Decentralization is the process of redistributing or dispersing functions, powers, people or things away from a central location or authority. While centralization, especially in the governmental sphere, is widely studied and practiced, there is no common definition or understanding of decentralization. The meaning of decentralization may vary in part because of the different ways it is applied. Concepts of decentralization have been applied to group dynamics and management science in private businesses and organizations, political science, law and public administration, economics and technology.
Ideas of liberty and decentralization were carried to their logical conclusions during the 19th and 20th centuries by anti-state political activists calling themselves “anarchists”, “libertarians,” and even decentralists. Alexis de Tocqueville was an advocate, writing: “Decentralization has, not only an administrative value but also a civic dimension since it increases the opportunities for citizens to take interest in public affairs; it makes them get accustomed to using freedom. And from the accumulation of these local, active, persnickety freedoms, is born the most efficient counterweight against the claims of the central government, even if it were supported by an impersonal, collective will.” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), influential anarchist theorist wrote: “All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization.”