Localism in the United States

Advocates of localism often act as though it’s a brilliant idea that has yet to be tried (outside of a few intentional communities, etc.). One thing that strikes me, however, is the degree to which we already have a working model of decentralized local control: a small, obscure country called “The United States of America.” For all the paranoia about federal power, 99% of people’s everyday encounters with “the government” in the U.S. are with state and local jurisdictions. Law enforcement is largely handled by autonomous local police forces. Schools are run by locally elected school boards. Even citizens’ access to the vote is regulated by state and local authorities rather than the federal government.

Overall, the result has been disastrous. Even setting aside the glaring fact that “local control” has often been a synonym for “racial oppression” in the U.S., none of the supposed moral benefits of localism have ever obtained. Localism does not serve to build more responsible communities — instead, it allows people to wash their hands of certain community members entirely by separating off into a new locality.

Yet again my always correct theory about the right and the left turns out to be correct: localism is literally a right-wing agenda in the U.S., and lo and behold, it leads to right-wing outcomes. We have well over 200 years of empirical data to look at here, and it basically all bears out this conclusion. And if someone pleads, “Well, local authority has always been corrupted by other forms of concentrated power, such as corporations” — that’s not a counterargument, that’s just the point.