My appreciation for the American system of government, and federalism in particular, began with a study of Marxism and its consequences. Shortly after communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, I studied economic development and Russian & East European Studies as an M.A. student at George Washington University. At that time, communism’s horrible legacy was evident to any who looked – the tens of millions slaughtered, unjustly imprisoned or exiled, extreme pollution, bread lines that reflected fragile and failing economies, and partial, unaccountable governments that created gross inequalities in both power and lifestyle.
After learning about and reading the writings of people like Sakharov, Havel, and Walesa, I realized that former communist countries had native sons and daughters who understood their problems better than I, that outsiders should not tell locals how to live — though locals would be wise to learn from others’ experiences; and that growth, development, and prosperity must come from within rather than being imposed from without. Applying that to myself and my home country, I realized that the United States had many issues and problems that needed attention from its people. I thus turned my attention away from International Relations and towards the American polity.
After receiving my degree, I interned at the U.S. Senate where I watched and participated as separate institutions worked to share power. When my Senator declined to help his state’s governor, I was introduced to a new realm of politics – federalism. Imagination stirred, I found my focus and pursued a Ph.D. in American politics from the University at Albany specializing in federalism. It was there I began to understand and appreciate America’s founding fathers as anti-Marxists. America’s founders believed all humans share a common nature with common attributes that grants each an equal individual, natural right to be self-owning and self-governing, not subjects and objects whose purpose is to obey the 5-year diktats of a heavily engineered, top-down state. Instead of totalitarian rule, America’s founders sought to secure those equal, individual rights with a government of limited powers, based on the consent of the governed, and checks and balances to prevent abuses of power. They recognized that human liberty results in radical uncertainty making civilizations fragile (this “republican experiment in self-government”), not dialectical materialism that promised an inevitable culmination in utopia.
Additionally, I learned from Leszek Kolakowski and Václav Havel the danger of ideology and the power of living in truth; Elinor and Vincent Ostrom introduced me to the theories of complexity and polycentricity, whereby complex, spontaneous order can emerge from simple rules; and Daniel Elazar taught me federalism as covenant – a means to establish simple rules that result in a complex, ordered polity. John Hall, Michael Malbin, John Kincaid (and so many others) added to my understanding and helped refine and improve my perception, analysis, and communication skills.
Joining me in this journey is my lovely wife and three wonderful children.
Troy E. Smith is a professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University-Hawai’i. Concurrently, he is also a fellow at the Center for the Study of Federalism and the editor of Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia. He first became interested in federalism when his east coast graduate friends favored reintroducing wolves into the Rocky Mountains but opposed their reintroduction in the Adirondacks. His interest spiked when, as an intern with the U.S. Senate, he watched quarrels between his senators and the governor. Channeling his insights, he 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, his academic work has appeared in Publius: The Journal of Federalism; The Review of Politics; Congress & the Presidency; Thinking Skills & Creativity; and others. Dr. Smith loves learning and tackling challenges whether that be teaching students about federalism, writing and reasoning, climbing cliff faces, playing classical guitar, or enticing Hawai’i’s fish to end up on his spear. Dr. Smith received a Ph.D. from the University at Albany, and an M.A. from George Washington University.