How Federalism Promotes Unity Through Diversity


Does federalism promote unity? In one obvious sense, the answer is surely “no.” Federalism necessarily reduces unity because it leads to divergence on at least some policy areas. If there were no significant policy differences between the various state and local governments, then there would be little point in having federalism in the first place.

But the diversity federalism creates can also help promote unity, by reducing the conflict that arises when the federal government has the power to impose one-size-fits-all policies throughout the country. Decentralizing authority can mitigate that conflict. It can also empower people to make better choices by “voting with their feet.” As a result, more people can live under policies that they prefer, and the choices they make are likely to be better-informed. There are some limitations to the idea that federalism can promote unity and better decision-making through diversity. But it has tremendous value, nonetheless.