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“Noncentralization” is a term coined by Daniel J. Elazar in the 1960s to refer to a constitutional or political federal arrangement in which there are multiple centers of power, no one of which can legitimately centralize or decentralize power in the system unilaterally. These multiple centers (e.g., national government and state governments) are relatively equal in their freedom to act within their respective spheres of authority, and they must negotiate and cooperate with each other in order to achieve common objectives. Limits are placed on the authority of the national government to centralize or decentralize governmental power and functions. In turn, the constituent states are limited in their ability to disrupt the operations of the national government and to withdraw from the system.

Noncentralization is different from centralization and decentralization. The latter concepts make up the two extreme ends of a single centralization-decentralization continuum, while noncentralization represents a different continuum involving varying degrees of self-rule and shared rule in a system of diffused power. The United States is an example of a noncentralized federal system because (1) both the national government and the state governments derive their authority directly from the people and, thus, neither government is a creature of the other government; and (2) any amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires action both by the national government to propose amendments (i.e., a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or a congressional calling of a constitutional convention in response to petitions from two-thirds of the states) and by the states to approve amendments (i.e., ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by conventions in three-fourths of the states).


Daniel J. Elazar, American Federalism: A View from the States, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).

John Kincaid

Last Updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Decentralization; Devolution