Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article about what conservatism will need to look like in the modern era. What was surprising, was that it wasn’t really that modern an idea.
The author, Yuval Levin (author of The Great Debate), observes that people are disenchanted with the current political scene. It’s not an earth shattering observation, considering the recent chaos. However, Mr. Levin points out that one of the reasons for the disenchantment is our intense nostalgia. The political Left, though enjoying the modern era of tolerance, longs for the 1960’s and a more regulated economy. The political Right falls into the same trap by pining for the 1980’s, when we had a free economy, national pride, and an emphasis on family values.
Both parties use this nostalgia to their advantage, catering to their respective constituents and giving empty promises to return to those halcyon days of old. The overlooked truth is that the past remains past, and no amount of promises or demagoguery can bring it back.
What Mr. Levin proposes is simple, as many good ideas are, suggesting that parties should use the diversity and fragmentation of American life to their advantage.
By empowering problem solvers throughout American society, rather than hoping that Washington will get things right, conservatives can bring to public policy the kind of dispersed, incremental, bottom-up approach to progress that increasingly pervades every other part of American life while reviving community and civil society to combat dislocation and isolation.
– Yuval Levin
Over the past fifty years politically, Right and Left, we have moved towards centralization, resting all our socio-political hopes on the election of a President, rather than remembering where the true political power resides. Moving to a more decentralized position would breath new life into the conservative agenda, taking its strings away from the puppet masters who tell everyone what they want us to get behind.
It is a sound and sensible approach. After all, don’t we want the same with our food? Already we see movements towards those wonderful sounding words like “local” and “community.” Shouldn’t our politics be an extension of that?
Centralization in our food is Monsanto, Tyson, Kraft, and all the other big food agri-businesses. Its the opposite of the farmers market and relationship marketing.
Decentralization and localization are gaining more traction with our food as time goes on. For some farmers, like Joel Salatin, it forms a distinct part of their business model and philosophy. In Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Mr. Pollan tried to order steaks from Joel Salatin, but the farmer refused. This lead to Mr. Pollan coming out and seeing what Polyface farm was like for himself.
What had brought me to Polyface in the first place, you’ll recall, was Joel’s refusal to FedEx me a steak. I was given to understand that his concept of sustainability was not limited to agricultural technique or processing method, but extended the entire length of the food chain. Joel is no more likely to sell his grass-finished beef to Whole Foods (let alone Wal-Mart) than he would be to feed his cows grain, chicken manure, or Rumensin; as far as he’s concerned, it is all of the same industrial piece.
A chicken – or steak, or ham, or carton of eggs – can find its way from Polyface Farm to an eater’s plate by five possible routes; direct sales at the farm store, farmer’s markets, metropolitan buying clubs, a handful of small shops in Staunton, and Joel’s brother Art’s panel truck, which makes deliveries to area restaurants every Thursday. Each of these outlets seems quite modest in itself, yet taken together they comprise the arteries of a burgeoning local food economy that Joel believes is indispensable to the survival of his kind of agriculture (and community), not to mention the reform of the entire global food system.
-The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Micheal Pollan
This is the picture of a decentralized food system. Customers finding food from farmers within their local areas, not Wisconsin residents buying Californian vegetables or Texan steaks. While there will always be some things certain states do better (oranges from the southern states), the goal is to reduce the amount of distance (miles or people), between you and the farmer who raised what you purchased.
With decentralization, it rests the growth and distribution of food in the hands of many, not a few, allowing the system to recover quicker in case of contamination, and prevent possible manipulations.
A decentralized system of food, politics, and life may seem nostalgic in nature, a dream to the return of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, but that’s not the point. It is not nostalgia that guides the idea of decentralization, it’s survival. Centralized systems are more dangerous, more prone to error and mistakes that effect a wider range than a decentralized mistake could.
By purposefully choosing decentralization, by choosing local, you put your money and your faith in your neighbors, in people you can look in the eyes, not in faceless businesses or two-faced politicians.
The Wall Street Journal article was in part based on Mr. Levin’s most recent book, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. Available on May 10th. (Not a sponsor)