Learn to Love Your Region

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It might be the only effective answer to Leviathan . . . and it arguably saves lives

Socialist? Liberal? Conservative? Libertarian? Anarchist?

I’m none of those things. I’m a Subsidiarist. I believe in the Catholic bedrock of political philosophy, which holds the smallest units of government ought to handle whatever they can possibly handle with interference from larger units of government.

The household ought to handle what it can, and if a problem is too big for the household, the extended family should handle it. If the extended family can’t, go to local charities, friends, and neighbors. If it’s too big for that, city government. Then county government. Then state government. Then (gulp) national government.

It’s simple in concept, difficult to apply. Indeed, it’s Quixotic to apply it to today’s political scene, DC and the state capitals have grown so powerful and overwhelming that advocacy of the principle of subsidiarity is like advocating abstinence in a whorehouse.

But there is a movement of sorts that is akin to subsidiarity. It’s called “regionalism.” It’s not political, though. It’s cultural, but if politics follows culture, a regionalist cultural movement could be huge.


Regionalism, in the words of Bill Kauffman, is “’a revolt against cultural nationalism—that is, the tendency of artists to ignore or deny the fact that there are important differences, psychologically and otherwise, between the various regions of America’ . . . When the different regions develop characteristics of their own, they will come into competition with each other; and out of this competition a rich American culture will grow.”

I used to read a lot of Richard Weaver and the Southern Agrarians. They were big fans of regionalism (along with Flannery O’Connor), but their analysis focused on the South.

Kauffman, drawing on Grant Wood and his love for Iowa (Iowa!), helped me see that regionalism isn’t mostly a Southern thing with a few regionally-strong outposts in New England, Indiana, Fargo, and Michigan’s upper peninsula. I was really struck by the realization, so much so that I dedicated one of my National Catholic Register blogging columns to it, writing in one spot:

Passionate Catholic convert Orestes Brownson is considered one of the greatest thinkers of nineteenth-century America. In his greatest work, The American Republic, Brownson preached the necessity of territorial democracy: politics and issues tied to particular soil.

The genius of the American system, he said, is that it erects barriers between the federal government and the people. This allows democracy to work more effectively because democracy works best in small territories. In townships, the governed and the governors meet in the streets and talk; in counties, the issues are tangible, not abstract. That’s where the battles should be fought whenever possible.

That’s where the discussions ought to take place whenever possible. Unfortunately, we live in an age of an expansive federal government that dashes regionalism. We live in the age of a world wide web that dashes intimate conversation.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of a 1993 essay by Marion Montgomery that touches on the regionalism theme. Montgomery is not easy to read, but he makes a point that totally escaped me for years: The attack on regionalism in our culture is nothing less than the attack on the Christian understanding of the preciousness of each individual life. Check out the essay in full, but I think this is the most representative paragraph from it:

In discussing the loss of culture, manners, belief—once associated with the American South as stereotypical, in contrast to the North as the “land of industry”—Percy remarks the dissolving of those differences, though in some degree they once obtained in our history. He says, however, that now his grandchildren are “like the kids in Dubuque, Iowa.”

That this sea change has occurred, I believe, is an effect of “liberal” sentimentality, by which I mean to suggest at once that the Iowa children suffer as well as the Louisiana Percy children. The “Christian scandal,” Percy says in this interview, is its “emphasis on individual human life.” Without that scandalous emphasis, anything goes, including the gas chambers. The importance of encounter of person with immediate existence, the accommodation to this place and this time, which is so heavy a theme in recent literature of the American South, is exactly the issue, though reduced in its implications whenever frozen in our accounting for it by a reduction to mere history or geography. That is, the concern requires a metaphysical perspective beyond the account of history or naturalistic geography.