Front Porch Republic Books is pleased to announce the release of Localism in the Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto, edited by Mark T. Mitchell and yours truly.
Don’t expect it to change the world, because localism doesn’t change the world. But the book might have an impact on your place and all the many other splendid places that this too too sullied—not to mention homogenized—country is made up of. Buy it direct from FPR Books, one copy for yourself and several more for all those you love.
Here, below, is the Table Of Contents, followed by Mark Mitchell’s preface. Hurry while supplies outlast you.
Table of Contents
Preface, by Mark T. Mitchell
Introduction: A Republic of Front Porches, by Patrick J. Deneen
PART ONE: DEPARTURE AND RETURN
Look Homeward, Angels (and Others), by Bill Kauffman
Birthright, by Katherine Dalton
The Orphans of Success and the Longing for Home, by Jason Peters
PART TWO: POLITICS AND ECONOMICS
Federalism, Anti-Federalism, and the View from the Front Porch, by Jeff Polet
The Quest for the Common Good: Political Economy on the Front Porch, by John Médaille
Opposition to Crony Capitalism: A Truly Bipartisan Opportunity, by Andrew V. Abela
Agrarian Politics and the American Tradition, by Jeff Taylor
American Foreign Policy and Modest Republicanism: The Great Rule Reconstituted, by Michael P. Federici
The Demise of Virtue in Virtual America, by David Bosworth
PART THREE: THE HOME ECONOMY
Work, Death, and the Romantic Agrarian, by Mark T. Mitchell
The Productive Home vs. The Consuming Home, by Allan Carlson
Killing the Animals We Eat, by John Cuddeback
PART FOUR: ART AND EDUCATION
“A New Magnetic North”: 39 Theses on Education, by R.J. Snell
Reimagining the University with Wendell Berry, by Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro
Art, Beauty, and Communal Life, by James Matthew Wilson
PART FIVE: CIVIC LIFE
A Land Like No Other: American Exceptionalism and the Problem of Scale, by Richard Gamble
Do-It-Ourselves Citizenship, by Pete Peterson
Luxury and Buying Local, by David Cloutier
PART SIX: THE URBAN CHALLENGE
Chicago 2109: The Metropolitan Region as Agrarian-Urban Unit, by Philip Bess
Port City Confidential, by Susannah Black
PART SEVEN: PHILANTHROPY
Satan Was the First Philanthropist, by Jeremy Beer
Philanthropy’s War on Community, by William A. Schambra
PART EIGHT: TECHNOLOGY AND POPULAR CULTURE
Technology, Mobility and Community, by Christine Rosen
Our Hookup Culture, by Susan McWilliams
PART NINE: BEYOND THE CORRUPTION OF MOTH AND RUST
Life Under Compulsion: Rejecting the Glorious Liberty of the Children of God, by Anthony Esolen
Defining Conservatism Down, D.G. Hart
Imagination and Memory Deformed: The Gnostic Resentment of Embodied Life and its Limits, by Mark Shiffman
Afterword, by Jason Peters
by Mark T. Mitchell
The conception, gestation, and birth of this book are framed by two great disruptions: the economic collapse (or near collapse) of 2008 and the presidential election of 2016, which featured Republican and Democratic candidates who were both spectacularly unpopular. Both events signal something about the general ill-health of the republic, but at the same time they provide, as crises so often do, opportunities for reflection and, if one is attentive, glimmers of hope.
In the spring of 2009, when the economic crisis of the previous year was unfolding, a group of academics and other writers joined forces to form the Front Porch Republic website. At that time I described the situation in the following terms:
Here we can see the curious state of affairs in our waning republic: Democrats tend to be suspicious of big business but they trust big government to rein in abuses; Republicans express suspicion of big government but trust economic centralization to solve market instability. Both are half-right but half-blind. Here is a principle that we would do well to grasp: concentrations of power in any form are a threat to liberty. It may be too late for this generation to see this vital truth or, if seeing, to do anything about it. But nothing is inevitable, and there are hopeful signs that people are beginning to think seriously about the importance of localism, human scale, limits, and stewardship, the very things woefully lacking in the current spending orgy. While a return to these ideals is still only in its infancy, change is afoot. This represents a glimmer of sanity in a world succumbing to the apparent security promised by centralization.
Nevertheless, we are facing the specter of a strange new phase in our nation’s history. Through massive spending we are embarking on an age of concentration, an age where economic and political power are not only allied but centralized, an age where the two will become increasingly intertwined and difficult to distinguish. The long courtship is over. The ill-starred marriage has been consummated. The Wall-Street bailout and stimulus package are the grotesque progeny of this unholy union.
Although FPR launched in March 2009, the seeds of the project had been germinating for some time. In 2007, Jeremy Beer, then the editor-in-chief of ISI Books, organized a conference in Charlottesville, VA, titled “Liberty, Community, and Place in the American Tradition.” Speakers included Bill Kauffman, Patrick Deneen, and Jason Peters, along with Dan McCarthy of The American Conservative and Jesse Walker of Reason. The conference also provided an opportunity for some future FPR writers to meet and discuss matters that would be of central concern to the FPR project.
For the academic year 2008-09, I was on sabbatical at Princeton University under the auspices of the James Madison Program. During the fall of 2008, as the country descended into economic uncertainty, I became increasingly frustrated by what was clearly an inadequate response to the crisis. I called Jeremy Beer, who had left ISI and co-founded American Philanthropic, to discuss the matter. We decided to establish an on-line magazine that would provide an outlet for writers whose ideas did not fit comfortably into the neat and inadequate Left/Right dichotomy or the blue-state/red-state opposition that characterizes so much political writing in America. Others quickly joined the enterprise. Patrick Deneen (then professor of Government at Georgetown, now at Notre Dame) was also on sabbatical at Princeton at the time. His office was just down the hall from mine. He immediately saw the merits of the project. Writers such as Bill Kauffman, Caleb Stegall, Katherine Dalton, Daniel Larison, and Rod Dreher, along with academics such as Jason Peters, James Matthew Wilson, Susan McWilliams, Allan Carlson, Mark Shiffman, and Russell Arben Fox, quickly joined.
FPR sought to promote human-scale institutions and associations against a steady consolidation of political, economic, and cultural power. With the tagline “Place, Limits, Liberty,” FPR writers set out to articulate a critique of the current situation and to provide a theoretical alternative as well as provide practical examples of how this alternative could be implemented in particular settings. While no litmus test has ever existed, FPR writers are generally oriented by the broad tradition of Christian humanism and, in promoting the idea of human flourishing born of that vision of human affairs, they have promoted such ideals as political decentralization, economic localism, cultural regionalism, and the dignity of both individuals and local communities. Key thinkers who serve to inspire and inform many FPR writers include Wendell Berry, Christopher Lasch, E.F. Schumacher, Wilhelm Röpke, Russell Kirk, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, and Alexis de Tocqueville.
Within the first year of operation, FPR was incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of West Virginia, and in 2010 FPR Inc. was issued a 501c3 status by the IRS. This non-profit status opened the door for taxdeductible donations, which, though generally modest, provided the means to finance conferences and other occasional expenses.
In the fall of 2011 FPR held the first of its annual conferences. The site was Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. About 150 people converged on the campus to hear a variety of FPR writers—including a keynote address by Bill Kauffman—and others discuss various aspects of human scale and the human good. At least half of the attendees were students from colleges and universities in the region. The success of the conference demonstrated that FPR’s appeal could support a successful conference. Since then we have held a conference each year at various venues across the country and have featured keynote addresses from such figures as Dana Gioia, James Howard Kunstler, and Wendell Berry.
One of FPR’s main objectives almost from the beginning was to have its own imprint and therefore the means by which the broader FPR vision could be articulated in print. This objective was realized in 2013 when FPR Books was established as an official imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishers. Our modest goal of producing a handful of books each year, despite having to do so as a kind of after-hours unpaid extracurricular avocation, has so far proved manageable.
When FPR began, “localism” as a movement was only in its infancy. Today localism is an idea with a wide array of adherents from academics to hipsters, from city planners to organic farmers. It is becoming increasingly clear that many people across the political spectrum have come to question the wisdom of centralization in all its many guises. While there are plenty of discrete reasons for hope, the conventional wisdom in so many quarters, especially among the “intellectual class,” is generally still in the direction of the centralized, super-sized, and homogenized.
But, as I said in that original post, change is afoot. The Brexit vote in July of 2016 followed by Donald Trump’s “surprise” win in November of the same year should be understood as part of the same movement that, while not a tsunami, represents a clear challenge to the liberal cosmopolitan agenda—found on both the Left and the Right—that champions internationalism over nationalism, that celebrates an abstract global community over concrete local affiliations, and that rejoices in the inevitability of globalization. That globalization has suffered a series of recent setbacks must be galling (not to mention confusing) to those convinced of its inevitability.
The vulgar billionaire from Manhattan, now President of these United States, is an odd messenger of the working class burned by trade treaties and economic policies that have lined the pockets of Wall Street investors but all too often decimated local communities, uprooted citizens, and led many to question whether what benefits the purveyors of abstractions is equally beneficial to the rest. It goes without saying that Trump is no localist messiah. However, his America First campaign rhetoric apparently struck a chord that has long remained unsounded by national leaders. His emphasis on securing the nation’s borders pushes against the cosmopolitan dream of a world without borders where citizens of the world (and therefore of nowhere in particular) wander the globe seeking wealth, pleasure, and diversion without impediment. His refusal to submit to the strictures of political correctness has endeared him to many (or at least earned him the grudging respect) of those who intuit that sanity rooted in common sense and (ironically) common decency has fled the field under an onslaught of powerful and self-righteous individuals and institutions hell-bent on compelling all citizens to conform to standards that grow increasingly bizarre.
In short, the rise of Trump and Trumpism, whatever their manifest flaws, appears to represent a reaction against forces openly hostile to local communities, local authorities, and local idiosyncrasies. It represents, however inchoately and inarticulately, a rejection of ideals that have animated a class of social elites lacking strong local or even national affiliations in favor of an alternative rooted in patriotism, national pride, and perhaps even a commitment to living in and loving a particular place. A return to the scale of the nation-state is surely a move in the right direction, for it suggests a repudiation of the global village nonsense and, perhaps—just perhaps—opens the way to creative thinking about communities built to human scale. To be clear, there is little evidence Trump thinks in these terms. However, it may turn out that his election, in spite of Trump himself, opens the door to possibilities that would not have been as likely had his opponent won: less central planning by those convinced they know best and more power accruing to local governing bodies, less hostility to religious beliefs that run counter to the prevailing enthusiasm for liberation from all constraint, and perhaps less bellicose behavior abroad, even if Trump’s persona does not exactly provide a recipe for tranquility at home.
Herein lies the gambit. Humans, individually and corporately, tend to overreact. Thus this movement in the west (for this trend is not limited to the U.S. and Britain but includes much of Europe as well) is fraught with danger. We already hear of the rise of ultra-nationalist parties, of neo-Nazism, and violence against immigrants in certain European countries. Many of the most ardent opponents of Trump argue that the same forces are incubating here in the U.S. and have been nourished by Trump’s victory. To be sure, a new tribalism characterized by xenophobia, violence, and suspicion of “the other” is a possibility.
However, we are not necessarily doomed to the equally dismal alternatives of liberal cosmopolitanism and xenophobic tribalism. There is a third way, and although mainstream Republicans and Democrats generally fail to see beyond their false dichotomies and on-going animosities, it is just this alternative that animates the FPR project. What we might call “humane localism” appreciates the variety of local communities and resists the homogenizing impulse that is so strong in modern liberal democracies. It recognizes that the language of the global village represents an abstraction that will never satisfy human longings. Humane localism is characterized by a love for one’s particular place, yet at the same time it is not animated by fear of the other, for by an act of imagination it sees through the inevitable differences and recognizes the common humanity we all share. It recognizes that we are all living souls with needs and longings that bind us together even as the particulars of our own places remind us of our distinctness. In short, humane localism is rooted in respect, not in homogeneity, in a recognition that liberty is sustainable only alongside respect for limits, and in the realization that human flourishing is best realized in the company of friends and neighbors sharing a common place in the world.
This collection of essays represents a cross-section of writers and ideas associated with FPR and the vision that FPR seeks to articulate. The essays provide an introduction to the rich cultural, political, and economic vision associated with the FPR project. All of the authors have written for the FPR site or spoken at an FPR conference. Some of the pieces are based on conference presentations. Some were written expressly for this volume. All provide a slice of the human-scale vision that has characterized FPR from the beginning. While much progress has been made toward articulating this alternative to the left/right stalemate, there is still much to be done. The rhetorical battle has been more successful than we had hoped. However, changing the actual economic, political, and cultural reality is a much longer process. The essays compiled here will help readers see the possibility of a world where human affairs are conducted as if place really matters, where economic affairs are conceived as if limits really matter, and where political power is exercised as if liberty really matters.
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