The Fetishization of the Local

In a recent Blogginheads episode, libertarian Kerry Howley chides her libertarian life partner Will Wilkerson for engaging in the “fetishization of the local.”  This is one of the fundamental issues that divide libertarians.  Many libertarians, like Ron Paul, simply want political decision-making to be shifted from the federal level to the state and local level, where it is easier for individuals to be included in the decision-making process.  But other libertarians (like me) worry that local control is less likely to guarantee liberty than federal control.  It is easier for ethnic or religious majorities to dominate local politics than it is for them to dominate national politics.

Population aberrations are cancelled out at the national level.  Thus, while Mormons could easily dominate Utah politics, or Baptists can easily dominate Southern politics, neither is able to dominate national politics.  The canceling out of interests leads to gridlock, which is great for liberty.  It’s very hard for a group to gain control of political power at the national level, and it is relatively easy for a group to gain control of political power at a local level.

Some of the worst deprivations of liberty happen at the local level.  Slavery and segregation were state injustices that were remedied by the exercise of federal power.  Today, localities abuse eminent domain to take private property for the poor and politically powerless and give it to rich and political powerful.  Smoking bans have been institute by cities mostly, the same with bans on trans fats.   Local prosecutors and sheriffs have localized efforts to expel illegal immigrants.  The federal government may have botched the raid at Waco, but local SWAT teams across America seem to tear down the door to the wrong house every week or two, often killing innocent victims of botched Rambo tactics.  (Radley Balko does a great job of following these stories on his blog.)  This Esquire article on Dateline’s To Catch a Predator is a pretty good reminder of the quality of some of our local law enforcement.

The reason that Ron Paul attracts hate groups is because they are impotent at the national level, but could actually achieve some measure of political power at the local level.  These groups are not libertarian—they are totalitarian, and will gladly take any kind of power they can get.

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