The good intentions of federalism

The good intentions of federalism

Martyanov V.S.,

Institute of Philosophy and Law of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ekaterinburg, Russia,

elibrary_id: 223692 | ORCID: 0000-0002-7747-0022 | RESEARCHER_ID: B-7797-2018

Article received: 2023.07.23. Accepted: 2024.01.21

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2024.03.06

For citation:

Martyanov V.S. The good intentions of federalism. – Polis. Political Studies. 2024. No. 3. P. 74-91. (In Russ.). EDN: HUBQSL

The article was supported by the Russian Science Foundation Grant No. 23-18-00427.


The article is devoted to substantiating the controversial thesis that federalism is not an autonomous type of political structure. Federations are interpreted as a set of specific failures of different origins in the course of following the basic modern scenario of the formation of a unitary nation-state with a consolidated (civil) political identity. The article has for theoretical basis the actor approach, which interprets the political form of the federation as a derivative result of a conflict pact between the central and peripheral elites. In this methodological perspective, the history of the concept of federalism is examined and a comparative historical analysis of the world federal experience is carried out. As a result, a number of interrelated author's conclusions were formulated. First, it is shown that the original Kantian project of a world federation of states has little in common with federalism, which refers to the description of the internal structure of individual societies. Secondly, the conclusion is substantiated by the fact that in the modern theory of federalism a harmful mainstream tradition has developed, which scales as a normative successful experience the centralizing federalism in the United States. Thirdly, the cultural and historical features of the formation of two families of federations are highlighted and analyzed, one of which is associated with the acquisition of independence by offshoots of the West, and the other was formed by the later processes of the collapse of the colonial empires of the West and the liberation of colonies in Africa and Eurasia. Fourthly, it is argued that the federal political structure at the theoretical level was intended to reconcile, at the basis of the political project of Modernity, the liberal utopia of a universal and culturally homogeneous civil nation and the actual cultural diversity of any modern states, which is a permanent source of erosion of its political sovereignty and differentiation of collective identities. Fifthly, it is proved that all derived political, legal, economic and other signs of federalism are due to one initial problem - the legitimation and subsequent institutionalization of the conflict between the central elite and regional elites, challenging the indivisibility of political sovereignty and demanding political autonomy. Sixth, federalism as a changeable pact of elites in specific historical societies does not provide convincing grounds for its qualification as an autonomous political form compared to a unitary nation-state. The final conclusion is that the political format of federalism in most states is a long-term way of formalizing the political divorce of cultural communities that could not create a common political nation.

federalism, unitarianism, liberalism, nation-state, modernity, elite conflict, cultural differentiation, secession, right of nations to self-determination, instrumentalism.


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Content No. 3, 2024

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