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Grodzins, Morton M.

Last Updated: 2021

Morton M. Grodzins (August 11, 1917 – March 7, 1964) was a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. He earned his Ph.D. in 1945 from the University of California, Berkeley.

He is well known to students of American federalism for coining the term “marble cake” federalism. This metaphor signifies the intergovernmental sharing of functions and largely cooperative intergovernmental relationships that characterized American federalism as opposed to a “layer cake” model of separate spheres of government operating independently in a system of dual federalism. He is widely associated with the idea of cooperative federalism. He regarded the non-centralized “mildly chaotic” federal system as an asset and was sharply critical of the American Political Science Association’s 1950 report, “Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System.” He contended that more disciplined and centralized parties would centralize the federal system.

When Grodzins first arrived at Chicago, he served as research director of the Council of State Governments’ State-Local Relations project and became the main author of the Council’s 1946 State-Local Relations report. He also was a member of the First Hoover Commission Task Force on Federal-State Relations and an important contributor to its 1949 report. He then organized a Federalism Workshop at the University of Chicago, which he oversaw until his death. Students in his workshop included Daniel J. Elazar.

Grodzins had other concerns as well. He investigated and sharply criticized in Americans Betrayed (1949) the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, terming their treatment “the worst single wholesale violation of civil rights of Americans in our history.” Along the same lines, he criticized America’s treatment of black Americans. While studying racial segregation in The Metropolitan Area as a Racial Problem (1958) and other publications, he coined the term “tip point,” which soon became popularized as “tipping point,” to describe the point at which the growth of the black population in a white area led to an irreversible flight of white families. He criticized Cold War paranoia in Making un-Americans (1955) and studied the “social boundaries of patriotism and treason” in The Loyal and the Disloyal (1956) during the McCarthy era. Later, concerned about the threat of nuclear war, he became an active member of the Board of Editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and co-edited his last book The Atomic Age (1963).


Morton Grodzins, The American System: A New View of Government in the United States, edited by Daniel J. Elazar (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966); Jacob Cohen and Morton Grodzins, “How Much Economic Sharing in American Federalism?” American Political Science Review, 57, No. 1 (March 1963):5-23; Morton Grodzins, “Centralization and Decentralization in the American Federal System,” A Nation of States: Essays on the American Federal System, edited by Robert A Goldwin (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1961), pp. 1-24; Morton Grodzins, “The Federal System,” Goals for Americans, edited by President’s Commission on National Goals (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960), pp. 265-282; and Morton Grodzins, “American Political Parties and the American Political System,” Western Political Quarterly 13:4 (1960): 974-998.