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Published August 23, 2017 | Submitted
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If Hamilton and Madison Were Merely Lucky, What Hope Is There for Russian Federalism?


Just as the two-headed eagle of imperial and contemporary Russia looks in two different directions, this essay has two objectives: to evaluate, on the basis of the American experience, the prospects for stable democratic federalism in Russia, and to reconsider the insights into federalism offered by Madison and Hamilton in The Federalist. The swirl of events in Russia make it difficult if not impossible to confidently render conclusions about the future direction of events and the prospects for meaningful federal domestic relations. However, some theoretical perspective can be gained by looking at the theory of federalism offered in The Federalist Papers, with special attention to Madison and Hamilton's failure to appreciate fully the role political parties would play in the eventual integration of American political institutions so as to establish, in Madison's words, a "properly structured" federation. Looking as well at the early history of parties in the U.S. we see, in addition to the usual constitutional provisions associated with federalism, the importance of those things that structure political competition within states. Properly designed, these things encourage the development of political parties that mirror federal relations, and integrate regional and national political elites so as to avert center-periphery conflict. Unfortunately, a review of the provisions currently in place for Russia reveals that electoral practices and regional and republic constitutions and proposals are unlikely to encourage parties of the sort that facilitate a stable federal system. This fact, in conjunction with several other trends (notably, corruption and the political instincts of political elites in Moscow) lead to the conclusion that a "federation" of the type currently observed in, say, Mexico is a better scenario of the future for Russia than is a federation that imitates the U.S., Australia, Germany, or Switzerland.

Additional Information

The ideas in this essay were inspired by discussions at the Workshop on Regional Constitutions and Charters, Moscow, March 13-17, sponsored by the University of Maryland's IRIS Center, funded by the Global Bureau of the agency for International Development. We would want to thank Morgan Kousser and Keith Poole for their commentary and suggestions. Published as Ordeshook, Peter C., and Olga Shvetsova. "If Hamilton and Madison were merely lucky, what hope is there for Russian federalism?." Constitutional Political Economy 6, no. 2 (1995): 107-126.

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August 20, 2023
August 20, 2023