Conservative Localists: Two Books Reviewed
By Art Menius August 28, 2015
Mark Moore, Localism: A Philosophy of Government (Lexington, KY: Ridge Enterprise Group, 2014) 208 pages
Lorie Medina, Community Organizing for Conservatives: A Manifesto for Localism in the Tea Party Movement (New York: Broadside/Harper Collins, 2011) 21 pages
Most mainstream localists, such as we who attend the annual BALLE conference and participate in Local First organizations, tend to share progressive and environmentally sustainable political views along the lines David Korten explored in When Corporations Rule the World. Recently I stumbled through the invisible hand of Google on to a pair of conservative localist manifestos. Both come from authors who were or are passionately involved in the Tea Party Movement.
If nothing else, these books are important reminders that localism can have many different meanings beyond Buy Local First, Invest Locally, and building Local Living Economies. Much like the devolutionary localism in the United Kingdom, these writers concern themselves with localism as a purely political concept. Medina gives no indication that Living Local Economy mainstream localism exists, while Moore gives some indication that he may have read Korten.
Based on these two texts, Tea Party and mainstream localists share a passion for local, community based activism, active civic engagement, and a conviction that the United States are headed down a suicidal path. The key difference between conservative and mainstream localists is that the former believe government is out of control and morals eroding, while the latter believe global transnational corporations are far too powerful and our home on Earth seriously endangered. Ecology seems critically important since 2015 BALLE keynoter and prolific author also identifies as Libertarian but stands very firmly on pro-environment ground.
I picked up Mark Moore’s Localism: A Philosophy of Government with very low expectations. That it is a print on demand book (mine was printed on August 13, 2015) with a very large font did not encourage me. The lack of footnotes or even a bibliography hardly bode well. Nor did what little I could find about Moore on the Internet. Former communications director of the Young Republicans of Arkansas, he bolted to lead a third party, then return to the GOP as campaign director for the campaigns of a state senator. The 2008 election found him doing the same job for Libertarian Ron Paul in Arkansas. From there he moved into Tea Party activism and work for an organization to promote independent candidates in his home state. All that pointed out that despite our shared localism, Moore and I came from opposing places on the political continuum.
Nonetheless, as someone deeply interested in applying localist principles to political action, Localism appeared to be a must read for me. Once I did I was pleasantly surprised. Despite some questionable policy concepts, many of Moore’s ideas rang true with me. Although lacking references, many of Moore’s statements appeared influenced by David Korten’s criticism of globalist economics dominated by transnational corporations and Akhil Reed Amar’s work on the incorporation of the Bill of Rights against the states through the 14th Amendment.
Moore also understands that a balance must exist between government and business and sees global corporations as the very centralization he opposes. He realizes that American troops have been deployed, often at loss of life or limb, to serve these corporations and rejects corporate personhood. Moore wisely rejects the two party system and even national political parties. Despite many states’ rights view, he makes clear that states cannot just secede because the Union is no longer convenient the way the Confederate states did. He posits an intriguing concept for how a state could peacefully and slowly, with serious financial penalties, secede if the national government violated the constitution.
Moore repeats to the point of being tiresome that “the key tenet of localism is the decentralization of government.” To achieve this, he asserts “seven pillars” of localism. Most localists I know would only support some of them or recognize this as the localism they support. These pillars are, in short form: 1) limited authority of the central government; 2) the states have a means to check and balance the national government; 3) dismantling the two party system; 4) specific limitations on central government (admirably including preventing NAFTA and TPP type treaties, megabanks, and the Bretton Woods entities); 5) localized school districts independent of external control; 6) local governments being able to check and balance state governments much as the states can the federal; and 7) states being able to determine who are its citizens.
Number seven is one of the messy areas where, believing that immigration is an attack on the middle class, he offers separate state and national citizenship wherein a state could refuse citizenship to an individual who is an American citizen. Some of Moore’s solutions resemble problematic, if not unworkable, matters during 1780s with states negotiating with each other as in the March 1785 Mount Vernon conference between Maryland and Virginia. Individual federal income tax would be eliminated and replaced by the federal government taxing the states much like the requested donations to the Confederation government.
He outlines as system by which counties can peacefully secede from their states much like collegiate athletic teams switching conferences. Moore advocates privatizing minting and printing currencies. Any two or more of his states could formally agree not to follow federal law in their transactions.
Moore tries to speak as is the principles came from an organized movement rather than his own brain. Too often he uses language that “the localist” or “a localist” does, believes, or thinks something. He uses “many of us think” to support an assertion. Localism seems to be an up from Libertarianism text. His closing chapter enumerates, mostly correctly, why a Libertarian government cannot work on national level. He then asserts why his brand of localism addresses those shortcomings. Despite all these shortcoming, Moore has some intriguing ideas among the unworkable ones and a largely correct analysis of how things have gone wrong. Sometimes he makes the same points as Korten. While I disagree on many things, I am glad I read Localism: A Philosophy of Government.
Not so much for Community Organizing for Conservatives, but it was a small amount of time pent thusly. Medina, a former telecommunications executive, left the workforce to raise her children as a stay at home mother. In 2009 she attended a Tea Party rally, formed the Dallas Tea Party, and claims to have helped start more than 100 such groups. She expresses tremendous pride in having led an effort which scuttled a municipal arts center. Community Organizing for Conservatives: A Manifesto for Localism in the Tea Party Movement is a part of Voices of the Tea Party, a series of short, inexpensive eBooks to share “best practices.” Other titles include First Do No Harm which uses the Hippocratic Oath to dis President Obama, a social media guide, and Why ObamaCare is Bad for America.
In this brief ebook, Medina does not touch on mainstream localism at all. She offers a short handbook on how to form and sustain local Tea Party chapters. Much of she offers consists of solid advice on managing all volunteer organizations such as inclusivity and respect for members’ time as they are members, not employees. Medina delivers important tips on why and how to become engaged with local government. “Rotary Club” could be substituted for “Tea Party Group” in many instances.
Her “localism” emphasizes the important of Tea Party groups remaining grassroots and independent. Local groups are “heart and soul of Tea Party movement.” She asserts that all Tea Party groups should reflect their local communities, while sharing a common ideology and leadership and organizational characteristics. She believes the “small, local Tea Party organization is the model” to follow rather than those with more than 1000 members since these grassroots groups naturally share commonalities such as same “expensive toll roads” and the same “worthless mayor.”
Medina makes the unfounded assertion that most Americans support the Tea Party. The greatest distance from the localist mainstream is that while Korten, for example, emphasizes the ecological and economic issues we face, for Medina shared morality and taxation are the most important problems. Thereby she ends up supporting Libertarianism in political matters but not social ones, a hardly sustainable position.