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  • Cited by 94
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2012
Print publication year:
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Book description

The Robust Federation offers a comprehensive approach to the study of federalism. Jenna Bednar demonstrates how complementary institutions maintain and adjust the distribution of authority between national and state governments. These authority boundaries matter - for defense, economic growth, and adequate political representation - and must be defended from opportunistic transgression. From Montesquieu to Madison, the legacy of early institutional analysis focuses attention on the value of competition between institutions, such as the policy moderation produced through separated powers. Bednar offers a reciprocal theory: in an effective constitutional system, institutions complement one another; each makes the others more powerful. Diverse but complementary safeguards - including the courts, political parties, and the people - cover different transgressions, punish to different extents, and fail under different circumstances. The analysis moves beyond equilibrium conceptions and explains how the rules that allocate authority are not fixed but shift gradually. Bednar's rich theoretical characterization of complementary institutions provides the first holistic account of federal robustness.


'Federalism is increasingly prevalent across the globe as a way for multi-ethnic and multi-regional societies to govern themselves. But what keeps these governments from falling apart, what deters the constituent parts from undermining the whole? Bednar shows how no one institution does the trick, but several - courts, parties, political representation - working together in a complementary and even redundant way can ensure a working federation. Historians, political scientists, legal scholars, and interested policy makers all will learn from this rigorous and thorough work.'

Barry Friedman - School of Law, New York University

'While a federation may generate great benefits from the cooperation of heterogeneous states, it faces the complex problems of compliance and adaptation. Jenna Bednar has presented us with a deep and wide-ranging analysis of the federal problem, using the analytical tools of political economy to recalibrate Madison’s insights into how ‘the right combination of institutions could harness self-interest for the common good.’ Her theoretical methods will help us understand federal collapse, transformation, or stability, and will change the way we think about the geopolitics of the twenty-first century.'

Norman Schofield - Washington University in St. Louis

'Jenna Bednar synthesizes the best theory and evidence about federal system performance and greatly extends our knowledge. In an era when many problems require large, if not global, scale to solve, Bednar’s analysis shows the danger of relying entirely on one scale, the consequent importance of multi-scale systems, and the need for redundancy. She demonstrates that no federal system is robust if it relies on a single remedy against threat. Multiple complementary remedies are required to enable a federal system, or any governance arrangement, to cope with the challenges that strategic individuals and groups are likely to generate.'

Elinor Ostrom - Indiana University

'Bednar’s development of theory on the robust federation is a real contribution to the literature on federalism. The multiple safeguards of federalism intersect to fashion a robust system that is strong and adaptive. This book provides an important link between theory and application and is a major contribution to the growing literature on federalism that enriches our understanding and appreciation of the Founding Fathers’ design copied by nations across the world. Madison was right.'

Carol Weissert - Florida State University

'The Robust Federation is an authoritative text on the architecture of federal systems. It highlights the inherently conflicting goals that must be considered when designing a federal structure. This is a thought-provoking book that will be the inspiration for future work.'

Donald Wittman - University of California, Santa Cruz

'… The Robust Federation: Principles of Design is a timely and important book.'

Source: The Journal of Politics

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