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The James Bryce’s and Grodzin’s Different Views on Federalism

Bryce and Grodzin have very different views on the separation of the federal and state governments. Bryce’s simple layer cake view sees federalism as a machine that doesn’t help or hurt the other parts, every piece just does its own job. Grodzin sees the issue more complexly, and argues that there’s no possible way, in history or present, for our government to operate properly without intermixing.

James Bryce thinks the best way of operation is one of limited interference at different levels. Like a machine, the parts only do their job, neither assisting or inhibiting other parts. He feels as though the best management of the states is the control of the people, not pressure from above. If something’s going wrong, the national government should allow the citizens of the communities themselves to fix the mess they made themselves. This divided system doesn’t help to solve larger issues efficiently, but it does allow for the most democracy. It leaves the larger issues for the national government to deal with, and allows the people to govern themselves on issues that more directly affect them, like civil rights.

Grodzin is quite opposite. He thinks the best operation of the government occurs when each level has a hand in it. His first example of this is the sanitarian, who works for the federal, state, and local levels all at once. He uses this example to show a government institution that operates efficiently and effectively for the good of all involved, by combining the powers at each level. This example shows how his mixed federalism can be effective, but it is also an example of removing power from the hands of the people. If the people were to decide the standards the sanitarian was holding them to weren’t appropriate, they would not be able to fully change this. The sanitarian’s power comes from so many different sources that he could be very difficult to regulate.

Grodzin describes the difference between these two philosophies using an analogy of a layer cake and a marble cake. He says that Bryce’s model is like a layer cake, the levels don’t interact as they go about their business, keeping separate and distinct. No one area of government interacts with the other, they just exercise their authority in their own area without bothering anyone else. His own model he describes a marble cake, the flavors are swirled together, and every level includes itself in some form in every bite, no matter how small. In his model, the powers are blended between levels, completely inseparable. Almost every power is shared in some way, which makes for an efficient system if you want it to keep going, but not so much if you’d like it to change directions.

Both men have very different views on America’s federalism, and both are important to understanding it. Although the marble cake federalism is the more widely accepted model today, both were logical conclusions and each has their own merits. Both opinions reflect the debates that have shaped our government into what we know today.

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