Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book Review - Kirkpatrick Sale's Human Scale.

Having just reread Kirkpatrick Sale's Human Scale I feel compelled to review it as it is such as classic of decentralism. As has been said before it is ironically very large, over 500 pages, considering the title but this should not put off potential readers as it is crammed full of explanations, anecdotes, and a lot of information and statistics of great interest to any avid decentralist and most casual readers besides.

Sale splits the book up into several parts including one on the problems being inflicted on our centralised, large scale world and one each offering glimpses of decentralised solutions for the social, economic and political spheres. He covers areas such as decentralised government for various community levels, renewable, small scale energy production and workplace democracy.

The book is well written and enjoyable for a work so encyclopedic and packed full of information. The solutions offered are usually quite sensible and there is something for all stripes of libertarian and decentralist even is Sale tends to write from a broadly left of centre position.
One negative is that my copy was published in 1980 and hence many of the statistics and some of the information is getting somewhat dated, but that is more a call for new decentralist material and should not detract too much from the worth of Sale's book.

In summary it is an encyclopedic work of the Human Scale movement and despite being 30 years old is still a necessary read for all committed decentralists.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Where next for Labour?

It has been quite some time as I've been very busy but finally I've got around to writing a new post for my blog; a rumination on the future of the Labour party.


It seems clear now by that Labour is heading for a wipeout and we are facing the rather unpalatable prospect of Conservative party rule again. On the bright side though hopefully there is a good chance the New Labour project will die with Brown's government.

The question is then where should Labour go from there? Particularly of interest to us decentralists; where could it go in our direction?

Personally I think it needs to go backwards but not just to the old labour of the 70s when the communists struggled for control of the party with the moderates. No they need to go further back than that, even further than Atlee and the triumph of Welfare Statism. They need to go back to those intellectual fathers who once meant so much to the fledgling party, those British thinkers who once meant so much more than German communists and Thatcherites to Labour.
In particular they need to rediscover three key British Labour thinkers.

Firstly they need to rediscover the political and economic works of that radical Tory, John Ruskin. As strange as it seems now he was a major influence on the beginnings of the Labour party as well as on the likes of Tolstoy and Gandhi. According to the introduction of my copy of his seminal [I]Unto this last[/I] it was this book which, as Clement Atlee retells it, was the favourite political and economic influence on the first 30 or so Labour MPs to reach parliament who were given a survey to complete on the subject.

In his works on political economy Ruskin set out his views on such things as value, dignified work, the right organisation of labour and wealth. He makes some extremely keen insights and Labour would do well to recall his importance. He reminds us of the need for dignified work rather than drudgery, and for the need to make sure the power to direct labour, or wealth, is used and not abused. His work emphasises the need for a more decentralised and satisfying economy where the quality is more important than quantity and the satisfaction of the worker in daily toil is as important as the consumer's.

Secondly Labour really needs to go back to the works of R.H Tawney, a name not well known now but who was once an important stalwart in certain quarters of the British labour party. He was famous within it for such works as the Acquisitive society and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism . In these works and particularly in the Acquisitive society he stressed two important ideas as Peter Etherden has emphasised:

Tawney had two big ideas. The first was the idea that society should be organised for the performance of duties rather than the maintenance of rights. This led to the idea that industry and banking should be organized as professions. The other was intrinsic in his analysis of the nature and proper function of property and led to far-reaching and incisive attacks on 'functionless property' and 'divorcing ownership from use'...attacks that went far beyond the ideas of either Marx or Proudhon and echoed Gesell.

In Tawney's view his two big ideas were related. He begins his discussion of 'property and creative work' in 'The Acquisitive Society' with the words: 'The application of the principle that society should be organised upon the basis of functions...offers a standard for discriminating between those types of private property which are legitimate and those which are not'. Nowadays most economists have learnt to discriminate between 'goods' and 'bads' in our gross national products, but if Tawney had his way, they would also be distinguishing between property and 'improperty'. 'Property,' exclaimed Tawney, 'is not theft, but a good deal of theft becomes property'.

He emphasised the importance of linking rights to functions or duties and therefore called for the removal, gradual or quickly, of functionless property and the organisation of industry in order to produce things of quality and provide worker satisfaction and goverance. This links him with the old labour idea of more producer control while also emphasising the need for community input.

He was therefore an important decentralist thinker even if he wrote little specifically on scale as he realised the need for human scale control and satisfaction in dignified work and the Labour party which has so long been into corporatism and centralised bureaucratic control coulb learn a lot from this past master.

Finally Labour could learn a lot by rediscovering another key early influence; the guild socialist and Fabian thinker G.D.H Cole.

Cole is perhaps the most decentralist of all these three figures. He was a pluralist through and through. He believed that individuals needed greater control over their existences but also realised the key place of association in the life of individuals. He emphasised that many of the functions of the state and industry could be broken up and federative, decentralised, largly self-governing associations could take their place from the block to the workshop.

In many ways he shared the recognition of intermediate association common among many Conservatives from at least Burke onwards as well as pluralist liberals like De Toqueville and of course the social anarchists like Kropotkin.

His influence could be very positive on Labour by drawing their attention to the importance of intermediate associations particularly those that are decentralised, participartory and democratic and helping them to rediscover the importance of function in the goverment of state and industry.

So it can be seen that Labour has within its own history three thinkers that could push in a new, refreshing direction making it a proper alternative to the Conservatives and bringing back some decentralism and diversity into the bleakness of modern British politics.

Will it do it? Of course not.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Why the Right should support Decentralism and Regionalism.

.It is my belief that a lot on the traditionally "rightwing" end of the political spectrum can gain a lot from a more decentralist and regionalist focus. Not all on the right will appreciate this angle but certainly those of a more anti-authoritarian bent have a lot to gain from it.

Many of the more anti-authoritarian right have a deep attachment to fundamental political liberties such as those of free association and free political speech. They tend to adopt a communitarian approach to liberty envisaging it as the intercises of the authority of the many social groupings and associations which shape the lives and personalities of men such as the family, local community, church etc etc.

Decentralism is generally a very positive thing for these small social bonds and for stopping them breaking down and leaving atomised individuals on the one hand and massive state and economic corporations on the other. By decentralising these social bonds they can be more real and personal to individuals as they really enter into his experiences and are not abstract and impersonal forces that dominate him from afar like modern bureaucracy but forces over which he has a great deal of insight and input like local parish meetings. This is important because the most positive and stable impacts of social forces are best achieved when they really connect with the lives of individuals concerned and when they feel them as personal social bonds not as the impersonal and abstract. It is in balance of many of these type of social groupings or bonds, with the addition of some personal independence, in which liberty is achieved.

Decentralism also helps in this regard by making the social bonds of men more just and moral and exerting pressure on them to act morally. Morality is in the end based on real human relationships and it is best encouraged by encouraging these in our social relationships rather than sterile and impersonal relationships.

Finally decentralism aids the intermediate associations between man and state, and hence his liberty, by making the bonds of their authorities more functional and efficient. It is only in the end those authorities and associations which perform a definite social function which will survive and efficient functionalism with personal meaning to the individual is best achieved through decentralism. This means that instead of welfare being administered by a far away body, who's functions the individual can barely assess, the different functions can be performed by bodies who's narrower functions he can really comprehend. This is also aided by usual increase in efficiency that decentralism brings. Much is talked of economies of scale but in fact generally beyond quite a moderate size the costs of a social organisation tend to rise geometrically whereas the benefits tend to rise only arithmetically, as Leopold Kohr once pointed out.

For this view of freedom and authority to work out it must be accepted that the social bonds and associations of men are not strengthened by elaborate hierarchies and inequalities but by making these intermediate groupings more functional, personal and real to the individual.

To a lot of the right tradition, history and identity are very important to any society. Decentralism can greatly strengthen these values. It strengthens traditions by making them more personal, local and real to the individual, they become part of the functional social relationships of his existence which gives life to the traditions and ensures their longevity. It can be seen by the accompanying decline of tradition and the local, personal social bonds that the sterile, uniforming of large, centralised organisations are not a great breeding for tradition. It also seems likely that social bonds or real, human relationships which give the individual a sense of control, oversight and participation in their institutions will mean traditions will not be oppressive due to the personal, moral elements involved. They will be more robust for this and be able to play their important part in the social system as social solidifiers, connecting people with their past and the collective wisdom and experience.

Decentralism also aids in giving the individual a definite social identity rather than leaving him a floating social atom. Again this is because it invigorates his social bonds giving him greater control and participation in them and attuning them better with his everyday life. It also will aid in better attuning him to his local, physical environment because of the increased local and regional integration and self-sufficiency which decentralism encourages. His greater control over institutions that shape his identity and his greater awareness of his environment will also make his identity more satisfying and non-alienating to him Identity is very important to the individual, the completely independent individual is a myth and it is our social bonds which have a large role in shaping us and it is important to make them healthy and diverse not sterile and uniform. Liberty, authority and identity are indivisibly bound together.

Decentralis will also be a great boost for real, economic liberty, particularly if applied to the economic as well as political spheres.

Capitalism, or what is today called capitalism, is in fact the enemy of economic liberty and property. It makes a few free and many servile due to its great seperation of labour and capitalst and control it allowance of the control of most capital by a relative few. Private property and private productive property is generally a benefity for society. It gives individuals and families an increased independence and better resistance to tyranny while enhancing healthy social bonds, but it can only perform this when it is well dispersed and it is functional. Or in other words when we have what thinkers like G.K Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc called a "distributive state". In capitalism the lack of real productive property ownership by many lessens both the independence of many and their ability to resist tyranny. It also denies them liberty and control over their productive activity, making work just a servile, unwanted activity performed mainly for material reasons whereas it should be done in a dignified manner where it can improve the individuals, his social bonds and his links with nature.

These and other qualities of capitalist lead to modern global capitalism and consumerism which have great negative effects on tradition, authority and identity due to their corrosive effect on intermediate associations such as kinship, local community, property etc etc which leads to atomisation, uniformity and the desire of individuals to find replacements for these necessary social functions and comforts in consumerism, corporate capitalism and the central state.

The best way to protect tradition, liberty, authority, property and identity from the twin evils of global capitalism and statism is through libertarianly and decentralistly encouraging distributism and also greater regional self-sufficiency and economic integration. This will incrrease the control of local institutions and individuals over their production, protect social bonds from global capitalist errosion and make private property and economic liberty more effective and real for individuals and families.

So as can be seen decentralism is also good for the right, or at least the anti-authoriitarian right. It promotes liberty by strengthening the multiple small social groupings in whose intercises, as robert Nisbet like to put it, our liberty is located. It also aids tradition and identity by making them more functional and real. And finally economic decentralisation and distributism can increase real and effective economic liberty and private property and help tradition, liberty, authority and identity against the ravages of global capitalism and statism.

Rightwingers interested in decentralism should check out the work of authors such as Robert Nisbet, Russell Kirk, Albert.J. Nock, Edmund Burke, Kropotkin, Murray Rothbard, Hayek, The Southern Agrarians, Henry George, Lamennais and many others.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Posts on localism.

Why the left should support decentralism and regionalism. (part two.)

Apart from equality and social libery there is perhaps no overiding ideal to the left since the French revolution than democracy. Usually linked to this idea is one of democracy that be as widespread and participatory as possible, so as individuals can govern themselves, maintain their own liberty and secure relative equality.

In servicing this value decentralism is particularly suited. The decentralism of institutions and organisations means that individuals and small groups and associations are more powerful in proportion to the government, being one in 10,000-10 million rather than one in 20 million to 1 billion. This means their voice is stronger, it also means they can have better oversight of the government and be better placed to keep it accountable to the people being governed.

What it also means is it is easier for institutions to grow up which allow greater participation in public affairs by more of the people simply due to the decrease in size and complexity of the state. More directly democratic institutions can grow up and local power would be able to be greater over local issues really connecting to people at grass-roots level and empowering communities to govern themselves. Decentralism and democracy, particularly more direct and participatory kinds, but still able to have safeguards for minorities, go together extremely well.

Social justice is obviously one of the cornerstones of leftwing thinking and has been for a very long time. To many this means more equatible conditions for groups in society and more just rewards for labour in particular as against the giant power and wealth of capital in our current society. Obviously this has been touched on already in part two but I should say that; if decentralism was economic as well political, which is really has to be to some degree, then the power of large organisations and their owners would decline. They would become less hierarchical, with more worker participation and oversight and economic power would be somewhat dispersed. This would also decrease inequalities of wealth because, despite apologetics otherwise, it is clear alot of executive and capitalist pay has more to do with economic power and being in charge of giant, hierarchical and unaccountable organisations than with merit.

In recent years the left has become more and more interested, and concerned, with enviromental and ecological issues. Decentralism and regionalism is very well placed to create solutions to many of these concerns. More regional sufficiency would mean a greater reliance on labour intensive and alternative technologies, which tend to less wasteful and polluting. It also means greater pains would have to be taken not to waste resources and to take care of the regional enviroment which is the lifeblood of the society. The decentralisation and democratisation of political and economic organisations would allow greater popular control over population and waste and would also a greater popular pull towards to sustainable development and growth, particularly with regional self-sufficiency in mind.

In this what must be remembered is that sustainable growth is often alot better than progress for progress sake, because it is better attuned to both the needs of both the enviroment and the population that must live on it. This is related to the sillyness of a common myth that bigger is always better. This is generally not necessarily true, in fact bigger, beyond a certain quite small natural limit, often means less controlable, less democratic, less liberal, less sustainable and less accountable with often only illusionary benefits.

So it can be seen that decentralism offers quite alot to the left and in fact, if some of the less helpful periphery ideas like extreme universalism, progress for progress sakes and bigger is always better are jettisoned then it can be a great help to many of ideals and virtues so important to much of the left. Democracy, equality, social liberty, social justice, participation and enviromentalism can all be aided by it as in many ways they harmed by centralism.

Leftists who are interested should check out some of the blogs I have linked, particularly Kevin Carson's Mutualist blog. They should also check out the works of authors like Peter Kropotkin, Proudhon. E.F Schumacher, Leopold Kohr, Kirkpatrick Sale, Murray Bookchin, Robert Nisbet, Lewis Mumford, Patrick Geddes, Edmund Burke, John Papworth, Murray Rothbard, G. D. H Coles, Henry George, Tolstoy, Ralph Borsodi, R.H Tawney, Hayek, Albert.J.Nock, John Seymour and Kevin Carson amongst many others.

I hope this has interested and even, dare I say it, persuaded some left of centre individuals.

Why the left should support decentralism and regionalism.(part one.)

It is my firm belief that the left or alot of what is called the left can further its ideals through decentralism and regionalism and how these are in tune with alot of it ideals. I intend to try abnd show that the best I can here.

The left is quite a diverse bunch(as is the right.) but I think a few central ideals and beliefs can be pinned down which have animated them for the last few centuries To me these include the ideal of equality, the importance of social liberty or progressivism, the importance of democracy and particularly participatory democracy and the importance of social justice. To these can be added the newer ideal and ecology or enviromentalism and always we can talk of a certain universalism or internationalism that animates alot of the left. I'm quite confident alot of these can be furthered or at least no hurt by decentralism. And those that few aspects of some that might be hurt(particularly extreme universalism and progress for progresses sake.) are not really necessary or good for the left or humanity at large.

Equality is one of the defining virtues of the left. This value refers not only to the economic sphere but to many others and signifies a lack of respect for hierarchy and discrimination. Decentralising power will be a great boost for this for various reasons. Not least this is due to its decrease of hierarchy which will have a positive effect on equality. This lessening of hierarchical power will make individuals more equal by definition and lessen the chains. When organisations are smaller the difference between the lowest and the highest ranks become less, the lower ranks are more able to observe the higher ranks and to call them to account and to even further lower unnecesary hierarchy. When men are brought closer together and the veil of vast centralised, bureaucratic and hierarchical organisations is removed then it is alot harder for great differences of status and rank, particularly those not based on personal ability or talent, to be maintained.

Equality is also helped by the empowerment of minorities which is caused. When they are not commanded and bullied by massive, bureaucratic organisations they can better take care of their own business, they can deal with other groups in a more personal and human way rather than mediated through the impersonalising embrace of the bureacrats. And also they can take action to better themselves far easier than through the said bureacrats. This could be imagined as immigrants being on more personal terms with the indigenous population around them, not being so abstract and overpowering and better able to organise themselves and take action to better themselves rather than being at the mercy of faceless others to attempt this.

And obviously this decrease in hierarchical organisations and dispersal of power with its empowerment of the indvidual and small group will have a great impact on economic inequality and will help to bring about a more equal distribution of economic power and wealth.

Another important value of the left is social liberty and progressivism. This will be aided by making campaiging for it easier, you will have to go up against less formidable power structures and less people to fight for those liberties you value. It also lessens the authority of those who enforce restrictions on these liberties by lessening their power and scope of influence and by making them more accountable to the people and increasing the voice of campaigners due to their proportion in the society. The restraints are likely to be lighter therefore as they are based on more human and personal relationships and the great authoritarian powers of our modern states are less affordable to smaller ones which will also not wish to sow too much acrimony among the people who are so close to their government. And finally it makes escaping the clutches of repressive government easier, simply the distance of travel from a repressive Cornwall or North Cornwall to a freer North Devon or Wessex is far less than fleeing from a pressive UK or god-forbid United States of Europe. Thinkers like Leopold Kohr have pointed this out and also noted that this may well have effect of lessening tyranny due to the mass exodus from repressive regimes that might occur, not counting the likely overthrow of the said regime of course.

So certainly the course of social liberty is helped by the decrease in the power and size of a potentially repressive regime compared with that of the average individual. But it must be admitted that some small scale societies have had repressive qualities to a degree, this cannot be avoided completely in human history it seems. It must be remembered that fundamental political liberties like freedom of association and political speech are far more important than the freedom to take drugs or wear offensive t-shirts and that tradition does play a moderate role in holding together some societies and these fundamental political liberties. And the more "libertine" ones may in fact undermine these fundamental freedoms.

I don't defend repressive tradition just note this and criticise the idea of progress for progress sake at all costs, the costs can be great. As an ideology the left would most likely benefit from less of that particular ideal and concentrating on the core values and the human scale. This is also true with extreme universalism or extreme internationalism. Smaller states are harder to become pathologically patriotic towards, the feelings for them tend to be more real based on a deep knowledge of your small area and its people and less jingoistic and xenophobic, therefore as Leopold Kohr pointed out they tend to be far more cosmopolitan than larger states, particularly when surrounded by other smaller states. He liked to point out Germany before the unification or the city states of Italy or Greece.

That said decentralism will obviously not appeal to those leftists with extreme universalist views who crave for a world state or something similar. I however don't think this is a core leftist value for most leftists and in fact by centralising power it is against many. Centralising power tends to create hierarchies which destroys equality and harms social justice, it means more unaccountable power and raw power amasses at the centre which will threaten social liberties against this massive machine. It will also threaten local power because as Lamennais pointed out centralisation creates apoplexy at the centre and anemia at the extremities, depriving local area of authority over their own affairs under the giant bureaucracy. And of course it will destroy participation because few will able to participate in a project so large as can be seen in our modern states today , this will threaten democracy further even without the loss of the individual's voice and oversight when he is crushed under billions of others and remote from any centre of power.

This is why I'm convinced that such world governments and extreme internationalism is not good for anyone, including the left. We might all be human but we don't all need the same government.


Well that is the first part of why the left should support decentralism and regionalism, I hope some leftists listen and I will finish it soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why the left and right should support Decentralism and Regionalism.

From personal experience in political debates I realise there is quite alot of opposition to regionalism and decentralisation in our society today. This opposition comes from both the left and the right. So I thought I 'd write a response to both the left and the right on here and why they should both support decentralism and regionalism.

I thought I'd write one post for the right and one for the left, starting with the latter. Obviously these are broad categories and I can't aim it at all those on the left or right, it is particularly for those disposed to individual freedom. It is my firm belief that both of these wings of politics would gain much from decentralism. I hope to complete the first post, on the left and decentralism, very soon.

Posts on Regionalism.

British regionalism.
Left and right.
Why the left should support Decentralism part one.
Why the left should support Decentralism part two.
Why the right should support Decentralism.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

British regionalism.

As a decentralist and a resident of the wonderful British isles I like to consider myself a British regionalist. I believe that the historic regions of Britain have a definite place in our society and can have a continuing importance today in many areas. These include the areas of politics, economics, society and culture.

Although I believe in the importance of the Counties I still think regions such as Wessex can
be important for both balancing any national
authority and for cultural allegiance and a degree of economic self-sufficiency and production. Alot of state power should remain at the local and county levels but regions can provide an area for larger concerns to be cautiously played out and to help solidify local consciousness and identity. They can also have a role in keeping alive the history and tradition of a particular area.

By regions I certainly do not mean those used by the European Union and the Labour government but historical and meaningful regions. These could include Wessex, Mercia, Northumberland, Cumberland/Strathcylde, East Anglia, Kent, The Duchy of Cornwall, Wales(perhaps South and North.), Ulster, Lowland Scotland, Highland Scotland, The Western Isles, The Isle of Man, The Shetlands, The Channel Islands and The Isles of Scilly.

Here are some links to the websites of groups affliated with the regionalists movements in some parts of the UK. - Wessex Regionalist party. - The Acting Witan of Mercia. - Sons of Cornwall.

The Human Scale.

Well here goes.

I'm a committed decentralist, economically, politically, socially and culturally, and I thought I'd start a blog on the Human Scale, decentralism and the diverse related topics from local government to homebrewing. It is a fascinating area of human social thought with a wide variety of ideas, thinkers and ideologies from Anarcho-communism and Peter Kropotkin to rightwing or "American style" libertarianism and Murray Rothbard.

Personally I'm politically a radical decentralist, not quite an anarchist, who believes in as much local government as possible with little above the regional level.

Economically I'm a distributist because I think economic power needs to be decentralised as much as possible and I don't think "free" market capitalism will necessarily do that, but on the other hand I don't think libertarian communism or collectivism is probably necessary.

Socially and culturally I'm not really a leftwing "internationalist". I believe rootedness and identity are important and that tradition can be important as well but on the other hand I'm not a rightwing nationalist by any means. I believe patriotic feelings should be most for your local and region and not too intense and I encourage a degree of what could be called cosmopolitanism.

I have a what could be called a "communitarian-individualist" idea of freedom such as the conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet which means I certainly hold the individual and his freedom as upmost but realise the social nature of freedom and particularly the importance of small social groupings to his freedom, order and personality. In that respect I encourage a plurality of local, decentralist associations for individuals to participate in such as kiship, occupational, local, regilious etc with their due autonomy and tradition in but don't want them to get too repressive.

All that said it doesn't mean I'm not influenced by decentralists who widely differ on certain of these views.

Anyway, I hope this blog is the reader's satification and hope to keep it going for some time.