Friday, July 20, 2018

Mr. Sandman

Photo by Walker Evans for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941, of folks being taken care of by the intimate, affectionate local authorities, free from the burdens of one-size-fits-all federal regulations.

Meanwhile, breaking news from Dreamland, where David F. "Sandman" Brooks has come into a fresh supply of that classic Russell Kirk sand to sprinkle into our stinging eyes ("The Localist Revolution"):
Localism is the belief that power should be wielded as much as possible at the neighborhood, city and state levels. Localism is thriving — as a philosophy and a way of doing things — because the national government is dysfunctional while many towns are reviving. Politicians in Washington are miserable, hurling ideological abstractions at one another, but mayors and governors are fulfilled, producing tangible results.
Bill de Blasio says thanks for the endorsement, but are you sure that's what you meant? There's no question but that the federal government is dysfunctional and has been since the 2010 midterm election gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans and reduced the Democrats' majority in the Senate from an almost-functioning 57 to a wholly impotent 51, and the conservatives began to use their renewed power, as they always will, to demonstrate the hypothesis that government can't do anything. And no question but that in some localities people are coping with losses in federal funding in creative ways. Good for them! But there are other localities where they aren't, lots of them, as always, where local elites refuse to help, because they want to hang on to their money. A lot of them are in what they call "Trump country".
Since it will probably be the coming wave, I thought it might be useful to make a few notes on localism...
The Brooksian "probably". The coming wave will be what it always has been, I trust, in which people start to realize that many state and local governments are unable or unwilling to do their jobs and suffering of one kind or another—poor health care, underemployment and lack of child care, environmental destruction, etc.—is getting worse and worse, we'll see exposés and scandalous photographs of the Let Us Now Praise Famous Men type, and "how can this be happening in the richest country on earth?", and we'll remember, as in the 1890s and the 1930s and the 1960s, that most localities are exclusively run by people who don't need public services and don't want to pay for them, and it's only through a large-scale redistribution and re-regulation effort at the federal level that we can take care of them, and we'll set about repairing some of the damage that has been done by the tax-cutting neglect of the past 40 years.
Localism is not federal power wielded on a smaller scale. It’s a different kind of power. The first difference is epistemological. The federal policymaker asks, “What can we do about homelessness?” The local person asks Fred or Mary what they need in order to have a home. These different questions yield different results.
I.e., it takes care of the two people it knows about and ignores the 20 it doesn't.
The second difference is relational. Federal power is impersonal, uniform, abstract and rule-oriented. Local power is personalistic, relational, affectionate, irregular and based on a shared history of reciprocity and trust. A national system rewards rational intelligence. A local system requires emotional intelligence, too.
You don't need rules to run a social safety net because Almira Gulch runs the county and comes from a very distinguished family, so she'll always do the right thing.
Change in a localist world often looks like a renewal of old forms, which were often more intimate and personalistic than the technocratic structures of the past 50 years.
It's reactionary. It's the Tory dream, where everybody lives in a village where the squire and his lady, the vicar and his curate bring soup to the sick, justice to poachers, spiritual consolation to the troubled, and there's no need for a hospital or a library or a public school or an old folks' home. Go back to sleep, David!

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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