Seeing Through The Mirage Of Localism

Among the many magical charms our conservative pundit class invokes in its futile and impotent “war” against liberalism, the idea of localism is perhaps the most well-known and trendy. The general idea behind localism is that instead of building institutions or engaging in difficult and draining ideological wars, one’s energies are better spent constructing a sustainable and virtuous community in a particular “place.”

Localist ideas permeate much of the paleocon branch of conservatism, particularly in its flagship publication: The American Conservative and have even occasionally made their way into the pages of The New York Times and other mainstream outlets. The central hub of pure localism, however, seems to be the website Front Porch Republic, which the liberal journalist Damon Linker describes as follows:

Influenced by an eclectic range of thinkers, including sociologists Christopher Lasch and Philip Rieff, political theorist Wilson Carey McWilliams, Catholic philosopher David Schindler, and poet and essayist Wendell Berry, the Porchers see conservatism as a disposition or way of living locally, within moral, religious, economic, and environmental limits, in tightly knit, sustainable community with neighbors and the natural world. If they have a rallying cry, it’s “Stay Put!”

On the surface, there would seem to be a significant amount of overlap between the porchers and many of the thinkers on the reactionary right. Both recognize the pernicious effects which the forces of degenerate mass culture, the liberal managerial state, and hyper-individualism have had on the body politic. Both, also, seek the re-invigoration of local communities, the thickening of familial ties and the restoration of local, intermediary,  institutions. But this is where the similarities between the fad of localism and the ideas of the reactionary right end.

Porchers and their fellow travelers, sadly, labor under several, profound delusions–delusions which doom many of their initiatives to failure even before they leave their ideological wombs. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the porcher fascination with populism and local democracy.

Granted, there is certainly a case to be made that the populist impulse has a potentially important part to play in any serious right-wing movement, but porchers tend to fetishize it with a fervor and sincerity that would make Norman Rockwell blush.

The fallacy is believing that a culture (at least as someone like Philip Rieff would understand it) can be sustained wholly from the bottom up, without the need of any elite influence or modeling. The idea expounded by localists is that if only local communities were comprised of enough big-hearted and civic-minded George Baileys with which to shore up their institutions, they would spontaneously, once more, become hotbeds of virtue in the midst of degeneracy.

The problem, of course, is that the composition of particular local cultures, at least in the context of the modern United States, is profoundly shaped by the influence of large institutions controlled by elites in distant, cosmopolitan locales. Liberal ideologues, contrary to the pretensions of their own propaganda, did not win the “culture war” through grassroots activism, but by methodically infiltrating and taking possession of important elite institutions. They then used these institutions to legitimize their own ideology, which then trickled down through the various castes of the American class structure until it eventually reached the unwashed proletariat, usually in the form of television sitcoms or super bowl advertising.

Thus, contrary to the assertion of Andrew Breitbart, as well as the vast majority of localists, it appears that it is culture itself which is downstream from politics and not the other way around. To reshape the culture one must seize control of the majority of its dominant institutions, an act which is inherently political.

Part of the porcher’s difficulty with understanding this train of thought is their faithfulness to historical templates which are no longer applicable to the modern world. This is especially manifest in their embrace of such ideas as the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton’s concept of distributism and other ideologies of decentralization such as federalism, states rights, etc. The main idea being to distribute authority and various forms of power far and wide throughout a given political realm.

While such concepts may warm the heart with visions of small town agrarians laboring on their small acreages, they fail the test of basic realism. Leaving aside the immense amount of political will that would be necessary to devolve power from the federal to state and local governments as localists desire, the primary problem remains a technological one.

Modeled as it is on the medieval world of peasants, knights, and lords, distributism makes the most sense in a society that possesses a bare minimum of technological sophistication. In such a world distributism and localism work because they are the most practical forms of political and economic organization available, as it would be essentially impossible for a particular sovereign to centrally manage his kingdom effectively .

Even up until the early 20th century, relatively low levels of technological development still favored a decentralized approach to governing. But with the rise of advanced communication and transportation technologies, this incentive was inverted. This led to not only the consolidation of political power but cultural power, as well. The United States itself once possessed a myriad of thriving and distinct local and regional cultures, but with the rise of centrally produced mass media and of cheap and efficient transportation, these cultures have almost completely evaporated, and with them many of their local, mediating institutions.

Thus, while localism may have been an efficient way to manage a 19th-century agrarian society, it is not an efficient way to manage a modern, technological one, whose very material circumstances incentivize centralized control of government and culture.

This is not to say that such a society as is envisioned by the porchers is not possible; it certainly is. Many things, after all, are “possible” in and of themselves. A fusion reactor is “possible” but, like localism itself, the amount of energy necessary to input into the system far outweighs the amount that can be extracted from it, which renders it an investment that, while possible in theory, yields few real dividends.

Thus, it is not surprising to find that non-theoretical, actually existing forms of localism (local and organically produced goods, etc.) tend to cater towards those segments of the population that constitute the upper middle class. These “local” businesses exist primarily to serve the needs of a relatively small population of affluent individuals and thereby have essentially become providers of luxury goods.

The existence of the local food economy is predicated on the existence of individuals willing to pay an inflated price in pursuit, not of a particular good in itself (an apple, e.g.), but rather of the mysterious and esoteric quality the good in question is rumored to possess (being an “organic” or “fair trade” apple in contrast to merely a regular one).

The same phenomenon can be observed in the contemporary housing market which has seen prices skyrocket in neighborhoods possessing certain characteristics that have been championed by localists, such as quaint architectural features and proximity to homosexual nightclubs and hipster coffee shops. Such communities are considered to be vibrant and having character, mystical qualities which justify the exorbitant asking prices of real estate brokers.

Ironically, instead of an ideology of small town conservatives, localism, in practice, has become the preferred lifestyle choice of our managerial class of rootless cosmopolitans, for whom “buying local” is just another way to build their own personal brand and signal virtue to their peers.

Of course, such urban enclaves of decadence are not what our conservative porchers usually have in mind when they discuss localism. Rather, they tend to focus on small, agrarian communities. Yet so much of their discourse still tends to obscure what actually makes these communities so unique and what allows them to produce such high levels of social cohesion.

Ethnic homogeneity is a subject that is almost never discussed in localist publications, yet it remains the primary reason why the traditional communities they extol have such high levels of social trust, to begin with–the very characteristic the traditionalists at Front Porch Republic find so attractive.

Diversity, whether racial, cultural, or religious, simply doesn’t tend to produce the close knit, high trust, local communities the porchers are so fond of.

The public “commons” localists extol can only exist in a community whose individuals share an actual common purpose beyond mere profit or pleasure, a commonality which, in a society where a devout Roman Catholic family’s plot of land may lie adjacent to Wahhabist Yemeni immigrants on one side and a lesbian couple raising their adopted son on the other, is sorely lacking.

In such a diverse society, the term community is a misnomer. Instead, Americans exist as a collection of unrelated individuals whose interactions are mediated through various shallow and transactional mechanisms, where common ground with a neighbor can only, at best, be found in the most banal of trivialities, such as feigned interest in the outcome of a local sportsball match or a shared admiration for the discography of The Stone Roses.

Without a shared, metaphysical vision of the good to unite them, Americans will forever stare vacantly past one another. And this vacant stare will continue, unabated, regardless of how many sweet sounding platitudes about the common good are invoked by the advocates of localism.

Like many romantic ideas, localism works best as a thought experiment or, like a hobby farm, as the personal project of those with considerable disposable income and time on their hands. But as a program for rebuilding the culture of the Western world, it remains a fantasy, merely another mirage in the vast desert of conservative ideas.

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  1. I think that the disconnect here lies in the concentration of political and cultural power in the state. When political and cultural power are diffuse and localized, it is possible to have a local elite class that leads the lower levels of society. When all of this power is concentrated in the national or international elite, it is not possible to have a local elite class. So, prior to say, FDR, states, regions, even counties or small towns had their own hierarchical societies. That has all been subsumed by the mono-culture forced from on high in Hollywood, New York, Washington, and Boston, etc.

  2. So, more strip malls?

    To me the greatest social/political failure has been suburbia. It produces atomized, isolated individuals obsessed with control. The culture is fake because it’s built by alienated salesmen as a machine for living. Suburban “bedroom community” is a car culture, intended to sanitize and escape life.

    There’s no center in suburbia. A culture has to have a physical center where political, religious, commercial and other buildings remind the citizen, daily, of his roots, obligations and privileges. The city is a unified vision that encompasses the spiritual, material and intellectual parts of a person as a whole visually. It should unconsciously reinforce the citizens’s self-image with the architecture surrounding him.

    What does the citizen in suburbia see daily? Cars, carefully delineated borders between lots, tract homes that are machine made, every aspect perfectly and inhumanly trimmed and cut. Nothing is left to chance. There’s nothing unusual or striking, just a bland need to conform. Usually, there’s no one about.

    When the middle classes abandoned their cities in the 50s they wanted to replace real life with an artificial one. The desire to eliminate Dionysian chaos and make Apollonian control the only god was achieved. We are reaping the consequences.

    In a way suburbia is like Pentheus in Euripides Bacchae. He arrogantly refused to worship the god Dionysus and had his head ripped off by his mother and his body torn apart by other maenads. Suburbia is an attempt to deny a necessary part of the human psyche and consequently middle class society is being driven into madness.

    1. Your analysis applies to small towns, but massive, dirty cities are even more hideous and impersonal than suburbs.

      White people were forced to leave cities, they didn’t just elect to go.

      1. @MD

        Thanks I was going to make the same point. I have a localist relative who didn’t quite realize that the reason we’re all so mobile isn’t “wanderlust” or the lure of “bright lights” but a need for physical and financial security.

        If the neighborhood becomes a violent hellhole you move. If the office or the plant closes you move. It’s not about being satisfied with less and staying put its being reduced to zero and being forced to find a new place.

        1. So, the suburbs are white refugee camps, just with nicer amenities? You know, that does sound somewhat convincing.

    2. Obama's boyfriend November 7, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      IA tells us we must live in cities. NYC, Philadelphia, Memphis, St Louis, Cinncinatti, Detroit, Newark, Atlanta, Flint, Cleveland, LA, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco sound good to you?

      Great I’ve got a great investment opportunity for you in Nigeria.

      A greater hiive of depravity and villany does not exist. Living there obviously has driven you to write such drivel.

      1. IA lives in some dream land. Get some topic about suburbia or any type of housing development and he shows his SWPL side. I like a lot of things that are considered SWPL but he’s the “that” kind of SWPL.

        1. My family moved to the Midwest in the 1850s. They and decent people like them built the farms, factories, schools, fraternities and the infrastructure you enjoy and profit from. But you don’t give a shit. You have no respect, no connection, no identity with them. They are as alien as a tribe in the Amazon.

          1. Get over yourself, IA.

            >They and decent people like them built the farms, factories, schools, fraternities and the infrastructure you enjoy and profit from

            Stick to your family. Don’t go thinking you or your family deserve credit for what others built. You did not build that (sounds familiar?). It also seems you aren’t preserving the farms that other whites built because you haven’t said anything about that type of life – all you’ve done is hail about the sophisticated urban dwellers.

            >But you don’t give a shit.

            Sure I care. You don’t think I care because I call your nonsense.

            >You have no respect, no connection, no identity with them. They are as alien as a tribe in the Amazon.

            I think most of the posters here can say the same thing since A) they don’t know your family and B) they probably aren’t even faintly related.

            Of course I knew you would make your comment to me about race given where we left off in Landry’s article.

    3. >It produces atomized, isolated individuals obsessed with control. The culture is fake because it’s built by alienated salesmen as a machine for living.

      What world do you live in? Portland(ia) is calling you.

      >Suburban “bedroom community” is a car culture, intended to sanitize and escape life.

      Again, what world do you live in?

      >There’s no center in suburbia. A culture has to have a physical center where political, religious, commercial and other buildings remind the citizen, daily, of his roots, obligations and privileges.

      You’re living in your head.

      There is no “center” in urban life as well, unless we’re talking about some public meeting place. Urban living gives an illusion of a “center” because almost everything is in walking distance if not reachable via public transport.

      Not even most European cities will you find what you dream of used in the way you dream of – the old architecture was built in the past and the residents no longer see it as you do. They no longer build beauty. Modern architecture is as horrid as bland suburbia architecture. As least in within bland suburbia architecture families are being raised.

      >What does the citizen in suburbia see daily? Cars, carefully delineated borders between lots, tract homes that are machine made, every aspect perfectly and inhumanly trimmed and cut. Nothing is left to chance.

      So what. You’ve been watching American Beauty for too much.

      >There’s nothing unusual or striking, just a bland need to conform. Usually, there’s no one about.

      Compared to cities? If so, what cities?

      >When the middle classes abandoned their cities in the 50s they wanted to replace real life with an artificial one.

      City life isn’t some organic dreamland you think of. Seriously, it seems you’re outdated, ironically, about city life today.

      I live in Chicago and my brother lives in NYC. Besides the cultural events of the opera, ballet, orchestra, plays and musicals, heck even the sporting events, your non-artificial life is no more organic than what’s found in suburbia.

      But don’t worry because there’s a ton of non-artificial stuff in the city: kale juice bars, people not having kids, careerists whose personal life is as sad as the homosexual who attracted AIDS that one night, a bunch of indignant college students, a bunch of “creatives” etc.

      >The desire to eliminate Dionysian chaos and make Apollonian control the only god was achieved. We are reaping the consequences.

      Funny because suburbia, depending on where you go, is probably the last hold-out, besides rural places, for any non-prog ideas. Urban areas are modernity in thought. In other words: you’re the enemy if you hold any non-prog thought.

      The content of your post isn’t so much of a surprise because you already expressed your tired thoughts on Landyr’s Tiny Houses piece.

      1. GRA, it’s apparent you are in some kind of post-Trump victory meltdown.

        1. I want the IA vs. GRA rivalry to cool off for a bit.

          1. I’ll second that. If I’m delusional why would he take me seriously in the first place?

  3. Carlo,

    you made good points, but I would mildly disagree on some details.

    It is of course possible to establish a functioning and modern farming (or manufacturing) community, e.g:

    But that is beside the point. Selected European-Americans could establish communities by buying or renting together exclusive residential complexes, about 20 families in each, and the communities could form community networks. By living, talking and doing things together the communities are formed. If it is so wished, this cooperation can be expanded to common businesses, manufacturing jobs, etc.

    1. In defense of the OP, this is the problem of localism; what do you do when the Sheriff rides in with a couple of ACLU and Justice Department lawyers to break up your exclusive residential complex?

      Rule of Law is dead. You can’t rely on legal protections or technicalities. Unless you’re willing to go full-bore Waco on the cops and have the capacity to actually win, a leftist judge will not tolerate any level of autonomy at the local level. They’ll get you on the Fair Housing Act, they’ll get you for tax issues, or they’ll simply make up something as an excuse, a new imaginary right to screw over localist white people out of the 9th and 14th.

      The regime rests on power and power alone, and they will feel justified in whatever they have to do. Localism requires local arms and the willingness to use them against the agents of the State. Maybe it worked in the rural South seventy years ago, but few people are willing to shoot the revenuer and bury him in the hills these days. Power requires equal power in opposition, and this is the firewall against Restoration politics we have to overcome.

      1. Too true. Still, there’s a corrective.

        Going Branch Davidian on the cops is dumb and doesn’t work.

        One thing that -might- work is the old slave routine of ‘yussah’ when the face is toward you, and quietly making it clear others do not want to be here when it’s not.

        Oh, wait, nevermind: that’s -exactly- what the Racism-pole of the dominant philosophy evolved to combat. My bad.

        1. Exactly. This is one of those core questions that needs to be resolved: how to resist in a way that causes real damage without committing suicide. I’m stuck with corrupting the youth and teaching doctrines at odds with the Gods of the City. Slow and only marginally effective, but better than doing nothing.

          1. The more I think about it the more I think the answer is, ‘culture is downstream of politics.’

            To many that sounds like a counsel of despair, since it specifically means the vast majority of us will never be able to strongly influence anything, ever.

            And it might be. Or it might not. There are still -some- things for us to do. Like find a traditional structure that has been co-opted by Progress and purge it, starting from the bottom-up. (E.g. join the Knights of Columbus. No, that’s not a specific endorsement.)

          2. For some reason we’re allergic to seeking power. And those among us who aren’t I kind of wish were.

            Power isn’t wrong in itself and I don’t think power corrupts so much as reveals genuine character. And it really doesn’t demand the kind of sacrifice of character we seem to think.

      2. Asian Reactionary November 7, 2016 at 5:38 pm

        Wouldn’t it be easiest by finding a place that isn’t in the prime real estate of the US and thus avoiding conflict with busybodies?

        1. They managed to screw around with Clive Bundy in the ass end of nowhere.

          There is no flying under the radar.

      3. Gordian,

        there are always ways to circumvent tyrannical liberal laws. Liberal themselves do it all the time with various ways. You could start by not showing to outsiders your identity as European-American community. To outsiders you are just random people living together. You can be a religious community living together like Hutterites, who form ethnically European endogamous community networks. Nobody has tried to disperse Hutterites, and you can be a lot less visible about your composition. You could hide and mix the ownership of the apartments with such complex legal and contractual arrangements, that nobody can figure out the whole picture. The whole ownership could be pooled to an innocuous foundation, which decides behind close doors who can buy or rent apartments in your community. Your members could claim fictious mixed race and native American ancestries, so that in official circles your European-American community is a liberal rainbow community. Etc. You can of course use medley of methods together.

        1. You only say that because you don’t seem to understand anti-discrimination law in the U.S. Because this is the only area in which you are guilty until proven innocent, and because cash and prizes are awarded to whoever catches you, every person in the country is a potential enforcer, incentivized by large cash awards.

          If someone drives by your building, asks for an application, and you tell them there are no vacancies, they can sue and you have to prove yourself innocent. They do not have to provide any evidence whatsoever of discrimination, and in discovery will turn your life inside out. If they win, they get a payout. If they lose, you are barred for suing for frivolous litigation. If they get the local ACLU involved, they’re not even responsible for lawyers fees.

          Housing and rental discrimination is deadly territory. Don’t touch it. I know people who were clever, discrete, and still got ruined by the FHA. If you have to do it, it’s better to organize a cooperative with a fixed membership beforehand and buy land outright for the members of the co-op. At least this way, you’ll look like a corporation and get the benefit of Ruling Class Rules. Even then, corporate anti-discrimination is not my forte and you might open yourself to liability if you sell shares on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, color, or sex. As before, guilty until proven innocent, with no skin in the game for your accusers and the incentive of cash and prizes.

  4. In the old days, every community existed for a specific reason. Good farmland, mines, factories, etc. employed men in value-creating jobs, and other men to provide services to them. If that source of employment declined, people moved elsewhere to find work, and their new jobs tied them into their new community.

    Now that money no longer originates in the creation of useful goods but issues forth in unlimited quantity from Janet Yellen’s printing press, the vast bulk of inland America has turned into a decaying wasteland where there’s nothing to do but watch TV, eat cheap food, and get high on drugs. All paid for, legally or not, with EBT cards. Many mayors out here welcome refugees for the jobs that will be created to house, feed, and school them, all paid for by Janet Yellen.

  5. You all ought to read this article by Matt Forney concerning California’s collapse:

    It’s similar to what I’ve been saying. Suburbia has trouble maintaining cultural and ethnic cohesion.

    Steve Sailer remarked years ago that Californians’ fascination with cars helped shape their comparatively mellow attitudes towards race, as the automobile allowed them to self-segregate along lines of ethnicity, class and more. Leftists used this attitude against Californians to swamp their state with hordes of Mexican peasants; as recently as the 1970’s, Los Angeles was the most white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant large city in America,

    He goes on to compare California with older more settled East Coast communities:

    Donald Trump’s nationalism won him nearly all the states east of the Mississippi, while Ted Cruz’s apocalyptic, individualist platform was popular out West.

    Generally, East coast city dwellers are more resistant to non-European invasion than apocolyptic suburban Los Angeles.

    1. “Generally, East coast city dwellers are more resistant to non-European invasion…”

      Yes. East Coast city dwellers are resistant to non-European invasion in their own cities, but they have spontaneous orgasms when they see Southern towns being forcibly integrated or when they hear that Houston now has a Hispanic plurality. East Coast city dwellers who vote Republican and fashion themselves conservative, have never caught on to reality that rural white trash (as they see it) is the only thing that separates them from full-on Mogadishu.

  6. Historically, societal collapse appears to invariably involve a shift from centralized power structures to localized ones. If it didn’t also mean a loss of cultural sophistication, collapse could arguably be defined as localization.

    I don’t think it’s a question of whether it’s currently useful to become more localized. The fact is that cultural, biological, and ecological decline all but guarantee that it will happen eventually. The question is whether it makes sense to anticipate this change and begin developing local communities, economies, and culture immediately.

    Mormonism shows how this is possible even in modern suburbia. Amish and Hutterite communities show (in a very different way) how a still more radical degree of localism is possible in a more rural context.

    As the United States goes deeper into decline and the Federal and State governments weaken, stronger local communities will have an obvious advantage.

  7. I can’t recommend enough anyone interested in the idea of « localism », whether for or against, watch the movie « White Material » directed by Claire Denis and starring Isabelle Huppert. The director grew up in French colonial Africa and is very much a liberal. However, in spite of herself, she created a truly penetrating movie concerning identity and more importantly denial of it and the consequences for whites. What is going on in Africa is a much more open and honest manifestation of racial solidarity than Washington, DC.

    In gentrifying DC, without exception, all new restaurants in these neighborhoods offer European ethnic menus, almost always in Spanish, French or Italian, and prominently display wine lists or micro-brewed beers. I believe this is done to intimidate blacks, not consciously but at an unconscious level. Blacks, particularly at one militant neighborhood ANC (Advisory Neighborhood Committee) aggressively oppose these businesses. And the same goes for farmer’s markets and dozen’s of other venues like local theater groups.

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