Global / Local

Universal          -          Particular
Global               -          Local
Tepid                 -          Vivid
Many                 -          Few
Disconnected    -          Connected

In dissolving tradition, Modernity abolished every level in between the individual and the universal/global. First and foremost we are members of the global collective, united by the principles of liberal democracy (“egalitarianism, individualism, rationalism”…), but we can only be members of the global collective by forsaking any intervening identity. ‘Englishness’ detracts from ‘European’, which in turn detracts from ‘Global Citizen.’ Under liberalism each intervening identity becomes backwards and parochial compared to the all-embracing Global Citizen.

We need to be able to define levels in between Individual—Universal, but on what basis do we form these groupings? How, for instance, do you define a nation as distinct from other nations? How do you reassert a ‘national identity’ under the dissolutive influence of Globalism?

If the distinction is simply defined by the mere happenstance of location (i.e. anyone within these borders is ‘English’) then 'Englishness' simply becomes a co-ordinate, a segment of the larger whole - meaningless, in other words. There must be a binding element, a set of commonalities, that gives meaning and character to a grouping. Some have proposed ethnicity as this element.

Because liberalism acts against groupings (between Individual—Global) there can be no shared sense-making framework other than reason/science, which is abstract and universal (‘objective’, the same for everyone) rather than particular to a place or people.

Ideas are permitted within the marketplace - a superficial churning of views and interests - as long as they don’t threaten the sanctity of the liberal order (Popper’s ‘Paradox of Tolerance’). There must always be a rotation - no single idea can win. A tradition (in this context, the perseverance of a set of ideas over time) can never take root. If it doesn’t work at the universal level it is no good, hence any parochial sense-making framework is rejected out of hand. Lacking in subsidiary levels, the global scale is inherently anti-tradition.

Liberalism is a fundamentally dissolutive force. It works to dissolve any non-universal programme i.e. any tradition (because tradition is by its nature specific and exclusive).

Any attempt at an alternative sense-making framework at the global level is automatically felt as fascist or totalitarian, which points towards the need for subsidiary levels - national, local - where tradition can take root. Tradition works best at smaller scales - when imposed beyond a certain scale (‘human scale’) it becomes inappropriate. Monoculture is not in itself a bad idea, but monoculture-at-scale is.

When there are no subsidiary levels between Individual—Global then every contagious idea threatens to become a global pandemic (every idea is seen in the context of global, rather than local). Subsidiarity prevents spread, keeps things 'in their place,' and helps define a place for things.

Most of the tension resides between

1) Embedded, complexity-minded, multiscale/fractal localism (politics as an ecology/complex adaptive system), and
2) Abstract one-dimensional universalists and monoculturalism (politics as a top-down engineering project).”

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]

The tide is out, and globalism is exposed. In its place, watch for the rise of localism.

This won’t be some Jeffersonian agrarian world where we’re all threshing our own wheat, but a complex, locally–adapted system that is vibrant and resilient because it’s interconnected but not centrally controlled. 

Our current supply chain and financial system evolved by using standardization to create efficiencies. Finding “synergies” led to geometric growth of certain companies, lowering nominal costs for customers and concentrating decision-making among few. For example, four companies are now responsible for 70% of the pork production in the U.S.

The sticker price might appear lower at the grocery store, but hidden costs exist.

Think of it this way: A $4 Mr. C’s hotdog sounds like a deal, but it comes with the low-probability kicker that if a virus/terrorist/cyber-attack occurs, we might be sheltering in place for an extended period of time and our economy could go down the toilet along with millions of jobs. Now consider a locally–sourced hotdog that costs $5, $6, or even $15. Localism would likely result in higher nominal cost, but if localized decision-making, supply chains and finance prevented being shut-in at home, hoping centralized governments and corporations can avoid being overwhelmed, what is that worth?

Some things are better managed at scale, just not ALL things. By pushing most decision-making to the locally-dispersed, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “fractal localism”, we can maximize customization, adaptation, and responsiveness while still keeping those systems and institutions that are most effective across locales.

[Eric Weatherholtz]
'Localism: Retail’s Coronavirus Hangover Cure'

Things appeared to be getting better and better but our prosperity was built on credit. The things we gained came at the price of an increasingly fragile system, caused by ever-increasing imbalances.


1. The principle of subsidiarity which holds that the state should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.

2. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function.

3. Subsidiarity assumes that people are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, trade unions and other voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole.

4. But the principle of subsidiarity also allows for some decisions to be taken at regional or national (or indeed international) levels, for example in order to protect human rights or for reasons of social or economic justice.


What kind of Europe do you believe in?

It would be built on the strengths, cultures and heritage of its constituent nations. 

The fundamental principle which would guide its institutions would be that everything that can be done at family level would be entrusted to the family, everything that can be done at the local or regional or national level would be decentralized accordingly.

I believe that democracy functions properly when it is local and participatory.

[James Goldsmith]
The Trap, p. 65

What is the meaning of democracy, freedom, human dignity, standard of living, self-realisation, fulfilment? Is it a matter of goods, or of people? Of course it is a matter of people. But people can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. 

Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. 

If economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 62

In the United States, both classical and progressive liberals placed liberal nation-building at the core of its mission, particularly the transfer of political devotions from concrete localities to the abstraction of the nation.

One of the key differences between "conservatives” and “progressives” today is over whether liberalism can and should see its primary locus as the nation or the world.

Both sides share the view that liberalism is a universalist philosophy, but they differ over how best to advance that universalism. Mainstream conservatives have sought to advance liberal universalism through the vehicle of the nation, primarily through globalized economic policy and aggressively interventionist and even imperialist militarism.

Liberals believe that the nationstate must eventually be superseded by global governance, best represented today by the European Union.

[Patrick J. Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.xix

A core ambition of liberalism is the liberation of such appetites from the artificial constraints of culture either to liberate them entirely as a condition of our freedom, or, where they require constraint, to place them under the uniform and homogenized governance of promulgated law rather than the inconstant impositions and vagaries of diverse cultures.

From the outset, proponents of liberalism understood that cultural constraints over expression and pursuit of appetite were obstacles to the realization of a society premised upon unleashing erstwhile vices (such as greed) as engines of economic dynamism, and that state power might be required to overturn cultural institutions responsible for containing such appetites.

Today, with the success of the liberal project in the economic sphere, the powers of the liberal state are increasingly focused on dislocating those remaining cultural institutions that were responsible for governance of consumer and sexual appetite-purportedly in the name of freedom and equality, but above all in a comprehensive effort to displace cultural forms as the ground condition of liberal liberty.

Only constraints approved by the liberal state itself can finally be acceptable. The assumption is that legitimate limits upon liberty can arise only from the authority of the consent-based liberal state.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.69

Community begins with the family but extends outward to incorporate an appropriate locus of the common good. For [Wendell] Berry, the common good can be achieved only in small, local settings.

These dimensions cannot be precisely drawn, but Berry seems to endorse the town as the basic locus of commonweal, and the region mainly in the economic and not interpersonal realm. He is not hostile toward a conception of national or even international common good, but he recognizes that the greater scope of these larger units tends toward abstraction, which comes always at the expense of the flourishing of real human lives.

Larger units than the locality or the region can flourish in the proper sense only when their constitutive parts flourish.

Modern liberalism, by contrast, insists on the priority of the largest unit over the smallest, and seeks everywhere to impose a homogenous standard on a world of particularity and diversity. One sees this tendency everywhere in modern liberal society, from education to court decisions that nationalize sexual morality, from economic standardisation to minute and exacting regulatory regimes.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.80-1

[Tocqueville] stressed that it was the nearness and immediacy of the township that made its citizens more likely to care and take an active interest not only in their own fates but in the shared fates of their fellow citizens.

By contrast, he noted a striking lack of attentiveness to more distant political centers of power, including both state and an even more distant federal government, where only a few ambitious men might govern but which otherwise was of little concern to the active citizens within the township.

Tocqueville would have regarded a citizenry that was oblivious to local self-governance, but which instead directed all its attention and energy to the machinations of a distant national power, not as the culmination of democracy but as its betrayal.

Tocqueville argued that self-rule was the result of practice and habituation, and the absence of such self-rule would bring not the flourishing of freedom but reduction to servitude to distant rulers. Democracy, in his view, was defined not by rights to voting either exercised or eschewed but by the ongoing discussion and disputation and practices of self-rule in particular places with familiar people over a long period of time.

Today's liberals who call for encouraging democratic participation through more extensive forms of civic education focused on national politics neglect the extent to which their cure is the source of the ills they would redress.

It remains unthinkable that redress of civic indifference would require efforts to severely limit the power of the central state in favor of real opportunities for local self-rule. But those who readily display evidence of civic indifference or ignorance as evidence either for the need to limit or educate the citizenry unavoidably do so in the deeper commitment to strengthening the identification of politics with the actions of the liberal state, and by so doing, ensure the further degradation of citizenship.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.176-7

Globalist vs Internationalist

Globalist - no intermediate levels, a free flow of information between states that essentially turns the world into one large market. All cultures are dissolved in favour of the One True Culture (‘Globohomo’). Nothing between Individual—Global; no tariffs, protectionist policies, or local currencies and cultures.

Globalism is imperialist. It wants a single idea to become universal, a global monoculture.

Internationalist - a recognition of the need for coordination at the global level (a need for a global level), combined with subsidiary levels that allow multiple unique identities to emerge and that provide circuit-breakers between Individual—Global.

Internationalism is anti-imperialist - it does not want any single idea to scale up and take over. Local monocultures over global monoculture. No global pandemics.

Although he held out the hope that "the Great Society may become the Great Community," Dewey knew that it could "never possess all the qualities which mark a local community.” “In its deepest and richest sense a community must always remain a matter of face-to-face intercourse.... Vital and thorough attachments are bred only in the intimacy of an intercourse which is of necessity restricted in range."

What Dewey could not explain was just how loyalty and responsibility would thrive in a world dominated by large-scale production and mass communications. 

He took for granted the "disintegration of the family, church and neighborhood." What was to fill the resulting “void”? Dewey did not say. "It is outside the scope of our discussion,” he wrote, "to look into the prospect of the reconstruction of face-to-face communities.” His commitment to the idea of progress prevented him from pursuing the point.

In a 1916 essay on progress, he argued that although the replacement of a "static" social structure by a "dynamic or readily changing social structure" did not guarantee progress, it created the preconditions of progress - of "constructive intelligence" and "constructive social engineering." In any case, there was "no way to 'restrain' or turn back the industrial revolution and its consequences.”

Under these circumstances, it was impossible to defend his belief in the possibility of a "return movement ... into the local homes of mankind.” Since nothing in Dewey's social philosophy justified any such hope, the subjects of work and loyalty had to be relegated to the margins of his work, as, increasingly, they were relegated to the margins of the liberal tradition as a whole.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.368

Like the romantic sociologists, social democrats insisted that individuals had no being apart from society. They too regretted the decline of "community," but they relied on the state, not on small intermediate groups or voluntary associations, to restore a sense of connection.

When Lynd asked whether it was possible to "build urban people into vital communities," the grammatical structure of his sentence revealed more than he may have intended. People were the objects, not the subjects, of "community," as he understood it.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.427

Syndicalists and guild socialists, as we have seen, believed that small-scale proprietorship conferred moral independence, self-respect, and responsibility. 

They did not seek to restore proprietorship as such, but they never lost sight of the virtues associated with it. They envisioned a society of small workshops, in which effective control over production remained at the local level.

Syndicalism (like populism) fell outside the broad consensus in favour of progress, centralisation, and distributive democracy. It undercut the Marxist claim to offer a radical alternative to the capitalist regimentation of the workplace. It forced Marxists to justify their program on grounds of superior efficiency, on the increasingly implausible grounds that only a socialist state could assure prosperity for all, or on vague appeals to the progress of the human race.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.335

Today scientists are beginning to study the remarkable farming methods practiced by Indigenous peoples in the Americas. Their aim is to discover techniques that could be transferred to the Third World and employed by ecologically minded farmers in the West.

But this should be done in a cautious and watchful way, for Indigenous science was developed by people living in a particular landscape.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.306-7

In a world of categories and abstractions a game is just a game, and it does not much matter from what materials a pack of cards, or a chess board is made. 

By contrast, Indigenous science deals in direct experience and these things do matter.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.172

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