Legal Dictionary


Definition of federalism


federalism (plural federalisms)

  1. A system of national government in which power is divided between a central authority and a number of regions with delimited self-governing authority.
  2. Advocacy of such a system.

Derived terms

  • federalist

Further reading

Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing representative head. The term federalism is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (like states or provinces). Federalism is a system in which the power to govern is shared between national and central (state) governments, creating what is often called a federation. Proponents are often called federalists.

Federalism is the type of politics wherein a group of members create a sovereign constitution with central governing authority and political units.

In Europe, "federalist" is sometimes used to describe those who favour a common federal government, with distributed power at regional, national and supranational levels. Most European Federalists want this development to continue within the European Union. European federalism originated in post-war Europe, one of the more important initiatives was Winston Churchill's speech in Zurich in 1946.

In Canada, federalism implies opposition to sovereigntist movements (usually those of Quebec). The same is historically true in the United States. Advocates of a weaker federal government and stronger state governments are those that generally favor confederation, often related to early "anti-federalists" and later the Confederacy.

Australia, Brazil, India and Malaysia among others, are also federal countries.

Federalism may encompass as few as two or three internal divisions, as is the case in Belgium or Bosnia and Herzegovina and Jeunes_Européens_Fédéralistes. Recently, a party, Europe United has been formed in order to promote federalist ideas through the European Parliament.

Ecclesiastic and theological federalism also exist within some Christian denominations.

In general, two extremes of federalism can be distinguished. In practice, however, there is always a mixture of both.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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8.     lex causae
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