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Wheare, Kenneth Clinton

Last Updated: 2021

K. C. Wheare (March 26, 1907–September 7, 1979) can be regarded as the “dean” of modern comparative federalism research. His 1946 book, Federal Government, which went through four editions (the last in 1963), is virtually canonical in the field and still cited frequently. The book was preceded by an essay, “What Federal Government Is,” in 1941 that reflected Wheare’s participation in the Federal Union formed in 1939 to prevent war but shifted after World War II’s outbreak to prevent future wars by reconstituting Europe in a federal manner.

Wheare defined federalism as “the method of dividing powers so that the general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, coordinate and independent.” He argued that federalism requires “co-ordinate partners in the governmental process.” He believed that federalism is not an end in itself but rather a means to good government and that achieving that end requires adherence to the spirit as well as the letter of a federal constitution.

Wheare was born in Victoria, Australia, and attended Scotch College in Melbourne before studying at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. He was elected Gladstone Professor of Government and Public Administration at All Souls College of Oxford University in 1944 and rector of Exeter College, University of Oxford, in 1956. He was knighted in 1966. His likeness is carved as a gargoyle on the Bodleian Library between a kangaroo and an emu.

Wheare specialized in constitutions of the British Commonwealth and advised on the drafting of some post-colonial constitutions. Max Beloff, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, contended that Wheare’s “writings combined three principal strands: a respect for the legal and conventional framework of political action in all democratic systems, an understanding of the historical roots of the different Anglo-Saxon polities and institutions, and, above all, an awareness of how people actually behave in the political and administrative context—an awareness solidly based on his own practical experience,” especially Wheare’s 1940-1957 service on Oxford’s city council.

The Statute of Westminster, 1931 (1933) was Wheare’s first book, followed by his The Statute of Westminster and Dominion Status (1938). His other books included Abraham Lincoln and the United States (1948), Modern Constitutions (1951), Government by Committee (1955), The Constitutional Structure of the Commonwealth (1960), Legislatures(1963), and Maladministration and its Remedies (1973).

SEE ALSO: Federalism


K. C. Wheare, “What Federal Government Is,” in Patrick Ransome, ed., Studies in Federal Planning (London: Lothian Foundation Press, 1943), pp. 17-38; K. C. Wheare, Federal Government (London: Oxford University Press, 1963); K. C. Wheare, Abraham Lincoln and the United States (London: The English Universities Press, 1961); and Michael Burgess, “Kenneth C. Wheare and the Federal Principle,” in Michael Burgess, In Search of the Federal Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 32-59.