Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism

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9780739186749: Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism
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Featuring a foreword by Congressman Glen Browder, Politics on a Human Scale examines political decentralization in the United States, from the founding of the republic to the present.

Human behavior is a mixture of competition and cooperation, of individualism and integration.  Each side of the equation contributes something of value to life. It is a tricky thing to structure government in a way that helps to maintain social equilibrium.  Liberty and order are both important.  A strong government will hinder freedom and rights. A weak government will fail to promote justice and commonweal.

Part of the desirable equilibrium is a sense of proportionality. Some sizes, some amounts, some levels are more appropriate than others. Decentralism is the best political tool to ensure equilibrium, to promote proportionality, and to obtain appropriate scale. Power distribution should be as wide as possible. Government functions should be as close to the people as practicable. In this way, individual human beings are not swallowed by a monstrous Leviathan. Persons are not at the mercy of an impersonal bureaucracy led by the far-away few. Decentralism gives us politics on a human scale.

The longest chapters in the book deal with crucial turning points in U.S. history--specifically, when decentralists lost the upper-hand in the two major political parties. Decentralism in our nation runs deep, both intellectually and historically. It also has considerable popular support. Yet today it is a virtual political orphan. In Washington, neither major political party is serious about dispersing power to lower levels of government or to the people themselves. Still, there are dissident politicians and political movements that remain committed to the decentralist principle.

Power needs to be held in check, partly through decentralization, because power holds a great and dangerous attraction for humans. Recognition of this human tendency is the first step in guarding against it and getting back on a better path.

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About the Author:

Jeff Taylor is professor of political science at Dordt College and author of Where Did the Party Go? William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy. He has written articles for, and been cited by, publications ranging from The American Conservative and LewRockwell.com to Green Horizon Quarterly and The Nation.

Review:

Jeff Taylor’s book, Politics on a Human Scale, provides an essential account of the much touted but practically neglected themes of decentralization and populism in American politics. Taylor shows how the forces of centralization have consistently co-opted much of what is called conservatism and how a human scale politics is not only beneficial to human flourishing but indispensable for a free society. This book is a valuable step in fostering a better future. (Mark T. Mitchell, professor of government, Patrick Henry College)

With a vast and impressive knowledge of American political history, a skillful pen, and a generous heart, political scientist Jeff Taylor—proud son of Iowa, the Tall Corn State—explores, illuminates, and, yes, celebrates the decentralist tradition in American politics. If you want to know about our heritage of peace, agrarianism, local democracy, and the dispersion of power—that is, if you want to understand the history, personalities, and promise of the human-scale alternative to the American Empire—this is the book for you. (Bill Kauffman, author, "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette")

Madison thought the House of Representatives should have one member for every 30,000 population. Today there is one for every 720,000. By mid-century there will be one for every million. The Census Bureau predicts a billion people in America by end of the century. Professor Jeff Taylor argues that America has grown simply too large for the purposes of self government. In this comprehensive study which touches all aspects of the topic—constitutional, moral, political, and even theological—he shows how and why power should be devolved back to state and local communities. (Donald W. Livingston, emeritus professor of philosophy, Emory University)

Jeff Taylor’s Politics on a Human Scale is a comprehensive and deep ideological analysis of important changes in American political history. With numerous examples, Taylor reveals the power of elitism in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Whatever your ideological orientation, the book is an open invitation to consider the importance of a foundational American political value. It is a valuable addition to understanding American politics. (Karl Trautman, chairperson of social science department, Central Maine Community College)

The book is packed with elegantly developed historical observations and erudite observations. . . All things considered, Jeff Taylor provides the best available account of the varied ways partisan interaction and electoral competition shaped decentralism’s development and subsequent demise in America. Now that we are better positioned to comprehend how decentralism fell on hard times, and how its decline complicated the prospect for American cultural flourishing, we are empowered to make headway toward Politics on a Human Scale. (Front Porch Republic)

With Politics on a Human Scale, the Dordt College political scientist Jeff Taylor offers a well-informed, near-encyclopedic examination of when and how America's once-dominant political tradition receded. (Reason)

This book is engagingly written, and the notes and source materials would provide the raw materials for a true conservative renaissance. ... Politics on a Human Scale is both a solid history and inspiring polemic. (Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture)

Any serious study of how the American federalist system was transformed into the centralized Leviathan State that it is today should include Jeff Taylor’s book Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism. The great value of this book is the breadth and depth with which its author covers the subject matter. With the aid of over 500 bibliographical sources, Dr. Taylor recounts the story of how both major political parties ultimately came to reject their Jeffersonian elements in favor of Hamiltonian big government. . . .Rather than regurgitating the same simplistic, generalized narrative found in most American history books, Taylor’s narrative, much of which gainsays the conventional wisdom, is a meticulous rehashing of the specific beliefs, behaviors, and connections between several key political figures and the movements which they inspired. . . .Jeff Taylor provides the most comprehensive work on the history of decentralism which I have ever come across. This book is a must read for anyone who hopes to have a well-rounded understanding of how America got to this point and where things might be heading from here. There can be little doubt that Dr. Taylor’s contribution to the Jeffersonian tradition will be of great service in the fight to restore Politics on a Human Scale. (Reformed Libertarian)

This is an ambitious examination of America's traditional rejection of centralized government and its embrace of dispersed power and locally responsive politics. Taylor argues that decentralism is much more than 'states' rights'; it means 'minimalistic government at every level.' Taylor covers a wide swath of American politics as he explores both the history and implications of decentralism. He begins with agrarianism and traces his narrative through the eras of state sovereignty, the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Reagan revolution, and centralization . . . [S]tudents of American politics and history will . . . appreciate the rich detail of the narrative and the presentation of an interesting and important perspective on decentralization. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, undergraduate students, research faculty, and professionals. (CHOICE)

In Politics on a Human Scale, Jeff Taylor examines political decentralization in the United States, including agrarianism, states’ rights, the abandonment of the decentralist impulse by the national leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, and the dissident tradition on the contemporary political scene. Covering the subject with breadth and depth—from the founding of the republic to the present—the book will be of value to those interested in political science, history, and American culture.

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