Localism and Hypocrisy

The Texas legislature has attracted considerable scorn for its effort to reign in local governments intent on violating property rights. According to one critic, “It does this by kicking respect for democracy to the sidelines and squashing municipal initiatives like a bug.”

Democracy means unlimited majority rule–the majority may do what it pleases simply because it is the majority. It should not be constrained by things like rights or the Constitution. All that matters is the “will of the people.” And if the majority wants to violate property rights by banning plastic bags, regulating trees, preserving historic buildings, or anything else, it should be permitted to do so.

The advocates of localism do not complain about violations of individual rights. Their complaints are directed at efforts to protect those rights, because protecting rights is often contrary to the desires of the majority. They want the authority to impose their values upon the entire local community. The legislature should be “squashing municipal initiatives like a bug” when those initiatives violate individual rights.

Interestingly, Texas Republicans have long argued for “states’ rights” and complained about the federal government interfering in matters best handled at the state level. The backers of localism point to this fact and call the state legislators hypocrites. While there are elements of truth in this claim, the critics think that the hypocrisy stems from wanting local control in one context and denying it in another.

In truth, the hypocrisy arises from Republicans claiming to support individual liberty while supporting policies that violate that liberty. For example, Texas Republicans complain when the federal government protects individual rights by overturning state laws that restrict abortion or prohibit gay marriage. Republican’s inconsistency on individual rights is the source of their hypocrisy.

Just as municipal governments should not be allowed to impose the “will of the people” on a community, the state government should not be able to impose the “will of the people” on all Texans.

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