I am curious about what fosters the creation and perpetuation of free, fulfilling, and flourishing polities. This motivates my focus on federal systems of government as complex adaptive systems.


What are the conditions that foster free, fulfilling, and flourishing human lives and societies? Complexity suggests that simple rules under the correct conditions might accomplish this. How can we create those conditions and rules? I think federalism is an important part of that answer. That is why I study complexity and federalism.

Complexity is the study of how simple rules can generate emergent, complex, spontaneous orders. In human societies, a federal agreement can be the basis of those simple rules. See more . . .

The word “federalism” comes from the Latin word foedus, which means treaty, pact, or covenant. Federal systems of government join two or more entities together in common cause while simultaneously protecting the autonomy and integrity of each unit. For 170 years, from the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Americans experimented with federal systems of government. They developed written constitutions to define the institutions and simple rules that would both establish, secure and protect individuals and the polity. See more . . .

Selected Publications

Editor of the online Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia.

Smith, Troy E. 2021. “Is Federalism Natural: Rethinking Federalism’s Origin, Operation and Significance,” Beyond Autonomy: Practical and Theoretical Challenges to 21st Century Federalism edited by Tracy B. Fenwick and Andrew C. Banfield (Leiden, Boston: Brill Nijhoff).

Smith, Troy E., Paul Rama and Joel Helms. 2018. “Teaching Critical Thinking in a GE Class: A Flipped Model.” Thinking Skills & Creativity 28 (June): 73-83.

Smith, Troy E. 2017. “A Compound Republic – If You Can Keep It: Martha Derthick’s Empiricism and the Value of Federalism.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 47, no. 2 (January): 153-70. 

Smith, Troy E. 2015. “Intergovernmental Relations in the United States in an Age of Partisanship and Executive Assertiveness.”  In Intergovernmental Relations in Federal Systems, edited by Cheryl Saunders, JoHanne Poirier and John Kincaid, 411-39. Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.

Smith, Troy E. 2011. “Federalism: An Annotated Bibliography.” In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Political Science, edited by Richard Valelly. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Smith, Troy E. 2008. “Intergovernmental Lobbying: How Opportunistic Actors Create a Less Structured and Balanced Federal System.” In Intergovernmental Management for the 21st Century, edited by Paul Posner and Timothy Conlan, 310-37.  Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. 

Smith, Troy E. and J. Cherie Strachan. 2008. In “Responses to Rubin and Feeley,” Publius: The Journal ofFederalism 38, no. 2 (Spring): 192-210. 

Smith, Troy E. 2007. “Divided Publius: Democracy, Federalism and the Cultivation of Public Sentiment.” The Review of Politics 69, no. 4 (Fall): 568-98.


  • BYUH McKay Lecture Award (2021)
  • BYU-H Faculty Recognition Award for leading the creation of the GE course “Critical Thinking & Analysis” (2016)
  • BYU-H Faculty Recognition Award for exemplary teaching and efforts to help students succeed (2010, 2013, 2015)
  •  BYU-H Honor’s Professor of the Year, (2007-2008)
  • Awarded Drury University Faculty Member with the Greatest Impact on the OutstandingFreshman of (2002-03; 2003–04)
  • Best Paper Delivered in the Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations Section at the 1998 American Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting

“This is an assured, even magisterial entry which covers an immensely complex set of inter-related literatures with ease and lucidity.  Federalism in the U.S. is one of the hardest things for anyone to write about and understand — but this really pulls it off and opens up the full interest and liveliness of the subfield to any interested reader.  Bravo!”  

Editor-in-Chief Rick Valelly, Oxford Bibliographies Online

“Smith’s a great teacher! Knows what he’s talking about and challanges students to think critically. Be prepared to read a lot. He doesn’t have a lot of assignments, so your opportunities to get a good grade are limited. He gives fair opportunities for extra credit, gives great lectures. Overall excellent teacher. Must take him at least once.”

Anonymous student review

About me

I am a professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University-Hawai’i, a fellow at the Center for the Study of Federalism, editor of the online Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia, and co-advisor the Religious Freedom & Human Dignity Initiative at BYU-Hawaii. I became interested in federalism in graduate school when my graduate-school friends favored reintroducing wolves into the Rocky Mountains but opposed their reintroduction in New York’s Adirondacks. My interest in federalism spiked when, as an intern with the U.S. Senate, I witnessed quarrels between my Senator and the governor. Channeling these insights, I wrote a paper on how members of Congress respond to lobbying by state officials that won the “Best Paper in Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations” at the 1998 A.P.S.A. Annual Meeting. Since then, my academic work has appeared in Publius: The Journal of FederalismThe Review of PoliticsCongress & the PresidencyThinking Skills & Creativity; and others. I received a Ph.D. from the University at Albany, and an M.A. from George Washington University.


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