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What is a centralized government?

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Quick Answer

A centralized government is one in which a small group or executive at the highest level of government holds all political authority, and all other political units are subject to it. Autocracies and totalitarian governments are centralized. A centralized government is distinct from a federal government, in which local units are autonomous, not dependencies of the central government.

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A centralized government is governed by a supreme political authority that has sovereignty over all other governing bodies. The central government itself may take many forms. For example, monarchies and empires are centralized governments. Although a king employs vassals and an emperor utilizes regional administrators, the monarch is sovereign and may rearrange governors and bureaucrats as he pleases.

Many democratic nations also qualify as centralized governments. In these cases, it is legislators and chief executives who constitute the central government, but the principle remains the same. In these countries, provinces, boroughs and all other political entities are merely subdivisions of the national or central government and subordinate to it.

Federal governments are distinct. Federalism is characterized by the principle of dual sovereignty, the notion that members of the state are citizens of two independent, legitimate governments. In the United States, for example, the states are not dependencies of the federal government. They existed prior to the national government and cannot be annulled by it. They create their own legislation and have their own agenda independent of federal law.

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