I once asked Brooks whether he thought government intervention was preferable to letting markets and tradition evolve organically (since he’s supposed to be such a Burke fan), and, giving the example of a public school that had become the heart of its troubled, inner-city community, he said that he doesn’t prefer government to tradition but prefers it to nothing. For a conservative, he seems oddly unacquainted with the idea that it is government (not markets or some even more mysterious force) that has crowded out the usual alternatives to nothing.
To think government can do the job of shaping — or even being — local culture is to invite it to do the same bang-up job with culture that it’s been doing for the economy for the past century. That whole mess was the result of government (ostensibly) thinking it could intervene on behalf of “the little guy,” and there’s no reason to think it’ll do any better if it decides to start intervening on behalf of “the little institutions.” Local institutions thrive when left alone by centralized government power — and not all institutions should be local. Some work best on a local, some on a far-flung basis — even, yes, a standardized basis.
(One would not want to fall into the common paleo error of talking as if local is always better, otherwise one’ll end up saying, for example, that hammering things with the rocks you find in your own back yard is morally superior to using an inexpensive steel hammer manufactured on the other side of the continent — or on another continent altogether, for that matter. One can almost hear the undoubtedly poetic-sounding paleo essay about it now: “Rocks are a natural extension of the human hand — and thus of the human spirit — in a way that cold metal objects mass-produced in distant factories cannot be. True, houses built using rocks as hammers are likely to be less stable, but they will make up in cultural solidity what they lack in walls that keep drafts out. Might stronger families result? Sounds good to me — and tougher than any nail.”)
But to get back to this Red Tory interest in the local: it would be fine if it just meant restricting government instead of asking government to “help” local institutions fend off capitalism. Don’t keep coming up with exciting new ways government can intervene, you imbecile statists! You’ve done enough damage to enough nooks and crannies of this battered civilization already. Brooks, who is especially prone to come up with a paradigm-of-the-day in his columns, should be told to stop getting excited about the prospect of government taking an interest in things: Please do not suddenly discover two years from now that, say, reading is very important and so imply that government should take a bigger role there…and then discover two years later that informal information networks are very important and so government should intervene more there…and then discover the conservative usefulness of gathering places for the elderly…and then the importance of pets…and then…
Stay out, technocrat! The damage you claim to be responding to with things like Red Toryism was caused by the previous round of pro-government tinkerers like yourself. I’d say go back to your birth-country of Canada, but after Sunday’s healthcare vote, I can’t really joke about Canadians anymore, and there is little point in exaggerating differences between the U.S. and other lands if they no longer exist. We are all Canadians now.
In the highly unlikely event that big central governments learn to respect and foster local institutions, maybe someday, if we go too far in that direction and there’s nothing left of civilization bigger than a subsistence-level family farm, Brooks et al can shift back to writing essays about how we need government to foster large-scale, continent-spanning projects that contribute to “national greatness.” Remember that idea? Say, might that kind of thinking have been part of the reason our tiny, local, non-governmental institutions ended up dilapidated? (I recall Cato’s Ed Crane, shortly after 9/11, grumpily mocking Brooks’s national greatness phase as the belief that a country achieves magnificence by “digging a tunnel to England or something.”)
Brooks, ever eager to appear moderate and cautious, would no doubt say some projects are meant to be done at the local level, some at the national, which is true, as I said earlier — and that’s why we have markets to sort out these projects and their proper scale, not government planning committees operating on the basis of the latest manifesto or op-ed column.