Russell Fox's Reviews > Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism

Politics on a Human Scale by Jeff Taylor
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's review
Sep 13, 2016

it was ok
bookshelves: academic, agrarianism, american-politics, democracy, liberalism, non-fiction, political-science, political-theory, communitarianism
Read in September, 2016 — I own a copy

Jeff Taylor's history of decentralism in American political thought and practice is both monumental and unfortunately limited. As a history of party politics, and the rise and fall of various sets of ideas that provided, in the context of the U.S. Constitution, arguments against the centralization of economic, legal, and political power in the national government in Washington DC, it is simply fantastic, filled with marvelous insights into hundreds of near-forgotten figures and references to fights buried deep in our ever evolving foundations. But as a history of the very idea of "decentralism," of what it means in theory and practice, of how it was or how it could be justified and why? There, Taylor falls fare short. For him, in this book at least, "decentralism" is entirely an argument over the national government's authority over the states; it is about the 10th Amendment, and little else. That gives him more than enough material to work with, to be sure! But a discussion of the de-centralizing of authority, without spending much time at all thinking about what kinds of alternative centers for authority exist out there, besides the states, narrows the discussion profoundly from the outset. In the book's 556 pages of text, I only found about 5 times in which "cities" were referred to at all, and most of those were in reference to either Jefferson's or Bryan's convictions that cities were part of the problem for freedom-loving people; a real examination of agrarian ideas, their connection to localism, their advantages and their disadvantages when it comes to generating a true "politics on a human scale," is not to be found here. There are occasional comments along those lines here and there, but mostly they are buried in information about in-fighting within American political parties over nullification, the Civil War, farm policy, the New Deal, isolationism, the Reagan Revolution, and more. This book is, in short, a tremendous resource to anyone interested in the history of the arguments over state's rights and federal authority within the Democratic and Republican parties--but as a real examination of a "decentralist" tradition, it's only one small part of the story.

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