Federal Inequality Among Equals: A Contractualist Defence

While a federal order often involves a conflict between (individual) equality and (regional) autonomy, it is argued in this paper that the additional advantages of autonomy point towards federal arrangements - insofar as no fundamental rights are under threat.

ARENA Working Paper 08/2001 (html)

Andreas Føllesdal

Federal political orders often exhibit a conflict between the ideals of equality and political autonomy, since individuals in different sub-units often enjoy systematically different standards of living conditions. While federal arrangements may be theoretically attractive to avoid despotism, such federal inequality would appear to conflict with the principles of egalitarian cosmopolitans. The paper argues that individuals' interest in equal shares of income and wealth may be legitimately weighed against their interest in political control enjoyed by their sub-unit, as long as the inequalities do not engender misery, domination or unfair procedures. The reasons for sub-unit autonomy include reducing the risk of domination, increasing the responsiveness to local preferences, and reducing the burdens of decision-making. These arguments also suggest that states may not always be the appropriate sub-units in legitimate federal orders.

A later version of this paper was published in Metaphilospohy 31 (1/2): 236-255, 2001.

Tags: normative political theory, federalism, subsidiarity
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM - Last modified Apr. 26, 2011 11:45 AM