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“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
In a republic, political and economic elements are embedded within a society to serve the betterment of the individual, not the converse. At its birth, the Founders framed America as a democratic republic, not just a democracy, and small-r republicanism places the individual – living within society – to the foreground.
Unfortunately, certain 21st-century voices have embraced an under-informed version of small-r republicanism to represent some sort of ultra-conservative political framework that sends us back to Neanderthal times. What’s being discussed here isn’t an atavistic ideology, but an argument for decentralizing both political and economic institutions to a human scale, one wherein the individual minimizes his or her struggles with hopelessness, feelings of victimization, loss of control, sense of coherence or meaninglessness.
In fact, a thorough reading of original source materials reveals small-r republicanism remains as radical in the 21st century as it was in the 18th century. Sadly, this suggests the state of humanity has evolved but little.
There are also those who are leveraging one of the central tenets of republicanism, decentralization, as an insidious means to promote the deregulation and downsizing of government. Yet, the decentralization of political institutions in a modern, complex society can only be pursued with the simultaneous decentralization of economic institutions, reformed at a human and local scale, better positioned to serve the individual and society. This decentralization makes citizen engagement with political and economic institutions easier and in parallel, expects citizens to engage these institutions for better governance and responsive economic activity.
The organic American form of small-r republicanism:
a) declares all humanity as created equal, in that all possess the same divinely- or naturally-imbued rights, natural in that no external body bestows these liberties on individuals, thus they cannot be arbitrarily revoked;
b) establishes these natural rights as individual liberties, liberties that need citizens to voluntarily uphold through social and civic responsibilities (i.e., public morals), otherwise liberties without responsibilities degenerate into license, which tears asunder the fabric of society;
c) defines sovereign power as resting in the people, since it is the people who possess natural rights and liberties, with the people bestowing limited powers to local, state, and national governments so that these levels of government ensure the functioning of society. Power emanates from the citizenry, laws emanate from the legislatures. No government, corporation or other institution possesses a conscience, thus cannot claim natural rights or a personhood equivalency.
d) realizes that government does not always provide for the good of society, thus establishes not merely a vote, but the need for citizen engagement within the political process to ensure political and economic powers do not tyrannize individual liberties nor corrupt governance. This is why America’s founders included the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution: Its central purpose is to create a free space in society so that citizens can act as a check and balance against the usurpation of powers by government, powers that were never intended for it;
e) positions most governance near the people, which enables civic engagement and does not isolate government in a remote, opaque, centralized institution with increasing arbitrary powers;
f) upholds private property which, when held without debt encumbrances, ensures a citizen’s independence;
g) supports the presence of decentralized free markets with numerous independent proprietors, so that large monopolies or oligarchies operating in corporate- and/or government-controlled centralized markets do not threaten liberties or lives. In fact, largely decentralized capitalism existed for over 300 years before the British (1760-1840) and American (1865-1929) industrial revolutions initiated the great push towards the centralization of economies.
Decentralized economies focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency, a moral choice. Profit maximization is not necessary for capitalism to survive. The health of a country’s economy remains foremost, and this is not the same as practicing isolationism: Local labor produces for local, regional, national and global trade a.k.a., the LOBAL economy: LOcal for the gloBAL. This represents substantive trade, with the actual trading of goods flowing in both directions, not “free trade” as a covert means of finding the lowest-cost labor markets.
h) regulates society by the rule of law, wherein fixed rules provide guidance to citizens, thus assuring neither assertion of arbitrary powers nor lawmakers existing above the law. In addition, the nation maintains a separation of church and state, and the state regulates public – not private – morals. The state cannot compensate for the failures of religious institutions; and
i) values a society where citizens can secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with contentment, preferable to a hyper-competitive, over-stretched empire that is domestically distraught and globally despised. Military defense is maintained for protection of the nation; it is not funded by citizens/taxpayers via the federal government as a means to carry out economic colonialism machinations for multinational corporations.
For more information on small-r republicanism, see The Small “r” essays on TSr Institute’s Google Drive, and The American Republic white paper in particular.
For a brief introduction to “The Commonwealthmen,” writers who laid the foundations for small-r republicanism during the Enlightenment and later influenced America’s founders, read this Britannica entry.
Full TSr Institute’s Google Drive URL: