What is Radical Localism

By Art Menius

This essay appears on my new website radicallocalism.com. Please pay a visit to learn more about this breakthrough concept in political philosophy that cross all conventional party divisions. You can also follow @radicallocalist on Twitter, like Radical Localism on Facebook, and follow our tumblr blog

“The question is, which do we value more highly – efficiency or democracy? It has become heretical to question any demand of the market, as if the desires of human beings are legitimate only insofar as they facilitate the economy. We have been enslaved by our own invention. The answer, in my opinion, is a radical localism and it begins with a participatory local politics”.(New Zealand’s Ras Nandor Tanczos from his Waikato Times column 6 August 2010)


Manuel Castells in The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture (1996-1998) describes three fundamental shifts creating what he called the “Network Society:” 1) emerging technologies; 2) crises in both capitalism and communism; and 3) new social movements. Radical Localism exemplifies a new social movement addressing the crisis of outdated economic systems and enabled by new technology.

Writing at age 24 in 1997’s Act Now, Apologize Later the Sierra Club’s youngest president ever, Adam Werbach, promulgated a radical-localism “pact”:act now apologize later

“I will do my best to:

  1. Buy products produced locally, products made with local ingredients and local labor
  2. Demand that outside corporations respect local and incorporate local products in their product base
  3. Know my community, human and wild”

Asheville, North Carolina activist and politician Cecil Bothwell kept those thoughts alive in an essay in 2008’s Gorillas in the Myth: “Here is the front line in the battle against Wal-Martization, against tax-funded, corporate-welfare schemes to lure multinational business development, and against the export of jobs. The radical localist isn’t fooled by smiley faces and low prices that help destroy downtown businesses while funneling money into distant banks. It is pie simple to join the growing ranks of thoughtful consumers, who understand that dollars are votes, and those votes shape the places we live.”

A ComCast. executive testifying before Congress in 2008 against long standing local media ownership rules seems to have twisted “Radical Localism” in the mainstream by characterizing his opposition thus.

Simultaneously, the phrase gained popularity in Britain during the devolution under the Localism Act that permitted greater local autonomy in Scotland and Wales. During the devolution process, adjustment moved quickly with activists pushing for further devolution of authority below the city level: “Radical localism requires a new relationship between local authorities and communities as well as local and central government.” In a sense, the September 2014 vote for Scottish Independence is the first wide scale plebiscite on Radical Localism writ quite large – of reversing national policy, breaking up a world power. Nearly two years before that, onNovember 29, 2014 the Guardian declared: “The NHS needs radical localism to improve public health. Public Health England will support local government and the NHS by providing expert knowledge, research and know-how.”

Keeping the nation healthy can only become a reality through localism. Photograph: Martin Godwin for The Guardian 29 Nov 2012

In 2010, sociologist E. Russell Cole took the next step in his SUNY-Albany dissertation summarized in a 21 page essay “Radical Localism in the Network Society.” Studying Green and Populist Party use of social media, Dr. Cole identified Radical Localism as a potential means to break through the two-party choke hold on power in the USA. “[T]he morphology of the third-party should resemble the decentralized communicative infrastructure that the Internet permits.” In other words, from the ground up with policy built locally first.

In America, Radical Localism builds upon SmallMart/BALLE (https://bealocalist.org/) principles for vibrant Local Living Economies to create a framework though which individual citizens and communities can reshape national policy through the intentional individual choices they make. The Radical Localist political philosophy finds roots in the 17th and 18th Century British thought that shaped the worldview and language of the American Founders. Besides Michael Shuman, BALLE, and Wendell Berry, even Mao and Barbara Kingsolver have contributed to a philosophy that lies outside any convention American binary system. A Radical Localist can be Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Anarchist, or Socialist. At the most basic level, a Radical Localist believes in liberating herself and her community from the grip of the global marketplace and unmediated capitalism through intentional choices at ground level.

The Radical Localist analysis holds that the breakdown during the Reagan and Clinton years of the regulatory system which protected local economies from the full effects of global Capitalism has destroyed community in America and lead to ever widening income disparity. The most devastating blows came from permitting interstate banking combined with eliminating basic differences among financial institutions and relieving rules requiring local ownership of media properties. These governors on Capitalism produced stable, viable local communities. This has produced a wealth of issues for which good people across the political spectrum seek answers. Yet Washington has turned into a money-go-round that cannot find common ground.

Connected-localismAs Jefferson knew, the answer lies in the people and the land. Rather than waiting for policy to change legislatively, we can change from the ground up. Rather than trying to “fix problems,” we can imagine and build an enduring America based on strong local economies, participatory local democracy, and sustainable environment.

Radical Localism demands a major mind shift that again launches from Michael H. Shuman’s principles. The Radical Localist takes the long term view, sacrificing short term gains, making intentional and often initially expensive choices for the good of the community.Smallmart-Cover-LG

“The revolution starts now. In your on back yard. In your own home town. What you doing just sitting around. Just follow your heart. The revolution starts now.” Steve Earle


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