30 July 2003

Althusius, Montesquieu and the future of federalism

The Canadian Journal of Political Science (CJPS) is the journal received by all members of the Canadian Political Science Association. The CJPS is far superior to its US counterpart, the American Political Science Review (CPSR), which is narrowly quantitative in orientation and parochially American. Its superiority is manifested in that it actually publishes articles of interest to scholars for whom the study of politics is irreducible to a positivistic understanding of science.

A particularly noteworthy article appears in the new issue of CJPS (June 2003, vol. 36, no. 2): "Federalism at the Crossroads: Old Meanings, New Significance," by Thomas Hueglin of Wilfrid Laurier University. Here is the abstract in English:

Federalism has remained a contested concept. The constitutional certainties of the modern federal state are under attack from confederal practices of negotiated agreement. such practices have their traditional roots in the political theories of Althusius and Montesquieu. The central argument of this article is that the American Federalists broke with that older tradition and deliberately misinterpreted Montesquieu along the way. Consequently, the predominant reading of federalism emphasizes federal supremacy over the idea of a social compact among equal partners, territorial representation dominates over the recognition of social community, and the allocation of divided powers is guided by national prerogatives rather than regionally differentiated policy needs. Recent trends towards a more collaborative form of federalism indicate that the old model of constitutional federalism may be replaced by new practices of treaty federalism.

This suggests that something like asymmetrical and nonterritorial federalisms, which would have been understood by Althusius and Montesquieu, not to mention by the electors of the Holy Roman Empire, may be the wave of the future, particularly here in Canada and in an integrating European Union.

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