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Livingston, William S.

William Samuel Livingston (July 1, 1920 – August 15, 2013) was a political science professor at the University of Texas, Austin, from 1949 until his 2007 retirement. He also served as acting president of the university in 1992-1993. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1950.

Livingston is best known to students of federalism for his key contention that: “The essential nature of federalism is to be sought for, not in the shadings of legal and constitutional terminology, but in the forces—economic, social, political, cultural—that have made the outward forms of federalism necessary” (1952: 83-84). He argued that federal governance is mainly a means to articulate and protect “the federal qualities” of its society. He maintained that diverse religious, racial, social, economic, and historical factors create communities of people who demand “self-expression.” If these diverse communities “are grouped territorially, that is geographically, then the result may be a society that is federal. If they are not grouped territorially, then the society cannot be said to be federal” (1952: 85).

However, he also believed that federal governance “is suitable only to those polities that are organized upon a democratic or republican foundation” and “presupposes a desire and an ability to secure the component units against encroachment by the central government” (1956: 308). He further contended that the constituent governments of a federation cannot be autocratic either.

In a manner similar to James Madison, Livingston held that “federalism is anti-majoritarian” and that “federation is inconsistent with a doctrine of strict majority rule if applied to the whole federal community” (1956: 310).

He contended that federalism entails a strong moral obligation that rests on “the ability of a people that is heterogenous in regard its traditions, economic interests, and political and social background to live together in harmony and to enjoy the benefits of their cooperative enterprise” (1956: 325).


William S. Livingston, “A Note on the Nature of Federalism,” Political Science Quarterly 67:1 (1952): 81-95; William S. Livingston, Federalism and Constitutional Change (London: Oxford University Press, 1956); and William S. Livingston, ed., Federalism in the Commonwealth (London: Hansard Society for Cassell, 1963).