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Localism is Better Because It Provides Far More Options

This is a frustrating interview.

The champions of localism, Front Porch Republic, interview an enemy of it, Trevor Latimore (author of Small Isn't Beautiful).

It's a cordial exchange, with interesting arguments/points by both sides, but Latimore's position seems to gel around this simple point: Yes, central governments can suck, but local governments can suck, too.

FPR never asks the obvious point: Well, if your local government sucks, you can move a few miles down the road and try a different local government. If your national government sucks, you're out of luck unless you want to emigrate to another country. Both are unpleasant, but surely, moving to a new country is much, much more unpleasant.

In response to Latimore's position that centralized power is better because, citing J.S. Mill, "local despots" are close and, therefore, worse, the interviewer doesn't counter strongly enough with the obvious point: "Is centralized power further away? It may have been further away in Mill's time, but in today's centralized panopticon of the Internet, digital currency, and the Homeland Security Act? Centralized government is creeping closer and closer." The interviewer hits on this point, but Latimore gets away with not answering it.

Moreover, America's central government is spreading out at the same time that it's creeping closer. Americans can't even emigrate to Canada anymore to escape American culture and public policy. Western Europe isn't an option either. The centralized American state's preferences** are spanning the globe.

Quite frankly, it's the biggest issue in America today. An interview about the increasingly authoritative nature of the federal government without focusing on its technological reach is like interviewing a physician about alcoholism without focusing on alcohol.

(**Or, perhaps, the American state's preferences merely reflect the preferences of a global elite/establishment . . . I'm not sure.)

Interesting Aside

Latimore distinguishes between "perfectionist localists" and "consequentialist localists."

In my book I show that there are many different kinds of localism. I hesitate to paint Front Porch Republic with too broad a brush, but I think it would be fair to say that many of its (localist) readers are communitarian or classically republican in their localism. There is a romantic strain as well. In these forms, localism becomes associated with human flourishing and a particular vision of the good life. These are perfectionist views.
There is another kind of localism exemplified by the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Localism in America: Why We Should Tackle Our Big Challenges at the Local Level. That form of localism is consequentialist rather than perfectionist; for the AEI crowd, localism should be adhered to because it helps solves problems. It says nothing about the good life. Here I’m really just rehashing a major divide in moral theory (consequentialism vs. perfectionism), but it maps well enough onto two very different strands of localism.

That "major divide" in moral theory is nothing less, it seems to me, than the "major divide" between the hemispheres. The left hemisphere looks at consequences and the right hemisphere looks at "perfectionism" (or, put in less condescending terms, "flourishing" or "acting consistent with human nature").

This, in turn, laps into the Taoist value of wu-wei: trying without trying. We shouldn't try to achieve, X, Y, and Z. We should simply try to do what is right (what is consistent with flourishing, acting in accord with our natures), moment to moment, and X, Y, and Z will follow . . . or not, but the results aren't are concern. A mind that isn't occupied with results is non-left hemispheric, and that's a thing to be cultivated.