Must We Centralize? -- By: W. E. C. Wright
BSac 60:240 (Oct 1903) p. 770
Must We Centralize?
No question of the theory of government has wider practical importance than that of the boundary between local and central authority. The proper dividing-line cannot be fixed once for all. At one time human progress demanded the multiplication of immunities from the tyranny of kings, and this feature of feudalism then served the interests of liberty. At a later time liberty itself just as clearly demanded the suppression of these immunities. Local tyranny could be prevented only by the reign of a common law emanating from a strong central government and securing equal rights over the whole realm. Increase of central authority was then as essential to human welfare as the emphasis of local independence had been at another period.
Only anarchists will maintain that limitation of the larger authority is the sole requisite for progress. Local autonomy is a large element in the governmental ideas of the United States. But the very constitution which made us a nation took some things out of the hands of all lesser authorities and put them under control of the central authority. The original Confederation bad no other means of revenue than the gifts of the colonies, and it was bankrupt from the start. The United States could levy taxes over all its territory, and by this means took a self-respecting place among the nations. If there are other things which the States are now doing inefficiently or even doing badly, it is conceivable that the remedy lies in the increase of rational functions. Other methods of reforming evils should be thoroughly tried before we resort to centralization. Local liberty is a precious possession. Only when it obstinately stands in the way of progress or nullifies individual equal rights should it be overborne by the weight of the nation’s authority.
Massachusetts learned long ago that it could not wisely trust educa-
BSac 60:240 (Oct 1903) p. 771
tion entirely to the towns, and adopted the policy of compelling every town to maintain schools of a certain standard. The great inequalities in the educational systems of the different States show that it is not yet certain that satisfactory schools will he maintained in every part of our wide territory without some sort of pressure from the nation. This is made emphatically evident by the recurring agitation here and there of plans to spend on the schools for certain classes only the money they pay in taxes.
The confusion of our divorce laws has long been a scandal, some States granting divorces for such trivial reasons that other States refuse to recognize their validity. Something has been accomplished by local agitation in abating the worst features in the more lax States, but uniformity in...
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