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The Problem With Wolf’s Anti-Federal Fetish

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Corey Robin has more, and it’s crucial reading:

Like many critics of state coercion in America, Wolf seems to assume that political repression requires or entails national coordination and centralized direction from the feds. But as I argued in this piece in the Boston Review in 2005, and in a much longer piece in the Missouri Law Review [pdf], that notion gets it wrong.

From the battles over abolition to the labor wars at the turn of the last century to the Red Squads of the twentieth-century police departments to the struggles over Jim Crow, state repression in America has often been decentralized, displaying that very same can-do spirit of local initiative that has been celebrated by everyone from Alexis de Tocqueville to Robert Putnam. Though Tocqueville and Putnam were talking of course about things like creating churches and buildings roads, the fact is: if the locals can build a church or a road on their own, they can also get rid of dissenters on their own, too, no?

Obviously, there have been major instances of federal repression, and we don’t even know to an absolute certainty that the OWS crackdown wasn’t a federal initiative (although this is implausible and is supported by no evidence.)   But the fact is that local governments have been the primary initiator of political repression in the United States, and to assume that the OWS crackdowns must have been initiated by the feds plays into states-centric biases that in the context of American politics are inexorably reactionary.

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