The Localist


A Publication for Local Power Around the World

A Localist Manifesto by Paul Fenn


The twentieth and twenty-first century American soul is forlorn.  The failures of the Enlightenment have turned secular thinkers against it, provoking a dangerously dyslexic electro-dissimulation, attended by the collapse of historical memory that fuels the War Machine. [1]


A machine?  Five-hundred machines!  How many machines do you need?  How many machines does it take to satiate you?  Enslave you? The rape of the Earth is so vast, it has frightened far too many of us into an anti-modern attitude.  That attitude is tyrannous.  That attitude is servile.  It is driven by the instrumental logic of a sado-masochistic ritual of spiritual cleansing.  Look how shiny and clean this machine is!  Can there be a more suitable vehicle for your desires?


Enlightenment is failing – the secularism, science and democracy of centuries now fading into view just as the world awakens to democracy.  For proof look to Climate Change, to nuclear proliferation, and to the cultural toxicity that undermines independence, liberty, and self-governance in our world today.  The APE cannot handle the TRUTH. These failures of Enlightenment are due in no small measure to the inability of its ideas to compel ACTION.  Language has lost its power to command obedience or inspire cooperation; it is in the thralls of a “legitimation crisis.”  And as a result, democratic governance has grown tedious, qualitatively mediocre, and within the context of other evils — such as conniving capitalists—it has itself become evil.  The absence of virtue currently associated with governance has encouraged the irrationalists to attempt a turn against Enlightenment itself, proving yet again what Goya said some two-hundred years ago: that the sleep of reason produces monsters. Mere handmaidens to power, distorted by envy, these intellectuals murder the good father – REASON.


Where reason sleeps, monsters abound.  Principally, they are of two types: sadists and masochists.  How many machines does the sadist need in order to satisfy his hunger for humiliation?  How many does the masochist need to satisfy his thirst for shame?


Since its inception, the Enlightenment has continuously been under attack by powerful enemies; so judging its failures, as if they were merely internal incoherencies that arose from the Enlightenment’s “legitimation crisis,” is itself incoherent.  Enlightenment emerged from within a context of political enmity; and it is within that context that it must prove its mettle, or suffer the disillusionment in the very idea of Enlightenment.  A counter-revolution against Revolution and Enlightenment against King and Theocracy, is upon the precipice of a new success, or an epic failure.



The tendency of academic intellectuals to accept isolation in overspecialized knowledge priestdoms is a colossal, even epic, problem for the idea of self-governing free societies that Enlightenment imagined. It has led, as the Negative Dialectics of Theodor Adorno showed, to the divorce of intellectuals from the proletariat and the eventual infantilization of the “masses” under fascistic and other totalitarian regimes.  Negative Dialectics expressed the ultimate idea behind Deconstruction and Resistance Theory: that critique is action – a scriptural practice.


Positive Dialectics is another kind of catharsis – an intellectual trespassing. It is not merely a form of writing but a political practice, a design, a project. An intellectual historian may write energy law as a scriptural practice, and in this case choose a rival hegemon – in my case United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s energy policy in the early 1990s through today – then being imported into the United States, and since then imported back into the European Union and ultimately leading to energy globalization itself.


In part this manifesto of Positive Dialectics will describe one application, in this case an energy policy which I wrote and ultimately got written into law as of today in 38% of the U.S. in terms of energy volumes, but in which I am still struggling to win positively. In part I have won, though the struggle continues – but a point has been made in the sequestered halls of megawatts and thermal units. Over 20 years I have rewritten the constitutions of cities, laws, plans, agreements and deals to transform cities all over the U.S. – and become trusted by city governments to analyze, map and plan the world’s boldest, scaled-to-compete-with-Wall Street green public works projects yet attempted. Trespass has found not only intellectual but political, economic and ecological paydirt.


Perhaps most important, this particular immersion into public engagement has provided a clear perspective on what is possible outside the Cold War economic system in domestic infrastructure creation and maintenance. From it may be recognized the objective barrier to real change. It has compelled action – still imperfect, but with distinction and public recognition, translating into the creation of community-owned energy authorities serving over a million Americans, breaking green power and greenhouse gas reduction records, and ultimately disproving any iron law of economics in the cost of renewable energy.


Positive Dialectics has generated a frightful perspective on the American energy status quo.  On all sides of the energy crisis, democracy is failing. An unresolved tradition sleeps on a bed of Black Widows on the precipice of aphasiac social chaos – the delegitimation of Modernity. The government collapses, elections fail, fraud overtakes the control of democratic decisions. U.S. corporations for decades have acted as if they were operating in a foreign country here, manipulating governments, managing Astro-Prop PR and lobbying with donations in $ hundreds of millions. This potential reflects back on the poverty of criticism, and the need for a more participatory intelligentsia in the Universities of the Americas. Academic intellectuals must recognize they have been duped by commercialism into a Pavolvian prostration to extant authority through disciplinary narrowness. With no organic intellectual society, America is controlled by an industrial-and entertainment-plex that owns the news media. Late in a broader trend, the Renaissance Man is a thing of the past in this mental silo-town. There is no here, here.


Criticism has run its course – it is impotent.  In the failure of Deconstruction to provide a basis of critique of power, theory became more free, more tolerated, but also less powerful, abstracted.  It lost its substance, and thus the social loyalty to command obedience and cooperation of free individuals.  This withdrawal from revolutionary activism into radical critique, which defines both Deconstructionism and Resistance Theory, must be reversed.  A new practice is required: a re-immersion of theory in the democratic action of governance: Positive Dialectics.


The disability of radical political philosophy in U.S. politics and European politics each may be attributed to this shortcoming of critique as a scriptural practice.  Ritualized into fetishism and commodification, Deconstruction has become captured in decadent dyslexia.   A new seriousness is required to rescue Enlightenment from the ultimate counter-revolution that today seeks to undo all the gains to liberty of the past 200 years. There are many who would restore the tribal, pre-modern, pre-globalist ethnarchy, and undo ancient liberties going over 500 years, the spying, the torture this sulphuric nightmare of hyper-growth? Theory empowered into a new scriptural practice can cross academic silos to cross these boundaries to become intellectually coherent between science, technology, economics, and policy? This coherence is the foundation of manufactured false liberty in a permanently managed crisis.




Theory should not stand above history and explain what is; nor should it predict what will be.  Rather, it should engage and transform history.


Positive Dialectics is a twenty-year project; its purpose or original intent was never to actually change the world, though that was its claim.  It was, however, intended to improve on the Resistance Theory advanced by M. de Certeau, J. Derrida, address Bourdieu’s sociological inquiries into cultural production at universities, the radical archaeology of M. Foucault, the politicized art of W. Benjamin, and the negative critical intention of ultimately all Deconstructionists. The 20th century trade unions overpowered the party intellectual leadership. Nazism and Stalinism stole the  dream of Marxist Communism. The core failure of intellectuals had been to withdraw from the jaundiced bigot’s face and into negative critique – explaining the cause of bigotry.


Believing this sequestration – this Second Compromise (following the compromise of Enlightenment with the Pope) to be the key failure of Foucault’s critique of Psychiatry and Prisons, following up on Illich’s critique of schools or hospitals – “Positive Dialectics”(1991) attempted a new path. It was study of Otto Bauer and race-oriented Austrian Socialism, and specifically Bauer’s drafting of propaganda to rank and file trade union racists 11 decades ago.


The immersion is a form of immanent critique – an action, based on a judgement. Believing the locution and form of scriptural practice to be part of the top-down Marixist concept of class consciousness, I determined to engage U.S. industrial legislation as a theoretical medium, providing both for the architecture of change but also an enhanced immanent critique of political and economic power arbitrations in U.S. Politics. Energy law could express a coherent, unencumbered, uncorrupted democratic form; finesse the potential of attenuated, thoughtful self-government. This produced Community Choice Aggregation (1995), H Bonds (2001), the Virtual Power Plant (2006), Rapid Renewable Rollout (2007) Energy Localization (2009), and other game changing structures in energy – all the products of a decades-long theoretical engagement with industrial discourse.


However ambitious, this was my canvass; under Positive Dialectics, the engagement of legism or the drafting of laws, and political campaigning and journalism , would provide the basis for public speaking, energy industry journalism, and intellectual history. Language may cross academic disciplines to compel action in an otherwise intractable industrial gridlock: the U.S. energy industry. This produced an empowerment of language, and a social opportunity for economic literacy in political discourse about energy – changing people’s assumptions about the realm of the economically possible.


Positive Dialectics – this inter-disciplinary engagement with status quo, syncopation of immediate and conceptual – affirms that enlightened culture is the way of our time, that the solar panel is the triumph of our Enlightenment. Its independence will silence all skeptics. Only a fool would look away and choose the dark fires of mineral and corpse-energy. In Cold War America, the future was a MARKET. Today we may question if this is necessary – or if a more careful division of organic democratic power may be strengthened in the presence of empowered anti-democratic world or corporate inertia.


Starting with a broad intent but evolving from the drafting of law to designing implementation plans and mathematical models, I have prepared plans or implementations for the most dramatic carbon reduction changes ever before attempted in the energy industry. A theoretical strategy has evolved from immersion and engagement in the REAL into a quintessentially technical project. Having worked for over half a dozen major municipal governments in the past half decade, my friends and I have proven it is possible to reduce the grid level demand of a city by 51-75% over just five years without increasing utility bills.  We have embarrassed an energy industry that denies this possibility outright, and a media that parrots them. In this sense we have raised the bar on the possible in U.S. politics. Famous ecologists embrace nuclear as the only hope.  We are proving this to be a market fundamentalism – an institutional, generational cultural condition of economic naivety managed by a an energy oligarchy.


Positive Dialectics understands that Sovereignty is a value – that political and economic power be localized.  We must decentralize authority in order to reduce corruption while expanding political authority to local elected officials. We must overcome their corruption to realize the democratic dream of self-governance in an industrial society. This means giving local political authority to local governments, and eliminating the extant federal and state authorities in these areas. It means overcoming reactions against Tammany Hall, against Progressivism, against municipal political power – a prejudice and decadence that threatens Enlightenment at its foundations. It means also changing the focus of political discourse from President and Parliament, Chancellor and Congress, to Mayor and City Council.



Enlightenment created the conditions for both technology and self-governance. Today, modern man has become an Energy Slave – taking on the characteristics that the energy machines have replaced. Ivan Illich’s “Energy Slave “may be viewed in this light, as causing climate change and nuclear proliferation.  Indeed,  “modern” man has an infantile relationship with energy, creating the specter of self-governance but withdrawing from its own court – as if to leave behind the lobbyists to take the throne themselves.


In a deindustrialized post-colonial climate change, with nuclear proliferation and ocean extinction on the horizon and a Mercury-damaged uneducated modern human, divorced fatherless and addicted. Perverted pornographic un-participating, he is unenlightened, reactionary small-minded. Superfluous and politically correct, he is bored and suicidal. Media merger upon merger, a corporate takeover, a monoculture – monopoly. We live in borderline psychotic protocols, a detritus of past bureaucracy, preyed no by paranoid cops and governed by a decadent banality.

Local political incompetence & ubiquitous personal disloyalty in power, extroverted paranoia, and a puritanical perversion emanate from the sprawl of cultural escape, insularity – alienation. In this amnesiac hysterical government it is always too early but it’s always too late to do anything about the catastrophes that we are causing.A  Normative lock-step fast food, an overconsumption short-sighted, degraded, poisoned – a charade of bravado by the spoiled rotten TV generations. .


The risks are harrowing, but also reminiscent of so many other intersticial moments in history. If Enlightenment loses at this advanced stage, a profound risk exists that, by the combined means of a coup, an erasure of political memory, and revolutionary amnesia, we will return to the bush, to the trees, to the dark ages of our simian past.  Can we remain coherent or become merely another futile imperialism? The American Revolution? Its civil society from the 18th to the 20th century failed into boredom, privacy, narcicissm, its voting booths empty, its halls of government littered with fools and impotents.


The core challenge for us today is how to have viable democracies without anything close to the rate of economic growth levels upon which we have depended under hypergrowth Capitalism: prosperity without economic growth. Read that again. The economic challenge under law, within marginal economic limits, is to make onsite renewable energy replace and render obsolete a vertical energy monopoly.


This is the direction that Enlightenment might take, to mature beyond the imperialistic mentality – the native revolutionary secular tradition that brought it about. Localism is the next step, the next consensus – to bring political and economic closer to people in their communities.



Johann Gottfried von Herder, that enlightened enemy of French and British Enlightenment, said that secular knowledge would prove unable to generate new culture to replace the religion-based and serfdom-based cultures the Enlightenment challenged in Church and Lord. A mechanistic ideology, said the German author of Yet Another Philosophy of History, would cause cultural stillbirth. Some of this is certainly born out in the cultural wasteland of modern megacities. It is the nightmare of a quaint utopia imagined in the past. The sacrificial altar of liberty is equality – because equality is economically impossible.  Without the ability to root itself in shared survival, liberty threatens its own foundation in a second escape from freedom. With no palpable community of loyalty surviving the cultural blender of globalization, a profound incoherency, a rhetorical stupor, has overtaken the idle chatter of corporate media, one hand clapping – a dialectical silence.


Could the political discourse of constitutionally free, self-governing cause learning, the historical accumulation of political maturation? Or would the chatter of democracy degenerate into the somnambulistic idiocy of denatured therapeutic subjects and identity politics – this apocalypse of REASON? Liberty is required for community and democracy to enable the economic leverage of the people, locally, to gain leverage to make important decisions. Specific people are needed to cooperate in order to succeed as self-governing societies. It is the action of government to realize this province of REASON without which ENLIGHTENMENT remains impossible.


What has happened? The Energy Slave. The situation is dire, but also pregnant with new possibilities in Second and First World politics. A more serious attitude is needed – a determination to overcome the inertia of America, the stupor of devastated humanity called America. The Americanized world will also face this crisis – Herder’s crisis of culture. Globalization has this amnaesic violence, this erasure of pasts, the emptying of time, the commoditization of everything, the global triage into exploitation zones and protected areas. Enlightenment faces an epic failure. Only through relocalization globally can new stability be created, local democratic authority clarified and expanded, and a more competent, effective and even strategically driven municipalities. A culture may accumulate, but not without the discipline of the simplest form of community and polity


Positive Dialectics is not merely trying to engineer good outcomes, such as addressing Climate Change, or Peak Oil, or nuclear proliferation, or any single criterion of policy, but a bottom-up revision of the core obstructions created in America by the COLD WAR, but also by the CIVIL WAR, and the imperfect voting rights and religious monoculture that the English and Dutch practiced while creating the British Revolution against Charles Steuart, as well as the American Revolution against the British Empire, and the sundry revolutions of Modernity. This is the firm march of progress that one must not forget, and if you are drawn to doubt the fundamentals of the Enlightenment, try not to stray from this miracle of nature. We must find and implement alternative paths for our civilization to directly engage this ennui of the intellect in America and Europe.


[1] Edited by Christopher Britt, Eduardo Subirats, Julia Peters, W.R. Baker and Charles Schultz. A Spanish translation of this manifesto was made by Britt and Subirats and is published by the Barcelona journal El Viejo Topo (Spain) in July/August, 2011


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