Tory Anarchist vs Front Porch Republic
Read Daniel McCarthy’s critique of the Front Porch, dovetailing rather nicely with many of my own reservations of the localists and agrarians:
The greatest doubt I harbor about the Front Porchers is whether local communities (as if they can all be described at once) are as really virtuous as the Front Porch Republicans wish them to be. Most of the evils of the world exist on the local level, too — they’re just proportionally smaller. That’s good, but it’s not a panacea.
Consider economics. Ever wonder why Wal-Mart, the bete noire of agrarian localists, grew out of little old Bentonville, Arkansas? It wasn’t an accident. Up to the early 1980s, when I was a kid, the Midwest had a lot of small and mid-sized towns that were commercially underserved — if you wanted to buy a washing machine in, say, Knob Noster, Missouri, you had to drive to a city or big town to buy one. Opening a specialty store to sell appliances was a risky proposition: you couldn’t sell many appliances because there weren’t many potential customers, so making money on volume was out of the question. But charging a high mark up on goods was out of the question, too, because what customer base did exist was not affluent. Wal-Mart grew to colossal proportions because it solved this problem: as a chain, it could make money on volume even in rather small towns.
This is not to say that the critique is not valuable, but I for one have run up against some difficulties with the grander localist vision – not the least of which is my experience with people who have come from some very small, very local areas and whose stories detail a world of corruption, local power politics, and sexual abuse. Of course not all small towns are like that, but it’s important to understand that a town’s virtue or quality of life is not really determined by size. The genius of localism is really in its emphasis on the neighborhood, and especially the organic, unguided, unzoned vision of the neighborhood. That’s what we’ve lost with cookie-cutter suburbia, and that can be reclaimed no matter the size of the town or the presence of a Wal*Mart.