The Meaning and Purpose of Local Government: A Tocquevillist Perspective

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"To rethink local self-government in the United States requires, first, an inquiry into basic meaning and purpose. What is local government and what do we want of it? The meaning of local government is at least ambiguous when we consider that a municipality the size of the City of New York is generally thought to be a 'local' government. When is 'local government' no longer local? What are its defining characteristics? The way we choose to define local government is shaped by a sense of purpose. What values do we expect it to serve? To what extent can these values be jointly secured? Alternatively, to what extent are trade-offs required? When we determine the meaning of local government and the values to be served by it, then and only then are we in a position to explore its successes and failures. Meaning and purpose become especially important when we turn to issues of 'strengthening' local government?issues with which ACIR has been much concerned over its history. Numerous recommendations have been advanced by the Commission with this objective. What does it mean for local government to be 'strong' or 'weak?' These questions can only be answered in terms of some basic conception of the meaning and purpose of local governmental institutions."
Workshop, state and local governance, Tocqueville, Alexis de