Love Is the Answer to Empire

Increasingly, I find that the only real political hope I feel is coming from small causes in small places. Perhaps localism is the antidote to empire.

The following is an excerpt from a speech delivered by the author Bill Kauffman at a conference held by the Campaign for Liberty. It is passionate, poetic, at times funny, and yes, hopeful.


We are, today, subjects of an empire, not citizens of a republic. The idea of “citizenship” has been diluted from one of membership in an organic body in which each person matters, takes part in civic affairs, to the current condition, in which you are a cog in a machine, just another brick in the wall. The role of an American citizen, as viewed by our rulers in Washington, D.C., is to pay your taxes, cast a meaningless vote every four years, and shut the hell up. You have almost—almost—no say in U.S. foreign policy. As Dick Cheney once replied when told that the vast majority of Americans wanted our soldiers home from Iraq: “So?”

An empire is a centripetal machine that sucks all power to the center. Smaller bodies, grass-roots democratic institutions, are devitalized, wiped out. All political decisions of consequence are made at a level far higher than the town or city council or county legislature; they are made by men and occasionally women in remote capitals. People who don’t know us—people who have no desire or even the means to know us—make life or death decisions about us.

If you believe, as I do, that rootlessness is one of the great maladies afflicting our lorn and lovely land, then reasserting the importance of place in American life becomes the antidote. America is the sum of ten thousand and one little, individuated places, each with its own character and stories. A politician who understands this will act in ways that protect and preserve these real places. She will ask the question that never gets injected into national debates over the wisdom of American policy: What are the domestic costs? Loving her block, she will not wish to bomb Iraq. Loyal to a neighborhood, she will not send its young men and women across the oceans to kill and die for causes wholly unrelated to local life.

A rootless politico will babble on about “the homeland”—a creepy totalitarian phrase that, before George W. Bush, was never applied to our country. Don’t ever use that term—the homeland—unless you’re an FBI informer, a Mussolini groupie, or a speechwriter for Chris Christie.

Read the entire speech here.