“Is the United States too big to govern?”

Lily Lin 10/26/2018

In Daniel J. Elazar’s article “Exploring Federalism”, he discussed the three important themes of federalism in the first excerpt, “it defines political justice, shapes political behavior, and directs humans toward an appropriately civic synthesis of the two”. He then continued to interpret federalism as a diffusion of political power, a combination of self-rule and shared rule. Finally, he started to examine the implementations of federalism in different types of countries, especially in the Third World countries. He pointed out the two benefits of federalism to developing countries: it strengthens liberty, and it spreads economic development. (1)

In the article “Is the United States too big to govern?”, published this May on the New York Times, author Neil Gross suggested that, based on a research released by the Pew Research Center, Americans are losing faith in their system of government: more than 60% of adults say “significant changes are needed to governmental design and structure”. The article implied that political thinkers have advocated small republics because of the growing size of the United States. However, one counter argument suggested that although size is correlated with electoral competition, “there is no association between size and many other standard measures of democratic functioning”. (2)

Is federalism a solution to larger countries? Or will federalism complicated the situation of a populated nation?

There are approximately 25 federal countries in the world today and they represents almost 40% of the world’s population. The data thus proves that federalism is able to, at least to limited extent, help a regime to govern a populated country. The solution to a large republic with complex social issues should be to improve its form of federalism, rather than splitting into multiple smaller republics. In my opinion, federalism can not only help, but is necessary especially to countries with a larger population. The bigger a country is, the harder one citizens voice will be represented or become influential. Federalism welcomes diverse perspectives and serve as a tool to protect liberty. It also helps to release the burden of a central, unitary government by splitting the power.


(1)Daniel J. Elazar. “Exploring federalism”. Comparative Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2017.)

(2)Neil Gross. “Is the United States too big to govern?” The New York Times. May 11, 2018.

Check out the article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/opinion/sunday/united-states-too-big.html

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