A unitary state is one in which political power resides in the central government. The rest of the territory is subject to the legislation and political direction of this Government.
The unitary state is one of the models of the degree of centralization of power. In this, this grade is the highest, and this because power is concentrated in a few hands, in the central government. In the rest of the territory the measures taken from this governmental entity are applied.
The other model is the federal one, whereby, in the same country, several political powers coexist, each exercising its functions in a specific territorial space.
That said, unitary states have a degree of decentralization, although this is only administrative in scope. And some of them also achieve a certain political decentralization, given the impossibility that a single political entity is in charge of all the particularities of the territory. Entities such as city councils or councils are in charge of this, the scope of which is limited to the territory assigned to it.
Origin of the unitary state
The oldest origin of this state configuration is found in absolutism. During feudalism, the power was widely dispersed, each nobleman exercised his power in his fief with loyalty to the king. With absolutism and the creation of modern states, the kings centralized all power within themselves, dominating at will all the territories that remained under their borders.Thus, we can say that the unitary state had its origin in absolutism, although its current functioning is far from how it did at the time.
After absolutism and its bankruptcy, it was after the French Revolution that a version more similar to the one we know in this article emerges. The state that emerged after the revolution was a strong state of Jacobin inspiration. Whose highest principle was the equality of all citizens of the nation. Centralization sought to eliminate all kinds of privileges, and that all citizens of the republic submitted equally to the decisions of the State, which embodied the general will.
Characteristics of the unitary state
Unitary states, like other types, have some characteristics in common:
- Political power rests with the central government: executive, legislative and judicial belong to the same political unit.
- They present administrative decentralization, in order to manage resources more efficiently.
- Some states also decentralize some degree of political power.
- It usually occurs in small states.
- These states are usually very homogeneous at the cultural and linguistic level.
Types of unitary state
There are two main types of unitary states, the simple or centralized and the decentralized:
- Simple or centralized unitary state: This is the purest form of unitary state, although this purity is usually more theoretical than practical. It supposes the total centralization of both political and administrative power. In practice, due to logical issues, they fall into a certain degree of decentralization, but this is minimal. As examples we can highlight Hungary, Slovenia and France.
- Decentralized unitary state: This is a state whose decision-making power is in the central government, but which leaves the lower territorial units a great margin of action. The central government, in addition to having its own and exclusive powers, establishes a general framework for action, leaving decisions such as the implementation, execution or administration of resources to the regions. As examples we find countries such as Colombia, Spain and Italy.
Advantages and disadvantages of the unitary state
The advantages that derive from the existence of a unitary State are the following:
- Easy approval of laws and policies: The inexistence of other lower-order political and legislative actors makes the approval of laws and policies more fluid, with the absence of blockades and extensive prior deliberations.
- Lower political cost: If there is only one political elite, this lower number of politicians, when compared to a federal state, is reflected in lower personnel costs.
- Greater equality: That the entire territory is governed by the same legislation eliminates privileges and differences in opportunities, equalizing the entire territory.
Also, like any state formulation, it has a number of disadvantages:
- Less consideration for minorities: States tend to have minorities, be they ethnic, socioeconomic, or with different cultural sentiments. The unitary state may not take it into consideration, and these may be harmed.
- Worse implementation of policies: Regional and local policies can be implemented inefficiently or not respond to the problems that citizens have. Because decisions are made very far from the core of the conflict.
- Lower balance of powers: In federal or highly decentralized states, power is shared. As a consequence, the different levels control each other, making an authoritarian use of power difficult. Which does not happen in the unitaries.