Regarding the recent discussion Russell Arben Fox launched by calling for a more ideologically articulated vision of localism — this, as distinct from the pure storytelling in The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming — consider Caleb Stegall’s 2009 post about the danger of overarticulating localism in theory. He writes of the ordinary joy of having a family picnic in a cemetery. Excerpt:
This picnicing on the graves is my manner of describing an under-articulated localism that seeks to remedy dispossession by the slow, small, repeated, daily acts of repossession. Bill Kauffman gave us an excellent example of this with the speech delivered by Ron Maxwell. Maxwell’s speech was a happy picnic on a confederate grave marker. Above all, it forgives—which is to say, it loves (love keeps no record of wrongs).
Repossession requires love above all—I have said this before—and no amount of anger or stumbling about trying to recover a lost identity will forge a lasting “localism” if it has not love. At best, such efforts will lead to a “lifestyle” choice that capitulates to the same forces of consumption which lead to dispossession (the danger of “crunchy cons”) and at worst they will lead to bitter, diseased ghettos of pathetic victims with delusions of vengeance. But many many localist movements, most I would venture, love. Love is their existential engine, after all. Most difficult is the preservation of this love across the divide as localist reactions to dispossession break out into political and social movements. This is, in my view, the most important work of the Front Porch Republic.
This brings to mind Jeremy Beer’s TAC essay from years ago — I couldn’t find it online — about how true conservatives ought to engage themselves in these acts of localist affection and repossession — acts from which ideological engagement can distract us:
The conservers, preservers, savers, and protectors—conservatism once stood for such folks, and such folks were at one time conservatives. But they make bad apparatchiks. They aren’t ideologically motivated and aren’t “thinking big.” They are simply concerned, if often locally prominent, citizens. They may also be sentimental saps, but that’s understandable. As normally functioning human beings, they have formed dear attachments to their social and physical worlds. They like their communities, want to see them thrive and prosper, want to see them made or kept beautiful, want to preserve (or reinvigorate) their sense of their places as unique, and prefer to interact daily with people they know and love—or even hate.
Here is where Russell Kirk was truly exemplary. He ought to be
remembered not as “the principal architect of the postwar conservative movement,” as the quasi-official adulation has it, but because he went home. There he restored an old house, planted trees, and became a justice of the peace; took a wife (and kept her) and had four children; wrote ghost stories about census-takers and other bureaucrats getting it in the neck; took in boatpeople and bums; and denounced every war in which the U.S. became involved—especially the first Gulf War, which he detested. And he also denounced abstractions because he knew they were drugs deployed to distract us from the infinitely more important work of the Brandywine Conservancies of the world.
I found myself the other day looking online at a photo of Kirk outside his house in Mecosta — a house I’ve been blessed to have spent an evening in, as the guest of Annette Kirk — and thinking, that’s who I want to be in St. Francisville. Yeah, I have a theory. But mostly, I have love. I love the little country mission church we’ve helped to found, and I love these gentle hills, and I love the fact that my family has been here for five generations, at least. My sister Ruthie hated theory, and her hatred of theory led her in some ways to embrace ways of thinking and habits that undermined the localist goods that she loved. But what she lacked in (useful) theory, she more than made up in love for this place and its people. I am learning from her example. Go therefore, ye fellow conservatives, if ye can, and do the same.