Friday, February 25, 2011

Federalism vs. Federal

Recently, it has become apparent to me that the word 'federalism' and 'federal' semantically refer to their own opposites. 'Federal,' an adjective, is used to modify words that refer to institutions of the central government. In these institutions, power is centralized and consolidated. However, 'federalism' is a theory of government that seeks to limit the power of the national government and to localize power to the states. If we replaced the word 'federal' with the word 'national,' we would fix most of our problems... Thus, when we say "I want to federalize such-and-such" we would be saying that we want to move power to the local/state (federal!) level. And when we say "we want to nationalize such-and-such" we want to move power to the national level.


  1. Are either federalism or federal contronyms?

  2. It would be worth exploring the etymology of the words. I assume, however, that they are of the same origin. I believe that the meanings of many words drift in meaning due to the power that the words evoke. I read a recently quote of Qaddafi making claims to 'freedom.' But, 'federal' seems to have undergone similar changes as the word 'liberal,' which now means the opposite of the 'liberalism' of John Locke.