACFS, and McGill-Queens University Press.
3. Jean-Franois Gaudreault-DesBiens and Fabien Glinas, eds., The States and Moods of Federalism: Governance,
Identity and Methodology - Le fdralisme dans tous ses tats : gouvernance, identit et mthodologie (Cowansville
(Quebec): ditions Yvon Blais [co-published by Bruylant], 2005). Dimitrios Karmis and Wayne Norman, eds.,
Theories of Federalism: A Reader (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Ann Ward and Lee Ward, eds., The Ash-
gate Research Companion to Federalism, Ashgate Research Companion (Farnham (Surrey): Ashgate Publishing
Limited, 2009). John Kincaid, ed. Federalism, 4 vols., Sage Library of Political science (London & Thousand
Oaks (Ca): Sage Publications, 2011).
4. Michael Burgess, Comparative Federalism, Theory and Practice (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).
Olivier Beaud, Thorie de la Fdration, Lviathan (Paris: Presses universitaire de France, 2007). And we have to
refer as well to the pioneer and most influential book of that approach, although much older: Daniel J. Elazar,
Exploring Federalism (Tuscaloosa (AL): The University of Alabama Press, 1987).
5. S. Rufus Davis, The Federal Principle: A Journey Through Time in Quest of Meaning (Berkeley & Los Angeles
(Ca): University of California Press, 1978). 155.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 23

Requisites and axioms

In the search for this general coherence, there is a need to define a method
composed of requisites and axioms.
At first, that research is concerned primarily with the discursive approaches
of federalism: thoughts and theories that lead to an intellectual formalisation of
the federalist practices and values, that is to say an abstract representation of it.
As this article considers itself as a contribution to the evolution of political
thoughts in the field of federalism, it aims at paving the way to include the his-
tory of federalist thoughts in a conceptual framework and a theory at a sufficiently
abstract level to cross-cut differences in terminology. At the same time, that theory shall
be sensible enough to grasp semantic history.6
The reasoning should include an historical dimension, and encompass all
discourses which, in the history of thoughts, have been related to federalism,
either by its semantics or by the type of content. Thus, the prolegomena research
should determine how discourses on federalism have influenced each other. We
would call it the genealogy of federalism, as the tracing of lineages between these
thoughts, ending up with the building of a discrete family tree in the path of its
In the scope of this article, we will concentrate only on the Western political
thoughts, as significative linkages can be made between political Western schools
of thoughts through history, and we will take English and American studies as the
main axis, as there can be attested a continuity in the succession of approaches.
By schools of thoughts, we mean the key approaches considering federalism
as an object of studies. It includes the main acknowledged authors on the the-
matic, as well as scholars connected to each other in a common way to deal with
political issues, within scientific disciplines or programmes of research. The
meaning paradigm can be used as well. In its more general perception, the para-
digm refers to the basic postulates and concepts that frame a specific method of
research. It constitutes a pre-analytical approach, a system composed of primary
propositions, from which are derived secondary propositions, third propositions and so
on; the derivation being done according to logical and variable processes: deduction,
dialectics, analogy, subsumption, etc.7
In the framework of this research, we will rather consider schools of thoughts
in a sociological way, as groups of thinkers or scholars who share the same way to
take into account an object of studies and are connected to each other. Marks and
Hooghe refer to it as islands, as considering that the density of communication

6. Gorm Harste, Societys War. The evolution of a self-referential military system., in Observing International
Relations. Niklas Luhmann and World Politics., ed. Mathias Albert and Lena Hilkermeier, The New International
Relations Series (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2004), 158.
7. Daniel-Louis Seiler, La mthode comparative en science politique (Paris: Dalloz, Armand Colin, 2004). 48.

LEurope en formation n 363 Printemps 2012 - Spring 2012

24 Frdric Lpine

within each of [these groups of scholars] is much higher than that among them.8
In the same spirit, Thomas Kuhn had considered that a paradigm has to be found
at first through the existence of a specific scientific community: the definition
of paradigms and scientific communities are intrinsically circular. A paradigm is
what the members of a scientific community share, and, conversely, a scientific com-
munity consists of men who share a paradigm.9 This sociological definition leaves
opened the possibility to consider that some schools may share common elements
to the same approach, consciously or unconsciously, although they do not com-
municate much with each other, as it will be shown in the article.
Eventually, any formal approach is rooted in the time and place of its elabora-
tion, and it is true as well for this article. Thus, the quest for that general coher-
ence must be relevant for the contemporary context, as it is made hic et nunc.
In a second part, in order to begin the reasoning, some axioms are required as
a starting point.
The first axiom states that federalism can be considered as a specific object of
political studies. The study will be focusing on federalism as a political phenom-
enon taking into account the organisation of polities. Therefore, it is about public
affairs and the distribution of power and authority. On the other hand, federal
structure is often used to shape organisations of civil society, such as trade unions
and grass root movements. In many cases, they can be considered as expressions
of the federal phenomenon. However, as regard to the extent of this article, they
will be taken into account only if they are to contribute, in the perception of
some authors, to the organisation of the public sphere.
The second axiom considers that federalism can be studied as a sphere of its
own. The research tries to grasp the historical discursive evolution of the federal-
ist idea through its basic acknowledged features and its semantics. Therefore, it
allows observation, comparison and linkages between schools of thoughts that
usually ignore each other. We argue that in creating a discrete genealogy of the
school of thoughts, we can focus on the development and the process of differentia-
tion of the federalist field.
Very often, federalism is embodied in the classical fields of studieslegal,
political (domestic and international), economic, sociological or culturaland
is considered at best as a subfield of studies, or as a single item of a typology de-
veloped within each field. The first case can be illustrated by federal comparative
studies, which consider federal statesand the European Union since recently
to compare them from a political or a legal approach. The second one appears,

8. Lisbeth Hooghe and Gary Marks, Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Govern-
ance, American Political Science Review 97, no.2 (2003): 234.
9. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Third edition ed. (Chicago & London: The University
of Chicago Press, 1996). 176.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 25

for instance, when the federal state is considered as a specific case of the state in
general. At the opposite, this article postulates that the federalist ideaoften
called the federalist principlecan be studied by itself, cross-cutting the differ-
ent classical fields of studies of the society.

Federalist or federal?
Before going further on, a point of terminology has to be clarified, about the
adjective to use as regards to the substantive federalism. Despite the fact that the
suffix of the substantive in -ism could have limited the use of the word to some
normative approaches, the word federalism has been generally accepted for all
kinds of presentation of the phenomenon, being descriptive, analytical or norma-
tive. However, this acceptance has not been extended to the adjective, and the
choice between federalist and federal brings back the importance of the suffix
-ist. In this research, the adjective federalist has been chosen, because the suf-
fix might reflect more the reference to discursive approaches, including thoughts
and ideas, and integrate the normative dimension, which is usually not the case
of federal, which relates more to a descriptive approach. It has to be said that
this choice is purely arbitrary, in order to keep a formal coherence to the writing.
It deliberately does not take into account the possible evolution of the semantics
of federal and federalist, that have to be left for latter studies.

The article starts by addressing the question of the difficulty to define federal-
ism. After that, it presents the evolution of the history of the federalist thought
in three chapters. The first one takes into account the thoughts previous to the
American experience, or developed out of its influence. The second chapter
considers the consequences of the American experience on federalist thoughts.
Eventually, the last chapter is devoted to the latest developments of the federalist
thoughts, in the age of the weakening of the modern state.

The quest for the meaning

Taking preferably recent definitions of federalism, in order to take into con-
sideration the last evolutions of the field, we get to consider federalism of a type
of organisation between different levels of communities.

In its most general sense, federalism is an arrangement in which two or more self-
governing communities share the same political space.10

Thus, federalism is a field of studies difficult to define, as regards to its poly-

morphism. As it appears at this stage, it seems that federalism embraces all forms

10. Karmis and Norman, The Revival of Federalism in Normative Political theory, 3.

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26 Frdric Lpine

of political organisations that do not fit within the centralised state. It focuses on
the diffusion of power, rather than on its centralisation.
Ronald Watts, inspired by a classical definition of Daniel Elazar, proposes
another general definition of federalism, more precise, as:

A broad category of political systems in which [] there are two (or more) levels
of government, combining elements of shared-rule (collaborative partnership) through
a common government and regional self-rule (constituent unit autonomy) for the gov-
ernment of constituent units.11

Thus, Watts includes an overarching common government, reducing the per-

ception of federalism to a closed polity, as a modern state, in order to conceptu-
alise federalism for comparative state studies.
Although that definition may seem more operational that the former one, it
may reduce federalism to one of its components. The definition of Elazar himself
simply considers federalism as a combination of self-rule and shared rule,12 which
opens the federalist perspective to broader combinations. It may be illustrated by
one of the last books edited by Elazar, Federal Systems of the World: A Handbook
of Federal, Confederal and Autonomy Arrangements.13 In this survey of federal ar-
rangements, Elazar encompasses all the political combinations that he does con-
sider relevant to self-rule and shared rule, cross-cutting the distinction between
domestic and international. Thus, he takes in his survey, besides classical federal
states, a broad spectrum of political arrangements, from China, as can be seen
there some decentralisation, to the monetary union between France and Monaco.
In such an extreme extent of cases, one can address the nature of federalism,
and even if there is one. This example assesses the difficulty to define federalism,
moreover whether it is to identify an operational concept.
Actually, the federalist idea seems difficult to conceptualise, as it is not an ob-
ject clearly identified. A federalist arrangement is very often a complex political
construct, as the result of an attempt to find a solution between antagonist con-
cepts, such as unity vs. diversity, independence vs. dependency, coordination
vs. subordination...
This opened dialectic of antinomies had been formulated by Pierre-Joseph
Proudhon on the basic distinction of liberty vs. authority.14 In the same meth-
odological perspective, Denis de Rougemont wrote one century latter:

11. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, Third Edition: 8.

12. Elazar, Exploring Federalism: 12.
13. Daniel J. Elazar, ed. Federal Systems of the World: A Handbook of Federal, Confederal and Autonomy Arrange-
ments, 2nd Edition ed. (Harlow, Essex: Longman Current Affairs, 1994).Elazar, Federal Systems of the World: A
Handbook of Federal, Confederal and Autonomy Arrangements.
14. Bernard Voyenne, Le Fdralisme de P.J. Proudhon, vol.2, Histoire de lide fdraliste (Paris-Nice: Presses
dEurope, 1973). 57-71.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 27

I suggest to call federalist problem any situation where two antinomic human
realities, but equally valid and vital, confront each other, in such way that the solu-
tion could not be found in the reduction of one of the terms, nor in the subordination
of one to the other, but only in a creation which encompass, satisfy and transcend the
requirements of both.15

Therefore, it appears that the federalist idea can refer to numerous idiosyn-
cratic and pragmatic attempts to solve a politicalor even societalproblem.
Moreover, in the history of political thoughts, it led to the creation of many
school of thoughts referring themselves to federalism, and considering a diversity
of theories not related to each other. Moreover a specific understanding of fed-
eralism has emerged in each country with a legal or political federalist tradition.
Therefore, it seems difficult to choose an elaborate operational concept with-
out taking the risk of loosing a large part of the federal experience. To state again
Denis de Rougemont,

Federalism, like all great ideas, is very simple, but not easy to define in a few words or
a concise formula. That is because it is organic rather than rational, and dialectic rather
than simply logical. It eludes the geometrical categories of vulgar rationalism, but cor-
responds well enough to the ways of thought introduced by relativist science.16

Or Kenneth Wheare, at the same time:

[] this definition of the federal principle is not accepted as valid by all students
on the subject. Some authorities find the essence of federalism in some different prin-

Eventually, taking more recent observations:

Any attempt to confine such a complex and dynamic concept as federalism to a
single authoritative definition is deeply problematic.18

There is as yet no fully fledged theory of federalism.19

In this context of polymorphous and multicellular nature of federalism, can

be addressed the possibility to use properly the federalist idea in political sciences.
Four positions can be considered.

15. Denis de Rougemont, Lettre aux Europens (Paris: Albin Michel, 1976). 118.
16. Denis de Rougemont, Lattitude fdraliste (paper presented at the Rapport du premier congrs annuel de
lUnion europenne des Fdralistes Montreux, aot 1947, Genve, 1947), 10.
17. Kenneth Wheare, Federal Government, Fourth edition ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964). 11.
18. Ann Ward and Lee Ward, Introduction to the volume, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Federalism,
ed. Ann Ward and Lee Ward (Farnham (Surrey): Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009), 1.
19. Burgess, Comparative Federalism, Theory and Practice: 3.

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28 Frdric Lpine

The first position is that federalism cannot be considered as an autonomous

political concept. It is rather a pragmatic attempt to reconcile theories with the
As Rufus Davis states, the only common feature to all individuals theorising
federalism is the general idea that, in life, not all is black and white, that political
theory never squares with reality20

[As] we pick at the federal idea we become clearly aware that we are exposing not on
single idea but a whole intricate and varied network of interrelated ideas and concepts
of contract, of partnership, of equity, of trusts, of sovereignty, of constitution, of state, of
international law. And as we pick at these in turn we find that each of these concepts is in
fact a multicellular constellation, a molecular compound of its own ideas and concepts.21

Eventually, for Davis, there is no use to continue to compress multicellular

and idiosyncraticand we would add pragmaticexperiences into one theory.
A second position is to reduce deliberately the scope of federalism in order to
define an operational concept.
One exemplary case may be taken from Ronald Watts, in Comparing federal
systems.22 The author defines federalism as a normative idea advocating multi-
tiered government combining shared-rule and self-rule.23 However, he empha-
sises the definition of one specific category, that he calls federation.

Within the broad genus of federal political systems, federations represent a par-
ticular species in which neither the federal nor the constituent units are constitutionally
subordinate to the other, i.e., each has sovereign powers derived from the constitution
rather than from another level of government, each is empowered to deal directly with
its citizens in the exercise of its legislative, executive and taxing powers, and each is di-
rectly elected by its citizens.24
[] This book focuses primarily on analysing the design and operation of these as a
form of government which at the beginning of the twenty-first century is proving to be
so widespread.25

Thus, although Ronald Watts acknowledges the pluralistic approach to feder-

alism, considering in particular the distinction between normative and descrip-
tive dimensions, he focuses mainly on one specific form of organisation, where
among others: (a) powers are derived from the constitution, and (b) each level is
directly elected by its citizens.

20. Davis, The Federal Principle: 156.

21. Davis, The Federal Principle: 5.
22. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, Third Edition.
23. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, Third Edition: 8.
24. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, Third Edition: 9.
25. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, Third Edition: 9.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 29

It has to bee said that the distinction between federalism and federation had
been implicit for a very long time in federalist literature, it is only in 1982 that
Preston Kings, in Federalism and Federation, established explicitly a conceptual
distinction between both.26
A third position takes into account the fact that federalism covers all political
bodies in between the unitary state and the constellation of independent states.
Any kind of cooperation between political units that does not lead to the con-
stitution of a new single centralised state can be considered as a federal arrange-
ment. That could be derived from a literal reading of the last broad definition of
federalism given by Daniel Elazar. As it has been said later by Murray Forsyth:
with sufficient effort, [federalism] can be detected almost everywhere.27 However,
this position hardly leads to an operational formalisation of the field.
Eventually, a fourth position would be to consider that, whatever the difficul-
ties, federalism, in its diversity and flexibility, may constitute a proper field of
studies. Although clustering many theories, or being by its very nature a cloak
of many colors,28 federalism deserves a specific attention because all theories and
concepts are linked by a common core of matrix combination of values, theories
and practices, that one can call an idea, a principle, or a phenomenon.29
This latest position has been chosen as the basic assumption of this article,
considering that there is an way to go beyond epistemological obstacle to the
unification of the field, through a discursive approach. It claims that, despite the
numerous political perceptions of federalism in various geographical areas, and
the different methodological approaches from discipline to discipline, there is a
way to find a unity in the federalist thoughtsat least in their evolutionin-
cluding political thoughts clearly labelled as federal or federalist, and other ones
that follow the same principle.

Origins of federalism
In order to define the scope of the federalist phenomenon, there is a need to
go through the evolution of the history of federalist thoughts, and to take into ac-
count what could be their main sources and their most important developments.
Many authors consider that the history of federalism starts with the American
experience, as it created the first stable federal republic, which was used as a arche-
type model for federalist studies, as well as a reference for further federal states.

26. Burgess, Comparative Federalism, Theory and Practice: 47.

27. Cited by Burgess, Comparative Federalism, Theory and Practice: 47.
28. Ward and Ward, Introduction to the volume, 1.
29. Bruno Thret, Du principe fdral une typologie des fdrations : quelques propositions, in The States
and Moods of Federalism : Governance, Identity and Methodology - Le fdralisme dans tous ses tats : gouvernance,
identit et mthodologie, ed. Jean-Franois Gaudreault-DesBiens and Fabien Glinas (Cowansville (Quebec):
ditions Yvon Blais [co-published by Bruylant], 2005), 100.

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30 Frdric Lpine

In the attempt to encompass federalism in its historical developments,

though, it has to be taken into account that the intellectual dimension of the
American federalism had been shaped by earlier thinkings. Moreover, other fed-
eralist thoughts have been developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
without being linked to the American federalism.
The aim of this section is to present these specific thoughts, as well as the early
evolution of the federalist semantics.


Montesquieu is considered as the starting point of this enquiry through fed-

eralism, as he was the first to introduce the idea and semantics of federalism in
modern political thinkings. Thus, Montesquieu presented in The Spirit of Laws30
(1748) the first attempt to conceptualise federalism in the modern political era.
In politics, modernity can be defined as the development of the modern state.
From the French and English experiments as well as from the thoughts of the
Enlightenmentwith Bodin, Hobbes and Rousseau as prominent authorspo-
litical modernity refers to the building of the modern state after feudalism, uni-
fied in terms of territory, population and administrative apparatus, under the
overarching concept of sovereignty. It is in this context that Montesquieu writes
The Spirit of Laws, in order to present a systematic study of the different forms of
governments and regimes, as well as to promote political liberalism, on the model
of the English parliamentarism. His approach is clearly descriptive and norma-
tive, and not yet analytical.
Considering three political regimes, republic, monarchy and despotism, Mon-
tesquieu develops in the case of republics the fact that they have to be small, in
order to maintain themselves. Growing too much, they would be destroyed from
the inside by corruption. Thus, large states could be maintained only through a
monarchic regime, and the largest through despotism. In this perspective, he de-
velops the idea of federative republics, as unions of republics through a contract
that would allow them to be large and strong enough to resist to monarchies. At
the same time, the mutual control of the republics of the union on each other
ensures that all would keep the same regime.
A specificity of Montesquieu is his excellent knowledge of classic history,
mostly Greek and Roman governments of the Antiquity, from where he takes
his most striking examples. Although the Ancient Greek did not know the world
federalism and its derivatives, Montesquieu labels the idiosyncratic unions of
Greek city-states as federative. He was the first to refer to federalism for historical
examples that did not use such semantic, and then gave a systematic meaning to

30. Montesquieu, De LEsprit des lois, 2 vols., vol.1 (Paris: GF Flammarion, 1979 [1748]).

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 31

it, as a union of polities. Montesquieu is the first to use federalism-related terms,

such as federative republic and confederation in a way of scientific generalisa-
tion, that will be used afterwards by many authors, in order to refer to that phe-
nomenon. It is notably the case of Daniel Elazar, who sees seeds of federalism in
in the Hebrew term brit, meaning covenant and referring to true peace.31Among
may other references, on could consider a form of proto-federalism in the British
empire, as it as been noticed by Michael Burgess.32
In The Spirit of Laws, the part devoted to federalism is very limited, as it is the
main subject of only the three first chapters of Book IX. However, The Spirit of
Laws, as well as its historic references, had an important legacy. Firstly because it
gave a theoretical content to the word. Moreover, it took an important place in
further debates on federalism in modern times: The debates about the American
constitution (1776-1989) will take into account the history of Greek city-states
experiments; furthermore, Montesquieu will be largely quoted in the Federalist
Papers;33 and eventually, until the end of the nineteenth century, the reference to
the Greek city-states will continue to play an important role for the understand-
ing of federalism, notably with the book of Freeman History of Federal Govern-
ment in Greece and Italy.34
Therefore, The Spirit of Laws constitutes an interesting ground of departure
from a theoretical approach as well as from a genealogical approach.

However, the semantics of federalism have an history of their own, that start
long before the works of Montesquieu. Moreover, other important federalist
thinkers have emerged in modern history, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth
century, who cannot be directly linked to Montesquieus genealogy. These are go-
ing to be presented now.

The history of federalist semantics

A first semantical attempt to define federalism can be made through etymol-

ogy. Federalism comes from a late Latin word, foedus, meaning treaty, compact
or contract. Foedus comes itself from an older Latin word, fides, meaning trust.
Foedus has been used from the Ancient Roman Republic and Empire; when
it was referring mostly to treaties with populations in other parts of the Italian
peninsula at the times of the Republic; and with barbarians not romanised, liv-

31. Elazar, Exploring Federalism: 5.

32. Burgess, Comparative Federalism, Theory and Practice: 51.
33. The most important references are in the Federalist No.9, No.43 and no.47.
34. Edward A. Freeman, History of Federal Government in Greece and Italy, ed. J.B. Bury, Second Edition ed.
(London: Macmillan & Co., 1893). Freeman was expecting to carry on with a second volume on the federal
history of Germany, but he did not live long enough to reach his goal.

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32 Frdric Lpine

ing at the Marches at the time of the Empire, in order to protect the limes of this
ever-growing political body.
Foedus has been present as well in the Middle Ages, meaning a treaty of alli-
ance between political entities, and referring mostly to peace treaties. St Isidore
of Seville, in the sixth century, was mentioning foedera pacis for peace treaties.
Martinus Garatus Laudensis wrote in the fifteenth century a syllabus on Tractatus
de confederatione, pace et conventionobus principum.35 As it can be seen, the lin-
guistic switch had been made from foedus to confederatio, as well as the distinction
between feodus (alliance) and pax (treaty) within the respublica christiana.36
And the adjective feudal itself, as it was created afterwards to refer to some
parts of the Medieval period, might find its origins as well on foedus, and its set
of oaths.
It is therefore not surprising that the confoederatio has been commonly used
to refer to alliances. The most striking example is from now of course the creation
of the Confederatio Helvetica (or Switzerland, from earlier than 1291), when there
has been a need to translate Eidgenossenschaft (or oath fellowship) in latin. But
it was also the case for numerous leagues of the Middle Ages, among them the
Germanic Holy Roman Empire.
A specific attention must be drawn to this last case, as it created a long tradi-
tion of studies of federalism in the Germanic cultural world, followed for instance
by Puffendorf, von Gierke or Jelinek. A decisive moment might be seen in this
tradition at the times of the Westphalian treaties. As presented by Ronald Asch,
the Westphalian treaties did not have the same meaning for Germany and for the
rest of Europe. While Westphalia is considered as the beginning of international
relations in Europe, shaping it into divided sovereign and independent states, it
is not been the case for Germany (or Central Europe, as it appeared at the time).
As Asch points out:37

In Western Europe mere noblemen and princes [] lost the ability to take part
in international European politics; the sovereign states which enjoyed both full ius
foederis and ius belli et pacis were the sole actors left on the European state. Not so,
however, in Central Europe, where the Westphalian Peace gave the German territorial
princes a status not altogether dissimilar from that of the sovereign rulers, in spite of the
fact that in theory at least, they remained the Emperors liegemen and subjects.

35. See Karl-Heinz Ziegler, The Influence of medieval Rioman law on Peace Treaties, in Peace Treaties and
International Law in European History: From the Late Middle Ages to World War One, ed. Randall Lesaffer (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
36. Ziegler, The Influence of medieval Rioman law on Peace Treaties, 147. Randall Lesaffer, Peace Treaties
from Lodi to Westphalia, in Peace Treaties and International Law in European History: From the Late Middle Ages
to World War One, ed. Randall Lesaffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
37. Ronald G. Asch, The ius foederis re-examined: the Peace of Wesphalia and the Consitution of the Holy
Roman Empire, in Peace Treaties and International Law in European History: From the Late Middle Ages to World
War One, ed. Randall Lesaffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

LEurope en formation n 363 Printemps 2012 - Spring 2012

A Journey through the History of Federalism 33

And Asch concludes:

[]Lawyers and political theorists in the Holy Roman Empire continued to use
ideas and categories of thought in the latter seventeenth century which had largely
become obsolete in Western Europe, where the idea of undivided sovereignty as articu-
lated first by Bodin and latter by Hobbes became much more influential. To the extent
that political discussions in the Empire were rooted in older traditions of thought, it
remained a political system sui generis, that was separated from the modern states of
Western Europe by a widening gulf.

This conclusion explains why Germany kept on maintaining a very specific

approach of federalismhowever quite closed to the contemporary international
political sciencewith the exception of the elements brought to the American
political science by Carl Friedrich (see below), and of the principle of subsidiarity,
brought into the European integration approach.

Other founding thinkers

This brief presentation of the word foedus in the Middle Ages helps to explain
the problematic of the genealogy of the federalist idea. Although Montesquieu
can be considered a the first to promote the idea of federalism in modern politics,
it cannot be seen as the origin of all federalist thoughts in modern history. Three
approaches of federalism, acknowledged as such by federalist scholars, take their
origin in the early modern and modern political history, without direct link to
Montesquieu. These three approaches have been developed by Johannes Althu-
sius, Immanuel Kant and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

It is in the context of the Germanic tradition described above that Johannes
Althusius (1557-1638) brought a specific model of organisation of society form
his book Politica Methodice Digesta, in 1603. Althusius was a Calvinist political
practitioner in the city of Emden in Germany, at the border with The Nether-
In Politica, he proposes a new organisation of society, in accordance with the
Protestant revolts against Catholicism, and in the necessity to reform the organi-
sation of society while the old Germanic system of the Holy Roman Empire was
collapsing during the Thirty Years War.38

38. This section on Althusius was mostly inspired by Thomas O. Hueglin, Early Modern Concepts for a Late
Modern World: Althusius on Community and Federalism (Waterloo (Ontario): Wilfried Laurier University Press,
1999)., Hueglin and Fenna, Comparative Federalism: A Systematic Enquiry. and Thomas O. Hueglin, Le
fdralisme dAlthusius dans un monde post-westphalien, LEurope en formation, no.312 (1999).

LEurope en formation n 363 Printemps 2012 - Spring 2012

34 Frdric Lpine

Althusius proposed a bottom-up organisation of society, that he called conso-

ciation, in tiers including families and guilds, cities and provinces and a universal
commonwealth, with indirect representation at the higher levels. The consocia-
tions, as organic bodies, should be working on a self-governing base, and the
whole system should allow people to live together, resolving conflicts through
The idea of self-governing consociations, as well as the rule of consensus
among them, were going against the development of the modern centralised state
that had already started in Western Europe. Clearly, Althusius was against Bo-
dins approach of absolute sovereignty, and he declared that there was no right
for someone to govern on a perpetual and supreme basis, nor above the laws.39
Therefore, he would rather be considered as a potential alternative to the latter.
Although his book was very popular at the time, it has been latter censored
and totally forgotten, until it was rediscovered by von Gierke by the end of the
nineteenth century. Therefore, it is very difficult to integrate him in an interna-
tional genealogy of federalism, before it was brought to the united States by Carl
Friedrich in 1938. Still, it is worthy to mention it as some have considered its
consociation as the first modern theory of federalism.40
Althusius has its own approach of consociational society, based in his specific
political and religious thoughts, in a specific context of war, and earlier than the
classical federalist thinkers. As such, he did not use the federalist terminology and
could hardly be related to it.
Nevertheless, once he was brought back in the main streams of political sci-
ence in the twentieth century, he had some legacy through Carl Friedrich, and
the consociational pluralistic democratic theory of Arend Lijphart, who took the
name of his theory from Althusius.41
The position of Thomas Hueglin is also that the Althusian concepts could be
useful to study federalism nowadays. In a globalised world where the sovereign
state is hollowing out, the early modern concepts of Althusius might find a new
interest in the late modern world. Such assessment follows the line of this article,
that in a world featuring at the same time fragmentation and integration, and
particularism and universalism, new concepts should be developed for the politi-
cal organisation and new forms of democracy.

39. Hueglin and Fenna, Comparative Federalism: A Systematic Enquiry: 90.

40. Hueglin and Fenna, Comparative Federalism: A Systematic Enquiry: 90.
41. For instance, Arendt Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Coun-
tries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 35

Still in the Germanic world, but later, and with every different perspective,
philosopher Immanuel Kant developed his own approach of a federation of free
states. In his Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, Kant aims at establishing
a state of peace.42 Considering that wars are made mostly by authoritarian sov-
ereigns, at the expense of the people, his approach is grounded on the respect of
laws, as it is created by republics constitutions, and as it does implement freedom
for citizens and equality among them, which are embodied in the idea of justice.
As the state of nature leads to wars, legislation, or civil constitution, must be im-
posed and respected in order to achieve that aim.
In the first section of his essay, Kant presents six rules to be respected among
states in order to prevent war, focusing mostly on preventing the domination of
some states by other, and enforcing disarmament. Moreover, he is reluctant to
treaties, as they can contain provisions for future wars.
In section II, more interesting from our concern, Kant establishes the three
definitive articles for perpetual peace.
The first article states that The civil constitution of every state should be republi-
can: for Kant, republics are more pacific than other forms of states, as they have
to ask for the consent of their citizens through the means of the separation of the
executive and the legislative. Still, these republics might not be confused with
democracies, that Kant present as a form of despotism in a philosophical classic
Greek tradition.
In the second article, The law of nations shall be founded on a federation of free
states. As long as the state of nature is ruling the relations between states, Kant
advocates the republicssharing the same civil lawshould unite within a fed-
eration, that could be extended further on, for a durable peace through interna-
tional law. He insists on the fact that the association should be a foedus pacificum
rather than a pactum pacis, as the former is the only one able create an organic
legal organisation able to end all wars forever.
In his last article, Kant advocates the creation of a world citizenship, limited to
the universal hospitality, where legal freedom and equality would spread among
the whole human kind, and would reenforce the perpetual peace.
In Kants approach, peace is a moral imperative, and it has to be build through
domestic and international laws.
At this stage, the federalist nature of Kants project should be addressed. Kant
is dealing mostly with peace, international law and rights of the citizens, but not
with the structure of the state. Moreover, his reference to the federation seems to
be closer to the classical use of the terms in the Medieval law (foedus pacificum)

42. Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, (1795), http://www.constitution.org/kant/


LEurope en formation n 363 Printemps 2012 - Spring 2012

36 Frdric Lpine

that to the unions promoted by Montesquieu or the American experiment. Even-

tually, the authors he is referring to, are more related the Jus gentium than to the
internal organisation of the state.
On the other hand, some elements are common to the federalist approach.
First is the idea of a contract between entities (republics) respecting each other.
Second, by preferring the foedus to the pactus, Kant seems to refer to more organic
form of organisation than a simple treaty that could be denounced. Eventually,
Kant acknowledges implicitly, through the limitation of world citizenship, that
the implementation of peace through a large state goes against the diversity of the
people, and that a federation is the only way to regulate peace.
Kant deals mostly with the moral imperative, and not with a form of organi-
sation that he does not describe precisely. In fact, the idea of Kant might have
been an attempt to relaunch a form of christiana respublica from the Middle Ages.
However, he shows the path to a enforcement of a public international law that
might be considered as a form of confederation.

The work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) presents a specific position
in this section, as Proudhon has been writing his federalist theory by the middle
of the nineteenth century, long after the first development of the modern politi-
cal ideas. However, it appears that it cannot fall within the federalist genealogy
of Montesquieu.
Living in France, and mostly in Paris, Proudhon knew about Montesquieu,
and was contemporary of Tocqueville, both being opposed the Constituent As-
sembly of 1848. However, Proudhon does not take into account Montesquieus
thoughts, nor his reference the Greek city-states. Neither he talks about Kant or
Tocqueville.43It may seem surprising that Proudhon does not make any mention
of these authors when developing his own approach of federalism. For Dimitrios
Karmis, the reason might be found in a pretension to innovation of Proudhon,
an attitude rejecting the works of his predecessors to emphasise the importance
of its own.44
We do not follow that assumption, and do consider the proper originality of
Proudhons federalism.
First of all, Proudhon cannot follow the works of Montesquieu and Toc-
queville, as, in his nineteenth century socialist perception, he opposes the po-

43. Dimitrios Karmis, Pourquoi lire Proudhon aujourdhui? Le federalisme et le defi de la solidarite dans les
societes divisees, Politique et Socits 21, no.1 (2002): 46.
44. Karmis, Pourquoi lire Proudhon aujourdhui? Le federalisme et le defi de la solidarite dans les societes
divisees, 46.
This assumption of Karmis follows the suggestion of Pierre Larousse, author of the Grand dictionnaire universel
du xixe sicle.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 37

litical and the social approaches, considering that the political approach leads
to despotismeven under the name of liberalismand the social approach to
liberty. Therefore, there would be no reason for him to study them, as the modern
state appears as a tool for political alienation.
Moreover, the federalist semantic appears lately in Proudhons works, and is
used to name a complex theory developed under the names of anarchism and
mutualism. Thus, the federative principle appears as the achievement of an orig-
inal work, rather the evolution of ideas that were actually independent.
According to Pierre Ansart, Proudhons thoughts can be divided in two peri-
ods. A period of criticism of the society, featuring a deep socialist criticism of the
society of his time, using mostly the semantics of anarchism, and a period more
mature and moderate, from 1850-60 until his death, developing a federalist lexi-
cal choice.45
In the first period, Proudhon analyse the economic property and the capital
(Property is theft!), as the opposition of social classes and the State. He goes to
the conclusion that the State protects the private property and the capital against
the working class, and leads to despotism. In this anarchist period, Proudhon
focuses mostly on economic structures, and considers the political ones as de-
pendant of the former.
In the second period, Proudhon is seeking to find out ways of organising a
society of liberty. In this new gradual approach, he takes into account other ele-
ments that the ones directly linked to the economic structures. In the complexity
of the Proudhonian thought, based on the dynamics of antinomies, very evolu-
tive, sometimes contradictory, nurtured by passions and intuitions, it is difficult
to draw a line between the periods. One can consider that it starts by the end of
the 1840s, and finds its accomplishment in the 1960s, with the clear introduc-
tion of the federalist semantics.
One of the elements that drive the evolution of Proudhon is his interest for
international politics, stimulated by the European events around 1848. He de-
duces from them the necessity to introduce a specific field of politics aside from
the economic one, considering the dichotomy of war and peace and the principle
of nationalities.
This will introduce a perception of federalism. Proudhon must have been
aware of the general idea of the federation as a political regime. However, it is
mostly through Switzerland and the events of the Sonderbund that he takes it
into consideration. Proudhon was aware of the Swiss Confederation and its fed-

45. Pierre Ansart, Proudhon : Anarchisme ou Fdralisme ?, Les cahiers Psychologie politique, no.16, jan-
vier (2010), http://lodel.irevues.inist.fr/cahierspsychologiepolitique/index.php?id=1412, (Last accessed on
The following lines are taken mostly of this recent article where Ansartrenowned specialist of Proudhonad-
dresses the use of the federalist terminology in Proudhons writings.

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38 Frdric Lpine

eral terminology: he had spent the first thirty years of is life in the neighbouring
French region of Jura, and he makes reference to it in writings from 1847.
Eventually, and may be mostly, it is in the use of federalist semantics in and af-
ter the French revolution that he finds his inspiration and intuitions. The federa-
tion refers to the association of French cities to present Registers of grievances to
the king just before the revolution, which will end up symbolically with the Fte
de la fdration in 1790. It refers also to the position of the Girondins against the
Jacobins. On the other hand, federated referred also to some military troops of
the Emperor. According to Ansart, this contradictory approach might have led
Proudhon to refrain using the federalist semantics before the 1860s.46
Proudhon kept from this period a general sense of federation as a fraternisa-
tion, the natural collective movement of unity, a spontaneous harmony of inter-
ests that would appear necessarily to replace despotism.47 Thus, the federative
principle takes his roots from a Proudhonian intuition of a social tendency, and
cannot be located in a federalist genealogy taking its roots in Montesquieu. And
the consideration of Karmis seeing the Proudhonian federalism as a mixture of
Proudhonian imagination, the new type of federalism (federation) and the old
type of federalism (confederation)48 appears as a contemporary analysis that does
not take into account the genesis of the Proudhonian idea.
With this federative principle, 49 Proudhon presents a normative theory of
the social organisation of liberty. The Industrial agricultural federation would be
organised bottom-up through synallagmatic and commutative contracts in which
contracting parties always keep a part of sovereignty and action greater that the one
they give up.50 Proudhon uses federation to oppose it to the top-dow approach of
the Jacobine organisation of the French State, and to promote the individual and
collective freedom. As such, Proudhon follows the general approach of federal-
ism at the time, as a way to protect the individual and collective rights against
the potential oppression of the sovereign state. However, in this new framework,
Proudhon contemplate a new vision of the state, saying that it could be released
from its despotic feature once it is not centralised anymore, but subordinated to
the confederated governments.
A presentation of the legacy of Proudhon would be out of the scope of this ar-
ticle. However, it can be said that it strongly influenced the anarchist movement,

46. Ansart, Proudhon : Anarchisme ou Fdralisme ?.

47. Ansart, Proudhon : Anarchisme ou Fdralisme ?.
48. Karmis, Pourquoi lire Proudhon aujourdhui? Le federalisme et le defi de la solidarite dans les societes
divisees, 49.
49. Mostly developed in La Guerre et la Paix, recherches sur le principe et la constitution du droit des gens (1861)
and Du principe fdratif et de la ncessit de reconstituer le parti de la rvolution (1863).
50. Karmis, Pourquoi lire Proudhon aujourdhui? Le federalisme et le defi de la solidarite dans les societes
divisees, 47.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 39

as well the early organisation of trade unions in France. His work played also an
important role in the creation of the Spanish federal republic in 1873. Eventually,
it influenced the federalist perception of some parts of the Federalist European
activism after World War II, namely the personalist and integral federalism of
Alexandre Marc and Denis de Rougemont.

Provisional Conclusion

The development of the federalist idea before the American revolution, or in

parallel to it, in the eighteenth and nineteenth has been significant. However, this
set of thoughts is so plural that it seems difficult to find out a common ground
to it.
It follows diverse idiosyncratic and pragmatic experiences of unions of poli-
ties, that can be seen from the Antique world, and have not called themselves
federal, or called themselves federal following a semantic developed in the Middle
It is only in modern times, after the beginning of the conceptualisation of the
federative republic by Montesquieu, that the development of federalist thoughts
really began, with Kant, with Proudhon, and with the Federalist Papers, as it will
be shown in the next section.
Although these early federalist thoughts are very different in their nature, they
share a common feature: a bottom-up organisation of political entities based on
a cooperative contract. Moreover, all these federalist thoughts share elements of a
common normative approach, as they are all seeking freedom and justice for the
citizens. In different ways, they are all opposed to the centralisation of power and
authority developed with the modern state, either to denounce the reasons of the
state or to balance it with a higher autority.

The development of the federalist idea in the modern era

The American experiment and the Federalist Papers

The most important achievement of federalism in the modern era has cer-
tainly been the innovative constitutional model developed by the American con-
stitution of 1787. Its founding fathers were men nurtured by the philosophy of
the Enlightenment, as well as by political experiences of the past and of their
times. Eventually, the first American experience of the Articles of Confederation,
written in 1777 and implemented form 1781, paved the way to the writing of
the Constitution.
It is only after the Constitution that the elements of the debate were formal-
ised into articles gathered into on book, The Federalist, or the Federalist Papers, in

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40 Frdric Lpine

1788, written under the common pen name Publius, by Alexander Hamilton,
James Madison and John Jay. This collection of papers, written at first to influ-
ence the vote of New York State in favour of the ratification and to prepare to fu-
ture interpretations of the Constitution, notably through the first amendments.
Considering the interest of the argumentation presented, it became quickly a
theoretical reference to the Constitution and shaped further theoretical develop-
ments to what can be referred to as the American federalism.
A strong literature has already been written on the American constitutional
experience and on the Federalist Papers. Such article does not want to make an-
other survey of it, but to insist on the major theoretical developments brought
for further federalist studies.
An interpretation of the Federalist Papers suggests that the most striking in-
novations are not about federalism: The Founding Fathers of the Constitution,
and mostly the two main authors of The FederalistHamilton and Madison,
would have been mostly concerned by the creation of the first modern Repub-
lic, considering as dominant features democracy and liberal thoughts. Somehow,
they would have tried to achieve the democratic liberal project included into Brit-
ish parliamentarism, but impossible to complete in London, due to aristocratic
structural lockings.
Such interpretation seems valid, as a comparative approach of the three revo-
lutionsEnglish, American and Frenchcould be done without taking into
account thoroughly the question of federalism. Therefore, it might be said that
modern federalism appeared by accident, as the American republic was built in
a political environment structured by an idiosyncratic federal-related practice.51
However, from a federalist approach, it appears that the federalist thoughts
were highly modified by this new American perception, as they were deeply
linked to the new definitions of the American republic and democracy. Moreover,
the achievement of the American political project and the growing importance
of the United States in world politics led it to become a reference. Thus, this new
perception of federalism framed the most important part of modern federalist
The first major change, from our concern, is taken from The Federalist No.
15, where Hamilton writes, while criticising leagues of states,

If we still will adhere to the design of a national government, or, which is the same
thing, of a superintending power, under the direction of a common council, we must
resolve to incorporate into our plan those ingredients which may be considered as form-
ing the characteristic difference between a league and a government; we must extend

51. For more developments on the antecedents of American federalism, see Burgess, Comparative Federalism,
Theory and Practice: 51-54.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 41

the authority of the Union to the persons of the citizens, --the only proper objects of

In such way, Hamilton advocates the Union to be a state by itself, and not
only a league of states. Thus he starts to frame the federation as a modern sover-
eign state. There will be resistance to such conception in the Union itself, mostly
illustrated by the controversy on nullification developed by John Calhoun. The
debate about nullification and the secession of the Southern American states
ended dramatically with the Civil War (1861-1865), reinforcing the role of the
federal government. It is interesting to notice that the clear distinction between
federation and confederation appears in the English -speaking literature at the
end of the nineteenth century, once solved that controversy.
Another element of the federalist debate that could be added to this brief pres-
entation has been presented by Madison in The Federalist No. 51.

In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the
administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a
division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound
republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two
distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct
and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people.
The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be
controlled by itself.

This argument, already touched by Montesquieu, shows the importance of

federalism in the mechanisms of checks and balance of the American constitu-
tion, and the reinforcement of the democracy in an anti-Hobbesian and anti-
Rousseauist perspective.
Eventually, Stein synthetize the aim of the Federalist Papers in the following

[] to create an institutional device designed to divide sovereignty and prevent

the concentration of authority and power in a single decision-making locus. Its chief
objective was to promote political pluralism and maximize liberty.52

Many other thinkers have been writing after the Federalist papers about the
American federal systemalthough it was not still clearly labelled this way.
Among them are Tocquevillein a sociologic approach of the American society53
and on conclusions for a French liberal system, Bryce and Dicey. However, as

52. Michael Stein and Lisa Turkewitsch, The Concept of Multi-level Governance in Studies of Federalism,
in 2008 International Political Science Association (IPSA) International Conference; International Political Science:
New Theoretical and Regional Perspectives (Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada2008), 4.
53. Alexis de Tocqueville, De la dmocratie en Amrique, 2 vols., vol.1 (Paris: GF-Flammarion, 1981 [1835]).

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42 Frdric Lpine

regards to the theory of federalism, there a lot of refinements but not substantial
change. They all kept in the same methodology, descriptive and normative. We
have to wait for the middle of twentieth century to find out a new theoretical

The analytical approach

An important shift in the American federalist approach takes place by the

middle of the twentieth century, when the normative approach (democratic and
liberal) is gradually replaced by an analytical approach, aimed at systematic em-
pirical studies. That approach aimed at defining a conceptual approach of fed-
eralism, in order to use it as a basis for systematic comparative federalism. The
founder of the approach is Kenneth Wheare, in 1946,54 who developed a legal
institutional concept of federalism.55 He is followed by other scholars, that Rufus
Davis calls the twentieth-centry doctors or the inspectors of federal systems,56 and
it leads to a growing corpus of theoretical federal studies, apparently coherent,
but plural in the types of approach.
In the presentation of the analytical scholars of federalism, which are mostly
identified in the English-speakingmostly Americanworld, Rufus Davis iden-
tifies four different approaches, identified with some founding scholars: Kenneth
Wheare for Federalism [as] a matter of degree, William Livingston for Fed-
eralism as a quality of society, Carl Friedrich for Federalism as a process, and
Daniel Elazar for Federalism as sharing. 57 Eventually, we would add Richard
Musgrave and Wallace Oates for fiscal federalism.
In the scope of this article, the works of Carl Friedrich are of a particular inter-
est, as their approach crosscut the distinction between domestic and international

Carl Friedrich: Federalism as a process

The work of the German-American lawyer and political scientist Carl Frie-
drich (1901-1984) has gone through forty years and, as rightly noticed by Davis,
has been mostly about refinement and restatements in numerous sources.58 As

54. Wheare, Federal Government.

55. Michael B. Stein, Changing concepts of federalism since World War II: Anglo-American and continental
European traditions, (Berlin: XVIth World Congress of the International Political Science Association, 1994),
56. Davis, The Federal Principle: 155,163.
57. Davis, The Federal Principle: 155-203.
58. Davis, The Federal Principle: 173.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 43

federalism is concerned, the core of his thought can be found in his major book
on the subject: Trends of Federalism in Theory and Practice, published in 1968.59
The main originality of Friedrich in American political sciences to consider
federalism as a process, more than as a design. Trying to broaden the theoretical
scope of federalism, he seizes it as a process of federalizing, as dynamics rather
than a pattern, a structure or a design.

Federalism is also and perhaps primarily the process of federalizing a political com-
munity, that is to say, the process by which a number of separate political communities
enter into arrangements for working out solutions [] on joint problems, and con-
versely, also the process by which a unitary political community becomes differentiated
into a federally organized whole. Federal relations are fluctuating relations in the very
nature of things.60

In this approach, Friedrich gets out of the constitutional theory, dominant in

these times, and takes into account the dynamics of changes in political organisa-
tions through the lens of federalism. He applies it to the United States, and as
well to the Holly Roman Empire, the colonial organisations, and any kind of alli-
ance and decentralisation. Therefore, he crosses over the traditional constitutional
border of sovereignty, considering domestic and international political dynamics
as phenomenons of the same nature.
We do consider that the work of Friedrich holds a specific place in the studies
of federalism in the history of federalist thoughts. Firstly because his theory of
dynamics of federalism brings into the American studies of federalism concepts
and theories developed in Europe before World War II. Secondly because he is
the first one to leave opened a connection between political phenomenons of the
domestic field and of the international field.
Firstly, Friedrich, born in Germany and speaking fluently German and French,
has been able to consider and refine federalist theories coming from the old con-
tinent. The hypothesis of the author of this articlehypothesis that has yet to be
confirmedis that Friedrich has been a bridge between the German and French
federalist traditions before World War II and the American political science.
From the German tradition, he brought in 1932 into the American political
science the work of Althusius, rediscovered by historian Otto von Gierke in Ger-
many by the end of the nineteenth century.61

59. Carl J. Friedrich, Trends of Federalism in Theory and Practice (New York: Frederick A. preaeger, Publishers,
60. Carl J. Friedrich, The Theory of Federalism as a Process, in Trends of Federalism in Theory and Practice
(New York: Frederick A. preaeger, Publishers, 1968), 7.
61. See i.e. Otto von Gierke, Political Theories of the Middle Ages, trans. Frederic William Maitland (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1900).

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44 Frdric Lpine

More important in our concern, he brought also parts of the legal studies tra-
ditions from Germany and France. Thus, he had been influenced by the German
tradition of Gierke and Georg Jellinek, and their attempt to comprehend the le-
gal organisation of German States, from the Holy Roman Empire and the West-
phalian Treaties. As well, the studies of Lon Duguit, Louis Le Fur and Georges
Scelle in France influenced his approach. Among others, Proudhon was an im-
portant influence for French legal scholars. In both cases, the debates were on the
sovereignty of the State, on monism and dualism in international law, and on the
specific place of political federalism, attaching a specific importance to historical
and sociological dimension. A specific attention might be brought to Georges
Scelle: his idealistic approach of law based on an integral monism addressing
sovereignty; his perception of the federal phenomenon lying beyond and outside
the State; his conception of a federalism by segregation, going against the clas-
sical approach of federalism by integration; all these concepts paved the way of
Friedrich federalist approach.62
A second important dimension of Friedrich thoughts in federalism is that he
is the first to consider openly the necessity to remove the concept of sovereignty
to understand federalism. He considers his dynamic approach as the beginning of
the end of the traditional juristic notions, preoccupied with problems of sovereignty, of
the distribution of competencies, and of the structure of the institutions.63

No sovereign can exist in federal system; autonomy and sovereignty exclude each
other in such a political order [] No one has the last word. The idea of a compact
is inherent in federalism, and the constituent power, which makes the compact, takes
the place of the sovereign.64

However, although Friedrich was a very active scholar in his times, he did
not leave a specific school of thoughts after him. Some could consider that the
reason was that his concept of federalizing process was not enough defined and
too subjective, and therefore unable to reach a high degree of specific theoretical
refinements. For instance, it is difficult to define how far a specific policy can be
considered as an element of the process of changes.65 It may be the reason why
William Riker discredited Trends of Federalism in Theory and Practice.66 More
seriously, Davis argues that the process leaves unanswered the question of the

62. Hubert Thierry, The Thought of Georges Scelle, European Journal of International Law 1, no.1 (1990).
Georges Scelle, Manuel lmentaire de droit international public (Paris: Domat-Montchrestien, 1943).
63. Friedrich, The Theory of Federalism as a Process.
64. Friedrich, Trends of Federalism in Theory and Practice: 6, 8.
65. Davis, The Federal Principle: 178.
66. Since Friedrichs book consists of snippets of papers written for various other publications, mostly governmentally
sponsored reports, we can ignore his book as a survey of conventional ideas. William Riker, Six Books in Search of
a Subject or Does Federalism Exist and Does It Matter?, Comparative Politics 2, no.1 (1969): 137.

LEurope en formation n 363 Printemps 2012 - Spring 2012

A Journey through the History of Federalism 45

pattern of theses associations, as the process leaves opened the form a federal
organisation should have.67
Some of these criticisms are to be taken very seriously. For instance, the too
general approach of Friedrich does not leave the place for detailed explanatory
refinements, but is it the role of macroscopic approach to include all mesoscopic
or microscopic developments?
Our position would be that Friedrichs demonstration came too early, in the
framework of a scientific community focusing mostly on the patterns of federal-
ism, in a world where the distinction between domestic and international fields
was not yet challenged.
Taking into account the main federalists thoughts developed in Europe before
World War II, Carl Friedrich paved the way for new developments of federalism
into the European integration, and for new developments of federalism in the
context of globalisation.

Daniel Elazar
Daniel Elazar (1934-1999) is one of the major author on federalism of the end
of the twentieth century. Interested in normative as well as in analytical federal-
ism, his thoughts evolved from the fifties to the nineties. Elazar was first known
for his definition of the federalism as a covenant, as a public and moral contract:

A morally informed agreement or pact between people or parties having an inde-

pendent and sufficiently equal status, based upon voluntary consent, and established by
mutual oaths or promises witnessed by the relevant higher authority.68

However, he developed also a larger vision of federalism based on a non-cen-

tric model, from the American experience, as it is presented in the next section. It
led him to a very extensive vision of federalism as self-rule and shared rule, even-
tually cross-cutting the distinction between domestic and international fields.
Considered as self-rule and shared rule, federalism [] involves some kind of
contractual linkage of a presumably permanent character that (1) provides for power
sharing, (2) cuts around the issue of sovereignty, and (3) supplements but does not seek
to replace or diminish prior organic ties where they exist.69
In the same way, Elazar perceived that the evolution of the idea of the sov-
ereign state of political interactions of the post-modern epoch, and the interest
to go beyond that idea. These elements will be extensively developed in the next

67. Davis, The Federal Principle: 180.

68. Daniel Elazar The political Theory of Covenant, Publius, 10:4, 1980.
69. Elazar, Exploring Federalism: 12.

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46 Frdric Lpine

The failure of the holistic analytical approach

Michael Stein has identified an historical decrease in the study of federalism in

the 1970s in the Anglo-American scientific tradition.70 The analytical approach,
after a period of theoretical growth and flowering,71 was challenged as a theoreti-
cal and empirical field of studies by strong criticism. According to Stein, the two
most important attacks went from William Riker, in 1969, and Rufus Davis, in
In an essay published in Comparative Politics in 1969, William Riker, after
evaluating recent contributions to federalism research, challenged the capacity of
federalism to be considered as a specific political system.
Nine years later, in 1978, the Australian S. Rufus Davis went even further, in
his book The federal Principle. After a historical and conceptual analysis of feder-
alism, he concludes that federalism as a concept is hardly able to be defined and
applied systematically, as federalism is not on single idea but a whole intricate and
varied network of interrelated ideas and concepts. 73
Stein concludes by saying that:

It is difficult to assess the impact which these strong critiques of federal theory may
have had on subsequent theoretical aspirants in this field. What one may note, however,
[] is a decided trend away from general attempts to theorize about federalism among
Anglo-American and English-language writers on federalism by the mid-1970s, and a
skepticism or pessimism about the value or potential of such theorizing. 74

Thus, Stein considers that a trend at least doubtful about general theories of
federalism has probably been present in the Anglo-American tradition from the
1970s, with the major exception of Daniel Elazar. It explains the development
on the other hand of individual or comparative case studies of established federal
systems. This led to a fragmentation of the approach.
It is only in from 2000s that new theoretical developments will start again,
with new developments in plural federalism and liberal nationalism, through the

70. Stein, Changing concepts of federalism since World War II: Anglo-American and continental European
71. Stein, Changing concepts of federalism since World War II: Anglo-American and continental European
traditions, 2. The major authors considered in that period by Stein are K. Wheare, W.S. Livingston, W. Riker,
C.Friedrish and D. Elazar. Stein, Changing concepts of federalism since World War II: Anglo-American and
continental European traditions, 2-3.
72. About the analysis of these two authors, see Stein, Changing concepts of federalism since World War II:
Anglo-American and continental European traditions, 6-9.
73. Davis, The Federal Principle: 5.
74. Stein, Changing concepts of federalism since World War II: Anglo-American and continental European
traditions, 9.

LEurope en formation n 363 Printemps 2012 - Spring 2012

A Journey through the History of Federalism 47

work of Will Kymlicka, as well as with new connections between federalism and
European studies.

Federalism and Multi-level governance

Beyond the modern approach

Governance beyond the state

The contemporary processes of globalisation and interdependence are ad-
dressing federalism with new challenges and potential developments. Daniel Ela-
zar saw it as an opportunity for a federalist revival.
In his article From statism to federalism: a paradigm shift,75 Elazar records a
change from a world of states to a world of diminished sovereignty and increased
interstate linkages, through the development of world interdependence and glo-
balisation. This change, that could have been perceived from the end of Word
War II, becomes decisive after the collapse of the Soviet Empire.
Elazar take as a proof of this change the increasing number of federal states,
of processes of decentralisation, as well as of confederal arrangements. He consid-
ers it as a way to tackle with the weakening of the state, and advocates a radical
change in political paradigm, shifting from statism to federalism, as the goes by
the modern epoch to the post-modern epoch.
The expression of the shift from statism to federalism expresses fully a new vi-
sion of federalism. Federalism could free itself form the straightjacket of modern
state, and express itself fully with the globalisation in what Elazar calls the post-
modern epoch.
Elazar gives only a few hints about the definition of the new political para-
digm, considering that goes through the development of self-rule and shared
rule, and that he uses the term federal in its larger historical sense, not simply to
describe modern federation but all the various arrangements including federations,
confederations and other confederal arrangements, federacies, associated states, special
joint authorities with constitutional standing, and others.76
While Elazar is thinking about the development of the federalist development
of the postmodern epoch, another American scholar, James Rosenau, is thinking
as well about the challenge of the weakening of the sovereign states in globalisa-
tion, and labelled this new organisation according to the title of his first book
on the matter Governance without government (1992). By governance, Rosenau
means the regulation of interdependent political bodies, without the overarching

75. Elazar, From Statism To Federalism: A Paradigm Shift.

76. Elazar, Exploring Federalism.

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48 Frdric Lpine

control of a political authority.77 Although Rosenau himself is mostly concerned

by the international level, further models are developed afterwards to integrate
the idea of governance into a model cross-cutting the sovereignty and including
domestic and international federalism, or federation and confederation.
Eventually, to assess the evolution of politics, one quotation can be taken from
Francis Fukuyama:

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or
political organisation. Following, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my
original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what
the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The
EUs attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a
transnational rule of law is much more in line with a post-historical world than the
Americans continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.78

Federalism and European studies

As regards to European studies, they included federalism as a main compo-
nent of their approach only from the beginning of the first decade of the twenty-
first century. Before that, following Ernst Haas (1958)and the neofunctionalist
approach of European integration, the European Communities and the Euro-
pean Union was mostly seen as a sui generis supranational body. Or, following
Moravcsik and the liberal intergovernmentalism, it was considered as a part of
the international regimes two-level game. The researches applying federalism to
Europe were about comparative federalism, and remained quite uncommon, as
the main scholars did not address the nature of the European institutional body.79
It is only when European studies scholars assessed to possibility to free federal-
ism from stathood, by the end of the 1990s, that federalism was eventually taken
into account into European studies.80
In these regards, a specific attention must be drawn to of Fritz Sharpf. In 1988,
his article on The Joint-Decision Trap81 investigates the comparison between
the decision making-process in the German two-level system, and in the Euro-

77. James N. Rosenau, A Transformed Observer in a Transforming World, Studia Diplomatica LII, no.1-2 (1999).
78. Francis Fukuyama, The history at the end of history, The Guardian (2007).
79. A brief description of this period can be seen in: R.Daniel Kelemen and Kalypso Nicolaidis, Bringing
Federalism Back In, in Handbook of European Union Politics, ed. Knud Erik Jorgensen, Pollack, Mark A., Ro-
samond, Ben (London: Sage Publication, 2007), 301.
80. For more details, see Kelemen and Nicolaidis, Bringing Federalism Back In, and Michael Burgess, Federal-
ism and the European Union: The Building of Europe, 1950-2000 (London and New York: Routledge, 2000).
81. Fritz W. Sharpf, The Joint-Decision Trap: Lessons from German Federalism and European Integration,
Public Administration 66, no.3 (1988).

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 49

pean one. As such, he is considered by some scholars as the first author taking
into account multi-level governance, though he does not use this terminology.82
Eventually, as described below, some theoretical normative developments can
be found within the European activism,83 but quite isolated from the mainstream
of European studies.

Multilevel governance as an approach of federalism

The position of this article is to consider that the only approach that could
reconcile the different dimensions of federal arrangements is the multilevel gov-
ernance, and that it has the potential for a renewal of the federalist theory in the
post-modern epoch.
The seminal article creating the semantics of multilevel governance has been
written in 1993 by Gary Marks, in the context of the first developments of the
Maastricht treaty, but also in a political context favouring the vision of Europe
of the regions.84 Through the implementation of new structural policy proce-
duresnamely the Cohesion fundand the creation of the Committee of Re-
gions, Gary Marks perceived the European Union to integrate the sub-national
regions as new actors of the decision-making process. This was challenging the
traditional two-level game approach of the European integration and could lead
to new functional perspectives, at least in low politics.

I suggest that we are seeing the emergence of multilevel governance, a system of

continuous negotiation among nested governments at several territorial tierssupra-
national, national, regional and localas the result of a broad process of institutional
creation and decisional reallocation that has pulled some previously centralized func-
tions of the state up to the supranational level, and some down to the local/regional
To put it more speculatively, the experience of structural funds suggests that it might
be fruitful to describe the process of decisional reallocation to European community in-
stitutions merely as one aspect of a centrifugal process in which some decisional powers
are shifted down to municipal, local and regional governments, some are transferred
from states to the EC, and (as in the case of structural policy) some are shifted in both
directions simultaneously.86

82. See for instance Stein and Turkewitsch, The Concept of Multi-level Governance in Studies of Federalism,
83. For instance, the integral federalism of Alexandre Marc.
84. Gary Marks, Structural policy and Multi-level governance in the EC, in The State of the European Com-
munity: The Maastricht Debate and Beyond, ed. Alan W. Cafruny and Glenda G. Rosenthal, State of the European
Community ; vol.2 (Boulder (Colorado), Harlow (England): Lynne Rienner Publishers, Longman, 1993).
85. Marks, Structural policy and Multi-level governance in the EC, 392.
86. Marks, Structural policy and Multi-level governance in the EC, 407.

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50 Frdric Lpine

Going beyond intergovernmentalism as well as neofunctionalism, Marks is

suggesting a new approach to European integration, switching from the strategic
and explanatory perspectives to a systemic approach, emphasising the dynamics
of the creation of a structured and functional polity.
Moreover, many hints in his presentation could lead to think about multi-
level governance in a federalist perspective. Firstly, linkages can me made with
the process of federalisation of Friedrich. Secondly, he is considering the whole
European Union as a multi-tiers polity. Thirdly, in a long term perspective of fed-
eralism, he is freeing his European model from the sovereign distinction between
domestic and international. Eventually, he is referring explicitly to a distribution
of competencies within the EU, a programme that will be developed much latter
in the context of the White paper of the European Commission on European
Governance (2001) and of the Convention on the Future of Europe (2001-
In the framework of this article, on could wonder why Marks did not consider
his multilevel governance approach as a form of federalism.
A possible answer could be that federalismthe F-wordwas not popular
at the time of his first article on the topic. In the political context, the reference
to the federal objective (finalit fdrale) of the European integration, proposed
by the French government to be included in the Mastricht treaty, had just been
strongly rejected by the British government.87
In the scientific context, the European field of studies had no yet integrated the
idea of federalism in its main stream. Federalism was associated with statehood,
which was missing from the European institutional body. Therefore, a federalist
approach of the European Union was considered as a semantic distraction.88 Us-
ing the semantic of federalism would have raised once again the question of the
nature of the European polity and the debate about the definition of federalism.
As stated by Kelemen and Nikolaidis, some associate federalism with state-
hood and emphasize that because the EU lacks key elements of statehood, it cannot
be studied as a federation. Such scholars have developed a new conceptual vocabulary
associated with multi-level governance.89
Eventually, it must be stressed that in the European context, federalism was
mostly considered as a political finalit, a strategy for European integration, rath-
er than a principle or a pattern for the present analysis. After World War II, the
leaders of the European activism, most notably Altiero Spinelli and Alexandre
Marc, had shaped a vision of federalism as the ultimate objective of European

87. See, for instance, Gilles Andreani, Le fdralisme et la rforme des institutions europennes, in Annuaire
franais des relations internationales: Volume 2 (Bruxelles: Bruylant, 2001), 168.
88. Kelemen and Nicolaidis, Bringing Federalism Back In, 301.
89. Kelemen and Nicolaidis, Bringing Federalism Back In, 301.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 51

integration, in the project of the United states of Europe. However, they were
hiding strong divergences about what the final nature of the polity should be,
between a rather pragmatic Spinelli and the ideological Marc.
It has to be noticed that a close fellow of Alexandre Marc, Swiss Denis de
Rougemont, following the same trend of personalist federalism, has from its part
developed the vision of variable-geometric regions: functional regions ignoring
the administrative and political borders, and whose size would change according
to the problematic to solve.90
This general activist approach lost its political strenght by the end of the
1970s. A new attempt to develop a federalist vision of European integration will
be presented later, in the 1990s by Jacques Delors, through the oxymoron of
federation of nation-states.
At this stage, the question of the federalist nature of the multi-level govern-
ance an be raised, as it received refinements form the original article. Is it still pos-
sible to consider the multilevel governance as a federalist approach? The answer
depends upon the perception of federalism. However, to follow the common
theme of this article, the historical evolution of the semantic might be as well of

The link between federalism and multilevel Governance: the matrix model
of Elazar

As it has been said already, the classical American approach of federalism kept
itself in the framework of the statehood, with the major exception of Friedrich
and Elazar. However, from then, some theories could be taken into account to
create a genealogy between the analytical studies of federalism that have emerged
after World War II, and the multilevel governance. Such connection could re-
inforce the link between the general federalist idea and the theory of multilevel
One connection can be found in the works of Daniel Elazar, and mostly his
matrix model, conceived as a non centralised form of federalism.
That matrix model has gone through many refinements, from when it was
first stated by Elazar in 1976 91 and refined in 198792, to its last developments
in 1994.93Before this last refinement, Elazar had already talked about the shift to
the post-modern epoch, and he could then introduce the new approach by free-

90. Franois Saint-Ouen, Denis de Rougemont, LEurope en formation, no. 296 (1995): 14.
91. Daniel J. Elazar, Federalism vs. Decentralization: The Drift from Authenticity, Publius: The Journal of
Federalism 6, no. 4 Fall (1976).
92. Elazar, Exploring Federalism.
93. Daniel J. Elazar, Introduction, in Federal Systems of the World: A Handbook of Federal, Confederal and Au-
tonomy Arrangements, ed. Daniel J. Elazar (Harlow, Essex: Longman Current Affairs, 1994).

LEurope en formation n 363 Printemps 2012 - Spring 2012

52 Frdric Lpine

ing himself from the idea of statehood, as the matrix model of 1976 was mostly
linked to the United States, and the last one of 1994 could be perceived in an
domestic and international perspective.
In his theory, in order to give an appropriate understanding of federalism,
Elazar develops a new theory of political relationships, which is challenging the
dominant Jacobin-Marxian view on a number of fronts.94
Elazar firstly defines the centre-periphery model of development of polities,
where the sovereign power is concentrated in a single centre, and reflects the idea
of the Jacobin nation-state. A second model is the one of the pyramid, strictly
hierarchical, developed through the empires, and focusing on an authoritarian
administrative state.
These two models, according to Elazar, are leading inevitably to the centralisa-
tion of the state, would it be authoritarian or democratic.
A last model of Elazar, which constitutes the basis of development of a new
perception of federalism, is the matrix model. In this model, the relations be-
tween political bodies are not concentrated in one arena of political relationship.
In this case, authority and power are dispersed among a network of arenas within
a common framework. Their organisational expression is non-centralisation, and
lead to a polity composed of entities preserving their own integrity.95
According to the author, the matrix model could find a new dimension in
the era of globalisation, as the occurrences of federalism in domestic and interna-
tional frameworks could be reunified in a common matrix. The arenas of political
debates could cross-cut the borders of sovereignty, as more international treaties
constitutionally binding for the internal domestic levels are developed.
This matrix model, non centralised, can be considered as a model of develop-
ment of political communication nowadays, through the globalisation of com-
munication and of economic matters.
If we accept to follow Elazar to this stage we disagree on the origin of this
model. Elazar refers mostly, through the main authors and currents of liberal-
ism in the modern era, to the expression of the matrix model in the American
experience. However, as it as already been said, we would rather argue that it is
embodied within all perception of federalism, as a combination of self rule and
shared rule.
Moreover, one can consider that the intuition of Elazar was too much linked
to to the state model to realise that the development of the matrix model, in its
complexity, and out of the sovereign nation-state, would raise the problem of
representativity of the people, through a network composed of a multiplicity of
decision arenas.

94. Elazar, Introduction, xii.

95. Elazar, Federal Systems of the World, Longman, 1994, xiii

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 53

The question to be raised now is to see whether the non centralised model of
multi-level governance can be considered as a new expression of federalism.
Multi-level governance studies mostly authorities or governments interacting
with each other and crosscutting the distinction between domestic and interna-
tional levels. Although this theory has been specifically developed in the context
of the European integration, the matrix of interaction between different actors
at different levels and the global connections between the domestic and interna-
tional levels seem to make it quite close to some federalist organisation.

General definition of multilevel governance

The model of multilevel governance, as it has been developed from the first
definition of Gary Marks, is basically framed into European studies.
It is obvious that in the process of complexification of a globalised world,
through ongoing processes of integration and fragmentation, it is in the Euro-
pean union that this double process has received the most elaborate institutional
answer. The reallocation of decision making upwards and downwards asserts the
weakening of the modern sovereign state.
However, this turn in the governance 96is expected by its authors to be used
at a larger scale, as a general model of understanding the evolution of politics.
Hooghe and Marks show examples in political relations still encapsulated within
the modern state, as in the United States and Switzerland.97 And other examples
can be given in the international arena, with the enforcement of new competen-
cies for supranational and transnational actors,98 without excepting the role of
subnational actors in the international and supranational spheres, as for Belgium
or Switzerland.
The main features of multilevel governance include the multi-tiered govern-
ance including domestic as well as international field, the functional approach,
the cooperative dimension and the role of non-state actors.
The main object of multilevel governance is to identify and study the different
decision making locus in a global approach, bypassing the modern state, through
a structure of multiple layers of political entities interconnected through their
functions. Thus, the aim of multilevel governance is to propose a new model of
political relations, encompassing domestic as well as international relations.
In one of their fundamental articles on theoretical refinements of the multi-
level governance, Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level
Governance, Hooghe and Marks define two types of multilevel governance.

96. Stein and Turkewitsch, The Concept of Multi-level Governance in Studies of Federalism, 8.
97. Hooghe and Marks, Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Governance.
98. See, for instance, Thomas Hale and David Held, eds., Handbook of Transnational Governance: Institutions
and Innovations (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011).

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54 Frdric Lpine

MLG type I describes a model based on multi-level structure of a limited number

of general purpose jurisdictions, non intersecting, in a durable architecture, and
quite difficult to reform. MLG type II is more task-oriented, with task-specific
jurisdictions with intersecting memberships, and a flexible design with no limita-
tion to the number of levels.99
The multiplicity of overlapping and intersecting jurisdictions leads to a com-
plex pattern. In the same spirit than Elazar, the multilevel governance scholars
describe a polycentric non hierarchical model where decisions in one locus can
be influenced by interdependence. Like in the latest version of the matrix model,
the model is not encapsulated anymore into a state framework but crosscut the
borders of the state to cover the domestic as well as the international framework.
In a short term perspective, multilevel governance is mostly interested to ex-
plain why some decisions are taken in some locus, and how have to be taken into
account the interdependence with other decision making processes. However, in
a middle term perspective, are scrutinised the transfer of competencies from one
jurisdiction to another, as well as the creation of MLG Type II institutions.
Following the federalist path, contractualism can be considered as the basic
instrument organising the multilevel governance, as constitutions and interna-
tional treaties can be considered as a specific form of contracts. It is through
contractualism that competencies are settled and new institutions created.
A specific attention may be driven to constitutions as social contracts. The
multilevel governance approach can be considered mostly as functional, or task-
oriented, as it deals mostly with processes and outcomes, and not so much with
the structure. A large part of the structure is given for granted, as it is the case for
most historical general jurisdictions, and the interest focus mainly in a function-
al approach. However, these historical jurisdictionsmodern states and state-
pattern organised entitiesare not only dealing with the functional dimension of
the state, but also with its legitimacy and its democratic accountability.
This lack of interest to the nature of the general jurisdiction may explain also
why multilevel governance is perceived mostly as co-operative, and not so much
in the opposition conflict vs. cooperation, or competition vs. cooperation, as it
is the case in federalist studies. In fact, the aspect of conflict or competition is
already embodied within the general jurisdictions. Seeking new outcomes, mul-
tilevel governance scholars give more emphasis to the solution of the federalist
problematic, as the new task-oriented jurisdictions are about finding solutions to
contingent problems.
Eventually, following the general meaning of governance, multilevel govern-
ance integrates non-state non-public actors in the decision making processes in

99. Hooghe and Marks, Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Governance, 236-239.

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 55

each locus. It includes within decision makers: corporation, NGOs, social actors,
international organisations, and supranational institutions.

Links with federalism

Many linkages can be made between federalism and multilevel governance.
At first because multilevel governance can appear as a broadening of the clas-
sical concept of federalism100 with more than two tiers of government. In such
perspective, multilevel governance can be related to the matrix model of Daniel
This can be reinforced by the presentation of the early article from Fritz
Sharpf, exploring the similarities between joint decision making (Politikverflech-
tung) in German federalism and decision-making in the European Community,101
leading to the conclusion that, in some areas, the similarities are so obvious as to
be trivial102 and considering that these cases may be instances of a universal deci-
sion logic inherent in particular patterns [] of institutional arrangements.103
Searching for connections between federalism and multilevel governance,
Stein and Turkewitsch went to the conclusion that the causal arrow between [fed-
eralism and multilevel governance] is more correctly viewed as a two-way interaction
process which operates in both directions. In the initial phase of multi-level govern-
ance studies in political sciences, from the mid -1980s until the mid-1990, there
was a strong historical and analytical influence that theories of federalism had on the
definition and evolution of multi-level governance. But in the more recent period
from the mid-1990s to the present, the insights of multi-level governance theorists
have begun to impact significantly on theories of federalism.104
In the approach of this article, such assertion must receive some criticisms.
The first one is that Stein and Turkewitsch consider federalism and multilevel
governance as two distinct concepts, which is not the position of this article. This
is due to the fact that they define federalism as derived directly from the Ameri-
can constitution105 and is close to a pattern-approach of it, talking in terms of
comparative studies. Furthermore, in their research, they compare both concepts
in the framework of European studies. Nevertheless, their argument enforce a
strong connection between both ideas.

100. Stein and Turkewitsch, The Concept of Multi-level Governance in Studies of Federalism, 7.
101. Sharpf, The Joint-Decision Trap: Lessons from German Federalism and European Integration, 239.
102. Sharpf, The Joint-Decision Trap: Lessons from German Federalism and European Integration, 251.
103. Sharpf, The Joint-Decision Trap: Lessons from German Federalism and European Integration, 271.
104. Stein and Turkewitsch, The Concept of Multi-level Governance in Studies of Federalism, 3.
105. Stein and Turkewitsch, The Concept of Multi-level Governance in Studies of Federalism, 4.

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56 Frdric Lpine

More strikingly, Hooghe and Marks state clearly that the intellectual founda-
tion for Type I governance is federalism. 106 Such assumption reinforce the possible
federalist genealogy of multilevel governance. However, the definition they give
to federalism refers clearly to a pattern-approach of federalism: Federalism is
concerned chiefly with the relationship between central government and a tier of non-
intersecting subnational governments.107
Moreover, in the framework of this article, MLG type II could refer as well to
federalism. It holds the main feature of contractualism to create the new body,
the autonomy of the body, and a large application of the principle of subsidiarity
to define the appropriate level for each task. Stein and Turkewitsch talks about a
shared federalism. The main difference is that the jurisdictions are not based an-
ymore on general political entities, but on adapting the form of to the efficiency.
Therefore, can one consider MLG type II as a part of the federalist phenom-
enon? Certainly not on the basis of a state-like federal pattern. However, in a
larger vision of federalism, as a principle rather than a pattern, it can fit in the
general evolution of federalism. It has to be said that the question of efficien-
cyas a form of functional federalismis not so far away form the federalist
interests. The fiscal federalism studies devote a large part of their concern to the
adaptation of political structures to efficiency. The non territorial federalism, at-
tached to some personal rights of individual citizens, could be related as well to
that question. Eventually, the Rougemonts vision of variable-geometry regions
fits in that approach, and has been sometime used as a reference to some admin-
istrative organisations.108

Interest of Multilevel Governance in a Federalist Approach

Now that the relation between federalism and multilevel governance has been
established, one could address the federalist nature of multilevel governance.
In this new model, there is clearly a semantic shift, although it does not refer
directly to federalism, or doesnt dare to do so. The reasons of this semantic shift
has been explained earlier, considering the connotations of the use of federalism
in European studies.
However, as it has been showed in the historical evolution, we can find in
multilevel governance the main features of the federalist idea. Multilevel govern-
ance is based on a multiplicity of voluntary contracts by self-governed entities.
The cooperation between the entities is stimulated through contractualism, and

106. Hooghe and Marks, Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Governance, 236.
107. Hooghe and Marks, Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Governance, 236.
108. See, for instance, Christophe Koller, La fonction publique en Suisse : analyse gopolitique dun fdral-
isme gomtrie variable, Pyramides: revue du Centre dEtudes et de Recherches en Administration publique, no.
15 (2008).

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 57

the distribution of competencies is made through these contracts, allowing in

particular the creation of task-oriented organisations.
To refer once again to the rhetoric of Elazar, the improvement of multilevel
governance is in the paradigm shift of the distribution of power. The multilevel
governance model presents an approach taking into consideration the weakening
of the modern state and the fact the sovereignty is not anymore the basic norm
of the distribution of power.
Therefore, it can be argued as an hypothesis that multilevel governance fol-
lows the last refinement of the federalist idea, considering the weakening of the
sovereign state, and that politics are freeing from the concept of state, which
could lead to some post-modernity. Moreover, the multiple refinements of the
multilevel governance might integrate the various developments of federalism
through complexification of modern societies.
However, in the perspectives of this article, the interest of multilevel govern-
ance is not so much the one of the explanatory theory, but a new frameworkor
a new general paradigmencompassing all political relations. This is why the
term model is used rather than theory throughout this article. Multilevel gov-
ernance appears more as a descriptive model than an explanatory theory.109 In
order to understand the interest of multilevel governance for further federalist
studies, it has to be considered multilevel as a meta-theory, a new conceptual
approach of a federalist nature to think out politics in the post-modern epoch.
Multilevel governance does not create anything new, but shape an overarching
model on the basis of the federalist approach to consider a post-state world.
As regards to this article, the most important feature of multilevel govern-
ance is the task-oriented, of functional, dimension. It gives the plasticity of the
multilevel governance model, as a task-oriented approach can be considered as an
holistic one: it can encompass and re-interpret theories and concepts, regardless
of their structures and values. It can be the base of the interconnections between
different fields of studies, and shows an overarching interdisciplinary framework
for different studies on federalism, as an omnibus overall model.
The plasticity of the multilevel governance model allows the integration into
one framework of many political science thoughts and theories. The different
fields of research of multi-level governance encompass the different subfields of
studies covered by the different branches of federalism studies (political, eco-
nomic, sociological, domestic and international), considering them all in their
unity. In fact, in can reconcile all school of studies that go against the centrali-
sation of power, from the international as well as the domestic approach, or to
quote Hooghe and Marks, that share the postulate that: dispersion of governance

109. Stein and Turkewitsch, The Concept of Multi-level Governance in Studies of Federalism, 10.

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58 Frdric Lpine

across multiple jurisdictions is more flexible than concentration of governance in one

For Hooghe and Marks, it does reconcile all islands of studies that share the
idea of diffusion of authority. They identify five of these: European Union Stud-
ies, International Relation Scholars, Federalism, Local and metropolitan govern-
ance, and Public policy.
Eventually, the multilevel governance approach appears as a potential synthe-
sis of most of the approaches of federalism in this article, and mostly the different
schools of studies of the analytical approach: it does consider federations and
federal states (general jurisdictions) as well as federal institutions created for a
specific purpose (task-oriented jurisdictions); it is able to reconcile domestic and
international fields; and, eventually, it sets federalism free from the archetype
American model and its inherited values.
As such, it can be considered as a model for a new era of federalism.
Its main limit is normative, and has to be found in its functional approach.
It does not take into account the values and principles that are at the basis of the
general purpose jurisdictions, nor the prior organic ties of the historical entities
structured in multilevel governance. Moreover, the functional and non hierarchi-
cal structure proposed by multilevel governance does not favour the development
of a normative overarching set of values. Therefore, it does not take into account
the general interest and misses a societal ontology.
Considering the modern state in its functional dimension, it appears clearly
that it looses the origin of the nation-state, as the democratic component of the
modern state. Therefore, it does not consider the democratic legitimacy and ac-
countability of the institutions created. The concept of demos in its modern way
has been linked to the modern definition of nation, as it is defined by the bound-
aries of the modern state. In the multilevel governance functional approach, the
polycentric approach, out of the frame of the state, looses that dimension. Thus
the normative question to whom a jurisdiction is accountable for, can be ad-
dressed. However, it might be enlarged to the normative problems related to the
demos, as political legitimacy, participation and representation, social and fiscal
solidarity, new definition of territory Elements of answers to these questions
can be found within multilevel governance studies in the book of Simona Piat-
toni, The Theory of Multi-Level Governance.111 Outside that field of studies have
been raised the question of cosmopolitan citizenship and democracy on the glo-

110. Hooghe and Marks, Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Governance, 235.
111. Simona Piattoni, The Theory of Multi-level Governance: Conceptual, Empirical and Normative Challenges
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 59

balised word, and the possibility of a democratic system beyond the state, follow-
ing the path of Kant.112
Without going into a broader debate, which would exceed the size of this
article, some simple comments might be taken into account. Peters and Pierre
have talked about a Faustian bargain as regards to multilevel governance and
democracy, considering that the core values of democratic governments are traded
for accommodation, consensus and efficiency in governance.113 This comment seems
to underestimate the role of consociational democratic theories, which consider
that in divided societies, where majoritarian electoral systems are not applicable,
accommodation and consensus are essential components of the system, and core
values of the democratic system. Thus, that need for accommodation and con-
sensus could be extended to multilevel governance.
Another limit of the multilevel governance model is more factual: although
the power of the modern states has weakened, the state has not disappeared. Ela-
zar rightly stated that the model of governance in the postmodern epoch is not
about the disappearance of the sovereign state, but about its integration in a new
In the development of biding contracts between the different actors of the
multilevel governance, the central government of the statesthat is to say the
one where relies legal sovereignty in its international dimensionstill plays a
significant role. In this new perception of federalism, and as we are dealing with
metaphoric models, the matrix model of Elazar, developed in the framework of
the federal state, should be replaced by a sandglass model, or a matrix with a nar-
row bottleneck in the middle, through the sovereign state, which is coordinating
more than ruling.

From time to time, theories and models have to be revised, in order to take
into account the evolution of the topic and, as far as social sciences are concerned,
the growing complexity of the world.
In particular, there has been in the past decade a revival in federalism studies,
addressing not only the federal state, but the whole nature of federalism, in a
political world featuring two opposite trends of globalisation and fragmentation.
However, so far, this revival has not led to a clear new answer and a new percep-
tion of federalism.

112. For instance the works of David Held and Jrgen Habermas. See also: Daniele Archibugi, Cosmopolitan
Democracy and its Critics: A review, European journal of International Relations 10, no. 3 (2004).
113. Guy Peters, Jon Pierre, Multi-level Governance and Democracy. A Faustian Bargain?, cited by Stein and
Turkewitsch, The Concept of Multi-level Governance in Studies of Federalism, 10-11.

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60 Frdric Lpine

In the context of this article, we argue that federalism cannot be seen in a new
perspective as long as it is attached to the archetype pattern of the American pat-
tern, developed form the Constitution of 1787 and the Federalist Papers.
This model has framed the development of federalist studies for two cen-
turies with reference to the modern stateand to the nation-statefeaturing
sovereignty and the values of democracy and liberalism. Confederations and non
democratic federal states are considered in this framework as unachieved forms
of federalism.
In the past decade, world politics has known new developments, distinguished
by a growing interdependence, the development of the European Union, as well
as the increase of federalist solutions in conflict management studies, taking into
account non homogeneous states and international guarantees.
In order to be able to free federalism out of the straightjacket of the American
experience, this article considers that federalism must be studied in the long range
historical perspective, considering earlier developments than the American one,
as well as parallel historical developments. Our position is that, in order to be
able the understand federalism in the post-modern era, where the sovereign state
has been weakening, one should consider the evolution of federalism in pre- or
early- modern era, as well as the alternative to the American experiment. That
approach postulates federalism as an autonomous field of studies, in its concepts
as well as in its semantics.
Analysing what are the constant features of federalism, it cannot be seen as a
concept or a theory, as the formalisation of federalism in concepts and theories
reduce the scope of study of the field. The historical presentation has shown the
plasticity of federalism and the difficulty to encompass all developments of feder-
alism into one concept or one theory.
Therefore, federalism must be seen in a meta-theoretical perspective, as a gen-
eral approach of politics, or a paradigm considered in its more general sense. This
is what can be called the federalist idea or the federalist principle.
The basic features of the federalist idea are made up of some general norms:

1. Federalism is based on a voluntary contract between collective entities

(would it be called treaty, constitution, covenant, compact).
2. Thus, it considers the self-governanceor autonomyof the entities
in each level of a two or muti-tier organisation.
3. Eventually, federalism considers that the diffusion of power is prefer-
able to its centralisation.

All other aspects of a federalist organisation are left to the adaptation of the
principle to the specific contingencies of the environment where it take place. By

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A Journey through the History of Federalism 61

contingencies, we understand the context in which the contract takes place or

is amended. The word contingencies might appear as excessive, as it does include
elements that have structured federalism for decades or centuries . We can think
in particular of territoriality, sovereignty or democracy. However, if federalism has
to be taken in a large historical perspective, these contingencies are elements that
appear and/or disappear in the evolution of the federalist thoughts.
Eventually, in such perspective, there is no historical teleology in the feder-
alist approach. Political societies do not necessarily evolve towards a federalist
organisation. Rather, federalism has to be considered as a method, a specific way
to organise plurality in a non-centralised way.
In this general approach, the historical evolution of the federalist idea reflects
the changes of its perspectives, in a growing complexity.
Before the modern era, most of the federalist unions where idiosyncratic and
pragmatic experiences, mostly task-oriented towards defensive measures.
A first attempt to formalise these experiences was made by Montesquieu in a
descriptive approach by 1748 in LEsprit des lois. It influenced the American con-
stitution and the next major work of the federalist idea, the Federalist Papers, in
1788. The work of Hamilton and Madison presented a descriptive and normative
vision of federalism, embodied into a liberal and democratic republic.
In the same period, two other federalist normative projects were proposed by
Kant and Proudhon. However, it is in the American context that was developed a
tradition of federalist studies, which led to the development of analytical studies,
from World War II, beginning with Kenneth Wheare. Although mostly analytic,
these studies keep a normative influence, through their perception of the Ameri-
can pattern as the archetype.
Eventually, the collapse of the communist world led to a new perception of
world politics. We argue the innovative federalist model developed afterwards is
multilevel governance, as the latest attempt to formalise the federalist idea, or the
first attempt in the post-modern era.
In this historical perspective, the evolution of the federalist schools of thought
can be seen as a genealogy of the federalist thoughts, and this path has to be
A first phase can ben seen with Montesquieu, in a descriptive approach of
federalism and the first introduction of federalism into a systematic typology of
political systems, in a historical survey of the political organisations. Although
the work of Montesquieu is highly normative, the part considering federalism is
mostly descriptive. The normative approach appears afterwards, in the thoughts
of the Federalist Papers, Kant and Proudhon. This normative approach remains
until the 1940, when is starting the analytical approach. The analytical approach

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62 Frdric Lpine

itself will be maintained, through some misfortunes, until a new meta-theoretical

model of multilevel governance appears at the turn of the century.
In a world of growing complexity, it seems the evolution of federalist thoughts
have followed that complexity in their interpretation of federalism. From a de-
scriptive approach, it went on with a normative approach, followed by an ana-
lytical one, and ending up with a paradigmatic model perspective nowadays. In
the agenda for future research, it would be interesting to compare the main steps
of evolution of federalism with other political science fields of studies, in order
to compare their speed of evolution and see if federalism has been ahead or late.
Another conclusion to draw is that the evolution of federalism has come from
a value-oriented approach, aimed at defining the social ontology of politics, to a
function-oriented or task-oriented approach. In that evolutionary process from a
holistic approach to a functional one, one could consider that federalism has lost
its soul in a Faustian bargain, in an attempt to encompass all forms of federalism
in a general model. However, a task-oriented is as well an holistic one, as it can
encompass and re-interpret theories and concepts, regardless of their structures
and values.
To study federalism is to scrutinise an idea, and the idea of federalism finds
its coherence in the process of its evolution, rather than in a single theory or
concept. In each step of its evolution, federalism has adapted itself, with a strong
plasticity, to the political environment it had to perform in. In the post-modern
epoch, it seems that there is a place for a revival in federalism. Through a seman-
tic shift, it seems that multilevel governance gives the model where an adapted
version of federalism should grow. Some could see there a risk for federalism, as
it would loose the spirit that has been developed from the American revolution.
However, the federalist idea is older than the American experience, and the con-
stant attempt of federalism to balance unity and diversity is a principle of its own,
different from democracy and liberalism. Federalism must be seen as a method
rather than a structure, a set of values or a finalit.

The aim of this article is to find out a general coherence to the federalist idea, through a study of the
evolution of federalist thoughts. It comes to the conclusion that federalism have to stay an idea or a prin-
ciple, and not a concept nor a theory, in order to be able to encompass all federalist discursive approaches.
Moreover, it assesses that the latest development of the federalist idea is multi-level governance.

Lobjectif de cet article est de rechercher la cohrence gnrale de lide fdraliste, au travers de
lvolution des penses fdralistes. Il arrive la conclusion que le fdralisme doit rester une ide ou
un principe, et non un concept ou une thorie, afin de pouvoir prendre en compte toutes les approches
discursives du fdralisme. En outre, il considre que le dveloppement le plus rcent de lide fdraliste
est la gouvernance multi-niveau.

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