Rural gentrification Part I: Of localists and nationalists

I’ve long been meaning to write a post about rural gentrification and associated issues – localism, globalism, nationalism, migration and so forth. Some recent interactions online have prompted me to do it now. It’s a bit out of sequence in my present blog cycle concerning my book A Small Farm Future, since it’s closer to the material I discuss towards the end of the book in Part IV. But anyway…

The spur to writing this originated from two fascinating pieces by Neal Clark and Anarcho-Contrarian in the Doomer Optimism mini-manifesto series. I found much to agree with in them, but then in subsequent discussions on Twitter got to wrangling a little over the use of the term ‘nationalism’ (partly, it turns out, because I’m just not fluent in Twitter-ese).

I wrote a Twitter thread about it which, by my humble standards, went viral, prompting a mountain (or at least a large molehill) of comments, many of which were directly or implicitly critical of my general argument that nationalism is no friend of localism, whereas homesteading possibly is. I couldn’t keep up with the volume of comments, and in any case I don’t find Twitter great for these kinds of discussions. So I’m going to rake over the embers here instead.

Quite a number of the commenters operated with a stark duality – you’re either a globalist or you’re a localist. They peered warily at my localist claims, suspecting that beneath the homespun mask my true globalist colours would reveal themselves. Well maybe. But to me, as I’ll explain below, the globalist-localist duality doesn’t capture the underlying politics very well. Maybe the duality of Wall Street versus Main Street does a better job. Without a shadow of a doubt I’m against Wall Street and I prefer Main Street. But there are different kinds of Main Streets. Some I like better than others, and some of the people out on Main Street I find easier to get along with than others.

It’s the nature of smalltown life that you run into almost everyone who lives there in the end, and you have to find ways to make that work. So just to say that I honestly want to try and make my localism fit as best it can with other people’s localisms. I really don’t want to be arguing with anyone who’s genuinely for Main Street, and I’d far rather be uniting with them against Wall Street. But if there are things we disagree on it’s no use sweeping them under the carpet. Hence this attempt at clarification.

I begin in this post with some comments about nationalism, where the debate began, and then in the next post move onto a discussion of localism and rural gentrification. That’s followed by a post on migration, then I’m going to close this little blog cycle within a blog cycle with some thoughts on rural gentrification and the internship problem, before returning belatedly to my larger present theme by wrapping up the cycle on property.

I’m aiming to publish these posts in fairly quick succession, probably with a couple of days between each one. I’ll quote occasionally in them from specific comments in the Twitter thread, but I’m not going to name anyone from Twitter individually here, or debate with anyone on Twitter itself – I’m happy of course to debate further in the comments under the posts. I’m the last person to explain to anyone else how to navigate their way around Twitter, but if you have time on your hands, you can probably follow much of the discussion out from here.

So – one commenter wrote: “a nation is precisely that land within its borders AND the people who inhabit it AND their shared history together”. But this is to assume what’s in question – how did the borders get determined, why do the people within them feel a particular allegiance with each other, and how do they come to feel that their history is shared?

For sure, I share some political history with somebody living in, say, Kent, simply because we’re under the same government. But if a few medieval battles had turned out differently, I might be living in Angevinia and zipping across the Channel to visit my compatriots in the continental part of the country to the south, while needing to pack my passport when I head east to Kent. If people just accepted this historical randomness of the polities they live under with a shrug, then I don’t think nationalism would be a topic worthy of attention. But if that were the case, I wouldn’t be engaging with people on Twitter with taglines like “America – love it or leave it”.

Nationalism papers over the historical randomness, telling us that what is so had to be so, usually in a way that seeks to make the power of existing politics seem natural. If I’m going to get along with a compatriot in Kent, I’ll need something more than the fact that we share Boris Johnson as a prime minister. Nationalist ideology provides that something more. But it’s a narrative choice. As the sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein put it: first the boundaries, then the passions.

Actually, that’s not quite right. The passions come first, but they’re passions for known places, people, practices and landscapes. The genius of nationalism is to take that passion for the known, immediate and local, and breathe life into other places that we don’t know with the same emotional charge by braiding them together into a common story of the nation.

But it’s important to stress that it’s a common story, not the common story. Nations aren’t just born complete unto themselves like a person. They’re actively constructed over time via an awful lot of hard work on the part of historians, poets, novelists, journalists, musicians, artists, politicians, cartographers, soldiers, architects, bureaucrats, sportspeople, drinkers in bars and a whole host of other folk. Traditions are invented and communities are imagined. And most of this inventing and imagining has happened only in the last couple of centuries or so across much of the world. Ennius, a poet from classical times, wrote that he had three hearts – Greek, Oscan and Latin. As historian David Gilmour puts it, “It was romantic nationalism of the nineteenth century – and its more sinister successors – that insisted on a single heart” (The Pursuit of Italy, p.46).

So the passions, the boundaries, the traditions and the communities that emerge aren’t the only ones possible. There are always other dividing lines and alternative narratives. I’m thinking, for example, of a Highlander who explained his decision to vote against Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum on the grounds that people in London didn’t care about Highlanders, whereas people in Edinburgh really hated them. Or of the small community of Christian subsistence whale-hunters in Lamalera described in Doug Bock Clark’s amazing book The Last Whalers, who find the verities of Indonesian nationalism (move to the city, help out in the national development project, get a job in construction or service, get rich, get married, be Muslim) of little help in negotiating the contradictions of technological modernization versus indigenous local identity. Especially where local identity itself is transected by other details of history – the long shadow not only of European colonialism but also of pre-European slaving empires, contemporary clan memberships holding remembrances of past migrations and assimilations, the tension between Islam and Christianity, and so on. These Scottish and Indonesian examples are but two of an endless litany.

Ordinary local people, especially ordinary rural local people involved in cultivating the land, often loom heroically large in nationalist mythmaking. But this rarely works to their own long-term benefit. Usually it’s oriented to the benefit of the political centre as it lards its internationalist and urbanist powerplays with a salty rural legitimacy according to its own needs, not those of the ordinary rural people it self-servingly exalts. In his book Ramp Hollow, historian Steven Stoll describes this nicely in the case of the small-scale white farmers of Appalachia, celebrated by cultured opinion-makers as lusty frontier pioneers at the start of the 19th century, dismissed by their successors in racialized terms as congenital indigents holding up economic progress by the century’s end (incidentally, Stoll notes how Karl Marx deployed parallel evolutionary notions about the absolute inability of small-scale rural cultivators to achieve self-realization, bequeathing a bad legacy to the political left all too familiar today in its endless hostility towards agrarian localism).

As to small-scale black farmers, or black folks in general, in the USA among other countries – well I guess they often get written out of both national(ist) and local(ist) histories altogether, as, for example, in the commenter under my Twitter thread citing the Black Lives Matter signage spotted on a nearby farm as proof that it couldn’t be a real local concern. Or more generally in the whole tradition of southern agrarianism. I’ll take my stand on the possibility that other national stories can be written, like the one Jocelyn Nicole Johnson plays with in her recent dystopian cli-fi novel My Monticello, where Sally Hemings gets her due as a mother of the nation alongside Thomas Jefferson as a father. Race, agrarianism, the south. For every configuration of the nation that anyone tries to mobilise, there’s another one demanding to be heard.

So when one commenter under my thread wrote, “At the risk of being naïvely ahistorical, I think nationalism is just localism scaled up and if it isn’t then it could be” and another replied “Strongly agree. It’s a natural part of the scaling. Globalists denigrate the national because they want that power. The nations stand in the way of their goals” I guess I’d have to say that, with respect, yes this is a bit naïvely ahistorical. Nationalism really isn’t just localism scaled up.

But I agree maybe it could be, and this might be something to aim for. Though if people successfully scaled up localisms of the sort that present political, economic, ecological and cultural crises demand the result would look so unrecognizably different from existing nationalisms that we’d probably need a new word for it. I hope to pursue that issue another time. Although I’m not a big fan of nationalism, one thing I would say is that all that hard intellectual work of nation-building has made modern nations and their populations pretty solid political vessels, which means the future is very unlikely to be ‘feudal’. But more on that anon.

What interests me more for my present purposes is the idea in the last comment I quoted that nations stand in the way of the globalists’ goals. It’s true that a certain kind of globalist of the neoliberal, Wall Street sort does denigrate the national because national governments have local pressures and agendas that militate against simply conniving with that guiding light of Wall Street globalism, the frictionless flow of global finance. And because national governments have the leverage to deliver on those agendas (albeit some more than others, the USA more than most).

Even so, any government that obstructs the frictionless flow of global finance too much risks fierce punishments from ‘the globalists’ that few governments dare contemplate (though in my view they should). So when it comes down to it, national governments usually cleave to the interests of Wall Street more than to those of Main Street – a fact that’s better known to ordinary local people on the Main Streets of poorer countries who historically have derived less implicit benefit from globalism than their localist counterparts in rich countries like the USA. But as the contradictions of the global economy intensify this fact is becoming more apparent in the rich ones too.

The get out strategy that governments often employ in these circumstances is to stoke up a nationalist smokescreen, usually aimed at ordinary people among ethnic or other majorities – ‘make America great again’, ‘take back control’, ‘get Brexit done’ and so on – often served with a generous helping of culture war stuff aimed at stopping ordinary working class people from allying with ordinary middle class people to further their joint local interests against the globalists.

That strategy has been pretty successful of late, but I don’t think it’ll work long-term because it can only paper over its manifest contradictions for so long. Here in the UK, a few cracks are beginning to show currently with a degree of buyer’s remorse among voters in hard-hit post-industrial towns who opted for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s increasingly English nationalist Conservative Party at the last election to ‘get Brexit done’, only to learn that he was quaffing champagne at Downing Street parties while they were diligently observing the Covid lockdowns he’d imposed.

In the words of one headline, “They’re laughing at us”. Yes they are. I strongly suspect that the hapless woke libtards and cosmopolitan elites routinely fingered for their scorn of ordinary people among certain sections of the press and public are laughing at said ordinary people a lot less than Johnson (Eton and Oxford) and his cronies, or for that matter than the very stable genius who recently vacated the White House.

But in the long-term, as the nation-state frays there will be bigger issues to confront than lockdown-busting parties. The question is whether they’ll be met by more organic forms of exclusionary nativism and nationalism from the grassroots, or whether there may be openings for populist alliances between cosmopolitan newcomers to Main Street and its existing denizens around a common interest in localism. I’d like to think the latter. After all, nationalist ideologies invite us to identify with people and places we don’t know. When localists born or made embrace or adopt a particular place to live there’s surely no reason for them to base their localism in an inherent lack of openness to people or ideas from elsewhere.

But whatever the rights or wrongs of it, into this potent and contested space of the local now steps the figure of the gentrifying neo-agrarian homesteader, which I’ll consider in my next post.

31 thoughts on “Rural gentrification Part I: Of localists and nationalists

  1. My usual paucity of comments on your blog is not because I have nothing to say – it’s because I have too much to say!

    Of the thoughts you’ve provoked in me with this one, the only one that seems worth saying is: … twitter is a waste of your precious time. Seriously.

  2. Looking forward to following this series Chris. I share a lot of these thoughts as I engage with the Doomer Optimist Twitter world. This feels like an important thread of discussion you are starting here and it’s good to have a UK perspective, despite that being a touch ironic given the subject matter.

  3. I rather suspect that people who have benefitted from imperialist and colonialist projects think nationalism is a good thing, and those who have not have other opinions, but perhaps that just makes me a woke cosmolopitan elitist or something.

    You write: “Although I’m not a big fan of nationalism, one thing I would say is that all that hard intellectual work of nation-building has made modern nations and their populations pretty solid political vessels, which means the future is very unlikely to be ‘feudal’.”

    I’m not so sure of this. Forgive me if I am playing fast and loose with the definition of feudalism, here… I don’t think we’ll necessarily end up with feudalism in the sense of a traditional aristocracy and peasant serfs tied to land, though it could happen. But feudalism in the sense of workers being entirely beholden to landlords and unable to move past a very insecure existence… well, that’s happening already. The nation-state in which I live is not doing well at protecting citizens and residents from energy price rises that are based on profit rather than supply, for example; my own household’s security is partly dependent on the good nature and moral qualms of our landlord (and this is perhaps much more stark if considering the situation of my housemate, who I consider part of the household or even family, but who — technically — is a lodger and therefore dependent not only on the landlord’s good will but also on that of my spouse and myself, and whose current income would not stretch to renting anywhere else). Similarly, it seems to me that the profit of corporations is being put ahead of basic public health measures. I guess you could say this is about financialisation rather than feudalism as such, but I’m not sure it makes much difference to the employed single parents who come to the food bank, or to those who bankrolled the Brexit campaign of a thousand lies. A nation-state that allows citizens to go hungry is already failing; I’ve said before and will say again that food shortages in twenty-first century England don’t look like rationing, they look like soup kitchens and food banks.

    Feudalism seems to me to be a better guide for making life decisions, at any rate: we are not going to be able to out-compete the landlords or the corporations or the super-rich, and we are not going to be able to live like they do, so, how do we live a tolerable life with reasonable security despite that? (And I’m relatively middle-class in many ways — though musicians have been in an odd situation there for a long time, which perhaps I’ll go into in some other tangent.) I’m doing it by getting more involved in specific parts of my local community (by some definition of local which is variable), and by deriving more of my sustenance from local resources and home production.

    Perhaps such a feudal lens is useful in thinking about gentrification, too. It wouldn’t be such a terrible thing for well-meaning middle-class people to move in and make a life in a poor or “edgy” area if the people already living there had any reasonable alternatives, or if the rentier corporations didn’t follow said well-meaning middle-class people in short order and quickly make life unaffordable for everyone.

    I think, too, there can be a certain amount of… eschatology, almost? — bound up in people’s attitudes to the changes that need to be made. I’m certainly guilty of sometimes thinking that without access to several acres and a farmhouse, I can’t do SFF localism “properly”, and that if I can just save up enough capital to purchase a suitable smallholding, I will make more changes and be “really effective”. But while it’s true that I can’t keep livestock where I am now and we still buy bananas and oranges, it’s also true that we didn’t buy apples or plums (these two thanks to the scrumping stick, truly a wondrous device) or strawberries or melons or French beans or celeriac or swede or squash or Jerusalem artichokes or asparagus or broad beans or soup peas or raspberries or garlic or shallots or chervil or rosemary or parsley or summer savory or mint or chives or wine last year, and though the shallots are finished and the garlic is now starting to run low (we lost a lot to allium leaf miner, sigh, among other things) and I was entirely disorganised and didn’t get any leeks into the ground, I’m hoping to add potatoes and tomatoes and popcorn and quinoa and spring onions to the list (weather permitting) of what we produce ourselves, as well as some experimental indoor ginger and turmeric and a lot more salad greens. It’s true that getting the sewing machine set up and actually making my own clothes is something I would need to set aside a lot more time for to keep up with the rate at which I wear holes in things, and while I enjoy knitting and crochet I very rarely finish a garment for myself, but it’s also true that I’ve gotten a lot better at mending in the past year. I’m building soil, too, and I’ve diverted at least a tonne of coffee grounds from landfill in the process. This is not bad going for a year that included a bereavement, continued pandemic uncertainty, a hard late May frost, summer flooding, aminopyralid contamination, rodents and a host of other challenges, acute and chronic.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this particular tangent, and I want to acknowledge that much of what I have been able to do has only been possible because of my privilege. But I also think that, while we definitely need lots of people to have access to small farms (if nothing else because huge industrial ag situations are so damaging), the vast majority of people don’t actually need to buy a smallholding to get started at living a more local and resilient life. More useful would be to choose one thing that they usually buy and could produce locally themselves instead, and start producing that, and sharing any surplus with neighbours.

    Resilience isn’t something you can purchase with capital. Is there a connection between gentrification and an attitude of getting a financial return on a capital investment, rather than becoming a producer within a community?

    • I think I’ll wait until the next post to really dig into the “gentrification” issue, but since I live in a perfect example of a gentrified rural community I can answer your last question easily. The answer is “neither”. People who buy a smallholding around here are neither doing it as an investment nor because they want to devote their life to producing food (as more than a minor hobby). They do it because living in the country is glorious and they can afford it.

      I mean, there may be those who actually prefer the concrete jungle, with all its entertainments, but most people like as much greenery around them as possible. The air, the quiet, the birdsong and the scenery are quite enough to attract anyone to country life. Add in the natural intimacy of frequently interacting with the same neighbors year after year, getting to know them fairly well, and they you, and what’s not to like?

      My wife and I grew up in nice cities in the 50’s and 60’s. It was perfectly fine with us then, but when we got a chance to live in a small village during Peace Corps in the 70’s we found out what living in a non-urban community was like. We never went back to the city.

      Most people who are lucky enough to move to the country stay there as long as they can, often until they are too infirm to live there or until they die. That’s our plan. And when we’re gone, someone will either inherit or purchase a sweet little farm in a wonderful rural community. That’s gentrification.

      The added benefit for us doomers is that, since rural life is coming to everyone sooner or later, we also see a kind of first-mover advantage to living in the country. But that’s another story.

      • Any farmland I could dream of affording in the countryside here would probably give me less access to nature than I have in East London. I’m a five minute walk from Epping Forest. It would be an awful lot nicer (and easier to breathe) without the cars, but I think that will come. Cities emerged and grew a long time before modernity, so I’m not expecting them to completely disappear, though I do think things will get pretty rough as places like London shrink to a size that can be reasonably supported with more local production.

        But you are quite right that my framing of extractive capital investment vs local production is a false dichotomy, that some (perhaps many or most?) people move to rural and semi-rural areas simply because they want to and can. Thanks for catching that.

  4. Thanks for this Chris. A clear-eyed and humane analysis of complex issues as usual! Love the line on” ordinary working class people… allying with ordinary middle class people to further their joint local interests against the globalist”

    Being Canadian, the ‘trucker’ convoy protests have been on my mind a lot, in particular their relationship to rural populism and nationalism. Putting aside the (red-herring?) issue of vaccines and mandates, it’s clear vast gulfs exist between the rural and urban classes, and that the culture wars have done immense damage to the potential for the type of alliance you’re talking about, at least here in North America. The organizing symbols and actors in these protests are very much grounded in superficial nationalism and right-wing ideologies, as that recent George Monbiot column points out. This is partially a failure to organize more inclusive populism, but also a result of intense efforts by some nefarious actors.

    I’m honestly not sure what needs to be done to start bridging this gulf, but it seems essential to work on it. I’m the grandchild of multi-generation farmers on both sides of my genealogy, but I’m now an urban ‘knowledge worker’ looking to guide my family back out to a more productive domestic mode. I’ve really worked on de-cluttering my mind of lazy left-liberal ideas hiding a neoliberal agenda, and biases against the rural working class Perhaps some of the localist commentariat on Twitter needs to do similar questioning as the extent to which the Rupert Murdochs and Conrad Blacks of the world have got into their heads, and what the real agenda there is!

  5. “culture war stuff aimed at stopping ordinary working class people from allying with ordinary middle class people to further their joint local interests against the globalists.”

    My impression is that, compared to the “working class people”, the “middle class people” have tended to be more mobile and less “rooted” locally as a group, due to nationwide job prospects after college, and relocation being common throughout one’s career. Being less locally rooted can be a way to achieve greater prosperity.

    Gentrification could be directly related to this, as the relatively prosperous later move to greener pastures at a new location.

    • Having resided in the high peak Buxton area I have seen at first hand the gentrification of a large area , old farm cottages gentrified by people with well paying jobs in Manchester , most did not fit in , looked down their noses so ” peasants ” that worked with their hands with dirty fingernails , some that had more wealth than a city job would ever provide , they complained about roosters , mud on roads , noisy machinery and smelly animals , they whined piteously over snow blocked roads and the importance of their being at work , telling them to get rid of their Mercedes-Benz and buy a four wheel drive were met with astonishment .
      Gentrified properties changed hands about every two years depending on the winter and the spouses ability to get to Manchester to shop .

    • There is less chance of the “working class” allying with the “middle class” when they are divided by the issue of gentrification.

      Along with mobile (unrooted) careers and life paths, another aspect of gentrification is the commodification and marketing of real estate (including farm properties), whereby a family’s home or “sweet little farm” is transformed into cash, from the highest bidder (often non-local) to the heirs (often non-local).

      Local heirs who inherit a home (and/or farm), and continue to live (and/or work) there, are not contributing to gentrification.

  6. Thanks for the comments. Briefly:

    – little to disagree with in your comments, Kathryn. Nevertheless, I’d distinguish between landlordism & feudalism in terms of the way the larger politics plays out, not so much in the privations of the poor. More on that presently.

    – good points from Joe & Steve regarding wealth & residence patterns. Perhaps we can pick that up again in the light of the next post. The neighbourliness of rural vis-à-vis urban places is an interesting one. I’m not sure that it’s as simple as rural places being superior in this respect, but I’d be interested in people’s thoughts.

    – hello Evan, interesting points. I liked your point about de-cluttering your mind of “lazy left-liberal ideas hiding a neoliberal agenda, and biases against the rural working class”, and equally about de-cluttering lazy conservative ideas from what seems to be becoming known as ‘homestead Twitter’ (hat tip also to Steve here). This is important work!

    • I guess I care less about the specifics of the larger politics when I don’t feel like I’m in a position to shift them; no politicians or corporations particularly care what I think, and I’m not someone with the sort of power to be able to make practical changes at that level. But I can take a churchyard from “not producing food” to “producing a bit of food” and I don’t see, currently, a future in which that becomes less important or urgent. (I know you are not discounting this sort of direct, if miniscule action, and I know you understand there is a political dimension to it.)

      Neighbourliness — my impression here is that, at least in working-class neighbourhoods of London, a lack of neighbourliness is a very recent development, related to the increasing churn in the rental market: it’s hard to get to know your neighbours if you are going to move again in a year or less. Urban areas in the UK (perhaps more than the US, though I haven’t lived there) certainly have local community spaces, often in the form of pubs, mosques, churches, and so on. I’ve lived in my current rental for nine years and that helps too: I know many of my neighbours, and we do look out for one another, in a way that wasn’t as easy when I was moving frequently. I have local friends I met through church when I was attending church much more locally than I am now (long story and not appropriate for this forum, but I’m still within cycling distance of where I worship); I know people I’ve met through volunteering and other activities; the allotment is another little microcosm of people who live locally, and then there are some small businesses I keep in touch with in one way or another (bicycle repair, bicycle frame building, the ‘greasy spoon’ that has been run by the same couple for at least the last twenty years, the milk delivery, and so on). My spouse’s new lockdown hobby (bee photography) has introduced him to a local community gardening group that looks after a small patch of land a couple of blocks away. And we don’t partake in nearly the amount of local community stuff that’s available: I don’t go for the local cycling group’s Sunday bike rides, because I’m at church; I don’t help at the local community kitchen; I’m not actively involved in the local Transition Towns group (though I like a lot of their work) or Scouting or sports teams. If I wanted to make a point of getting even more locally rooted in terms of social connections and potential collaborations, I could do it pretty easily; the decision *not* to be even more involved takes some effort on my part (and again, there are reasons for it).

      In the Before Times, I used to travel to and from Aberdeen for PhD purposes, and while it’s harder to get involved in local community when you’re only there for a few weeks at a time, I still got to know e.g. the takeaway where I used to go for macaroni pies, and started to recognise some of the dog walkers at the beach, and had enough of a connection with the church I went to while I was there that I was involved in singing.

      So, I tend to feel a bit strange about claims that urban areas are inherently unneighbourly. Sure, I don’t know 100% of my neighbours, but then there are literally hundreds of thousands of people living within walking distance of me. What I do have is a local network of people — within about 15 minutes walk — who I know I can call on for help, and who can call on me. There is a slow and informal exchange of fresh food, preserves, plants, tools, and labour. Is it different than the equivalent rural situation? Yes: for starters, many of us don’t drive cars. But I’m not sure it’s superior or inferior.

  7. Great piece Chris. Thanks for taking this topic on.

    I take to heart your comment about how the larger politics of feudalism usually plays out. But I was intrigued by Warren Johnson’s 1972 piece on neo-feudalism (Johnson, Warren A. 1972. “Paths out of the corner,” IDOC International, North American edition, 47). A colleague and I include it as a chapter in our reader of localization since the seminar we used that reader in was focused on the need for many small experiments (and soon now). To be honest, conversations sometimes converged but more often went off-the-rails and so we’ve dropped neo-feudalism from recent seminars.

    But for each article in the reader, we created introductory paragraphs highlighting what we thought might be worth extracting. To give Johnson his due, here’s what we wrote:

    “When economic growth was becoming the root metaphor of modern society the prior emphasis on stability must have seemed like an anchor holding back progress. Now the desire for stability has reappeared, driven by deep social and ecological concerns. Here geographer Warren Johnson dares to consider a much maligned social order of the past—feudalism. He argues that a re-constituted form of feudalism may actually have advantages in the transition toward sustainable living, including certain psychological benefits that provide social stability.
    Feudalism is, of course, far from fashionable these days, and deservedly so given its history of suppressing personal freedom. Certainly localization will not flourish if it involves a return to such an unjust order. Yet feudalism did help protect a rich European rural landscape while supporting substantial numbers of people. So there may be lessons from this pre-fossil fuel era for the coming post-fossil fuel era, especially if we incorporate other hard-learned lessons concerning democracy, human rights and well-regulated markets from the last couple centuries (see Part 5). Access to land through alternative ownership structures, for instance, might be one lesson.
    For readers still uncomfortable with the idea of feudalism, other readings in this section and the next offer competing and, we would like to think, complementary ideas that stress such key values as fairness, community resilience, psychological vibrancy and social stability. During the coming transition, localizers will need to conduct multiple experiments to find the ways that work.”

  8. I’m in full agreement on the localist critique of nationalism. The point about Nationalism forcing you to have “only one heart” gets to the root of it: the Nation can become an Idol, a false god, which demands all lesser goods are relativized to its omnipotent power.

    Your point that “the genius of nationalism is to take that passion for the known, immediate and local, and breathe life into other places that we don’t know with the same emotional charge by braiding them together into a common story of the nation” is also well stated, and consonant with an observation of the classical tradition: every evil thing (and the very definition of “evil) is a disordered good. Emotional attachments to our place, culture, and community are good, but Nationalist Idolatry divorces them from their natural context, or at minimum, perverts the natural order of local affections.

    To your point about a potentially useful and just nationalism (and one sees hints of it in certain, relatively small regionally, Third World and indigenous anti-imperialist struggles), I think “subsidiarity” is the criteria of any good “national” identity: whenever the higher identity destroys and subsumes the lower (whether (bio)regional, local (i.e. “Main Street”, based around a town), neighborhood/village-based, or familial) it should be rejected. Which is nothing you haven’t said quite well already!

  9. Interesting post. I’ve taken much of value on nationalism from Sivamonan Valluvan’s ‘The Clamour of Nationalism’, and it chimes well with much of what you say here. Like you I think, he views nationalism as a thoroughly modern phenomenon. He places more emphasis on the exclusionary nature of nationalism, seeing it as fundamentally driven by bordering practices such as race, whether practiced at the territorial border or within it. The imagining of communities, inventing of traditions and communing of stories constitute varied attempts to fill the internal void created by the anti-national. All this, of course, applies to the global core rather than the ‘liberatory’ nationalisms of the periphery.

    I think you’re right to emphasise a distinction between the ‘passions’ of localism and nationalism and I would add my voice to those who deny any possibility of scaling up localism to some form of nationalism – they are fundamentally different kinds of things. The purposes of nationalism are entirely different, and you point out some good examples associated with our current right-wing government. Valluvan makes clear that nationalism can also appear on the liberal centre and the left, never in ways that I imagine you or I would consider usefully productive or progressive.

    It’s worth noting that some ‘globalists’ find use in nationalism. The maintenance of different wage levels in different parts of the world, often by limiting freedom of movement, enables the so-called ‘super-exploitation’ beloved of transnational corporations.

    Finally, I’m interested to see how you define localism beyond passion for place. Nationalism can, of course, manifest locally in, for example, the politics of local war memorials, or the flying of national flags by those with flagpoles in their gardens. In all cases it’s often about trying to maintain the ‘common sense’ status of the local status quo by those with some investment in it, against those who might dare to suggest that all is not well in the neighbourhood.

  10. Hello Chris,

    Thanks for taking on the local-kindred-spirit out of the romanticized fairy tale.
    Small places can be brutal, especially for people who are “different”.
    On the other hand, people are entangled in a web of relationships that go back generations. The one thing you know for sure when you have a conflict with a neighbour is that you will meet again. And again. And again. The messiness is part of what keeps reciprocity going. We are in it together.

    How different is the life in the mega-city. I grew up in a small town, but I have lived for more than a year in Moscow, Paris, The Hague and Shanghai, during my decades in the international elite migrant worker community (a.k.a. “expat”). The “expat” community is also brutal. Especially towards the local communities where they temporarily reside. We expats usually fly in, shit on everything, and fly away, with tax-secured money in our pockets. Relationships tend to be shallow and short. This was the life I dreamt about as a child – during my school years, I was soaking up the propaganda of the globalists, and as soon as I could, I moved out into the world. I tried to be an honest participant, but I always knew that I would later move on.

    Since many years, I am back in a small town with my family, and life is better than ever. Back in the mess and the sharing of a destiny. Meeting the same people at the supermarket as well as at the football pitch and the gas station.

    Thanks for sharing your insights and observations. It is very useful. I am one of the neo-gentrifying upcoming homesteaders, looking at moving to a more rural property with my small organic tree nursery. Next post will be even more interesting! 😉


  11. Thanks for further comments. Briefly, again:

    – Martin, apologies I forgot to respond to you last time. You’re probably right!

    – Kathryn, I agree on the complexities of urban & rural neighbourliness. On the larger politics, while indeed there’s little any individual (including powerful individuals like presidents or prime ministers) can do to shift larger political forces IMO it’s still worth articulating the nature of the political forces in play, because it can help direct oneself and others to more effective interventions. Just as you don’t feed the world by cultivating your garden, but you do feed somebody, you don’t change world history by articulating its politics, but maybe you change something.

    – Raymond, thanks for those thoughts and for the Johnson ref which I’ll try to follow up. Sounds like you’re engaged in interesting work. Perhaps there’s some confusion inasmuch as people often use the word ‘feudalism’ basically to mean what was going on Europe (and perhaps beyond) prior to modernity, whereas I have something more specific in mind. But I’ll explain further in a future post. I’m sympathetic to the idea that regarding some things at least medieval societies came up with better answers than modern ones.

    – Sean, thanks for that – definitely an apposite moment for a reminder that it’s good to think subsidiaritily, if that’s a word

    – Andrew, also an apposite moment for a reminder that nationalism benefits ‘the globalists’ in shoring up the unjust imbalance between the flow of money and the flow of people

    – Diogenes, yes that rings true, but what are the local impacts when the gentrifiers only last a couple of years?

    – Goran, interesting reflections – thank you. As you say, small places can be brutal. There’s much to be gained from cultivating your idea that you’ll keep meeting your neighbour so an ‘in it together’ mentality is a plus. Part of the brutality is when that mentality is absent, and social tensions harden into various factions, castes, classes, cliques or what have you. Any thoughts on mitigating that would be welcome!

    • IMHO there are two types of gentrified one group move to the country and comute to the cities , their life revolves around work and what the city can provide in a wide sense ” entertainment ” basic dormitory living , then there’s the other type , usually retired who get involved locally buy a four wheel drive , don’t complain about everything and anything and bring their expertise and money to local matters like accountants for the parish council , fighting authority of all types that want to ” enhance ” the local area , get involved keeping the local pub open and fighting quangos like the national parks authority , keeping the “national good” away from the” local good ” , a few turn into hermits , give nothing , take nothing .
      That’s about it , the dormitory types cause all kinds of grief , they live ” in the country” but want to sterilize it ,when they can’t , or can’t get a court to enforce sterilization , leave , the others just try to fit in ,

    • Re: larger political picture — of course it’s important to articulate what’s happening (or I wouldn’t spend nearly as much time here as I do. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise by stating that I personally care less about the things that seem more removed from my own sphere of influence.

  12. If localism is charted against nationalism less as two opposite poles and more as way points on a continuum from individual to global citizen we could dig into some current global matters more completely.

    I’m thinking of Ukraine. But before I jump onto that, lets rehearse the National vs. individual a bit closer. That Chris shares with someone from Kent a national government somewhat different from what might have been if a battle or two had gone differently in the past is well… interesting I suppose, but somewhat irrelevant. It didn’t go differently, the present is what it is. We can’t change the past, so with what limited agency we do posses we aim to change the future.

    That I might be able to visit Joe Clarkson without having to take a passport is interesting in a somewhat similar vein. Current colleagues in North Carolina might be beyond borders if a battle or two had gone the other way in the 1860s here. They didn’t, and so life exists today as we find it.

    The continuum I mentioned in the first place. From individual to the whole of humanity. My local, like many of us here, has changed over the course of my life. I have been stationed in this one place for about 30 years, so I have managed to root into a community to some extent. At a more global level – I have always lived in the U.S., and in the Midwest piece of the US (and always in a piece that was part of the Union in the conflict referred to above). I have also always lived in a NATO country. Born during the Eisenhower administration I’ve lived through the Cold War, the falling of the iron curtain, etc.

    So back to Ukraine. Times being what they are, the geography and politics of Eastern Europe (or Western Asia perhaps??) seem mighty interesting. It would require a passport for me to visit Chris at Frome… but what for our sons and daughters if NATO should become en-wrapped in a conflict in Ukraine? Afghanistan and Iraq offer some hints, but the relative military might of the opponents this time changes the picture considerably.

    NATO is not a nation, but it is a human construct, a political animal. It is well beyond the position on our continuum from individual to all humanity where a nation takes its post. NATO itself may not exist if some battles had gone differently. They didn’t, it exists, and now it may cause some serious outcomes.

    Food for thought

    • National borders are the problem , Scotland , Wales , northern Ireland , Yanks versus rebs , Hutu versus Tutsi , all caused by lines drawn on a map , the powerful refuse to let the weaker make their own country , Ukraine has four ethnic groups , the Balkans is a horrendous mess all caused by lines on a map ignoring who lives there .
      Differences matter to people in local and national level , diversity is strength only when both sides want the same thing , anything else is a recipe for civil war at some point .

      • Which come first? Disagreements, or lines drawn? Not always one or the other, but my guess is the disagreements preceded the lines in much of the past. The lines now drawn seldom change anymore.

        Serious disagreements among folks within the same polity (township, county, state, etc) tend not to lead to civil war, but can lead to ugly conflicts. With the ability to up stakes and move to another location there is quite a bit of sorting taking place. Blue regions getting bluer and red ones getting redder (at least here in the US… are the green and orange in Ireland sorting more now with Brexit and serious fences between the north and south?).

        Perhaps a shameful testimony against our modern culture that many often find it easier to move away from trouble than do the work needed to find ways to live peacefully in place.

        • “The lines now drawn seldom change anymore.”

          Taking a long view, I don’t think that’s the case at all. You’ve already mentioned Northern Ireland, though my understanding is that it’s free movementof goods between NI and the rest of the UK that’s currently hampered, rather than movement of people between NI and Ireland. See also, for example, the ongoing controversy over how Google Maps portrays the Chagos Islands vs how Apple Maps do; a little further back, there was a war fought over the Falklands. The history of the Anglo-Scottish border is also… interesting.

          If lines can be drawn, lines can be moved.

    • One thought is why is the USA trying to enforce Soviet era borders ? Decreed by a drunk Soviet president who handed over the crimea to the Ukraine . Lots of history in that area , from first converts to Russian orthodox Christianity to Stalin purges to Ukraine backing the wrong horse and fighting for Germany to more Stalin purges , lots of history, lots of hate .

  13. Hello Chris,

    Regarding how to resolve conflicts on the local scale, here some observations and thoughts: My wife was a local mediator for neighbour conflicts for a few years. She says that 1/3 of the conflicts are resolved. 1/3 of the time one of the parties move. 1/3 of the time, they keep the conflict going. The mediation was a pro-bono activity without any formal or informal power. It is thus possible to resolve quite a lot of conflicts without resorting to “power” or “authority”.

    I think that we all need guidance during some phases of life. We are all stupid once in a while. (“We are all Dilbert”, as Scott Adams put it.)
    What I have seen in some small communities and some small towns, are charismatic, wise older people who mediate in conflicts based on an informal position of authority. Wisdom and self-depreciation and respect is sometimes carried by a well-functioning teacher, lawyer or clergy(wo)man. It is more dependent on the personality than the function. This is probably a weak statement from a sociological point of view, but part of the messiness of reality that is not well suited to abstractions.
    The further away from the center of power, the more local figures and their character plays a role.
    Or as they say in China about rural politics – “The mountains are high and the Emperor is far away.”

    Maybe social arrangements in the abstract work best in cities? In the local community, it is more difficult to generalize? When a given field is not just one acre grade 5 sandy loam, but “Swing-leg Johns barley acker”?

    How do you negotiate with your neighbours and other growers at your place? What kind of conflicts do you experience? Mainly conflicts of interests? Or also norm-conflicts based on different value priorities?

    I hope the last week’s triple-storm has not made much damage to your place. I had some damage to a hoophouse where I had made an assembly mistake… Learning point for next time.


  14. I haven’t gotten very far but I just have to say that what passes for ‘nationalism’ here is bullshit. There is no sense of a nation, that we are all in this together. Rather it is some stupid idea that chaos (anarchy is for leftists, right ? ) is the ideal state of governance.

    I’d put it down as consumerism run amok. I want what I(‘ve been told to) want for as little as possible and don’t care about anything else. It gets to ‘me first’ pretty quickly. One person does not make a very big nation.

    Globalism means global capitalism doesn’t it ? I think we have all seen how that works. Colonialism for the rich.

    When you are driving a 2022 Land Rover I’ll believe that you are the new gentry.

  15. Thanks for the further comments & clarifications – all duly noted.

    Not too much to add, except:

    To Clem’s point on the irrelevance of the past I guess I’d counter that the past continues to provide the raw material for competing nationalist narratives or counternarratives that organize present actions directed towards the future – so for example while it seems fair to say that the US Civil War went the way it did and is now over, the fact that people stormed the Capitol only last year waving Confederate flags may suggest that it isn’t really over. The other side of that coin: acknowledging this randomness of the past in my view makes or ought to make a purist patriotic nationalism difficult. But I’ll write more about that presently..

    To Goran’s point about mediation, my wife is also involved in local mediation. I think this will be critical in a congenial localist future, and I like what you have to say about it. It isn’t given nearly the attention it deserves in many of our major political schools of thought that tend to assume implicitly that once their particular vision of the correct form of politics has been implemented the messy realities of interpersonal conflict will be abolished, or at least radically diminished to an unrealistic extent.

    I also like Goran’s point about local particularity – what’s lost when we move from “Swing-leg Johns barley acker” to Grade 5 sandy loam.

    As to my own experiences of agrarian conflict, I don’t think I want to start down that road here – though I’ll touch on it in some forthcoming posts. I may recount it in all its fine-grained bloody detail at some point in the future once this blog cycle is done.

    And thanks for the van Bavel reference. I’ll follow up.

    To Greg’s points, where do you mean when you say ‘here’ – the US? Pretty much agree with your analysis, though some ‘globalists’ still harbour genuinely liberatory sentiments about their project. I think they’re mistaken, although localism has demons of its own.

    I briefly owned a 1974 Land Rover in 2008, before trading it in for a 1980 Ford 3600 which I still own, although don’t use much. Hope that gets me off the gentrification hook? Perhaps my next post will provide further evidence…

    • Should have added my thanks to Clem for raising Russia/Ukraine. I’ll try to write more about empire at some point…

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