Posted by: jackslife | May 19, 2009

Action Items for a Community

Yet another great post from Patrick Deneen on FPR.

The common frustration for community minded conservatives seems to be the question, “But what can really be done?”  I agree with Professor Deneen that we have to come up with political solutions, as well as cultural ones.  I think that the cultural battle is a primary consideration though.  Deneen does make some good suggestions, and I think that the key is that they are all primarily local in nature.  I have really come to the conclusion here recently that this is where these battles must be fought.  The federal project that must be undertaken by the localists and communitarians is to join with libertarians to fight for decentralization.  From Deneen’s post –

So, this site is at least this much: an effort to change our self-understanding – the selves we are, the selves and communities we might be. Many observe rightly that its arguments are almost everywhere and always paradoxical, if not contradictory – arguing on behalf of communities and a culture in which choice and escape and individual self-assertion is subordinated, yet urging the embrace of these ways as a matter of choice and self-assertion. This paradox is forced upon anyone making these arguments by a culture that renders everything into a choice. Still, ultimately a people persuaded by the wisdom of such a course will begin to enact some of its basic presuppositions into law, and thus slowly create a “virtuous circle” in which the law emanates from culture, and culture is in turn strengthened by law. Some of us will act as individuals within communities, stepping out of the mainstream to preserve or create a distinctive alternative for our families or small communities of families. Others of us – and here, I would include myself – will call for citizens to begin to consider public acts large and small that will begin to offer us a different way to live.

Small changes might have large effects over time. Demands in changes to zoning laws, requiring more mixed use space – commercial, residential, educational, religious and otherwise – would begin to re-integrate the various central activities of human life. Demotion of the automobile is a major desideratum, and here a great coalition between the environmental Left and traditionalist Right is there for the picking. Libertarians, Catholics and traditionalists can make common cause in demanding more economic and legislative subsidiarity, although libertarians must chasten their dogmatic individualism and understand that the best restraint upon large-scale centralized institutions are not individuals, but communities. There is no “free market” – it is the fantasy of ideological purists – but there are markets that leave us more free as members of communities and relatively more immune from large-scale centralized institutions (public or private) than others. People might be persuaded to call for a different finger to be put on the legislative scales: not the one that now gives advantage to large-scale organizations, but a different finger that gives advantage to smaller companies, family-businesses, local enterprises whose bottom-line is not the benefit of absentee shareholders, but the life and fabric of good communities. Liberatarians are right that onerous regulation is to be rejected, but not because it represents an imposition upon profitability, but rather because it is desired by both big government and big business as an obstacle to entry of smaller players. Perhaps something so inventive as a dual regulatory system could be conceived, in which smaller businesses bear a lighter burden. Incentives to smalleness and localism should become the norm and default, and not the current set of incentives that favor the creation of entities that are “too big to fail.” Anyone who believes that the past year demonstrates our greater “freedom” needs to have their pulse checked.

I don’t know what I think about the dual regulatory system that he mentions, but I would probably prefer it to doing nothing. The problem is that regulation burdens small business in a way that it doesn’t burden large business. We need to either return to a truly “free” market, or we need to address the inequity inherent to our current regulations. In any situation where it is feasible I would prefer that regulation be handled at a local or state level. His suggestion of pushing towards more economic and legislative subsidiarity is definitely something I support, and I believe this idea should be supported by all conservatives.

I am encouraged by the movement that I observe towards an actionable platform for community based conservatism, but the key thing that I take away from my recent reading is that those of us interested in this way of life must actively pursue local political philosophy that seeks to influence our most immediate communities first, and that engages the culture in substantive ways.

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