James is fond of destinguishing between ‘political libertarians’ and ‘cultural libertarians’, and the more that I read the ongoing kerfuffle over localism that has spread from PoMoCon and FPR to First Thoughts and Daniel McCarthy , the more I think a similar distinction might be useful in discussions of localism. Thus, I will offer up the following definitions for comment, criticism, and improvement.
Political localism (noun): The belief that the inherent tensions, imperfections, and dangers associated with human government and political action; particularly government and politics of the representative sort; tend to become more pronounced and less remediable as a given political unit scales in size. c.f. “What’s good for the city-state ain’t good for the nation-state.”
Cultural localism (noun): The belief that a number of human goods are partially or entirely inaccessible to human beings that live in impersonal environments.
Radical cultural localism (noun): The belief that a number of human goods are partially or entirely inaccessible to human beings who don’t live in tight-knit communities that possess a shared conception of the good.
Ethical localism (noun): The belief that one ought not offer one’s allegiance to ideas or institutions that transcend one’s particular locality.
Why are these definitions useful? Well, if I’m not terribly misreading the debate, it seems to me like most of us at PoMoCon (certainly myself) have a beef with localism in its ethical and radical cultural forms while acknowledging the fairly self-evident truth of political and mild cultural localisms. Most of us would go on to say that the definition of ‘impersonal’ used by many localists is entirely too broad, and that a metropolis or apartment building is capable of sustaining many overlapping, heterogeneous, but deeply meaningful communities.
Furthermore, political localism as I’ve defined it seems not so much to be an argument for secession as it is one for caution, local civic engagement, and federalism.
My questions for readers then:
1. Is my way of chopping up the localism spectrum a useful way of organizing our concepts? If not, give me a more useful way.
2. Does mild cultural localism imply radical cultural localism? What additional beliefs must one hold in order to be driven to cultural localism of the radical sort? I have my suspicions, but I’d like others to speak first.
3. What combination of localisms and other beliefs would imply ethical localism?