Word Nerd Wednesday: Federalism

I suppose I’m in the mood to wax political even though I originally planned to use dipsomaniac as the word of the week. However, in light of wholesale attempts to undo our foundational principles, I decided to change course.

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t really matter all that much if you like our system of laws, or if you agree with our founding principles. They are what they are. As much as it pains me, I also accept that just as the original colonists decided to break free and establish a system by which they would be governed, the citizens of America today are free to use that self-same system.

They are free to use the ballot box to overthrow federalism in favor of anti-federalism. My concern, and I say this with full confidence, is that no more than 25% of our citizenry has any idea what federalism is, or the role it plays in the way we live our day to day lives. All of this is my preface to explore federalism as our Word Nerd Wednesday pick.

Federalism: A system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units.

The best way to appreciate the intricacies of our federalist system is to read The Federalist Papers, but who expects the average citizen to do that? I don’t. However, the above definition is a fairly simple explanation of what we’re supposed to be doing. I’m a red-blooded, Protestant American, so I’m completely down with the ideals of federalism. I think it’s worth breaking this definition down into identifiable parts.

In the above definition, the central authority is the federal government in Washington, D.C. The constituent political units are the 50 states. In my state of Florida, the seat of government for our particular political unit is in Tallahassee, FL.

Why does federalism make sense? Two words: local control. More than that, the idea of local control isn’t as new as many would have us believe. I can prove that even as far back as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, local control was a thing:

Obtain for yourselves men who are wise, discerning, and informed from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.’ And you answered me and said, ‘The thing which you have said to do is good.’  So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and informed men, and appointed them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, hundreds, [i]fifties, and [j]tens, and officers for your tribes.

 “Then I ordered your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen and judge righteously between a person and his fellow countryman, or the stranger who is with him.  You are not to show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. Deuteronomy 1: 13- 17

In other words, the simple truth that rules, laws, and order are best managed locally rather than from entities far away is hardly a novel concept. It should be fairly obvious. In a country as large and as regionally diverse as the United States, the ways and preferences of California are almost alien from the lifestyle preferences of people in Kentucky. Federalism recognizes this and says that each state should set its own local statutes, and that only the *big stuff* should be heard at the federal level.

So, for those people who seem obsessed with asking the federal government to “do something!” about every problem big and small, and who don’t seem to understand those who rail against such measures as power grabs, this is why. The latter still believe in the founding principles of federalism, and don’t want to have someone in New York City telling people in Greenville, SC how to live their lives.

I hope you enjoyed and were educated by this rudimentary exposition of the principles of federalism.

3 thoughts on “Word Nerd Wednesday: Federalism

  1. MK says:

    You could also have used subsidiarity, aka matters must be handled by the smallest, lowest competent authority (said fantasy ended w/Civil War). Dipsomaniac is a pretty good election word though :-)!

    Reminds me of a clever study (below) showing how Federalism no longer works empirically: when “economic elites and organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” But that vote thing does make proles feel more powerful and less likely to resist the ruling elites…


    Liked by 1 person

  2. nellperkins says:

    The political, as opposed to personal, reason I’m interested in family structure, organization, and governance, is that in the subsidiary concept in distributionism and Catholic social theory it is the smallest unit of government. Something like federalism is critical for freedom no matter what the terminology or theory involved.

    Liked by 1 person

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