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A federalist is someone who takes the side of the federal government vis a vis state governments. When the two are in conflict, such a person sides with the former. The anti federalist of course takes the opposite position. By extension, when it comes to a dispute between state and local levels of government, such as counties or cities the centralist (federalist proxy) supports the former, and the decentralist (anti federalist proxy), the latter.
This is a crucially important question, particularly in this era of the CD 19 pandemic. Why? This is due to the fact that often, the federal and the state governments are at odds with one another as to which is the best way to deal with the coronavirus. That issue is beyond the scope of our present considerations. The bottom line, here, is that we should take neither a federalist nor an anti federalist position. Rather, we should support whichever policy it is, centralist or decentralist, which has the best chance of dealing with this disease, or, indeed, any other challenge.
How do the various political factions fall out on this important question? It cannot be denied that there is some correlation; the left, or the Democrats, tend in the direction of centralization, while the right, or the Republicans, tend toward decentralization. However, there really is no right answer. It all depends upon whose ox is being gored. In past decades, the conservatives favored states’ rights (mainly in support of the south), while the liberals opposed it. Nowadays, the tables have turned, and progressives are looking to states such as California, to over-ride federal immigration programs vis a vis what they see as unwarranted federal incursions. Similarly, when President Reagan threatened New York City with a cut off in funds unless it eliminated its prized rent control law, all of a sudden the shoe was on the other foot.
Similar goings-on occur at the state versus city level. In Parkland, after the deadly shooting that took place there, local citizens demanded stricter gun control laws. However, a law passed in 2011 in Florida gave that state the right to over-ride such policies implemented at the more local level. These pre-emption laws hold city and county officials personally responsible for violating state firearms strictures.
So, which is the rational position for the various contending political advocates to take? Federalism or anti-federalism. that is the question. The correct view is neither. If you favor rent control, then you should be an anti-federalist, at least in that one instance when Reagan wanted to quash it. If you are an open borders opponent, then at least under the present administration, you should veer in the direction of federalism.
Presumably, if there is a tie, or if nothing much is at stake, anti-federalism should win out. After all, it is a lot easier to pull up stakes in a city, and move elsewhere (job, home, school for the children) in the state; than it is to transfer from one state to another. And, it is very much more convenient to leave Georgia for Wyoming or vice versa than to immigrate to another country. But with regard to all other issues, the rational position is to jettison the federalism – anti-Federalism controversy, and stick to one’s principles.
There is one caveat to the above, however. If one or the other side of the centralism – anti-centralism is supported, it may well have aggregative effects: it may well tip the balance in one direction or the other. What then? There is thus no clear answer to this conundrum, then.