Updated: Jan 31, 2020
Dauntless reporter Paul Thoman writes from the trenches of the local community movement.
"Last weekend I attended the 10th annual conference of the Front Porch Republic, an organization supporting localism and community in opposition to the totalizing mission of the modern world. Their motto is Place, Limits, Liberty. The theme of this year’s conference in Louisville was 'The Legacy of Wendell Berry.' Berry, who was the featured speaker of the event, is a 85-year-old author who has dedicated his life to protecting local dairy and beef farmers in Henry County, Kentucky. He is also a national figure in his fiction, nonfiction, and poetry where he stakes out positions on ecology, community, pacifism, technology, family, and agriculture that are refreshingly far outside the mainstream of today’s narrow cultural and political bandwidth. This whole event was in his image in that respect. While I was there, I met a priest, a farmer, a historian, a couple of rural homeschoolers, and an economist who all were influenced by Wendell Berry and committed to the cause of localism in their own way. Speakers included a Kansas state Supreme Court justice, a journalist from New York who writes against nationalism, a historian who writes on communitarian farms in the western states, an English professor, a couple of academics with papers on Wendell Berry’s fiction, and most memorably, a somewhat militant pacifist who characterized the moon landing as an 'invasion.'
"The intellectual point that wove through all lectures and was driven home to me was to reject the modern view of liberty. We belong to a local community, a larger political community, a piece of land, a church, and a family. We have duties to those we are bound to and responsible for. Just because we think of ourselves as autonomous does not change these duties or the reality of what good or evil we can do to the wider world. In localism, people serve humanity in a concrete rather than abstract way and can see the purpose and impact of their life more fully than one who merely lives in the abstract world of television and mass media. For example, buying fair trade products from across the world that you assume were ethically sourced is a different thing entirely from buying your eggs from your neighbor whom you know and have a reciprocal relationship with.
"All of this is to say that there is great diversity and surprising energy in support of the principles laid out in groups such as Integrity of Life and Resilience. I don’t know how many of the 300 people in attendance with me last weekend read these websites, though. There is certainly common cause but possibly a culture gap between those who would support localism and those who would support the Green Party. The Front Porch Republic crowd is dominated by people with backgrounds in the humanities. In Louisville there were philosophers, historians, writers, poets, and legal scholars giving presentations, but no sociologists, scientists, or engineers. The principle strategy for them is to live a local life and learn to enjoy limits and place. The composition and aims of the Green Party are nearly opposite. Despite these differences, both groups are ecology focused, human focused, and fighters for sustainability and resilience. Both groups reject the libertarianism of the modern world in different ways. In conclusion, they need each other. They are both two incomplete halves. The solution will need to involve global solidarity, but also subsidiarity and localism."