Characteristic of federal government represents the antithesis of the system described above. Its characteristic feature consists in the fact that the power of legislation, government, and administration of the state instead of being concentrated in a single set of central organs at the capital or in their local representatives and agents, is divided and distributed between the central authorities on the one hand and the authorities of the component units of the federal union on the other.
As stated in a previous article, the division and distribution are made by the constitution or by the organic legislative act by which the federation was formed, so that the autonomy conceded to, of reserved by, the component states is guaranteed and cannot therefore be restricted or withdrawn at the will of the central government.
Generally, within the sphere thus left to the individual states they are supreme and are subject to little or no control by the central government Within this sphere they are free to legislate, govern, and administer in accordance With their own conceptions of their local needs and interests.
The federal system, therefore, represents a combination of centralized and local government it is centralized as regards all such matters of legislation and administration as have been committed to the care of the national authorities it is local as regards all other matters.
Elements of Strength :-
Like all other systems, federal government has its elements of strength and weakness. Its strong points are, in the main, those which are regarded as the defects of unitary government. In the first place, more than any other form of political organization, it affords the means by which petty states may unite themselves into a more powerful commonwealth and thereby obtain the manifest advantages, internal and external, which flow from union, without at the same time wholly surrendering their separate existences and sacrificing their right to govern themselves in respect to matters which concern them alone. It thus combines the advantages of national unity with those of local autonomy and the right of self-government.
In return for this advantage the people are reconciled to the loss of power which they sustain through the delegation to the central government of the authority to regulate certain affairs of general interest to all the states composing the union. It furnishes the means of maintaining an equilibrium between the centrifugal and centripetal forces in a state of widely different tendencies.
It is the only political system which makes it possible to have uniformity of legislation, policy, and administration throughout the entire country, in respect to those matters concerning which uniformity is desirable, and at the same time makes possible diversity where diversity is desirable by reason of the varying conditions and standards which prevail in different parts of the country.
Under such a system experiments in government and legislation may be tried out Which would not be possible in a state having the unitary system. It is therefore particularly adapted to states of vast area and diversity of conditions and even to small states whose populations are separated by geographical, racial, or Other barriers, and who can be reconciled to live under a common regime only when they are permitted a certain degree of autonomy.
By permitting to the inhabitants of each component state a large measure of self government their interest in public affairs is stimulated the are better qualified for determining their own policies and regulating their own local affairs than uninformed, overburdened, distantly removed bureaucrats are and in consequence of the division of competence, the central authorities-legislative and administrative are relieved of the burdens and congestion which oppress them where the unitary system prevails. Lord Bryce also pointed out that under the federal system there is less danger from the rise of a despotic centralized government, usurping the rights of the people.
The advantages of federal government have been frequently emphasized by political writers from Montesquieu to the present day. John Fiske declared it to be the only kind of government, which, according to modern ideas, is permanently applicable to a whole continent. Sidgwick, an English writer, predicted that we should see an extension of it even in western Europe, where the example of America would be followed.
The German writer Brie, who made an elaborate study of federal government, declared that it represents the highest realization of the state idea, while wester kamp dwells upon its excellence and points out that it has spread until it embraces a portion of the globe equal to three times. the territorial area of Europe.
Weakness of Federal Government :-
The federal system of government,however, like other forms, has its defects. Some of these are inherent in the very nature of the system, while others are peculiar to the particular forms which have been adopted by different states. In recent years there has been an increasing disposition among writers to dwell upon its defects and to emphasize less its elements of strength, for the reason that with the growing complexity of modern society its defects have more and more revealed themselves in a striking degree.
As one writer has recently said: Federal government has very decided limitations, serious faults Of structure, unheeded perhaps at the time of its inception, but likely to breakdown under the altering strain of a new environment. Politically and on its external side it has proved itself Strong, but economically and in its internal aspect it is proving itself weak.
First of all, in the conduct of foreign affairs federal government possesses an inherent weakness not found in unitary government. The experience of the United States in particular has shown that the individual members of the federal union, by virtue of their reserved powers over the rights of person and property may embarrass the national government in enforcing its treaty obligations in respect to aliens residing in the United States.
In the domain of internal affairs federal government has also shown itself to be weak for the reason that it means a division of power between coordinate authorities in legislation and administration, and division of power usually means weakness, whatever may be the other advantages which it secures. It means, or may mean, diversity of legislation in respect to matters concerning which the general interests of the country require uniformity of legislation.
Thus in the United States we find instead of a single body of uniform law upon such matters as crime, marriage, divorce, insurance,negotiable instruments, banking, and other matters, a great variety of legislation, sometimes conflicting, whereas it is admitted that uniformity, at least in respect to some of these matters, would be a distinct advantage.
In fact, during recent years continuous efforts have been made, and considerable success has already been achieved, toward obtaining uniformity of legislation upon some of them. This has been brought about through the efforts of the National Commission on Uniform State Laws, which has prepared drafts of statutes on various subjects and secured their adoption by the concurrent action of the various state legislatures.
The necessity, however, of obtaining the concurrence of forty-eight state legislatures to any proposed law naturally makes the task a slow and difficult one and the results achieved have been only partial. This defect, however, is not inherent in the federal system. It is due rather to the way in which the legislative power in the United States has been distributed between the Union and the component states.
In fact, in practically all the other countries in which the federal system of government has been established, e.g., Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Germany, and Austria, the national legislature, as pointed out in a previous chapter, has been given power to legislate upon such matters as crime, criminal procedure, marriage, divorce, banking, insurance, bills of exchange, promissory notes, and in Germany and Austria upon a variety of other subjects. The result is in all such countries there is uniformity of law upon these matters.
The situation, resulting from what has come to be recognized as an outgrown distribution of powers, in the United States, has been subject of much recent discussion and the alleviation of the difficulty has been sought in some degree not only through the process of concurrent state legislation referred to above, but by an extension of the power of the national government, largely through the process of constitutional interpretation.
Even in the British dominions, where the federal system was more recently established, there has been a continuous and persistent tendency to extend the powers of the central government and to curtail those of the provinces or states.
This tendency is considered by some writers as evidence that a form of federal government in which the powers either of the central government or the state governments are specifically enumerated is defective, because any enumeration which may be made at one time will ultimately cease to be in harmony with changed conditions and have to be altered either by formal amendment or interpretation to conform them to those conditions.
Among other weaknesses of the federal system may be mentioned its complexity, the danger of conflicts of jurisdiction between the national and state authorities, the duplication of government machinery and services which it involves and the consequent increased expense of operating it, and the difficulties which are encountered in the administration of justice due to the network of state boundaries.