Recall that a confederation is commonly known as a union of political organizations. A confederate government is one where individual nations or states have united to form a confederation. It is also known as an alliance. Confederation implies cooperation among the member states over significant issues.
This type of government symbolizes a centripetal action, where the individual units coalesce to form a league. The most important feature of a confederate government is that, the center derives its power from the states or provinces. Although there may be a common constitution or document specifying the soul of a nation, it does not stand as the source of power for the central government, which is true for the majority of constitutional governments. Rather, in a confederation, for the center to decide upon any important issues, it would require an agreement of all its confederates first.
Advantages of a Confederal Government
Confederacies are a unified body of individual states or provincial units. These peripheral units are stronger than the union. They coexist, but maintain their separate identities. Each region, canton, or province is considered equal, and has a say in shaping the nature of central authority.
Decentralization of Power:
States being the decision makers, this governance is completely contrary to the unitary form of government. Thus, legislation and execution is divided among the provincial and local governments. Local governance minimizes the growth of the center, and reduces the risk of it turning into a dominant union or tyranny.
Democratic Republics, particularly, are known for the principle of sovereignty. In a confederation, the citizenry is focused more; their needs are better addressed. Thus, the concept of ‘citizens being the real sovereign of a nation’ is realized in this type of government.
Every state is an independent and sovereign unit of the federation. Agreement among these equals makes decisions over common issues easier. The flow of power is from the periphery to the center, which ultimately rests on the principle of cooperation among the confederates, at least over common concerns.
Disadvantages of a Confederal Government
If the central government derives its authority from the states, it is bound to become weak. The member states have majority of the legislative powers, thus, leaving the center with no right to make or enforce laws. Also, significant subjects of national interest, like international treaties, issue of currency, or maintenance of an army may not be handled by the center.
A major drawback of the confederate government style is that, the center does not enjoy any power regarding taxation. Levying of or appropriation of taxes in order to regulate the national revenue model is not the function of the central government. Regulation of the monetary system, budgeting, and monitoring the growth of the nation does not follow a uniform policy.
Identities of states or provinces as separate units encourages a tussle for political power. Also, secessionist tendencies are built up easily, leading to an internal struggle between the confederates. The relations between the Union and the states, and among the states, are responsible for creating such fault lines in the confederation.
Confederacies are not observed as a popular form of government across the world. One reason being that, this type of government is not a long-lasting one. Though they are seen to be the most decentralized forms, there arises the question of their sustenance. Confederation is also referred to as a transformation period (as countries are seen transforming from a confederation to a federation).
Examples of Confederate Governments
The United States functioned as a confederacy between 1861 and 1865, under the Articles of Confederation. 11 southern states with a population of around 9 million wanted to secede from the Union. In 1860, beginning with South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas seceded from the Union. They formed a government under President Jefferson Davis, and also had a constitution.
The Constitution Act of 1867 had established the Dominion of Canada, including the four provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. It is now a federation.
Known worldwide for its practices of direct democracy, Switzerland has a history as a confederate nation-state. It comprises 26 cantons today, and is primarily divided into four regions; the populace speaking four different languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. The right to secede from the Union is at the heart of the concept of confederation. It can be termed as the culprit behind separatism, or a liberty favoring the units as well.
Highlighting the Advantages and Disadvantages
- Minimizes political conflicts since regional units are allowed to follow their separate developmental agenda as dictated by the conditions prevailing in their regions.
- It encourages healthy competition among the component units.
- Confederal systems tend to address the direct needs of the people since programmes are implemented regionally.
- Since the units are responsible for local governance, and therefore, implement programmes to suit them, the risk associated with turning themselves over to be dominated by a central government is reduced.
- It is often able to cement the diversity of component units and unify them as one.
- While being able to unify diverse people, a confederal government is also able to ensure that the units hold on to their unique identities and interests.
- There is better agreement over common issues.
- Confederal systems of governement tend to easily collapse, since there is the option to secede if so desired.
- A disadvantage of a confederacy is that it encourages disunity since component units retain a considerable amount of power and take care of their own foreign policy.
- Since component units are given more powers than the central government, this makes the central government somewhat weak.
- Citizens within a confederation owe allegiance to the component units rather than the central government.
- A confederal government is not identified with symbols such as national flags and anthems unlike in the case of the central government in a federal system where the embodiment of the state displayed in these national symbols.
- Confederal systems may generate unhealthy political rivalry among the component states, which could arise from differing levels of development and natural resources, thereby leading to political instability.