Alex Massie

Idiosyncratic Local Communities

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An interesting post, as always, from Jim Manzi:

I’ve written often about the need for renewing the conservative- libertarian fusion, why I think this is a natural alliance, and the terms on which I think it should be forged. The actions of an assertive liberal (in the contemporary American sense) government are starting to illustrate this to the most interesting of those writers often termed crunchy cons, who often think of themselves in direct opposition to a hyper-individualized, commercial political culture on the Right. That is, as among the least natural candidates for fusionism imaginable.

The nature of this alliance is simple: crunchy cons want government to be limited to allow space for idiosyncratic local communities. It is a grudging acceptance of limits, rather than a full-throated embrace of large-scale politics. This strikes me as a healthy view of the role of politics.

There's something to this. Most especially, the presence of so many "idiosyncratic local communities" is one of the greatest aspects of American life and one of those most vital to any realisation of the American Dream. The promise of America is not just that immigrants from anywhere on the planet can aspire to make their way and fortune in the United States, it is that those already living in the US can find a community, somewhere, that best fits their needs, interests and desires. In other words, when we think of multi-culturalism we should also be thinking about localism and the freedom of individuals and communities to organise their own lives as they see fit. Culture is not merely a matter of race or religion.

On a larger scale that means rolling back the federal government so more, not less, is done at state level. If people in Maine think what Alabamans want is nuts (and vice versa) then that's fine. That's their prerogative. If California wants to legalise gay marriage and marijuana then fine too. Doesn't mean Oklahoma has to, Variety may often mean mess, but that's vastly preferable to the conformity that comforts bureaucrats and politicians for whom settled consenus makes for an altogether easier life. People like to think of the states as little laboratories of democracy and so they should be, but they cannot continue to be such if Washington calls the tune. That in turn requires abolishing entire departments of the federal government, even and perhaps especially if some of what they do does some good.

As a general rule, the more local the decision-making process the better. Sometimes this may lead to better government, sometimes to more stupid government. But it at least affords the prospect that people can make their own minds up and communities can decide for themselves.

There's no need to insist upon a one-size-fits-all standard. The American continent is big enough for all sizes. And that's it's appeal: somewhere out there is a community and a place that you can call home. There's a lot to be said for the little platoons, even if it might take a while for you to find the one that fits you. In other words, the freedom to live and let live is the sort of thing that traditionalists and libertarians should be able to agree upon. But that requires a degree of compromise  - and respect - from each...

But, yes, let's have more, not fewer, idiosyncratic local communities. And not just in America either, but here in Britain too.


Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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