But, then, its always the Jews, isnt it? Or the blacks, or the foreigners, or the diseased. The problem usually comes down to the Jews, though. In the experience of Western civilization, the Jews have proved for a long time the stone against which the practice and the various political theories of localism have stumbled.
That, as an aside, points toward a defense, or at least a semi-defense, Id be willing to make against the charge that G.K. Chesterton was anti-Semitic. Hilaire Belloc, I think, genuinely was an anti-Semite; when he said, rootless cosmopolitans, what he really meant were the Jews. Chesterton was, instead, struggling with the fundamental dilemma of localism, and when he said, the Jews, what he really meant were rootless cosmopolitans. In other words, Belloc bought the idea that the Jews were the problem, while Chesterton bought the trope that Jew was a handy word to use to describe the problem. Theyre both bad, but its possible to argue that one is less murderous than the other.
So what is this problem at the root of localism? Part of it involves the simple philosophical point that all definitionseven self-definitionsrequire, at some point, an assertion of what the defined thing is not. There is no such thing as an entirely positive definition. We define by genus and difference, as Aristotle put it, and the point extends as far as Spinozas famous metaphysical formula: All determination is negation.
It was philosophically naive of, say, the Southern Agrarians to imagine that they could get a self-understanding that didnt involve marking themselves off from the Negroes and the Yankees. She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb , as your home state song once declared, Rusty. Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum! / She breaths! She burns! Shell come! / Maryland! My Maryland!
Meanwhile, the practical part of localisms dilemma involves, first, the fact that successful localisms attract immigrants, and the presence of immigrants undermines the localism.
It involves, second, the historical truth that people seem only to praise and defend a localism when its already in decline. And sometimes, as now, when its communal aspects have already gone completely except as a romantic memorywhich makes those who now argue for it as much outsiders as those who argued against it. As a writer we know once put it , rebellion against rebellion doesnt escape the problems of rebellion, and a chosen tradition is never quite the same as an inherited one.