Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.
What is a Unitary Government?
One of the most important questions a new society, government, or nation must ask itself is, 'how will we divide power and responsibility?' Federalism, or the relationship between a central (often national) government and its political sub- units (often states, counties, and provinces, etc.) can exist in many different forms. In a unitary government, this relationship is largely one-sided, with the central government enjoying almost complete control over their smaller local government entities. In a unitary system, almost all power and responsibility is vested in the central government. Local governments may only exercise power through the central government.
Modern Unitary Government
In the modern world, many nations utilize a unitary system of government. For example, in the United Kingdom, supreme political power is held by the Parliament, the legislature of the nation that is located in Great Britain. The other parts of the nation, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, each have their own local governments. However, they cannot make laws that affect the other parts of the nation or refuse to enforce laws made by the Parliament.
Another place we can observe unitary power is in the state governments of the United States of America. While the United States, as a whole, utilizes a federal system in which power is shared between the states and the national government, the 50 states individually function as a unitary system. Through their state legislature and governor, each state makes laws that affect their citizens. County and city governments in each state may make local laws, but are required to enforce and abide by the rules of their state.
Advantages and Disadvantages
As with any government system, there are advantages and disadvantages in a unitary system. One major advantage of a unitary system is that the responsibilities and powers of government tend to be fairly clear-cut. In times of crisis, a clear division of power often results in more swift reactions and assistance than in a form of government where power is divided between multiple government entities. In a unitary system, laws tend to pass more quickly because they only need to be approved by the central authority. In addition, since only the central authority may make laws, there is very little chance that national and state laws, or in the case of the American states, state and local laws, will be contradictory.
There are some disadvantages that come with a unitary system, such as hypercentralism where reliance on the central government becomes so prominent that local authorities are unable to respond to their constituents needs without the central government. Another danger of this system is that the central government might become detached from the needs of the people. Some political scientists even argue that a unitary system more easily leads to tyranny, because of the large amount of political power vested in the central government.
Let's review! In a unitary system, most political power and responsibility belongs to the central government while the smaller, local government units have very little power and are reliant on the central government. Today, the nation of the United Kingdom and the 50 states of the United States, as well as numerous other nations, utilize a unitary system. With a unitary system, citizens can expect a clear division of power with swift responses to a crisis. Unitary systems also have disadvantages, such as hypercentralism, detachment from local needs, and the potential to develop into a tyrannical system of government.
Unitary Government: Points to Remember
- Unitary government: majority of political power located within central government
- Federalism: relationship between a central government and its sub-sets (states, counties, provinces)
- Federal system: power is shared between the national government and states
|Government power clear-cut||Hypercentralism (overdependence on central government)|
|Faster reaction to emergencies||Detachment from the needs of the people|
|Legislation passes quickly||May lead to tyranny|
After completing this lesson, students should be able to:
- Describe what a unitary government looks like
- Identify examples of unitary governments
- Recall the advantages and disadvantages of unitary governments
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack