A great post over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen by “Will.” Beyond his reliance on a clearly excellent source (ahem), I strongly endorse his closing reflection:
Given the inter-connectedness of subsidies and local communities and the inherent advantages of large-scale producers and retailers in any economic context, I think that the localism versus globalism debate is about what we should subsidize rather than whether we should subsidize, period. I think we can (and should) argue over what local features are worth preserving through active government support. But suggesting that localism represents some return to an idealized free market state of nature strikes me as pretty naive. [my emphasis]
I think this is an issue that might cause some dissension on the Porch, between those who believe that an unfettered market necessarily leads to a concentration in power that inevitably requires imposition of limits by a suitably empowered government, and those who tend toward a kind of anarchic opposition to most any kind of governmental power. In my view, the problem is not simply that we currently have a powerful centralized government, but that its orientation is toward supporting BIGNESS in the form of private concentration of power (which in turn reinforces its public power). While in theory it would be better to have neither public nor private concentrations of power, at this point in our history it is the public power that is at least theoretically more capable of responding to public demands, even a sustained public demand to restrict these sorts of concentrations of power. That is, sustained demand could result in public efforts that would endeavor to restrain the concentration of private power toward the goal of preserving and defending a true and defensible form of local self-governance. Indeed, if a suitably oriented government were doing a good job at this, ultimately one wouldn’t need anything approaching the concentration of power in our central government.
For those who have called upon FPR to consider practical ways of applying its philosophy to the “real world,” I would submit that we must begin to think creatively about the current role that our central government might play not in continuing to support the expansion of private and public power alike, but fostering localism (and thereby restricting both concentrations of power). Given, this would seem to be going against its basic grain of the past 200+ years of expansion and concentration, but recent events suggest (to me) that we need a serious reconsideration of the basic purpose and ends of government. However, simple opposition to “Gummint” is, in my view, a romantic fantasy that simply plays into the hands of concentrations of private power.
I guess them’s fighting words, so let the rumble commence.
UPDATE: I have moved this post from our “Briefly Noted” section to the main section of FPR, mainly because the ensuing comments confirm that this is a discussion of utmost – perhaps even supreme – importance. At issue is whether it is believed that salutary change can be effected within the context of the existing system (thus, whether there are policies that could, over time, change the direction of our ocean liner), or whether (to extend the metaphor) we’re about to hit, or have already hit, the proverbial iceberg. Most of the comments thus far reflect the latter view – indeed, largely paint a picture in which we are already taking on water. I can’t say as I wholly disagree with this assessment, but I hold out some hope that there’s a sliver’s chance of articulating a different governing philosophy and changing course, albeit prudently, cautiously and with recognition of the pitfalls. I’m grateful to a few thus far who have suggested interesting and innovative policy proposals that could, over time, change the complexion of the land (a tax on parking spaces – seems like a good idea to me!). I invite other proposals, regardless of their prospect of enactment, in the exercise of simultaneous civic responsibility and civic rebellion. I guess I’m not quite ready to subscribe to Caleb’s view that we should start to look something like Afghanistan. Colonial New England maybe, but Afghanistan, not for me.
The problem with claiming that an unfettered free market (by which I mean a market unimpeded by regulations prohibiting monopolies, collusion, trusts, etc.; not one that is free from a government which ensures the integrity of contracts and the ability to pursue commerce without danger) is the source of all our non-localist woes is that, contrary to the agitations of the more self-righteous amongst the leftist camp, there has never actually been a counterfactual in American (or, I dare say, world) history. Big business has always been parasitic upon an expansive, centralized government. Indeed, big government is, I am willing to hypothesize, a necessary condition for big business, for the latter requires the subsidies and barriers to entry which can only be supplied by the former: the transnational railroads (arguably the “first” instance of big business in America) were built on free/discounted land grants from the federal government; Wal-Mart, supermarkets, and sundry other “big box” stores owe their existence to the massive and continued indirect subsidies of the national government which come in the form of the interstate highway system; the internet and various other anti-localist technologies ironically declaimed on this very blog are the result of erstwhile government funding; industrialized agriculture is a dependent child of the federal government; the suburban wastelands which the majority of us consider “home” and which supply endless targets for the vituperations of Kuntslerians are maintained (indeed, mandated) by oppressive zoning codes which are the result of none other than coercive governments; “big finance” and those odious purveyors of subprime mortgages who “brought down” our economy did so not because of deregulation but because of regulations which mandated the sale of such bad debt and closed the market to more responsible institutions.
In other words, in this instance as in most other “crises” afflicting the modern American empire, government is the problem. I hardly think that merely shifting the focus of our monolithic government from supporting big business to opposing big business (that is, merely restricting the free market in another direction) is a viable solution, or a workable means by which to prompt the localist apocalypse. Restrictions on the free market are, after all, restrictions on freedom (distinct from license in my usage) generally. In all the localist utopias (and I use that word intentionally) which are routinely hailed in these virtual quarters, you will find a distinct absence of government subsidies of any kind.
“However, simple opposition to “Gummint” is, in my view, a romantic fantasy that simply plays into the hands of concentrations of private power.”
I don’t always agree with the things said here at FPR, but this absolutely hits the nail on the head. Well done.
I concur with Rob, and would add that all that should be meant by the free market is a market free from ex ante, not ex post regulation. In other words, the use of common law courts is a form of market regulation, but one that occurs ex post, or after someone has been wronged, through tort, property, and contract law. Ex ante regulation is problematic, because ex ante it prohibits all sorts of activities from occurring, to the advantage of one with a larger economy of scale. This is the simple, yet crucial insight that we owe to the likes of Henry Hazlitt, that ex ante regulations drive the marginal players out of business to the advantage of the larger, more politically well connected firms.
As such, when one calls for adherence to the free market, one is calling for a market that is not hampered ex ante by the state, which keeps human flourishing from breaking out. Why can’t local folks raise equity by going to their neighbors? Ask JP, the Treasury, and the SEC? If the fine gentleman from Peoria can just go to his neighbors, whom he’s known for years, to seek to raise capital for the local deli’s expansion without all the lawyers and investment bankers needed to weave through the byzantine regulatory structure, how is JP going to get all its exorbitant profits? How can PLEONEXIA survive under such a situation?
Ex ante market regulation, should on the other hand, be brought about by other institutions, like neighbor and family discernment, along with the Church through its particular moral prohibitions and distinctions.
As for seeking to use the Hobbesian centralized power that is Federal to subsidize the local, to create smaller more wholesome communities, we should consider the thoughts of Tolkien:
“We cannot use the Ruling Ring. That we now know too well. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil. Its strength is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier peril. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would then set himself on Sauron’s throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear. And that is another reason why the Ring should be destroyed: as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise. For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so. I fear to take the Ring to hide it. I will not take the Ring to wield it.”
These are both very good and very helpful responses – and I don’t fundamentally disagree, though I think that both respondents want to lay all of the blame of the current state of affairs on “gummint,” when it’s clear that there has been an unholy alliance of mutual interest and support between public and private power. However, even IF one could imagine conditions that MIGHT have existed before the institution of the current state of affairs (and I tend to side with “Will” that there is a high degree of fantasy in such a scenario – there will always need to be governance by some entity, though I’d prefer to see that at a more local level), what is to be done NOW? Are there ways that public power can be re-directed toward giving advantages to local entities where they are now given to large scale multinationals and instutitions that are “too big to fail”? The idea that “gummint” should simply get out of the way would simply be to give even more power to these massive private entities, and local governments are in no position to exercise any authority over their activities.
Those who would like to see a reduction of these sorts of concentrations of public and private power may need to recognize that, in our current moment, public power may need to be exercised in different ways, albeit with the end and object of eventually reducing its scope of activities (i.e., if policies can support smaller enterprises, they would not have as much influence in Washington, thus far more effectively starving the beast). It seems to me that unless a compelling argument to this effect can be made, and some decent proposals floated, we are in for a permanent future in which “liberal” and “conservatives” squabble over irrelevancies while the rest of us spend our days debating over the “balloon boy” – ensuring that power will remain permanently retained at the center. Today’s “conservatives” are counting on short memory and unmoored anger to propel them back into power, but once there, we will discover once again that what they really want is power, not its reduction at the center. To stop this futile cycle, what is required is a compelling argument for a set of sound and interlocking policies that will re-orient public power toward the end of empowering localities (and reducing concentrations of power across the spectrum). The aim can’t simply be to win national elections to play goalie against liberals; the object has to be a definitive goal of localism with a set of reasonable proposals that can help reduce both private and public concentrations of power, empower localities and – among other things – make sure that Governors and the like don’t think that the best possible career move is to become a bureaucratic functionary.
Historically, power centers are eroded and/or demolished only by stronger opposing powers. If one wants to see the power of the hegemonic central managed state/economy reduced, why would one look to that very seat of power to find his opposing force? I hate to say things that may be construed as positive about revolutionaries like Guevera etc., but they at least understood power.
States remain the best candidate for a seat of power sufficient to challenge the central managed state. Though this is probably a fool’s hope in today’s world.
You can also adopt the posture of outlying barbarian chieftons, minding their own business, caring for their own sheep fold, paying tribute once a year and praying that the Empire chokes on it, waiting and watching for the final death rasp of the centralized beast.
The hesitancy I have with this view is the fact that the biggest subsidies are often implemented in the name of the smallest producers. Thus the vast farm subsidies are given in the name of “protecting the family farm,” even though they make family farming practically impossible. The freeway system was to be a boon to the common man, but the common man who must boomed was Sam Walton.
The current size of gov’t and the corporations poses a conundrum for distributists. The two feed off of each other, yet to cut down the later, you may need the former. But who can wear the ring of power without becoming corrupted themselves?
Pat I do envy your hope in restoration but, I have no idea what might be the “decent proposals floated” you’d recommend. Seems a little late.
To illustrate just how late we are in our efforts to restore the first principles of the olde republic we might look at the recent election where an epigonic para-Marxist and his cadre of fellow believers have taken over the executive branch, the condition of the electorate where it might be argued that over fifty per cent of the population can be labeled ‘parasitic’ in terms of receiving largesse from the central gummint, and where our American intellectuals are in large measure not only ‘anti-American’ but preach a derailed and perverse doctrine (ideology) apparently conjured up to place the country in reduced circumstances.
At the root the problem we’re facing is not a strictly political problem but rather a moral dilemma where we have lost the ability to believe in the movement of reality beyond death to into the state of immortality, what our Greek friends labeled aphthatsia (imperishing). Now that’s basic Voegelinianism and the truth of it is obvious in the narcissistic and nihilistic components of our quickly deteriorating regime. We have turned away from God and now we demand direct human action to solve our problems, to provide “justice and equality,” and in effect to demand the “hope and change” that will result in the “new world.” What hope is there for people such as these?
I’ve heard of the Dreher “Benedict Option,” now there is the Stegall “Barbarian Option”. Awesome.
Well, as a longtime reader of both the Porch and What I Saw In America, I’m very flattered by the favorable mention.
Incidentally, Kevin Carson posted several comments to the original post defending free market purism. I’m not sure if I agree with all of his arguments, but he’s certainly worth reading.
Isn’t there a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment floating around that would bar the Feds from forcing upon the states unfunded mandates and conditions on spending? Has the idea come up here before?
Such an amendment would meet Caleb’s “stronger opposing power” condition. And it would perhaps relocalize some forms of regulations.
I have a simple suggestion that may be of some use. How about taxing parking? Have businesses pay for each parking space they have. Big box stores can only exist if hooked up to massive parking lots. Tax parking and smaller businesses will be able to compete on price and this won’t run afoul of interstate commerce laws.
Well, I suppose my support for various egalitarian (“para-Marxist,” Bob?) policies is well-known enough that my position on this question is probably obvious. I think Patrick speaks very truly when he suggests that “at this point in our history it is the public power that is at least theoretically more capable of responding to public demands, even a sustained public demand to restrict these sorts of concentrations of power.” I would actually go further–I would argue it has always been some sort of “public power” that has made it possible for masses of ordinary individuals to build the sort of localities and communities within which real democracy and independence and virture can thrive. It has always been thus, going all the way back to James I authorizing join stock companies to make colonization of the early American colonies possible, and it remains the case today. The sooner more Americans recognize that fact, the sooner we could get to the point where we might be capable of articulating the kinds of demands which the Populists once did, demands which enable local sovereignty, rather than seting individual consumer against individual consumer under the shadow of both market and the national bureaucracy.
Caleb’s point about the power of states and provinces challenging the centralized state is certainly worth pondering in our present situation. And it’s not as though there is only one possible model for developing such subsidiarity in the distributing of subsidizing power; E.D. Kain notes that while Germany, a strongly federal state, in essence props up and maintains those federal differences through national policy, Switzerland allows for competition over tax structures and social policies in the midst of its cantons. Maybe one or the other approach would be best with America’s particular weak federal system, or maybe something else entirely. But we with localist sympathies need to think practically about what might be done to make it more possible to submit our public demands to less expansive levels of government power.
As a further note, Patrick’s point seems right in line with a Thomistic notion of government, a government that, while acknowledging that it cannot make people good, attempts to create a space in which it is more likely that people will be able to flourish. If we have an objective view of flourishing, where localism makes human flourishing more likely, then government encouraging/incentivizing localism seems appropriate.
That said, I’ve also been pretty impressed with the case made by William Cavanaugh (for instance, in Killing for the Telephone Company) that the modern nation state is actually incapable, in the long run, of even attempting to promote the common good because, structurally and historically, it exists only to perpetuate its own power. If that is the case, and the “best” option (a governing body dedicated to promoting and making space for human flourishing and the common good) is unavailable in the modern context, then its possible that the second best option is the one championed by those who believe that “gummint should just get out.”
I should have also noted that the states getting involved seems to be the most likely candidate for challenging the unfettered federal gummint, as Mr. Stegall pointed out, though, as he also rightly points out, that might be a fools hope. Still, in many ways, that does seem more likely to work than somehow giving the federal government an infusion of localist (and, necessarily, anti-campaign-financing-big-business-interests) policies.
Going off Caleb’s at least partly tongue-in-cheek barbarian comment, I think something important is being missed here, namely that strong central governments have, throughout history, been the only force capable of imposing something like civil order upon the countryside. As recently as the 18th century, highwaymen made it dramatically unsafe to travel in Europe, and there was little anyone could do about them other than stay home or move in large armed groups, neither of which is particularly conducive to commerce. The idea that a single person could travel over distances without fear is really quite recent (150-200 years, tops), and is tied almost entirely to the presence of a strong, centralized state. As it turns out, most people, myself included, are more than willing to sacrifice something of the integrity of the local community in exchange for ensuring that scary men with big axes won’t drop by every other Wednesday and that I can travel more than ten miles without fearing for my life. The modern state has its own forms of oppression, to be sure, but I’ll take them over the Vikings any day of the week.
I think this has two implications for the current discussion. First, those who contend that centralization is inherently evil are forgetting the reason states centralized in the first place, i.e. to bring the King’s Peace to the farthest reaches of the land. Those who think this is insignificant fail to comprehend just how dangerous medieval and early-modern life could be. As a matter of historical fact, the rise of modern European states, particularly in France and Britain, was motivated significantly if not primarily by the desire of the population to be protected from crimes. “Localism,” which is all that existed before the early 18th century, wasn’t cutting it, as crimes were rampant and went largely unpunished. Say what you like about our criminal justice system, the expectation is that if a murder happens the police will usually hear about it sooner rather than later. In medieval and early modern Europe, the expectation was that unless the perpetrator was caught red handed–in which case he was usually executed on the spot–it was quite likely that nothing at all would be done. Those who would dismiss centralization entirely will need to address its historical connection with civil order. “Local justice” and “lynch mob” have been largely synonymous for most of Western history.
Second, the historic connection between “big business” and centralized governments is far closer and more complicated than anyone here seems to recognize. The idea that big business has always been parasitical upon centralized governments doesn’t come nearly close enough to capturing what’s going on. On the contrary, early modern governments directly chartered large commercial ventures as a way of raising revenue. Early modern governments’ ability to tax was dramatically lower than that of current governments’, and the state depended in no small part upon such measures to support its appetite for funds.
Rob suggests that big business needs centralized government because there would otherwise be insufficient subsidies barriers to entry. This does not comport with historical reality. First of all, calling early modern governments’ involvement with big business to be “subsidies” is just wrong. “Investment” is more like it. These were funds given to large commercial ventures with the full expectation that the Crown would receive ample return on its investment.
Second, state grants of monopoly aside, the barriers to entry for many of these ventures were absolutely huge. The first enterprises which can accurately be described as “big business” were mostly maritime trading, and before the advent of steel hulls and steam power, a surprisingly large number of ships were lost outright. This is in fact why Lloyds of London and joint stock companies were formed: the barriers to entry for maritime trade were so high that no one could afford to bear the risk themselves. Again, the relationship between Lloyds’ members and the Crown was far closer and more complicated than the relationship between current CEOs and Congress. When everyone of any financial worth was a Member of Parliament, the distinction between private and public spheres gets a little messy, to say the least.
Finally, and here we start to go a bit farther afield, the early modern state imposed barriers to entry like monopolies not out of avarice or a love for centralization per se. Rather, early modern actors knew quite well that they were dealing with forces which had the potential to be massively distruptive in exactly the ways which localists loathe. Monopolies and royal charters were granted most frequently to ensure that the right sort of people had control of them. So, for example, a monopoly on law books was granted because unless the Crown knew who was responsible for printing them–and it couldn’t absent a monopoly–it was impossible to hold the printer accountable for their quality. Similarly, patents were granted not as a recognition of an inventor’s genius, but because the Crown wanted to control the introduction of new technology by keeping it in the hands of trusted individuals. This culture, dominated as it was by personal reputation and the Great Civility, no longer exists today–more’s the pity–but it ought to at least color our thinking about centralized power.
I think that as a result, the problem here is not merely that localist sympathizers need to be realistic about how the power of modern state might be limited. It is also that localist sympathizers must come to grips with the historical development of centralized power. Doing so will, I believe, result in far more productive and realistic suggestions on where we might go from here.
Well put Ryan, and a needed historical perspective. Puts me in mind of the very different reactions of the Blackfeet versus the other, weaker tribes of the northern plains (all decidedly localist and decentralized groups) to Lewis & Clark’s expedition and subsequent American expansion. One’s perspective on things always depends on whose ox is being gored.
“The idea that a single person could travel over distances without fear is really quite recent (150-200 years, tops), and is tied almost entirely to the presence of a strong, centralized state.”
I too welcome Ryan Davidson’s comments. However, this sentence here neglects the power of technology in combating crime. Telegraph lines definitely put a dent in the crime rate of the Wild West. It’s hard to see how highwaymen could rise again in the age of the cell phone.
There’s another thing I forgot to add though. Until the founding of the American republic, civil society existed in such a way that unless the Crown (and make no mistake, it was definitely a Crown of one sort or another) specifically gave permission for a thing to be done, only the Crown could do that thing. This is, one might say, the ultimate “barrier to entry,” but it wasn’t something designed to protect big business. Rather, it was designed to protect the interests of the Crown, i.e. the private person who happened to be sovereign at the time. This was a period where there was little distinction between public and private personae, and where once someone assumed public office, they retained that office until they died. Public office did not really exist apart from its instantiations in the way that the American presidency exists independent from its Presidents.
So saying that there was some kind of “collusion” between big business may in fact be too generous, in that it recognizes a distinction where none really existed. Until the eighteenth century, there was very little wealth that was not controlled by the Crown (and Peerage) or the Church (which is another kettle of fish entirely).
All that by way of saying that an attempt to tease out the distinctions between private and public power which does not come to terms with how those distinctions were previously drawn will be inherently incomplete.
More pointedly though, I get the impression that many around here, particularly those who like the sorts of opinions espoused in the unfortunately defunct New Pantagruel, would reject the liberal project from the get go. Well, there’s a good argument to be made that this discussion of free markets and localism is entirely predicated on the liberal project. I’m more than willing to be corrected here, but I think this merits an explanation.
Rob can add the “public airwaves” to the list of subsidies he provides. Advertising fees are of course the toll paid by business but one wonders if we have not sold our sanity for a handful of silver….cheap thrills or not.
I insist that it is a leap of faith and logic to hold onto the belief that there still exists a “public” aspect of this government. The symbols and myths remain and they are ably manipulated but to assume that this government is “of” or “for” the people is an idle hope at best. The only interest this government has in “the people” is as a means to an end…the kind of faith an industrial pork farmer has in his livestock…. that product of his whose distance from commodity to point of sell cannot be made short or cheap enough.
If you insist upon doubting this, simply review the debt as a portion of GDP, the percentage of our annual budget allocated to a standing military and the continuing lack of seriousness toward :
1. Ending our dependence upon foreign sources of energy
2.Long-deferred infrastructural repairs and reinvestment. …and in particular, a reinvestment capable of changing the economic paradigm from one that exports industrial capacity in exchange for a leading role in global financialization to one of revitalized and diverse local business that uses large business vehicles as a means to an end rather than an end.
The American Eagle always has been a carrion eater. The feathers of its wings are now debt
This is not to say that government is always a pox. Of course it isn’t, we are too venal and opportunistic to favor ourselves with anarchy. However, thinking that the so called “public” is capable of exerting itself upon this government is a hypothetical dead end. Worse yet, the fundamental dread and angst and lack of personal responsibility that this culture has habituated itself to tends to support the idea that if a populist movement were to arise, it will be directed by malignant forces toward the baser sentiments of a historicidal and existentially frustrated people.
But I mean this in only the nicest way.
Caleb’s territorial hordes biding their time is perhaps not far from the truth because the current government has erected a fog bank of mythology and is doing its level best to hold onto the script and maintain the patently unsustainable in hopes of “returning to normal”…as though normality was somehow lost in 2007 and earlier in 9/11/01 rather than exerting itself upon an abnormal regime lasting much longer than it should have. We are part and parcel of an historic continuity and we had come to believe we were somehow a crowning moment in perpetuity.
This is bottoms up work and we continue to follow the decidedly un-American way of top-down at continuing and sure peril. There has never been a time when the Governors of the States should have convened an emergency conference like this past year and what do we see? Business as usual because we have no systems and infrastructure with which to wean ourselves from the increasingly precarious, increasingly Russian-like paradigm. And by this, I do not mean “Russian” as a synonym for the daftly bandied about notions of “socialism”…again, the apparatchiks don’t give a whit about the citizenry beyond their role as serfs…but as a summary descriptive of the operational myths displayed by that power-centric, imitative and serf-dominated regime of resignation and artifice. The “Czars” predated socialism and we are doing our level best to sandwich “old Europe” between two Russian Empires that function within a modus that diminishes the value of individual human life and elevates the value of imperial display for the sake of imperial display. It is a sickness and rot called Empire and despotism and vampirism are its stock in trade.
Fortunately, there remain millions of people who are fully capable of recovering lost ground, re-invention, the development of an ordered social construct that unleashes the potential of people in liberty but it is an inchoate mass that has not yet discerned the task in front of us nor tired of this foolish notion that we can simply see and “end of the current Great D/Recession and a return to normal”.
As to Free Market? What Free Market?
Technology is no answer here.
The telegraph network could not have existed, nor could our network of cellular telephones, if someone did not keep the peace to the extent that such massive investments in infrastructure were fundamentally safe from interference and/or theft. Local governments inherently lack the power to exert this kind of systemic influence. Only a national government can do so, or at least that’s what history seems to prove.
More to the point, the telegraph was invented just about the time that most states had managed to exert real controls over the vast majority of the landscape, and it was not until this control was completed that significant roll-outs were accomplished.
Technology, absent the strong arm of sovereign law, does nothing to reduce crime.
I invite other proposals, regardless of their prospect of enactment, in the exercise of simultaneous civic responsibility and civic rebellion.
Repeal the 16th and 17th amendments.
Further thinking on my part has led me to believe that your assertion that technology reduces crime is not simply inaccurate, it’s downright silly. Even today, there are still places where the arm of the law doesn’t reach, and normal citizens don’t go there if they can help it, even though their cell phones work just fine.
Consider the following areas: Somalia, the Straight of Malacca, Nigeria, Sudan, the jungles of Columbia, Garfield Park in Chicago Compton in LA, etc. Telecommunications? Check. Most of these places are reachable by cell phone, and all by satellite phone. Pirates/bandits/rampant crime? Also check. Notoriously so. The reach of strong, centralized government? Not so much.
In the 1970s and 1980s, New York City was one of the most violent and dangerous cities in the country. Now it isn’t. No one thinks this happened because of technology. It was some combination of police tactics, police strength, and demographic changes. New York was one of the first cities in the world wired with the telephone, but I’ve never heard anyone argue that this had any noticeable impact on crime rates. Number of police officers, i.e. the strength of the state, is always far more important.
There’s just no reason to think that technology has anything to do with this.
Hah! Well, that was the first image that came to mind when you spoke of “barbarian chieftains.” Or maybe you were recommending the model of Cuba, instead, with your invocation of Che?
Let me join the praise for Ryan’s comment–really deserving of a post entirely on its own. Centralized governments and bureaucracies did evolve in part of the agendas of tyrannical and cosmopolitan individuals, but they also (and more originally) evolved because the great masses of individuals and families, on their front porches, cannot fight off the Vikings (or, for that matter, bring decent education to their villages, or provide some basic justice in the treatment of the poor) entirely on their own. Some kind of indepedent action is essential if collective responses are to have any virtue to them, to be sure, but if indepedent action is all there is, then the Vikings always win. The Green Mountain Boys fought valiantly in the Revolutionary War, but they didn’t win it: George Washington’s Continental Army, with significant help from France, did.
It’s hard to see how highwaymen could rise again in the age of the cell phone.
That’s entirely how the Somali pirates coordinate their activities, Kevin.
Ack. I see Ryan has already beaten me to the point about cell phones.
Repeal the 16th and 17th amendments.
I won’t make any friends here, I realize, but I’ll defend the 16th amendment; I think enabling the national government to institute a progressive income tax was one of the most important egalitarian steps this nation has ever made, and I would argue that many thousands of small communities wouldn’t have been able to withstand the survive the past century if there weren’t centrally funded programs to enable their citizens to maintain their livelihoods. But I’ll definitely sign up for the repeal of the 17th. I’ve wanted to get rid of that for as long as I can remember. (Debated it in high school, actually.)
I have a hard time buying that the modern State arose as a response to brigands and pirates. Brigands and pirates have been around for a long time, but the modern state is of fairly recent pedigree. I think the main text to consult on this score is Bertrand de Jounvenel’s “ON POWER,” which traces the origins of the modern state based on the demands NOT of homesteaders fending off home invaders, but a rising class of bourgoisie who demanded a unified power to streamline operations, demolish various orders and subsidiary powers, and centralize for the end of the advance of modern commerce. An additional part of the story that needs telling was the invocation of religious warfare as the justification of demanding full allegiance to the State, rather than the more complex allegiance between various authorities that had been a legacy of the Christian and medieval tradition. See William Cavanaugh’s excellent essay, “A Fire Strong Enough to Consume the House.” In short, the confluence between the modern State and private economic power has a long history, of which we may be a culminating chapter. All of which is to suggest, I’m hardly confident that one can right this arrangement from within, which is advancing the very project it was created for.
It depends where you start your story on what constitutes “the modern state”. Many if not most of the legal and political reforms before the 16th century were focused significantly upon keeping the King’s Peace, i.e. controlling crime. Once those were in place, it became possible to have a middle class. No such thing existed in the Middle Ages, at least not in any significant way. Once the countryside was under some semblance of control, things developed fairly rapidly, and after that governments started looking a lot more like what we see today. But before the 19th century, governments were quite often simply incapable of enforcing their authority over any significant distance or length of time. This needs to be dealt with in a more serious way than simply blithely waving at them as our precursors.
Why? Because though I haven’t read Jounvenel, I have spent a few years doing legal history, and I’d be willing to suggest that a reading like that one sounds suspiciously like doing history with the benefit of hindsight. This is an exceptionally poor sort of historiography, and it assumes that previous changes were designed and intended to get us where we are today rather than designed and intended to solve real problems faced by real people in the real world. This is not only massively self-absorbed, but not terribly likely to really get at what our forefathers thought about themselves and their world.
As a matter of fact, I’m having a hard time coming up with any government action prior to the late eighteenth century which can plausibly be described as having the best interests of the middle class at heart. If anything, governments before the modern period spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep the middle class under control, preserving aristocratic priorities and influence. Now it turns out that this proved impossible, and since the victors write the history, you’ll find a lot of stories like the one you mention, arguing that history was obviously designed to produce us the pinnacle of All that is Good and Right with the world.
Well I call bullshit. We’re a “culminating chapter” only in the sense that we’re the most recent. But there’s no reason to believe that any government in history did anything on purpose to bring us about. Even the Founders were rather skeptical of the middle class–that’s another story entirely, but it’s true. All historical actors have their own reasons for doing things, and the fact that they aren’t our reasons, indeed, that their reasons may not even be comprehensible to us, is no justification for ignoring them.
I have a hard time buying Ryan’s notion as well. Even if the historical evolution of centralized power diagrammed by Ryan were valid, it is irrelevant: the modern centralized state and the execrable collusion between government and business, public and private has nothing whatsoever to do with protecting the integrity of a “Crown” or with any concern over ensuring that “the right people” are doing “the right things.” Today, power is employed in a largely ignoble manner, intended to ensure the stability of power. Power for power’s sake, as it were, and “the people” are, for the most part, the losers in this cooperation between two colossi.
Another point: power is not, in fact, a “zero-sum” game. Power everywhere–in both private and public realms–has waxed in strength and concentration, and the competition between factions and ambitions envisioned by Madison is, today, largely chimerical. In other words, I hardly think that further increasing (or even simply redirecting) public power specifically will do anything to limit private power.
That said, do local communities need subsidization? I doubt it. Authentic localism of the sort yearned for here thrives (thrived) precisely because power and resources are not being funneled in from a government afar. Ultimately, the solution is to reduce government power and subsidies for big business (would Wal-Mart survive without the interstate? I doubt it). But, as we are constantly reminded, this isn’t even a viable suggestion, apparently: try convincing the American public that they don’t need the interstates. But I doubt the possibility of better suggestions.
I invoked Che because he understood that class war is the only way to bring down a centrally managed “benign” power. Or in the American context, drawing on our own past, we might invoke Tom the Tinker.
But now I have likely tripped enough red flags in the surveillance state to get myself on some list somewhere.
But unless you are ready to start blowing things up (I am not, and besides, my religion forbids it), such talk is just school boy machismo. But there are a growing number of dispossessed who are willing, or will become willing upon the right set of triggering events.
This, by the way, is the only argument for further statism a la RAF to which I am at all sympathetic. I.e., that we must keep the masses dependent and satisfied with the state’s largess just enough to keep them from slitting our throats.
Which if you think about it is a fitting poetic reversal of Ryan’s law and order state.
Like I said, everything depends on whose ox is getting gored.
Caleb, I think you’re actually not far from right in that characterism of statism, and I think it fits pretty well with pre-modern concepts too. The masses were largely to be kept under control through whatever means available, because 1) they can be a problem when they want to be, 2) they’re kind of necessary for a functioning society, particularly an agrarian one, and 3) they have an annoying tendency to get killed by Vikings unless corralled.
I don’t think the current state of affairs is much of a reversal. If anything, I think we’re headed back towards a more aristocratic society, only instead of a system of mutual obligation, it’s based on a fetishization of individual rights, e.g. instead of it being the duty of the king to protect his people and the duty of the people to obey the king, it’s the right of the meritocrats to pay themselves ginormous bonuses with taxpayer dollars and the right of the elderly to be doused with money in the form of Medicare. Actually, come to think of it, that is something of a reversal, but I don’t think it’s the one you had in mind.
But I think how you characterize my description of the development of the modern state has little to do with whether or not the free market is an inherently liberal concept, and if so, what you think about that. I certainly can’t find many examples of a free market before the 18th century, in no small part because I can’t find many examples of a real market before the 18th century.
Rob, history is almost never “irrelevant.” I think it’s particularly relevant in this case, because people in this discussion, including you, are working with dramatically ahistorical concepts of the distinction between government and business. You seem to think that it was the rise of centralized government which caused the “collusion” between the two, but I’d argue that if you look at history, any distinction between the two is only possible because of centralized government. Irrelevant you say? Then you’re operating with a definition of relevancy which I don’t care to use.
Ryan, I’m not arguing that history is irrelevant (quite the contrary!), but only that your particular anecdote from history is irrelevant. As Patrick pointed out, the modern state before us today has little of substance to do with any form of government which existed prior to the 18th century. The revolutions of England, France, America rendered irrelevant to the modern state any form of government centered around a “Crown.” As Weber demonstrated, the modern centralized state is a result of decidedly bourgeois concerns, quite the opposite of a government originating in a monarchy. The modern state is qualitatively different from the monarchical states of Europe during the time periods you mention. Thus, it isn’t very instructive–in other words, it’s irrelevant–for our purposes. As you say, monopoly, government collusion with business, etc., are indeed old concepts, but their present forms are uniquely modern. To repeat words used above, Wal-Mart is qualitatively different from the East India Company.
In keeping with FPR’s tag-line, we ought to stop talking about markets and instead about marketplaces.
The reversal I had in mind is that first the state stamps out crime, then it subsidizes it in order to manage it. It’s a short road from here to kleptocracy (a road we took one giant leap on with the 16thA), and the more inept the central powers become, the more this is what our local jurisdictions will default to, with local strongmen running protection and other rackets (perversely, the 16thA contributes to this lawlessness — who would you rather pay your protection $ to, DC or City Hall?), especially in urban areas, but everywhere really. This is nothing new really.
Rob, Weber is a sociologist, not an historian. His is certainly an interesting trope, but it’s bad history. Many a graduate thesis has been built on debunking Weber’s historiography. He’s important enough that you can’t ignore him, but he isn’t viewed by the historical community as having any real insight into how things actually went down anymore.
Furthermore, if you spent any time studying the history, you’d be surprised by just how much we do, in fact, have in common with pre-modern forms of government, even monarchies. Indeed, it was not until the 1930s that there was any real break with a legal system that extends back to the 12th and 13th centuries. History is still with us far more deeply than you seem to appreciate.
Wal-Mart may be qualitatively different from the East India Company. I have no doubt that it is. But I don’t really care, because that isn’t my point. My point is that, again, you are suggesting that collusion between government and business is a product of centralized modern states. I argue that any functional separation between government and business is a product of centralized modern states. Historically, the only examples of commercial ventures in which state actors did not have a significant ownership state are solely to be found in large, centralized modern states. So, in effect, your position contains an inherent, unresolved contradiction.
What say you?
I don’t mind disagreements (I consider it an honor to be spanked by the likes of Caleb), but it really rubs me the wrong way when someone invokes their superior learning to designate as “bullshit” something that they know (and admit to knowing) nothing about. I’m willing to grant that your claim to a full exploration legal history may grant you some insight into some things (you certainly like to exclaim your expert knowledge), but what I’ve read of your contributions thus far reminds me of Socrates’s conclusion after having questioned the craftsmen – they knew a great deal about their own subjects, and assumed therefore that they knew everything.
As far as I can tell, you are claiming that until fairly recent times (or is it always?) the powerful have oppressed the less powerful, but at least nowadays people are secure in and outside their homes. I guess I can buy at least the first half of that argument. I think you could use a suppler view of the nature of that power, however; the very locus of power, as well as its justification, might highly influence the form of the particular relations between the powerful and less powerful. Jouvenel is valuable in helping to see that the rise of the modern State was justified in the name of “liberating” the masses, but in fact subjected them in practice to a more extensive form of mastery and control than the variegated complex of authorities that once governed them (making us more secure also opened the way to extensive insinuation in our lives in ways that were once unimaginable. For example – to refer back to something Caleb suggested – the 16th and 17 amendment occur when they do when the Federal Government has attained its preeminent position following the Civil War and the rise of Progressivism). Often early State actors would use covers or excuses (“pole cats and foxes,” as Locke pointed out) for the expansion of power (this is the sort of thing that would often show up in legal history, I’m willing to bet), where the actual issue would not be the official or “legal” issue at hand. I am all for being informed by legal history, but it may not tell this entire story (any more than studying Supreme Court opinions would tell you all that much about American history).
I’m not sure this line of discussion is helping answer the questions I hoped to pose, though perhaps it’s inevitable that one’s assumptions will be challenged (which is fine). Perhaps all this amounts to saying that there’s no real hope for a viable movement toward localization that won’t be preceded by class warfare. This leads me to wonder what we really think we’re doing on this and similar venues. I guess I wanted to think we could be contributing to fostering in one possible future, but maybe it’s just a way to pass the time before the deluge.
It was inevitable that “big government is bad” would quickly insert itself into this post by Patrick and I have some sympathy with this not least because of the Principal-Agent issue where politicians in theory elected to look after our interests have been compromised from the start because of the need to find lots of money for the high campaign costs of election and re-election. However, we ought to unpick this issue of “big bad government” a bit more carefully. It is in theory in the interest of the media and other businesses owned by rich elites to be interested in hanging on to their wealth and power. Accordingly, they will search for and help develop an ideology that will help it to do this. The media will then use its communication channels to persuade the electorate of the merits of this ideology too. The current ideology started to be developed over fifty years ago and it was partly recycled by Friedrich Hayek from the laissez faire capitalism of the 19th century with its predominant emphasis on market fundamentalism. The ideology’s name is neoliberalism. I do not intend to go into the detail of this ideology assuming it is pretty well known by FPR contributors. However, I think it fair to say that in its early stages of development post Second World War neoliberalism had merit in deconstructing the wisdom of going whole hog, or even partially, for centralized state planning and nationalization like the Soviet Union or China or indeed countries in Europe. However, rich elite supporters of the ideology whilst telling us all that most of our problems are caused by “big government” do in fact surreptitiously and hypocritically corrupt the government and use it to gain advantage for themselves just as they have always done and thereby give us further cause because of its current excess to despise “big bad government.”
Consequently as a first start the answer to the unpicking does not lie in rejecting “big bad government” as neoliberalism partly does and fundamentalist libertarianism certainly does. Nor does it lie in cherry picking an ideology as the Reagan and second Bush administrations did when they were in fact Keynesian in practice racking up and allowing huge public and private deficits. The answer partly lies in seeing that all means to reform corruption are used, for example, blind trusts for campaign contributions and campaign fund redeemable coupons for politicians allocated to voters to spend on candidates and parties of their choice. It entails looking at ways to resolve the Principal-Agent problem. This means greater use of subsidiarity through referenda, and internet voting like the Swiss, and which to some extent we use, to devolve decision making as far as possible to the local level. It means giving capital stakes and equal control by the workforce in businesses currently controlled by elites. It involves taking a look at how trusts with their opportunity to legally prescribe rules of operation and objectives can be used in a democratically accountable way to neutralize the see-sawing of politician’s ideologies and power seeking.
Above all these, however, it means taking a cool hard look at any ideology that comes along and asking about the democratic theory content. Use your search engines by typing in “neoliberal democratic theory” and see what you come up with. Also try replacing “neoliberal” with “libertarian” and “communist.” With neoliberalism you really struggle to find anything until you come up with something like this:-
Here the University of Oslo authors, Dag Einar Thorsen and Amund Lie, declare on page 15 of their PDF that neoliberalism is not a complete ideology and is silent with regard to the question whether there should be democracy and free exchange of political ideas. They also quote the view contained in David Harvey’s very revealing book “A Brief History of Neoliberalism.” that neoliberalism can be put into effect in authoritarian, or totalitarian, countries because of the absence, or weakness, of democratic theory and China is in fact a case in point being run on an ideological fusion of neoliberalism and communism.
Of course, it is well known that theoretically the conservatism of the Republican Party was substantially replaced by neoliberalism ideas when Ronald Reagan was elected president. What is not so well known is that Reagan was a keen libertarian, well at least in theory. Here is Reagan in interview:-
The full and revealing interview with Reagan in the libertarian magazine “Reason” is here:-
Reagan somewhat undermines his recommendation for a neoliberal/libertarian ideology in this interview and he certainly undermined this ideology in office with regard to deficits if not in giving huge tax breaks to the rich and attempting to destroy unions and commoditize nearly everything in sight. Of course, if his enthusiasm for the ruling class elites had not been so great and he had some understanding of the role of democracy his enthusiasm for libertarianism would also not have been so enthusiastic, especially if he had read articles (thrown up by a somewhat fruitless search for “libertarian democratic theory) similar to this:-
Using your search engine to find “communist democratic theory” actually throws up quite a bit of information which of course gets substantially negated when you realize that “dictatorship of the proletariat” actually translates into not allowing the proles, no matter how frustrated, the right to pursue implementation of their wishes and policy ideas by forming alternative parties to the Communist Party and having free and fair elections. Of course, as the revolution progressed this also evolved into a clamp down on the free exchange of political ideas, until the Communist Party leader, Deng Xiaoping, decried in China that free markets might not be such a bad idea after all (shades of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”). This opened the flood gates for ideas on different methods of financing and managing production if not for alternative political ideas for governance.
So to sum up, where does America, and indeed most of the world, currently stand with regard to its political belief system? It stands I would suggest bewildered like the Republican Party (and to a large extent the Democratic Party) not understanding why its ideology of the last thirty years, neoliberalism, blew up the economy. This bewilderment is based I believe on two things. Firstly, the neoliberals could see nothing wrong in rich elites screwing the less well off to regain their wealth after the redistributive era of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and the naïve belief that this would not lead to a super debt bubble that would ultimately burst and nearly crash the financial system. Secondly, neoliberals do not have much understanding of human nature. They do not realize that most of us continuously operate on a spectrum of self-concern and other-concern moving from one extreme to the other, and that with each individual doing this it will inevitably create conflicts which long human experience shows are best resolved peaceably through the use of democratic mechanisms and institutions. In other words neoliberals do not understand the importance of democratic theory and so too do many of us fail in this having been brain washed by the right wing media! It is a sad comment that throughout the world it can now be said that many countries only have “Democracies” for Consumption and not Democracies for Democracy and Sustainable Consumption. Or as Karl Polanyi more eloquently put it on page 73 in his 1944 book “The Great Transformation.” :-
“To allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment, indeed, even of the amount and use of purchasing power, would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity ‘labor power’ cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting also the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity.”
Ryan’s point could be put another way I imagine, which is that liberal modernity’s weedy genius was the manner in which it articulated a “public” sphere and a “private” sphere. This plays itself in all kinds of ways, not the least of which is economic (but also religiously, morally, etc.). Prior to the liberal state, there was no such thing as public and private, but rather common and proper. I.e., all things are “common” but some things are “proper” only to segments of society. The crown is common to all but proper to the king. This is Bolingbroke’s country party of peasants and aristocrats, which survived in America for a time, especially in the free prairie populist states. To this history is where I look for any hope of what might be possible still (then I sober up).
That Bolingbroke and his Opposition appeared to later radicals with a radical face is neither surprising nor difficult to reconcile with his basic conservatism. Part of the ideological dynamic of his politics was “populist,” even though an early and most aristocratic populist manifestation, and inherent in populism is a force at once intensely radical and reactionary. It is always “the people,” be they yeoman farmers, urban small traders, or failing gentry who are being victimized by the small conspiratorial financial interests. In Bolingbroke’s view, these conspirators had captured the government; the King, ministers, and legislature spoke at their bidding. Bolingbroke’s Opposition inevitably took on a popular tone in its perpetual plaint that the government and its ministers and legislature were alienated from the people, the true source of power. There was, of course, much more to Bolingbroke’s Opposition than this. What concerned him particularly was that the conspiracy of government and vested interest had removed “the people’s” natural leadership from power. In defending the one, however, he often had to defend the other; for “the people” and the aristocratic leadership faced the same enemy. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle
So, let’s face it at last, we are talking about class issues again, and opposition to the managed state is, de facto, opposition to the middle class, it’s bourgeois tastes, needs, and flat, uninspiring desires to be safe and warm and well fed and freedom be damned–I want my MTV! I submit this is what makes our schizophrenic politics of left vs right so confusing and unsatisfying. Try telling a middle class republican he can’t have his toy soldiers in the middle east or his 85mph interstate highway for easy visits to the grandkinds (and a quick getaway!). Then try telling the middle class democrats they can’t have subsidized education options for every last child and so on. It’s all just shuffling of the feet before the ever expanding trough all the way to the horizon. When people look up long enough to see their neighbor, all they tend to see is someone horning in on the just vacated space at the trough–no you don’t! That’s today’s politics in a nutshell.
Your chastisement is well taken. I do indeed have a rather narrow area of expertise, and Jouvenel is someone I’m planning on looking into as time permits. But I’d suggest that the current subject has far more to do with pre-modern and early modern legal history (and Supreme Court opinions are a better tutor of American history) than you may realize. Watch that you aren’t vulnerable to your own critique.
Ultimately, and unfortunately, I think I’d agree with the assessment you pose in your final paragraph, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. Localism is all well and good, and I myself keenly feel my own lack of rootedness, but I don’t see much to be done about it beyond that afforded by the range of personal choices available to us. But even that goes against the very concept of received tradition, does it not? Any serious concept of localism would seem to be severely undermined if it were something one chose of one’s own volition. Aren’t we just playing around? I don’t know how to resolve this, which bothers me a lot.
Believe it or not, I am open to, and indeed am actively searching for suggestions, but I’ll resist those which don’t do justice to history.
Thanks for this generous response. As for me, I’m well aware of my many limits and shortcomings, which is one reason I posed the question of “what is to be done,” rather than asserted a solution (that said, I hope that there’s some room for improvement in current conditions, but I’ve admitted that I’m not sanguine).
Your perplexity about the way forward is profoundly shared by everyone here, I think. And, you’re right about the need to get the history right, in large part because that helps to tell us what’s possible given the current set of arrangements. But history will always be only part of the story, at least if we insist upon the reality of human freedom. My own view is that an armed revolution would be at least as, if not more, catastrophic than the current arrangements (among other things, they’d be slaughtered by the modern nation state, let’s not fool ourselves). I think there’s little choice to work on several fronts – preserving and defending our localities where they may exist, making choices that may strengthen those resources, and – following the thread of this original post – exploring and possibly advancing changes in the current arrangements that might incrementally lead to some salutary changes.
While we’ve been speaking in very broad strokes in these comments, the post began with a citation to “Will” who was citing an earlier post I’d written about various ways that German law seemed to defend aspects of localism that many of us would regard as enviable. Defined town boundaries. Nearby farmland. Fewer chain stores, more family-owned enterprises (though that’s changing); less car-centered living, etc. We can talk until we are blue in the face about whether the origins of the modern state prevent certain options from being on the table, but in the meantime it seems to me that some things (maybe only at the margin, but I’ll take it) could be done to foster and support local ways of living. John Medaille offers a necessary cautionary note early in the comments – to the effect that very bad things have been done in the name of local benefit – but even that said, perhaps – if a strong case could be made, as is being made here – salutary change at the margin is possible. Unlikely, but possible. Otherwise, the only option is to buy seeds, guns and land. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t hedge our bets…
You guys is smart!
At the risk of not angering anyone, I suggest that if we’d care to consider the ‘best’ form of gummint we’d do well to turn to the south and examine the ante-bellum aristocratic class that ‘ruled’ within a republic on the basis of a Christian-centered noblesse oblige.
These folks, the wealthiest, the best educated, possessing fairly decent morals, were chosen by the rather thinly populated bourgeoisie class and the small scale farmer to lead them politically and commercially. And, of course, these people were chosen to fill the officer corps of the heroic southern armies, where they died, unlike their northern counterpart, in the front, with their men.
And, thanks to Lincoln and his barbarian horde of Yankee invaders that uniquely American conservatism was put to the sword. This country lost its last chance for freedom on that fateful day in April, 1865, when Bobby Lee surrendered his command.
Hmm. If we’re talking about our specific situation here in the U. S., I think it’s not a little insane to trust our federal government–the one that we have in reality–to subsidize localism well. It has continually demonstrated its inability to enforce existing laws and regulations with respect to the financial industry despite the outraged cries of the populace. Our President, who received the most cash from Goldman Sachs out of all the candidates in 2008, questions why we should cap banking executive pay when we don’t do so for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or NFL athletes–and this after all the bailouts. We have a company whose influence peddling has all but proved that Mr. Davidson’s historical illustrations of state-business amalgamation continue revoltingly in the present.
So, for us, I don’t think it would be a good idea. Maybe in 40 years if our educational systems improve and produce a wiser populace.
In the abstract, “subsidizing” localism depends on the nature and purpose of the government, which at some level is to say, “What are you willing to throw your neighbors in jail over if you can’t persuade them?” This is a perspective I don’t think would-be Masters of the (Policy) World think enough about when they feverishly outline their tax policies in the name of some abstract ideal. Personally, I would rather keep such jailable offenses to a minimum and build cultural institutions and practices on the basis of shared loves by the grace of God, willingly entered into.
Ryan Davidson’s makes some good points and reminds me that even good ole subsidiarity Switzerland feels the need for a central state!
I think, if anything, your historical example goes to prove that there are some local things which are not so good. Some local things just suck. That most recent experiment with an aristocratic organization of society seems to demonstrate that the only way localism scales beyond about three miles is through institutionalized slavery the like of which the world has never seen.
I don’t even need to introduce race as an issue here. I don’t care who the slaves are, the fact is that the South could not have existed without them. Whether or not I think this is justifiable–and I make no claims either way–that’s a pretty massive cost that needs to be factored in, if such a thing is even possible.
If there’s anything history teaches the serious student, it should be that any time someone comes along and says “Hey, they got it right then and there, we should do that!” either isn’t looking all that closely at their proposed solution or isn’t entirely serious. At least one of these certainly seems to be the case here.
There’s another possibility that hasn’t been considered or suggested. The rise of the modern state may, in fact, be traceable to something completely outside human intention: the Black Death. This dramatically reshaped the face of late medieval Europe. For example, the end of serfdom is largely attributable to the fact that enough serfs died to make the old manor system no longer viable. A lot of the trends which wound up producing the modern state can be traced to the changes which resulted from Europe losing 30-ish percent of its population. The effects of this really can’t be underemphasized, and there’s a strong argument to be made that a lot of what happened in the next few centuries, legally, politically, and culturally, was simply a drawn out series of attempts to deal with that dislocation.
The upside of this is that the current state of affairs may not be anyone’s “fault.” The downside is that it suggests that humanity’s control over its own affairs is far more limited than we might choose to believe.
This is a powerful point you make here:
Prior to the liberal state, there was no such thing as public and private, but rather common and proper. I.e., all things are “common” but some things are “proper” only to segments of society. The crown is common to all but proper to the king. This is Bolingbroke’s country party of peasants and aristocrats, which survived in America for a time, especially in the free prairie populist states.
It strikes me as powerful because I take your comment to suggest–whether you intended it or not–that the sort of liberal state whose egalitarian benefits I think to be important was itself dependent upon the invention of a “public sphere,” as opposed to that which was considered “private.” Which puts me in a difficult bind, theoretically speaking, as I am convinced that the move by early liberals like Locke and others to thinking conceptually about a “public square,” however equal the goods within which may be distributing, was actually a radically undemocratic move, one which shifted the terrain of Western thought in an almost definitive way in the direction of individualism and consumerism and hence economic inequality, rather than towards collective social possibilities. Here’s how Sheldon Wolin put it (which I quoted in an old post of mine):
The natural condition, [Locke] tells us, is “full of fears and continual dangers,” and “the greater part” of its inhabitants, far from being rational interpreters of the law of nature…are described as “no strict observers of equity and justice.” Men are thus impelled towards civil society because theu are anxiety-ridden, “uncertain” about their rights….The upshot of Locke’s argument was to obscure the political character of civil society. Its political qualities did not appear ab nihilo; they had been anticipated by the political form given the ideal state of nature. What can be said to be genuinely new political elements in civil society were introduced via the explicit agreement whereby men accepted a common body of rules and promised to obey the decisions of the majority. But more important was the minimal character of the political order. By this is meant not that the powers and jurisdictionn of government were closely restricted, for Locke’s language allowed generous scope for government action, but rather that Locke initiated a way of thinking in which society, rather than the political order, was the predominant influence. Instead of asking the traditional question: what type of political order is required if society is to be maintained? Locke turned the question around to read: what social arrangements will insure the continuity of government?
The problem with liberalism–or rather, one of the problems with liberalism–is that it presents the worried, rights-focused individual as the fundamental social building block: it’s a social given, and so “politics” is reduced to a question of how to arrange those building blocks so as to maintain a government–a market-friendly one, of course–which will protect our precious rights. I don’t want any part of that. But I do want some kind of justice and egalitarianism, and it may be that, in a fallen world (as both the Bible and Rousseau tell us) where mutuality and affection is so limited, beginning with rights and the public/private split is the only way to construct laws and individually enforceable norms that approximate such a state; to not have that, to return to Bolingbroke’s world, is to admit that, unfortunately, sometimes the aristocrats will be violent bastards, and the peasants will just have to lump it. I don’t want to admit that, and I prefer to believe that there can be some kind of democratic fairness (and therefore, yes, an expectation and enforcement of democratic fairness) that respects and draws upon and works within natural and local communities, none of which on their own need be “leveled” in some particularly egregious way. Some version of communitarian or republican freedom, which sees such as an equally available non-domination. But maybe I’m wrong…which, perhaps, just leads us back to Patrick’s original question: since we surely do live in a world much leveled by Locke’s liberal bifurcated capitalism, perhaps we’ve built out of ourselves as social blocks much too much to be able to re-introduce in our lives at this point such different ideas, and instead we’ll just have to, as you suggest, hang on until the whole beast collapses, if it ever does.
On a less-pretentiously theoretical note, how is your book coming? If some of the stuff you mention on Bolingbroke is in it, I’m even more excited to read it when you’re done.
Excelllent thread, many long, thoughtful posts. I’ll be brief. Re Ryan up the thread: Yes, New York City is safer today because Rudy Giuliani, a former U.S. prosecutor, ran for mayor on the theme that it was possible for NYC to tackle crime and quality of life issues, and win. He won, and the city won. I don’t know what role improved technology played in this transformatio; the emphasis was on local beat cops, tactical crime squads, and improved face-to-face communication within the NYPD. Mapping the city, taking out criminal activity block by block like Marines hitting Fallujah. Also, a certain amount of, um, racial profiling.
To the original point of the post–The Federal Government has made available hundreds of millions in transporation funds that the city cannot use because certain powerful politicians did not go along with congestion pricing in NYC. So the problem was local and state gummint unable to accept the largess of federal gummint. Sometimes you just can’t give away money. There was newspaper noise about a year ago of the city installing 3,000 additional security cameras downtown. Haven’t heard a thing lately. Nor is there much progress in rebuilding the WTC–too many squables among the power players; gummint and non-gummint gumming up the works.
[…] was reading Deneen’s Subsidizing Localism over at FPR a few minutes ago and it reminded me of one of the problems I have with the current […]
I am ever so grateful that you didn’t bring up the question of African chattel slavery and the American south, explicitly.
Your response reminds me of Dr. Clyde Wilson’s comment on the matter in his essay, “Agrarian Conservatism,:”
“There is, indeed, a certain childish willfulness in the American mind that insists on chastising persons of other ages for not being like them, or else pretending that they were. Which is a certain way not to learn anything from history.”
But what we must remember is that the ante-bellum South was local, decentralized, Christian and republican whether or not New England slavers had brought captured Africans to Charleston, New Orleans, etc., and though it was not, as you clearly illustrate, without its flaws, we might argue that the American South was the last bastion of American conservatism.
And Ryan, I’ll take your criticism of the Southern aristocracy under consideration but I’m sure you understand that we’re talking about the noblest, brightest, and most honorable Americans in our history: Washington, Lee, Jefferson, Randolph, Calhoun, Jackson, Madison. And, I’ll happily put these gentlemen up against your list of levelers, political hacks, and consolidators any day.
“My own view is that an armed revolution would be at least as, if not more, catastrophic than the current arrangements (among other things, they’d be slaughtered by the modern nation state, let’s not fool ourselves). I think there’s little choice to work on several fronts – preserving and defending our localities where they may exist, making choices that may strengthen those resources, and – following the thread of this original post – exploring and possibly advancing changes in the current arrangements that might incrementally lead to some salutary changes.”
And, you think “revolution” might get us all slaughtered? Well, I’m sure glad Washington and the boys didn’t think like that! And, I really, really hope my grandchildren can forgive me for sitting on my backside while the central gummint takes more and more of our liberties. And, Pat, you know better than I that if BO and his epigonic Marxists get socialized medicine we’re toast…and, yet here we sit whining like a bunch of Mackenzies!
Hello, is anyone there?
I think the relevant example may not be Washington against Britain in the 1770s, but the South against the North circa 1865. The heavy armaments are all on one side. But, hey, go for it – but don’t be surprised if you end up like those Southern officers whose gentlemanly conduct in leading the charge you greatly admire!
All seriousness, you’re right to admonish grown ups not to sit on our backsides and allow the (further) mortgaging of our children’s future (and, to be even-handed, this was hardly BO’s exclusive domain – consider the trajectory of the deficit under the previous administration, and his broader policy of socialism for the rich). The difficulty lies in knowing exactly what to do. Short of rushing the tanks, I’m casting about here for ideas.
Pat, yes, yes you’re right!
I’ve been overpowered by Schelling on ‘freedom’ and all that that entails, and besides these are things in this day and age are best not discussed in forms such as this.
Interestingly enough, I’m not really sure what the military would do! I suppose much of it would depend on the when and why.
I agree with you re: Bush’s failures, however, I’m concerned that BO et al have a program in mind that will alter, forever, this nation?
I’m watching closely what you and the others are saying, I’m with the program but if I can’t throw a stone in the pond from time to time I can’t sleep good!
I actually spent some time over the past few years dealing with the Founders as such, particularly their thoughts on how they viewed the society they were self-consciously creating.
My ultimate conclusion was that Hamilton was the best of the bunch. Most of the other Founders were aiming for a society that never has and never could exist, i.e. a society governed by aristocrats without an established system for creating aristocrats. They hoped that as soon as they did away with primogeniture that a new “natural aristocracy” of men of letters would spontaneously emerge. The Articles of Confederation were essentially created under the assumption that the best sort of men would just naturally come out of the woodwork as soon as the British yoke was cast off.
Well, we all know how that worked.
I think the best solution I can come up with at this point is a very, very old one:
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
I’m finding myself more and more with the liberal project as a whole. A society constructed out of atomistic, rights-infused individuals has no cohesion and is bound to dissolve.
It is, however, possible to get something like egalitarianism without making that liberal move. It’s inherent in Christian commitments. Specifically, that all men are created in the image of God. We don’t have rights per se–only God has rights–but we owe the good treatment of our neighbor to God. Take that out, and the whole thing falls apart. All you’re left with is “That’s not nice!” which I suggest is an insufficiently robust point from which to ground a functional polity.
Thing is though: this commitment doesn’t guarantee anything like republican freedom. Freedom, under this system, isn’t actually all that important. What’s important is that you be the right kind of person, not that you are free to make your own choices. Christianity seems to place, historically anyways, precious little value on the ability to cleave for one’s self. If anything, it’s the old teaching of the Church that you do not in fact have that right.
There’s a reason the Roman church opposed most forms of representative government until the middle of the twentieth century. It’s because republican ideals are really, really hard to line up with traditionally Christian ways of thinking about the nature of the human person unless you swallow the liberal project entirely–which I’d argue the Roman hierarchy has basically done.
Ryan, dude, you’re a Hamiltonian. Doggone it I knew something wasn’t right! That explains it all.
And, the Art. of Conf. are much superior document to the Constitution what with the executive thing.
Hey, no hard feelings. That’s why we’re here! You figure I haven’t a clue and I know you don’t.
Thanks for the exchange, loved it!
DW, where have you been, Ryan’s a fun guy!
Pat, we have some small appreciation for that first generation, the founders, when we come to the abyss and look over. It takes great courage to jump, in a Kierkegaardian sense, and that’s why I love those men.
Bob, you do know that you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too, yes? The Founders themselves ditched the Articles of Confederation for what they considered to be good and compelling reasons, so you don’t get to both idolize them and their cast off option without looking silly. I suspect you’re far more taken with the legend surrounding them than the men themselves.
But I for one, have less quixotic things to do, so that’s as far as I go down that particular rabbit hole.
This is undoubtedly one of the most enlightening conversations on FPR, most likely because I stayed out of it. I learned much, although some of the things I learned are quite paradoxical, such as the claim that the antithesis of state power was a state that enforced slavery. Hmm. I’ll have to think about that one. What I think supporters of the antebellum south forget is that not only was slavery dehumanizing for blacks, it was devastating for the small farms that had to compete with “free” labor. By keeping the black man down, the Southern Oligarchs kept the majority of white men down as well. The Souths tragedy is not that it lost the Civil War, but that it won it. Not the first one, but the second one, the one that concluded with the election of Hayes and the withdrawal of Northern troops, leaving the South free to reduce the black man to the virtual slavery of sharecropping, and to keep the poor white busy with worrying about the blacks. For 100 years, the South would remain an economic backwater.
But as for Patrick’s original point, there is certainly a conundrum in that we must enlist the state’s aid in arranging for the demise of the state. This requires that the state subsidize local institutions capable of opposing the state. However, since the state is the servant of the oligarchs, this is unlikely since they are not about to give up power, and the state is the organ of that power. The last chance of that happening was with the election of Ronald Reagan, but that hope died quicker than Obama’s. It wasn’t long before Bill Kristol, in the pages of the Weekly Standard was informing the hoi-polloi that he and his friends had fooled them all. “You say you want a devolution,” he stated, and then gave the reasons why, having captured the federal power, they were not about to give it up. On reading it, I remember thinking, “Conservatism died today.”
However, while the oligarchs won’t give up power, it seems to me that they are about to commit (financial) suicide, and both their power and that of their state (let us be clear about who the real proprietors are) may be on the wane. What is needed is local institutions capable of surviving the storm that is already upon us. Planting a tomato is an act of resistance. Teaching your own children creates counter-cultural commandos. It’s time to “land our intellectual marines in little magazines.” And Blogs.
One thing should be made clear: while we oppose the state, we do not oppose government. In fact, it is closer to the truth to say that we oppose the state because we support government; the modern state is always an oligarchy, and as Chesterton pointed out, an oligarchy “isn’t a rule, it’s a riot, a riot of the rich.” While there is great shame in being a slave, there is none in being a citizen, and only as citizens do we really accomplish anything.
In my view, both the author’s original piece and most of the comments posted here play an insidious (I mean this in its best sense) role: they reinforce the power of the state by framing the question in terms of the state’s power. (Even the term localism serves this end. Gummint is current with idealizations such as “localism,” but it has a harder time fostering local communities.)
First, too much credit is given to the powers that be, whether public or private. Too much is made of the advantages of big business (see Michael Shuman’s The Small-Mart Revolution). And too much is made of the power of government to do anything at all (to say nothing of its power to do what it intends to do).
Second, if power centers are eroded and/or demolished only by stronger opposing powers, I submit as that stronger power the customs inherited, engendered, passed on in the home and in the neighborhood. They have the ability to undermine powers, public or private, especially when they are not expressly trying to do so (the rub). There are myriad reasons why local customs either failed or fail to currently hold sway, reasons which have been detailed in the pages of FPR, not the least of which is the penchant for ignoring the native and local roots of problems and instead trying to stave off the symptoms with nationalized policies and initiatives. There is still room in this strand for someone to argue that active government support undermines local features.
This is not to say that there is no room for top-down solutions. Urban planners and landscape architects can change whole generations of people in a locale merely by mandating that buildings be four floors with the bottom zoned commercial and the top three zoned residential. As a result, residents walk the streets, talk to each other, and, maybe, care a little more about each other. Look to this kind of humble policy rather than trying to wield the full bulk of our central government.
This comment most eloquently sums up the conundrum, and gives voice to my sense that while the current State is the problem, government (at some level) must be part of the solution. It also pithily points out that any such solution is supremely unlikely. This intervention clarifies my own thinking, and has provided excellent summation and clarification to today’s excellent discussion.
I can’t say as I have too much to add to the discussion, comprehensive as it’s been. However, perhaps participants and readers will take heart in knowing that the some of the intellectual progenitors of many authors on this site faced the same dilemma Dr Deneen first noted. The similarities, in terms of the situation faced and options available, are striking.
John Ransom writes to conclude the Agrarian “Statement of Principles” in I’ll Take My Stand (circa 1930):
“These principles do not intend to be very specific in proposing any practical measures. How may the little agrarian community resist the Chamber of Commerce of its county seat, which is always trying to import some foreign industry that cannot be assimilated to the life-pattern of the community? Just what must the Southern leaders do to defend the traditional Southern life ? How may the Southern and the Western agrarians unite for effective action? Should the agrarian forces try to capture the Democratic party, which historically is so closely affiliated with the defense of individualism, the small community, the state, the South ? Or must the agrarians–even the Southern ones–abandon the Democratic party to its fate and try a new one? What legislation could most profitably be championed by the powerful agrarians in the Senate of the United States? What anti-industrial measures might promise to stop the advances of industrialism, or even undo some of them, with the least harm to those concerned? What policy should be pursued by the educators who have a tradition at heart? These and many other questions are of the greatest importance, but they cannot be answered here.
For, in conclusion, this much is clear: If a community, or a section, or a race, or an age, is groaning under industrialism, and well aware that it is an evil dispensation, it must find the way to throw it off. To think that this cannot be done is pusillanimous. And if the whole community, section, race, or age thinks it cannot be done, then it has simply lost its political genius and doomed itself to impotence.
Anachronistic appeals to the Democratic Party aside, insofar as Ransom’s group shares many intentions, friends, enemies, and a notion of the human good with those at FPR, we can at least begin to see that the dilemmas and fears–both practical and theoretical–worried about in this post were worried about by those who believed in those things that many on this site claim to believe in, long before most contributors (not all, as I’m not sure of Mr Cheeks’ age) to this site took their first free breaths. Which is simply to say that, if there’s nothing else to be agreed on here, there’s at least this: you’re in good company.
John Médaille hits it on the nail again by quoting Chesterton. Unless you are a capitalist with capital that globally roams the planet to secure you a safe inflation and devaluation proof independent income you are a slave, or more precisely a wage, or government social security slave, with only one get out of slavery card. Why do I say this? Because elite control of capital creates slaves. Capital entraps labor. Labor needs to entrap capital. Right now under global neoliberalism your status even as a slave is insecure. This is because as capital roams the planet looking for the best returns the best conditions right now are in China where an authoritarian and currency manipulating regime creates the best investment opportunities. These are increasingly destroying jobs in America. Largely American capital is re-creating those jobs in China and not just low skill jobs but high skill ones in science and information technology. So what is your get out of slavery card? It’s democracy! It’s your right to unite with your fellow Americans to gain control of government and put an end to being a slave. Can you do this at the local state level? No you can’t. You have to do it at central state level and this is why much of the diatribe against the central state in these posts is missing the point. Gaining control of the central state from neoliberal capitalist elite supporting parties is absolutely fundamental to the freedom of the majority of Americans! Once this is done and anti-slavery “locks” put in place then should you start to look at subsidiarity policies vis-à-vis central and local state.
Russell, I think you are zeroing in on the crux of the matter. Bollingbroke is a fascinating figure, and a neglected one for all of us decentralizers, and yes, I do hope to draw a great deal on his “country party” and comparisons to early plains populist movements … but as for my progress …
Whaddya mean the old rulers never did anything fer the middle class…That big strapping Coliseum kept the middling classes occupied for some time.
You are quite right that we ought to be discussing a “marketplace” and not a “market”. Unfortunately, the agora has gone electric and with the benefit of artificial intelligence, transformed itself into an extra-national vicarious agora, free of the constraints of time, locale and tangible reality. Program trading beat the reaper for a while, just gaming the time lapses of super=speed computers.
The only possible route to a proper re-ordering of the lapsed republic is via the States. Governors and local interests must be corralled into a recognition that Empire has roundly abused them and that it is now time for the Governors to re-assert their collective strength against the interest groups that occupy Babylon on the Potomac. Fat Chance.
Absent Governors, it is up to the Towns. Cities are too tied into the “Market” . However, in the end, this show will likely simply stagger to ill end and dislocation.
History, the present and the future are not discrete entities explained by simple recollection, content observation or idle conjecture. They are a continuum impervious to a complete and comprehensive understanding. The moral health of a civilization will direct how the show plays out and the principle reason this era remains so roundly flummoxed is that we continue to believe we are a culminating event…a pedestrian perfection of sorts….a favored isle, a people whose destiny is manifest…..to an extent that the present has no presence. A people with no presence will possess many entertainments and among the more favored of them will be zombies and some hobgoblin destroying life.
To the States is the obligation and way forward…without them, the course of empire will continue to crumble like an over-extended war train on the frozen steppes of Russia.
… except for the worse forms of gulag labor in the USSR and current conditions in N. Korea, which are both modern states. Sorry, couldn’t let that one go.
Three cheers for the modern nation-state!
This has been a fascinating and confusing conversation, which is the normal result of combining erudition and honesty. The world is a complicated place; I have learned to beware of unintended consequences, including those of my own proposals, and that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.
But let me revert to the recent spirited exchange among myself, John Medaille, and others regarding health care as a case in point.
I believe in localism, including localism regarding an industry which will soon represent 20% of our GDP. And therefore I would remind readers that there is one, and only one, proposal extant (though presently submerged) which enhances the authority of the individual and the family, and devolutes the authority of central collections of experts, regarding health care decisions.
That proposal is Health Savings Accounts, in one form or another.
If you have not read David Goldhill’s article “How American Health Care Killed My Father” in the September Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200909/health-care#), you should. It is not the rant that it appears, but a closely reasoned argument which is true to my experience (35 years of government, institutional, and private medicine) in every one of its examples. I didn’t know where he was going to end up, but he ended up in– Health Savings Accounts.
The issue is not government versus the private sector in most practical issues. The issue is the government doing what it should be doing well, so that the private sector can do what it should be doing well. We need the government to promote transparency, enforce contracts, set some boundaries, and assure that the rest of us play fair in the sandbox.
The logical place to experiment with this balance is the several states. Experimentation is the practice of humility in the face of those who would rather practice power and prophecy. Power and prophecy are hubris found on the right, and on the left. It is a universal temptation. What we need is for Massachusetts to continue its experiment with a reversion to “full capitation,” Oregon to resume its experiment with overt rationing, and Kansas to enact future Governor Sam Brownback’s proposal for HSAs covering the entire population, which would get Medicaid patients out of the stockade consisting of the kind of doctors willing to deal with Medicaid.
Is this not logical? My brother’s father-in-law was for many years the president of Yellow Freight. I remember well his bitter complaints about deregulation of the trucking industry. He had bought and paid dear for those routes, and now the goverment was proposing to let local guys with a leased rig wreak havoc with his oligopoly! You don’t see many Yellow Freight trucks any more. That’s localism, unless I am missing the whole point of this argument. Would someone set me straight?
We need good government, and its power. In the recent crisis, we needed government to restrict the size of financial operatives so that no one was too big to fail. We needed someone to tell Congress that if you terrify banks into egalitarian lending– that is, subprime lending– and then look the other way when the Wall Street Journal decried (for years) “liar’s loans”, we’re going to get a major crackup after a helluva party.
The role of a statesman is to look beyond party interests and figure out what the hell works. We need government to do a good job, or turn it over to someone who can. In some cases that means it needs to get bigger, and in other cases smaller. In all cases, though, smarter.
I picked this up at Pat Buchanan’s latest essay and thought I’d pass it along to my friends here at FPR:
It looks interesting and I, for one, am looking forward to any blogs that it may generate, as we continue to speak of the local, particular, and free!
Regarding the “Health Care Crisis”….nobody has yet to dive deeply into the costs issue that is fundamentally at the heart of the problem. The solution , as it is called, will be another larger organizational tire patch so that the practices with 15 doctors and 35 billing clerks will have to add a 36th and 37th billing clerk dedicated to the arcana of the Public Option.
There is nothing whatsoever in this government that needs to get bigger. Smarter yes…bigger no. It’s done big for a while and the results are a tad insufficient. There is a reason why reading Kafka is a mite unsettling.
Doug Iliff. Please provide the evidence to us including statistics from the inception of the CRA to September 2008 that the banks were “terrified into egalitarian lending.”
Albert, you can’t mean that seriously. You’re collapsing several drastically different things into the concept of “slavery”. Forced labor has, obviously, existed for millennia. Forcing people to work against their will, particularly for the state, is different from creating a private market in persons. The treatment of other people as personal property is a uniquely modern, uniquely New World concept. Both are rather unpleasant, but I’d argue that the latter is by far the worst.
If this isn’t a distinction you appreciate, there isn’t anything I can do about that.
Slavery is entrapment. Capital entraps labor. Labor needs to entrap capital. Democracy helps.
Bruce, your constant harping on the struggle between labor and capital isn’t really getting anywhere. I mean, yes, Marx and all that, but come on. Marx himself couldn’t make his own math work, and no one after him has been able to either. The are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your reductionistic economic philosophy.
Also, if you’re going to go off about neoliberalism without citing Philip Mirowski, you’re missing the boat. Look him up.
“The treatment of other people as personal property is a uniquely modern, uniquely “New World concept”.
Surely you jest.
Granted, we can discuss the various shadings of slavery …forced labor, serfdom, indentured servitude, human chattel till the cows come home but to ascribe the holding of humans as property as an invention of the New World is a breathtaking assertion.
Slavery and serfdom have been the primary occupation of mankind and democratic notions are the aberration. It is one of the principle reasons why democratic movements revert to varying levels of servitude…whether it be serfdom to State or Despot or General….so frequently.
Slave markets have been around an awful lot longer than the time that has elapsed since the practice was instituted here.
So, you believe there is a substantive difference between a State (like the N. Korean govt) forcing people to work against their will and a State (like pre-Civil War Southern state govts) overseeing a private market in persons, and you prefer the former. I don’t see a difference, because in both cases persons are reduced to property under the aegis of the State. Do you seriously believe that because the N. Korean govt doesn’t label its citizens “property” that that isn’t precisely what’s going on? Or is it somehow better than the State does this than “private” interests operating under the State?
I’ll simply end by saying that I’d rather have been a slave in pre-Civil War South Carolina than a citizen in N. Korea right now. I’d be more free. If you want to continue to defend your statement “through institutionalized slavery the like of which the world has never seen,” please understand that I don’t agree.
Whoa, DW, Albert, hey guys the discussions getting just a little ‘brisk’ here!
OK, so Ryan stepped on his ‘winkie’, there’s no reason to rub his nose in it; he just misspoke,….er, didn’t mean to….er, isn’t quite the historian he thinks he is?
There’s a snarky comment to be made about fixating on minor points to avoid dealing with the main argument, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
Ryan. I’m not sure why you are getting off the point by trying to drag Marx into the argument. If you prefer capitalism run by elites just tell us and have done with it.
Ryan. I have looked up Philip Mirowski on Wikipedia and got this review of what would appear to be one of his key books “Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science”:-
The review I’m afraid is witheringly dismissive and basically does not recommend the book for its lucidity. Not wishing to miss new ideas perhaps you would precis the relevance of Mirowski’s ideas for us.
Bruce Smith, yeah, that’s not the most glowing review I’ve read.
Mirowski isn’t really relevant to this conversation per se, but he spends a lot of time talking about neoliberalism. Most economics, and it seems the author of that review, don’t care for him much. This is probably because he doesn’t care much for them. But he’s deeply invested in the study of neoliberalism, and as your interests seem to lie there, I’d recommend him.
OKay. Thank you Ryan. I’ll keep trying.
Ryan, you’re right. What constitutes slavery is off-topic. May we find agreement in more important things.
I really don’t like to enter such a rich discussion so late–I’m afraid too late. I don’t think most Porchers fit on either side of Patrick Deneen’s fence that started this whole thing, but I know I don’t. We proclaim on the masthead, “Place. Limits. Liberty.” Localism subsidized by centralism? Of course it’s happening all the time (look at your local TIFA projects if you have a locality) and it results in…MORE CENTRALIZATION. Anyone, and I mean anyone who has labored at the level of place knows that “subsidized localism” might be the mother of all oxymorons. Make any list you want to make of what is “subsidized” by the Feds, and pick one you like, and you probably shouldn’t be wasting your time hanging around FPR. Having established that position, I wonder what prompts Ryan Davidson to be so interested in this discussion? He admits to having no sense of place, thinks we might accept the whole liberal notion, thinks we are a nation consciously “Founded,” writes off rather flippantly the entire southern heritage (I’m an unapologetic Yankee, by the way), and has a rather curious idea of what constitutes the Catholic tradition on liberty. One wonders what interests him about strange sites like FPR.
On topic, I empathize with those who would make a (true) case for the legitimate, positive roles of government in today’s day and age, where the government has grown to such vile proportions that any suggestion of what the government should do more is immediately ensconced in flames of righteous suspicion.
John, I think when the gov’t is so involved in everything, then you have to demand it enter the lists “against itself” as it were. Obviously, this is not ideal, but it is not a good idea to make the perfect the enemy of the good. We always deal with prudential questions, which don’t have a clear or immediate solution.
I think Ryan has made good contributions. Many of us are nomads, even if we recognize the importance of place; we must live in the world as it is.
John, I don’t mean to be uncharitable. I think your distributism is crucially important to all our discussions. I just don’t think it helps very much for us to go back over and over distinctions without a difference. Let me give an example from the real world. My wife labored for almost a decade (the details are not important) and actually got the old downtown stripped of plastic and eggshell fronts, and started a movement that returned a business district into a…business district! All without subsidies from any level of government. Then a “city manager” form of government–they are trained to apply for grants–bought the planning package from our benevolent state and federal programs. Guess what? As for nomads, why are we nomads? If there is an importance to place (and there is, I would submit, no distributism without place)
then the “world as it is” is pretty bleak. Let’s know what nomadism is. But even to talk civilly about such things we have to get past going back constantly to such utter misrepresentations of Catholic traditions of liberty and silly notions of self-conscious “Foundings.” Sorry if I sound impatient. As I said, I got into the discussion too late; but to return to Patrick Deneen’s original question I say about subsidized localism not only no, but hell no.
I return late Re: crime and tech
For some reason I thought the conversation was rooted in American history. Obviously Somali pirates and Colombians have only a tangential relationship to the place of technology and crime in our history.
“Number of police officers, i.e. the strength of the state, is always far more important.
There’s just no reason to think that technology has anything to do with this.”
Police officers, especially large numbers of them, can’t coordinate efficiently without technology. Without the telegraph’s capacity to speedily wire on word of bandits to the next towns in all directions, the West would have remained wild for some time.
So many have written eloquently on the way technology — cheap oil for power, television, the internet — breaks down communities and lays the foundations for for further centralization.
Yet somehow we are not to think these same factors would break up the criminal element?
Perhaps I was confused by the equivocation in the terms “the state” and “centralization of power.” Local trouble spots are almost always local law enforcement’s responsibility. They count as “the State” in politico talk, but not in common parlance.
[…] to the ephemerally appealing cosmopolitanism, is the lodestar of the course set by Mitchell and similar others at Front Porch Republic. In brief, it is the ideology of the small town, the farm, the homestead: […]
Patrick, congrats on this essay, a stunning success! I, for one, would like to see our other ‘contributors’ explore similar questions based in large measure on the ‘comments.’ So, please, consider this a request.
Among those I’m urging to blog on this or related themes is: John Willson, Mark Mitchell, James Wilson, Caleb, Pat, DW, and Mark Shiffman specifically because of their past contributions, comments, and expertise. But I would be pleased to read any essays on these themes by any of our gifted contributors!
I’m enthused by certain remarks by Willson re: his ‘defense’ of Southern culture which indicates an inquisitive and impartial (open) intellect, Caleb’s comments on Brolingbroke (sp) and any philosophical perspective suitable to the localist/particularist theme, DW’s vociferous and pointed renunciations of the central regime, with a close examination of the Obama Administration’s ministrations, Pat’s continuing explorations of the economic/social problems related to a restoration/re-creation of our human communities, Mark Shiffman and James Wilson’s illuminating probes into the nature of being and the erudite understanding that the great problem of modernity is the obliteration of the transcendent. And, in mentioning these folks in particular I am NOT diminishing the erudite contributions of the others.
Our world is collapsing. In our lifetimes we have seen the ennui, alienation, and boredom of the individual expand into sundry social disorders predicated on the received wisdom of our age, e.g. that the gods have died. And, here Hegel’s remark, “The Sabbath of the world has disappeared, and life has become a common, unholy workday,” speaks a truth good men and women do not wish to here.
So for me, and I open myself up to your criticism, this project is in fact a spiritual quest in an age that is defined by its pneumopathologies. We must recover/discover what it means to be human, how to live as a human being, and the love of God in freedom and in the Logos.
There is no greater challenge and thank you for your wisdom!
[…] great many comments have been posted in response to my posting, “Subsidizing Localism.” I think the question I sought to pose – and for which I do not have a very good […]
[…] a complaint from Taki folks over the implicit (or explicit) statism of some FPR folks, specifically Patrick Deneen’s recent shot across the bow and John Medaille’s thrashing of Austrian economics. I think Hales’ complaint is best […]
[…] pluralism have any defense? Patrick Deneen has been willing to contemplate “subsidizing localism.” But this calls to mind a warning from Nisbet in his 1978 essay “The Dilemma of […]
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