By Aaron Williams–
The University of Louisville McConnell Center continued its reTHINK spring lecture series on Feb. 7 with reTHINK “‘Big’: Liberals, Conservatives and the Search for a Humane Scale.” The discussion featured leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics and law associate professor Thad Williamson from the University of Richmond, and government professor Mark Mitchell from Patrick Henry College. University of Louisville political science professor David Imbroscio moderated the debate.
The discussion was an opportunity for students, staff and community leaders of Louisville to take a fresh look at a major assumption guiding 21st century America: is bigger really better? Both Dr. Williamson and Dr. Mitchell seem to think not. Williamson, author of “Making a Place For Community: Local Democracy in a Global Era,” described himself as an advocate of a pluralist commonwealth.
“A community respecting a community-stabilized economy is the core of the vision of the pluralists commonwealth,” Williamson stated in his opening remarks adding, “If we want to build respect for a community-stabilized economy, we must address the question of who controls wealth and who controls investment capital.”
Mitchell, author of the book “The Politics of Gratitude: Scale, Place, and Community in a Global Age,” stressed the idea of a humane scale and a policy of stewardship. “The first notion that I think is indispensable for any coherent conception of conservatism is a willingness and an interest in conserving something,” said Mitchell, “The language I like to use is the language of stewardship.”
The debate was an opportunity to find common ground between the two men’s visions and balance the basic ideological challenges each side of the political spectrum faces in embracing the idea of localism. For liberals, they must be ready to give up the expansionism and centralization brought about by big government. For conservatives, they must concede that the big corporations enabled by capitalism may not best address the needs of local communities. Williamson was a proponent of distributing capital widely and creating a property owners democracy. His vision called for a regional investment banking system with the federal government acting as an enforcer of civil rights that gave people a sort of social insurance. Mitchell’s ideas called for a reinvigoration of private property and an end to the culture of debts by realizing that human beings must live within limits. Mitchell also suggested the end of nation building and foreign wars that invariably act as agents of power consolidation by large governments in favor of a more community-based approach.
Students present at the event seemed to be in agreement with the two speakers. “Localism is an excellent alternative while we remain under the thumb of the oppressive capitalistic system,” said senior sociology major Zach Leamy following the debate.
The McConnell Center’s next installment in its reTHINK lecture series will be “Capitalism: Reconciling Its Moral Balance Sheet” with James Otteson on Feb. 28.
Photo courtesy of louisville.edu