IV.3: Local Self-government

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Local Self-government

What did the great minds of history have to say about local self-government?

In an earlier post I showed that both Thomas Jefferson and Alexis De Tocqueville called for local self-government. That is, local citizens should have authority over their local public decisions without state or national interference. And many more people have expressed the same notion. For example:

David Hume, a Scottish philosopher, believed that local self-government naturally leads to equality. (Livingston 2010, 4-5)

Similarly, the English philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, pointed out that a local government could not abuse citizens like a larger government could:

[T]he central power needs lesser [or local] powers to balance and check it…. Some … will probably abuse their privilege; but we prefer the risk to that of the State…. (Chesterton 1927, IV.11)

Frederick von Hayek was an economist of the Austrian school. He wrote, “Nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government….” (Hayek [1944] 1994, 257-8)

In addition, these ideas reach back as far as the seventeenth century. For example, John Milton, an English poet and intellectual, wrote:

[Our rights] may be best and soonest obtaind, if every countie in the land were made a kinde of subordinate … Commonwealth…. (Milton [1660] 1915, 11)

On the other hand, could local self-government work in America?

Daniel Kemmis, a Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives, thought it could. He called for decentralizing government power back to the city or “polis” itself. (Kemmis 1992, 16 and 139)

John Naisbitt, the American author of “Megatrends”, agreed. He pointed out that “communities” are already solving problems that have stumped “the federal government with its vast but clumsy resources”. (Naisbitt 1982, 251)

Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul wrote that our founders “did not intend for every American neighborhood to be exactly the same”. In other words, our Constitution intended that we “let neighbors and localities govern themselves.” (Paul 2008, 62-3)

Likewise, Robert Nisbet, an American sociologist added:

[T]he most powerful resources of democracy lie in the cultural allegiances of citizens, … [which] are nourished psychologically in the smaller, internal areas of family, local community, and association. (Nisbet [1953] 2010, 236)

Furthermore, these ideas have not even been limited to Great Britain and the U.S.

Mahatma Gandhi led India to independence from Britain. And he believed that government by its very nature is, “hostile to strong and independent-minded citizens, groups and communities.” (Parekh 1989, 111–2) So Gandhi believed that his country should be based on “autonomous and self-governing local communities.” (Parekh 1989, 113-4)

Moreover, many others have given support to local self-government. For example, there’s St. Benedict, Thomas More, Johannes Althusius, Edmund Burke, Frederic Le Play, W. H. Riehl, Patrick Geddes, Victor Branford, and Lewis Mumford. (Nisbet 1975, 262)

Should all these voices be ignored, or taken seriously? How would our lives change if our local communities had real self-government? That is, would local self-government produce more chaos or more order?

This site is for discussing how to improve our political system. It is NOT for discussing party politics or political figures. So if you have a non-partisan question or comment, feel free to leave it below.

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Chesterton, G. K. 1927. The Outline of Sanity. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/Sanity.txt (Accessed Oct. 6, 2016).

Hayek, Friederich A. [1944] 1994. The Road to Serfdom. Fiftieth Anniversary Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Kemmis, Daniel. 1992. Community and the Politics of Place. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Livingston, Donald W. 2010. “David Hume, Republicanism, and the Human Scale of Political Order”. Intelligent Discussion of Current Events. http://www.npboards.com/discussion/19489/david-hume-and-the-republican-tradition-of-human-scale (Accessed Aug. 5, 2017). Originally published in Arator: A Journal of Southern History, Thought, and Culture. vol. 1. no. 1.

Milton, John. [1660] 1915. The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, ed. Evert Mordecai Clark. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Naisbitt, John. 1982. Megatrends. New York: Warner Books, Inc.

Nisbet, Robert. [1953] 2010. The Quest for Community. ISI Books’ Background series edition. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books.

Nisbet, Robert . 1975. Twilight of Authority. New York: Oxford University Press.

Paul, Ron. 2008. The Revolution, New York: Hachette Book Group.

Parekh, Bhikhu. 1989. Gandhi’s Political Philosophy, a Critical Examination. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

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