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Why is Federalism Important for Democracy?
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Federalism can safeguard minorities

In a federal system, majority groups cannot overwhelm smaller groups across the nation who hold minority views. Federalism maximizes individual freedoms. Legislation can change more quickly and be more flexible from region to region.

The Argument

A common problem in democracies is that majorities can gang up on minorities by voting as a block. Federalism minimizes this problem by giving individual regions more power. Democracy should maximize freedoms for individuals, federalism does this by breaking voting groups down into smaller units. Under federalism, a country cannot enforce laws on small groups living in one region. Instead, they are able to retain their autonomy. In cases where a region’s laws do not accord with an individual’s views, rights, or lifestyle, that individual is able to vote with their feet and move to another state.[1] If on the other hand a state or region oversteps and becomes tyrannical, the central government can intervene and protect the people that live there.[2] The majority is unable to dictate legislation that does not suit small groups. Federalism creates “laboratories of democracy”, in which unusual and controversial legislation favored by smaller groups can be tested. Highly centralized governments are often slow to reform. Legislation tends not to change, or change quite conservatively because the central government has to bow to the will of the majority.[3] Federalism protects minority’s against the tyranny of the majority. Individuals can move between regions to areas better suited to their views. Uniform policy is not forced on everyone just to suit the majority.

Counter arguments

Rather than safeguarding minorities, federalism tends to create majority rule by allowing blocks to form within small regions. Although in theory the central government should step in when this happens, in practice it is often impossible to delegate the right powers to different branches of government in order to prevent it from happening. Often those with extreme views live in the same geographical area. When their power is no longer checked nationally, they may be free to institute unjust laws and discriminate against the minority.[4] In the US, states have often ridden roughshod over minorities in spite of the objections of the central government. One example of this is the Jim Crow laws in the southern states, which discriminated against African Americans.[5] Not everybody is able to move easily between states and may be trapped geographically by poverty or family concerns. It is not realistic to ask those who persecuted by the local government to change the region they live in. Federalism can actually make life worse for minority groups, who are not protected from the persecution of small groups within regions. Parochialism is more in common is small communities.



[P1] Majority views cannot be imposed on minorities under federalism. [P2] Legislation which reflects more radical views in small areas can be tried. [C] Federalism prevents the tyranny of the majority.

Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Sunday, 1 Nov 2020 at 18:19 UTC

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