Decentralization Is A Step Toward Self-Determination

Mises and "Self-Determination"

As Mises put it in Nation, State, and Economy, the “doctrine of freedom” offers an alternative—“the principle of the right of self-determination of peoples, which follows necessarily from the principle of the rights of man.”

Mises goes on to clarify that this type of self-determination is also about local control:

To call this right of self-determination the "right of self-determination of nations" is to misunderstand it. It is not the right of self-determination of a delimited national unit, but the right of the inhabitants of every territory to decide on the state to which they wish to belong.

What does this mean in practice? Mises insists on the right of inhabitants to choose their own state. By this, he means that localized groups of people with similar cultural and political interests—even down the level of a village—must have the freedom to function independently of the impediments of a larger centralized state. 

Murray Rothbard, not surprisingly, was in agreement with this and noted the implications of Mises's position: that self-determination at the local level is a key step in securing self-determination not only for small groups but for individuals themselves.

The reasons for this are numerous, and they're why most libertarians (i.e., the liberals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Constant) preferred local government to government by larger, less local regimes. Like his liberal predecessors, Mises understood that larger "national" regimes tend toward abuses committed by large majorities on smaller linguistic, cultural, ideological, and ethnic groups.1

These problems tend to be made less bad by more localization. 

Decentralization of this sort is also important because it allows individuals greater ability to exercise their freedoms by more easily changing the regime under which they live. Rothbard explains that decentralization

means greater competition between governments of different geographical areas, enabling people of one State to zip across the border to relatively greater freedom more easily; and it exalts the mighty libertarian principle of secession, which we hope to extend on down from the region to the city to the block to the individual.

Rothbard speaks of state boundaries—here meaning the American political units called “states” and not to be confused with the Weberian sovereign state—but of course, he also applied the same principle down to local governments:

Pending total privatization, it is clear that our model could be approached, and conflicts minimized, by permitting secessions and local control, down to the micro-neighborhood level, and by developing contractual access rights for enclaves and exclaves. In the U.S., it becomes important, in moving toward such radical decentralization, for libertarians and classical liberals—indeed, for many other minority or dissident groups—to begin to lay the greatest stress on the forgotten Tenth Amendment and to try to decompose the role and power of the centralizing Supreme Court. Rather than trying to get people of one's own ideological persuasion on the Supreme Court, its power should be rolled back and minimized as far as possible, and its power decomposed into state, or even local, judicial bodies.

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