The transition from a relatively federal to a relatively centralized constitutional structure in the United States has often been identified with the shift from classical to welfare liberalism as a matter of public philosophy. This article argues against that distinction. The liberal argument for federalism is a contingent one, built on approximations, counterbalancing, and political power. A more federalist constitution is not automatically a freer one on classical liberal understandings of freedom. Neither is a more centralized constitution automatically a better match with the ideals of welfare liberalism. The article sketches a constitutional history of federalism from the founding, through an era in which centralization was aligned with skepticism about liberal constitutionalism (for both meanings of liberal), to an era in which centralization was aligned with increases in liberal freedom (for both meanings of liberal).
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