Comparative Federalism, Second Edition

To mark the publication of the second edition of Comparative Federalism: A Systematic Inquiry, the authors, Thomas O. Hueglin and Alan Fenna, reflect on the process of updating their book. Their comments will hopefully provide some insight for those who underestimate the amount of thought and hard work that can go into a new edition of a book!

comparative federalism 2eThe first edition of Comparative Federalism was received well enough, but we never actually thought that that would be the end of it. Indeed, we were talking about a second edition while reading the proofs of the first.

Comparative federalism is a tricky business. In order to make meaningful comparisons, there have to be typological distinctions (based on our four models) and generalizations (“federalism generally does this, that, or the other). As there are 25 or 26 often very different federal systems in the world, one has to be careful about such generalizations—sometimes we had the websites for a dozen or more federal constitutions open simultaneously.

There were a number of mistakes and omissions in that first edition that we obviously wanted to rectify. We think that we have done that but undoubtedly some new ones have crept in (publisher, beware: in time, we might suggest a third edition). The biggest surprise was the amount of work necessary for what turned out to be much more than we had bargained for by means of a simple update.

First off, it wasn’t a simple update: so much had happened in the world of federalism since we concluded our work on the first edition. In some instances, such as the rejection of the European Union’s Constitutional Draft Treaty by the voters in France and the Netherlands, events were invalidating our narrative before the first edition was even in print.

Second, our main motivation for that first edition had been to provide a systematic comparative framework meant to facilitate access to the complicated world of federalism for students and other readers. Consequently, focusing on our own conceptual approach, we kept to a minimum references to the literature and work of others. During the intervening years, however, there appeared such a wealth of new federalism literature that we felt compelled to acknowledge as much of it as we reasonably could. Our own understanding of all things federal has been greatly improved and enriched by that literature. This meant, though, that a lot of reading was required before we could even begin drafting our own new version.

Third, and by no means last, there was a lot of conceptual agonizing about the new edition. Would our four basic models still cover an ever larger and more complex field? (We thought they did.) Had we been too optimistic about the promises of federalism as a solution to all the world’s ills? (We thought that we had been and therefore added a chapter on the limits of federalism at the end of the new edition.) And what to do about the chapter on federal governance, probably the least satisfactory chapter for the simple fact that a single chapter could not possibly do justice to the wide and variegated world of policy making in so many different federal systems? In the end we decided to scrap that chapter and replace it with a more focused chapter on fiscal federalism—perhaps the most crucial subject matter for the understanding of how modern federal systems work.

The first edition filled a niche in the market, addressing the need for a book that could provide a systematic overview in a way that we thought should be empirically focused as well as historically and theoretically informed. There was no other book trying to do that and we believe there still isn’t. It’s a tall order and we hope that with each successive edition we do it a bit better.

Overall, we had fun writing this new edition of Comparative Federalism even though it took most of our effort and attention for almost three years. As we both have been students of comparative federalism for many years, if not decades, the greatest benefit has been what we learned ourselves along the way. We now hope to pass some of that learning on to others.

– Thomas O. Hueglin, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Alan Fenna, Curtin University


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