Table of Contents 

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Local Institutions

THE PRESENT CHAPTER is the first of three that divide the materials of political science according to levels of government. The progression will be from local governments to federated states to international organization. There is a fourth most important level, of course, the national one, but we have tended to draw many illustrations from national government throughout this work and, in fact, Chapter One, "The State and Authority," was devoted principally to introducing the study of national political organization.

How does the study of levels of government relate to the study of political behavior and of the internal branches of the government? First, it adds a new dimension, a new and important viewpoint to the study of political materials; it is a new way of cross-sectioning political events. Second, it introduces a whole new group of generalizations or principles that pertain to political organization on a given level-local, federal, or international.

We should emphasize, however, that the study of the levels of government derives a great many principles of value from the study of political behavior and of the internal political organization of governments. The elements of political behavior may be found throughout political events. We have not hesitated, for example, to observe city bosses as well as presidents in our study of leadership. Also we have considered the main levels of government in our study of the legislative, executive, administrative, and judicial processes and have found similarities in these processes on all levels of government. For example, we have found that the legislative process of the state legislatures and city councils has much in common with that of the national Congress, and the judicial process operates in many ways the same whether we scrutinize it in the commune, in the highest national court, or in an international tribunal.

By our plan, then, the subject of this chapter is the government and politics of the locality. We shall ask what are the problems especially pertinent to the government of men in cities, towns, villages, and their surrounding countryside. In the first section, we shall be concerned with the history of the local community and with the social problems connected with the large-scale movement of people into cities in modern times. Simultaneously, we shall describe the many varieties of local jurisdictions that can be found and show how many people give their primary loyalties to their local communities.

The second part of the chapter will treat largely of the different forms and structures of local government and of the common features they possess. The third section will be concerned with the political struggle within cities, with who runs the local government, and with the movement for greater efficiency in the administration of local government. Finally, certain outstanding problems of local government will receive consideration, among -them the problems of conflicting jurisdictions, centralized administration, and home rule.

From Tribe to Metropolis


Man is bound to the earth, to geography, and from birth is with few exceptions part of a territorial organization covering not more than a few miles. Whether or not the locality in which one is born maintains its primacy among his loyalties or influences exclusively his thoughts, it is rarely deserted completely by him in favor of competing political organizations. It is rarely forgotten, and always leaves an imprint on his character. A man is marked by "where he comes from." Furthermore, wherever he goes, he finds a new locality and a new local political organization about him. The national government or international order under which he lives may remain the same throughout his movements from one locality to another; Cass County, Peoria, and New York City all fly the same flag. But even if there were no national or international order, there would be a local order, as centuries of history have demonstrated. The past is laden with the importance of local government. The typical organization of mankind before the era of writing was the tribe. The first empires of the Near East and China sprang from aggressive and expanding cities. The climax of ancient history, from one point of view, was the attempt of the Persian Empire to destroy the city-states of the Greeks. The medieval cities nurtured the commerce and arts of the Western world for centuries and the folk of the country were attached firmly to small principalities, highly organized and isolated from the larger world.


National government is the dominant form of the organization of political power in modern times. Sometimes this condition is laid to the development of wider markets, the increased movement of individuals, greater efficiency of government, and other reasons that assume that local sovereignty is incompatible with material progress. The fact is, however, that the unification of peoples into large nations that ushered in the modern period of Western history was not accomplished solely in the service of material progress. Venice, Florence, Genoa, Cologne, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and other medieval city-states lost their independence to greater states, not because of their poverty, their restriction of trade, or their incompetence, but, to the contrary, because they were tempting targets of aggrandizement to the most powerful nobles and kings. Hence we conclude that no "natural law" of efficiency directed the process by which cities became subordinate to nations.

More likely, the source of the pressure towards national unity in the nations of Europe, and thence America and Asia, came from an effective organization of rural localities. That is, as rural governments became well organized, their chiefs compelled the cities to form part of a national unity. When the kings improved the administrative and mechanical means of integrating and ruling large tracts of land, they could easily assemble the means to influence or conquer the independent cities.

The loss of local sovereignty to the nation frequently does not signify a great loss of power. This is especially true after the initial period in which a city-state becomes part of a large empire or national domain. Athens lost its sovereignty to the Roman Republic towards the end of the pagan era, but many Athenians became powerful Romans. Dutch cities lost their sovereignty to Spain in the sixteenth century, but economically they flourished and therefore constituted within the greater empire a political aggregate of considerable scope and influence. The same process occurred in the nineteenth century when the free city of Frankfort was joined to Prussia. Hence, we conclude that localities may lose sovereignty (symbolic and ultimate power) but increase their scope of power and retain many powers previously possessed.


These glimpses of the colorful history of local government should prevent an exaggerated notion of how all-embracing nationalism has been or can be. It should also inform us that history does not move uniformly and that at any period of history, one can find tribes, citystates, and empires or other colossal human aggregations existing side by side. Among the cities and within the empires and nations one finds many differences of organization and varying degrees of independence of outside authority. The study of local government among contemporary political scientists is confined principally to localities that subsist under the aegis of a national government. This practice is in accord with the important facts of politics, for no great city or important local organization today is "free" in the sense that ancient Athens, Sparta, or Rome were free.

Yet national boundaries obscure many important internal differences and many examples of the great power of cities. For example, nationalism is weak in China where the village is the true community and strong in Germany where the Reich is the true community. But even this statement must be carefully guarded. The Chinese are not all localistic; many are Westernized or Sovietized nationalists; and some Bavarians, for instance, have always resisted German nationalism.

Also we include in localism attachments to territorial divisions larger than cities or rural neighborhoods. Many Americans are first Californians, first New Yorkers, first Texans. Italians and French are strong in regional sentiments; very often the Sicilian and the Florentine, the Breton and the Marseillais feel that national policy does not solve many regional issues. But under modern conditions, the tendency of politics seems to be to reinforce the national state and the first order or first level local government as centers of community sentiment. Internal political regionalism, be it in China or in the American South, seems to be declining as a source of political energy, and as a basis for political movements.


However, like the receding tides, political regionalism leaves behind a clutter composed of remaining sentiments, surviving structures of governments, and vested interests of people in jobs and status. Meanwhile, a new kind of regionalism-administrative in nature, technological in origin, and efficient in motive-is developing, and this new kind of regionalism cannot move far in the direction of governmental reorganization because it is blocked by the remains of the older regionalism, among other things.

Let us glance at the central concerns of the new regionalism and appraise briefly its prospects. Giant states like China and the Soviet Union have within them many divisions which may be called regions whether one defines .the term for political, economic, physiographic, or cultural purposes. Even small nations like England and Belgium have within them surprising diversity in all these respects. A regional map of the United States can be constructed from different physiographic, economic, and social viewpoints. Figure 6 presents three types of such regions.

But politics cannot coincide with any regional boundaries save in a general way. For one thing, regionalism, like the principle of self-determination, if pressed to its ultimate conclusions would result in dozens of unmanageable tiny areas in even a modestly sized country. The American South is a "natural" region and many political consequences emanate from that condition; yet, for example, Virginia differs in many significant ways from Texas or Arkansas. Then too, regions overlap. A region may be "natural" for one purpose but not for another. The inhabitants on one bank of a river relay present a different culture from those on the opposite bank, although both share important common problems. So too may be the case with an upriver and downriver region; for example, Minnesota and Louisiana that are both on the Mississippi River differ strikingly from each other. The best sort of regional boundaries for a forest conservation program may not at all coincide with the optimum limits of a hydroelectric power district. A civil defense district may hardly relate to natural physiography.


Showing the boundaries as they would probably be if state lines were disregarded

So regionalism can never be a standard for the construction of human boundaries that will please everyone. Administrative regionalism may be best defined as an attempt to assemble in appropriate limits as many common natural and cultural qualities as possible. Nor is this attitude granted free play, for practically everywhere we find that history has left eccentric tracings on men and places, burdening the present with political considerations of many generations past. Witness the difference in size of Rhode Island and that of Texas. Their boundaries are not wholly "natural" and seem anachronistic to the perfectionist and to the foreigner because of the rapid growth of communications and interstate industry.

Every nation has a cultural geography that does not conform in a high degree to political jurisdictions and political demands. Even great revolutions have failed to eradicate the individual cultures of regions. The Bolshevists, conscious at first only of the overpowering identity of interest among the "toiling masses," eventually began to encourage regional diversities of a cultural sort. So also did the French revolutionaries who thought initially only of the equality of all men and who sought mathematically to delimit provincial boundaries. Reacting to such excessive zeal for conformity and uniformity, an influential "regionalist" movement grew up in France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


(after M. C. Stark and D. S. Whittlesey)

1. Maritime Canadian Region
2. Region of Extractive Industries
4. Spring Wheat Region
5. Region of Rocky Mts. and Plateau
7. Pacific Cordilleran Region
8. California Region
9. Columbia Plateau Wheat Region
10. Arid Region
11. Semi-Arid Region
12. Interior Mixed Farming Region
13. Cotton Region
14. Southern Coastal Region
15. Chesapeake Mixed Farming Region
16. Appalachian Upland Region
17. New England Upland Region
18. Eastern Urban Region

* National Resources Planning Committee, Regional Factors in National Planning and Development (Washington, D. C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1935), pp. 174, 177. Note: two regions (3 and 6) are omitted from the map as developed by the N.R.P.C.

Still we find, in America and in most countries of western Europe that have been reorganized politically over the last century and a half, that present political and administrative boundaries have tended to replace the customary boundaries. The French provinces of the ancien regime were replaced after the Revolution of 1789 by departements (for administration and elections) and arrondissements (chiefly for electoral purposes). The historic English counties (52 in number) have lost heavily in functions to the new administrative counties (62). The Italian republic of 1870-1922 created a number of administrative provinces out of the fewer historic regions of Italy, and the Fascist State carried farther the process of disregarding historic conditions by erecting a structure of corporazione for representing occupations regardless of their geographic location.




Each heavy line encloses all cities or towns receiving 50 per cent or more of their metropolitan circulation from the given center. Note: The morning daily having the most extensive circulation was chosen for each center.


In all countries, modern administration has by-passed traditional boundaries, including political ones, in performing its new functions. Certain of these new districts are created for ease and convenience of administration alone. Such would be election districts, judicial districts, tax collection districts, police precincts, fire protection districts, and school districts. Other kinds of districts are of far-reaching importance, for they perform tasks of great complexity and influence. Examples would be the districts formed in the United States by the Interstate Commerce Commission, or the Tennessee Valley Authority region that is almost a socio-economic world in itself and yet spreads over several "sovereign" state boundaries, making and carrying out policies that affect all the people in those states. The Port of London Authority and the Port of New York Authority are other examples of governmental bodies set up to determine and administer policy affecting the lives and fortunes of people governed by different local governments.


The districts we have just described are purely administrative in the sense that their officers are selected for the performance of particular tasks and are not chosen by elections. The number of such districts is great. The United States alone may have a million such districts; and we may define units of government more strictly and still reach, according to the calculations of William Anderson and the Bureau of the Census, a total of 155,067 in 1942. Anderson defines a unit of government as "a resident population occupying a defined area that has a legally authorized organization and governing body, a separate legal identity, the power to provide certain public or governmental services, and a substantial degree of autonomy including legal and actual power to raise at least a part of its own revenues." There are more than a thousand such units in the metropolitan region of Chicago, and even more in the New York region. There are a great many overlapping police, fire, and other political jurisdictions. Extensive duplications of budgets, expenditures, and revenue collections occur. The complexity and prolixity of governing units together with the grave social problems of the rapidly growing cities have produced political problems of the first magnitude.


Indeed we might say that the great complexity of governmental units has been at least partially due to rapid urbanization. For example, the United States began as a preponderantly rural country: in 1790, only about five per cent of the population of four millions lived in what might be termed urban centers. The important forms of local government in those days were the county and the town, both essentially rural forms of government that have left their impression on local government to this day. Today most persons live in places of 2500 or more inhabitants or in the immediate shadow of metropolitan centers; only 20 million individuals live in truly rural places. The same process of urbanization has occurred in the countries of western Europe and, to a smaller extent, in other parts of the world. The proportion of people living in the cities is still increasing throughout the world, though in Europe the rate of increase is not so rapid as it was during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Soviet Union, which has undergone its period of rapid industrialization later than the western European countries, is an exception; its rate of urbanization is still high.


The differences between the city and country as centers of human activity give rise to important differences in the government and politics of the two types of human environment. The city presents a great problem of engineering; its public works, huge private buildings, great streams of traffic, ceaseless flow of production, commerce, and consumption bewilder the mind and demand ingenious and complex economic and physical arrangements. Its large expenditures and revenues present political and administrative difficulties of the first order. The wide range of needs, demands, and expectations of a heterogeneous population gives urban politics a color and complexity that does not occur in most rural communities.

From a sociological viewpoint, there is also a great contrast between urban and rural life. The farmer in his work does not deal with men so much as with the land and its products. The city worker constantly encounters other people and works in close association and competition with them. Life in the village and country is "close" and "familiar," and the human contacts are informal and "primary," as the sociologists say. City life is "distant" and "strange," and the human contacts are formal and "secondary."

As Park and Burgess have described the contrast:

The neighborhood or the village is the natural area of primary contacts. In primary association individuals are in contact with each other at practically all points of their lives. In the village "everyone knows everything about everyone else." Canons of conduct are absolute, social control is omnipotent, the status of the family and individuals are fixed. In secondary associations individuals are in contact with each other at only one or two points in their lives. In the city, the individual becomes anonymous; at best he is generally known in only one or two aspects of his life. Standards of behavior are relative; the old primary controls have disappeared; the new secondary instruments of discipline, necessarily formal, are for the most part crude and inefficient; the standing of the family and of the individual is uncertain and subject to abrupt changes upward or downward in the social scale.[1]

To say that this contrast is evident at all times and in all places would be incorrect. For instance, the rapid electrification of rural communities in America, the coming of the radio, motion pictures, and automobiles, the always restless mobility of the American people ("the frontier spirit") make the contrast at times dim. In Europe, Latin America, and Asia, the contrast between country man and city man is more striking, often showing itself in at least apparent differences in physical stature and other features.

Political problems arising from these various differences are profound and sometimes direct. The urban-rural debates over apportionment of representation in American state legislature are full of invective against one or the other mode of life. Hitler and the Nazis, mentally recoiling from modern urban sophistication and "strangeness," wished to remake Germany into a "folk state" in which everyone would feel that he "knew" everyone else and that all were "blood brothers."


Beyond the differences normally occurring in urban as against rural societies, are significant internal social differences found in both kinds of localities. Whether we study the aborigines of Australia or the inhabitants of a New England town, citizens of old Athens or those of New York City, we find that the social structures of the societies account for numerous political situations.

Looking at a modern city, for example, one perceives two general configurations of the population, one geographical and based on the neighborhood, another social and based on social class. The significant social-geographical configurations found in the city may be called its ecology. Professor Park discovered that most cities grew up similarly in recent times. The center of the city contains its main business district, communication centers, large offices, hotels, and railroad terminals. The next belt or circle around the "downtown" area holds the poor, shifting population, the factories, and newly arrived workers from the country or abroad. Next comes the area of workers' homes, and then the belt of middle class residences of clerks, more skilled workers, and older immigrant groups. Finally one reaches groups having higher incomes and more education, including the bulk of professional and managerial personnel and the oldest residents of the community. An increasing number of the last category commute long distances to work and live in suburbs outside the legal jurisdiction of the city government.

The different sociological areas of the city produce different demands on government. For example, certain wards of Chicago contain a high proportion of all Chicagoans who receive direct public assistance to relieve the effects of poverty. Other wards contain a high proportion of people who are well-to-do. Each kind of area produces different kinds of voting behavior, different types of leaders, and generally a different political process.

Linked with the ecological divisions of the city and their political consequences may be the composition of the social classes within the city. A number of sociologists and cultural anthropologists have given us detailed studies of the social structure of various cities and rural communities. Among such writers, one may name especially Robert and Helen Lynd, Lloyd Warner, Paul S. Lunt, John Dollard, Clyde Kluckhohn, George P. Murdock, James West, and Alison Davis. Lloyd Warner and his associates, for example, studied a town of 17,000 in New England over a period of years and were able to show that in a number of ways the political attitudes and political associations of an individual varied in kind and extent with his position in the class structure of the town. In "Yankee City," as the town under discussion was termed, the authors examined the social position of the 136 officeholders in 1930-31 and concluded:

Although the voters among the three lower classes far outnumbered those in the three higher, they had a disproportionately small percentage of officers in the political hierarchy . . . . Indeed, as the importance of the political offices increased, the proportion of upper-class officeholders increased.[2]

Also, the studies indicated a point that the authors did not fully develop, but which had previously been developed by Roberto Michels: in a representative government with universal suffrage, politics is one of the most important points of contact between the various social classes. Thus, James West made a study of "Plainville," a farm village nestled between North and South in the central part of the United States. In describing the social classes that existed in this rural area, he recited the exceptional case of a man who rose in class position quickly. "Ora Bell, who died recently, was the son of `one of the biggest and worst and most ignorant families in town.' He was `bright in high school,' `worked every chance he got,' `showed himself to be absolutely reliable,' `kept away from all bad company except his family,' married a `good, moral girl' (from the upper edge of the lower class), bought a home, saved his money, made many friends and finally ran for one of the county offices and won. (`People give Ory lots of credit for what he done, and they helped him. He showed what anybody can do what'll try.')"

The preceding remarks suggest that the study of local government is only half-done when the formal structure of government is mastered. The social organization and the political behavior of the population must also be studied. A striking fact (encountered rather early in a political career) is that city and country government are always meshed with the social structure of the locality at many points. If one studies the old English shire without understanding the connection between the local gentry and the public officers, if one studies modern Swiss cities without realizing the importance of the ancient and haughty families of the community, if one is concerned with the American scene and misunderstands the extent to which economic power and social prestige enter into the relations among citizens and politicians, one performs purely formal exercises and starves his own cause.

Stuart Chase was so impressed by studies such as those of Warner that he urged their consideration by all who work with local government. He wrote:

The information already available . . . in these books and monographs cannot fail, as Wissler said, to be helpful to all who direct the affairs of American towns-mayors, selectmen, city managers, chiefs of police, welfare commissioners, housing authorities, city planners, social workers, police court judges, traffic officials, school boards. [3]


While it is true that everyone in a local community is affected directly or indirectly by the government, the politics, and the social conditions of the locality, it is patent that individuals vary greatly in the extent to which they feel involved in the events of the locality. It will be remembered that we defined "community" in the first volume as the habitual relations or communications among people reaching a stipulated scope and degree of intensity. We left it up to each student to declare what particular community he was referring to in any particular case. Now so complex is modern society that, while one person may be obviously part of a national community in a psychological sense, a neighboring individual may be psychologically part of a local community only. Psychologically, the latter is more involved in immediate local affairs; his perspective is local; his interests are viewed locally; he becomes excited mostly about local questions.

We have already commented on the fact that a world community hardly can be said to exist save by the Hydrogen Bomb test: everyone may be blown up together. So far as identifications and psychological involvements go, the overwhelming majority of men and women are not members of such a community. What is not so often appreciated perhaps is that, in many countries, most people are first members of local communities and only secondarily, if at all, members of the national community-again speaking psychologically rather than physically. Furthermore, a considerable number of individuals identify most strongly with the smallest city precinct or unit of government-if they may be said to have any political identifications at all.


Such "proximity-bound" individuals form a myriad of little communication pools or interaction clusters. They constitute informal political action-reaction units. These groups may be compared with the "work group" found in largescale functional organizations. The member of such work groups are tied to one another technologically by the task to be done and psychologically by the social relations arising from the contacts of their personalities and their operations. Proximity-bound individuals may also be compared with the army squad that has its own perspectives, morale, and group purposes, and that has only a rough and somewhat unconscious understanding of the vast plans of the army. But, unlike the work group and the squad, the proximity-bound political group is normally purposeless with relation to any great plan of the nation, party, or even the formal side of local government. Also, its communications are voluntaristic, sporadic, and not geared to any significant extent, by consciously designed machinery, to the grand issues of localmuch less national and international-politics.

Too rarely does the observer of national and international issues turn to contemplate the politics of an urban or rural neighborhood. When he does he must perceive that the problems he regards as important are as nothing to a good part of the people he encounters. Many of the cultural practices of the people are bound up with decisions in the local sphere that directly affect them. A good part of the vote in elections everywhere is motivated by local interests, the voters in no lively sense being impelled by international, national, state, or even city-wide interests. The present writer's own experience would indicate that the vast majority of all contacts between people and government occur on neighborhood matters-matters concerning streets and alleys, schools and playgrounds, disputes over minor property rights, zoning and housing regulations, jobs and contracts, personal friendships and political grudges, and other concerns directly interesting to a handful of people. In certain nations, England and the Soviet Union for example, neighborhood matters may be of less importance in government than in the American republics or in France or Italy, but they are always of momentous consideration in the study and practice of politics.

It is also interesting to note that a larger proportion of people are closer in the sense just described to their local governments than to their governments at a higher level, even though they may trust the officials of the higher government to a greater degree. Closeness is a product of frequency of interaction and the intensity of interest with which the interaction takes place. The teachers a child has, the policemen he observes going about their work, the cleanliness of the streets and alleys, the ordering of -traffic, the removal of snow and debris, the inspection of facilities, the guidance of his recreation, and many other influences help to account for his political actions as an adult. The manner in which the most august political leaders debate in the United Nations Security Council and on the floor of Congress, and the manner in which such leaders operate the agencies of the administrative establishment invariably reflect their childhood experiences with local government.


Moreover, in America at least, much of this local interest is not directed at the general problems of local government, but at immediate personal needs alone. To cite the complaint of many reformers, this great localism is directed at the wrong objects and therefore does not profit the locality as a whole. Local government in America would undoubtedly be the focus of more conscious and informed attention than at present, if it were not for two phenomena of modern life.

The first cause of "wrong" focusing is the high physical mobility of Americans. About 20 per cent of the population changes residence each year. One-quarter of this group moves between counties or countries abroad and America. (Of course, some people move more often than others.) A large part of the urban population of the United States has come from the country and many from states other than the one in which they presently live. Thus, Detroit, with its automotive industry, has attracted thousands of workers from the South, both white and Negro. It is difficult for a mobile population to immerse itself immediately in the interests and needs of its new urban home. The same is true of many of the immigrants who came to America throughout its history. They could hardly become involved immediately in the affairs of the strange cities into which they moved. And groups with more education and higher incomes are almost as mobile; an upper-income family may dwell in three or four cities during one generation.


A second phenomenon that reduces the involvement of Americans with their local governments is the suburbs of the twentieth century. Whereas until World War 1, by far the greater part of those who worked in a city lived in it, by 1940 one out of every six Americans resided in a suburb. Consequently, millions of Americans with high incomes and high education are involved neither in the civic life of the suburb, which is their dormitory, nor in the city itself, which is their place of work.

The suburban problem, unlike the first factor of longdistance physical mobility, produces many problems in addition to the highly important fact of a low degree of psychological involvement and participation. For the suburbanites, who have much of the personal wealth of the metropolitan area, cannot be taxed as easily by the city as those who live within the city boundaries. Yet the city must continue to provide the suburbanite with water, fire protection, paved streets, police protection, traffic control, and other expensive services while he is in the city. And, as the tax burden on those who remain in the city becomes higher in order to support the services to nonpaying suburbanites, more people move from the city to the suburbs and the problems become progressively more grave.

To a lesser extent, the great European cities are faced by the same problem of suburbanism. European cities, however, are not so grossly unplanned as American cities. (Sinclair Lewis once said the latter were so unplanned that they appear to have been planned that way.) Within the limits of the European standards of living, their cities are relatively "livable." Furthermore, European cities, for many reasons, are less subject to exploitation by private political interests than American cities. Their need for expansion and special governing institutions has been more favored by the governing legislature or executive.

Patterns of Local Political Institutions


Local institutions, like national institutions, differ from country to country, and yet they share several broad features almost everywhere. These common institutions may be listed, preliminary to further discussion. Concentrated town or city populations get special attention everywhere; they do not have the same form of government as rural populations. Local governments everywhere are subordinate to higher governmental authority. Local governments are operated by political officers and function within a political milieu that is separate in important ways from the political environment of national or international politics. The local institutions of modern society are acquiring an increasing number of administrative officers and are beset by the problems of public administration perhaps as much as are national governments. All local governments perform services for their people and the number of such services is constantly increasing, though the distribution of responsibility for such services is often in process of being shifted from one unit of local government to another within the same area. Local governments everywhere levy and collect taxes from their people and collect payments for various services that they render the inhabitants. On the other hand, all modern local governments depend on subventions or grants from superior levels of government to make up the total income they need to provide services. These common features of local institutions will be elaborated in the paragraphs to follow.


The various levels of local government in ten countries are listed in Figure 7. The general methods by which the structure, functions, and powers of local governments are established formally are by (1) special charters to particular local governments, (2) general codes regulating all localities, (3) constitutional provisions, and (4) general legislation or statutes.

Taking England as our first example, we find that a system of counties existed from early times, ordered by custom and by strong local independence into a pattern of which the chief characteristics were rule by local landlords and nobles and homage to distant kings. The Norman sheriffs carried the king's ordinances into the counties after 1066 and, much later on, the counties were dominated by justices of the peace representing combinations of the local gentry and nobility. Urban places were chartered specially by the crown. In the nineteenth century, the English county government was reorganized by parliamentary statute and the Local Government Act of 1933 systematized the internal organization of the transformed counties, known as administrative counties by contrast with the older historic counties (shires). Each administrative county was divided into urban districts, rural districts, and municipal boroughs. The larger urban centers became county boroughs (London itself is an administrative county with many metropolitan boroughs similar to municipal boroughs). Thus, Parliament has provided for general local government, covering both rural and urban areas.

The French system of local governments obtains its structure from a municipal code that owes much to the French Revolution and to Napoleon I. The country is divided into departements (headed by appointed prefects and watched by general councils), arrondissements and cantons (mostly judicial, electoral, and administrative districts), and nearly 40,000 communes that include rural, urban, and metropolitan governments.

In America, local governments have been organized by the grant. of special Charters, by constitutional provisions, and by general legislation. Today, twenty-four states have constitutions that forbid special laws granting charters of incorporation to municipalities. In these states, and also in other states without such prohibitions, either the constitution of the state may prescribe the conditions under which a local area may become a municipality or else the general statutes applying to all conditions or classes of conditions prescribe the legal route to municipal incorporation. On the whole, in practically every state of the union, the counties, townships, and urban places find their legal origins in a combination of all three methods of ordering local forms-the constitution begins the task of evolving the permissible forms, the general statutes of the state legislatures continue the process and add details, and finally special laws, granting rights or changing conditions, occur with great frequency, even where the constitution may frown on such practices.



United States State County and/or Township Often township City, Town, Village County or Township
China Nation -- Prefecture (fu) Hsien Hsien
England Nation Administrative County -- Municipal Borough and Urban District Rural District
France Nation Département Arrondissement and Canton Commune Commune
Germany Nation and State Gemeinde Landkreis Gemeinde, Stadt and Stadtkreis Landkreis
India Nation Province District City District
Italy Nation Provincia Commune Commune Commune
Japan Nation Prefecture -- Municipality Rural District
Switzerland Canton District -- Commune Commune
Soviet Union Nation (Union) and Republic Oblast Raion City Settlement

* Sources: Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences; Encyclopedia Britannica; W. Anderson (ed): Local Government in Europe; the Statesman's Year-Book (1950).

In all local governments, rural and urban populations have, roughly speaking, the same rights to vote and participate in the government. This contrasts with the condition often found at an earlier period, when cities were able to preserve certain rights of self-government from the kings and maintain them for centuries, while the rural areas remained under the domination of a few local nobles and king's appointees.


The subordination of localities to nations or states is accomplished in different ways, as Figure 8 shows. The figure presents in highly simplified fashion several kinds of centrallocal relationships. The state legislature in America, the departments of the national government in England, the prefects of France and Italy, and the federal executive committees and the Communist Party in the Soviet Union are the active agents in causing local policies to conform to national policies. They co-ordinate the resources of localities and central governments for distribution according to central policies. Thus, an American legislature may forbid the cities of the state to levy a sales tax. Or it may require them to own their water supply systems rather than contract with private firms for water. Or it may declare that the cities will observe certain holidays. Or the state constitution may even allow the governor, as in the case of New York, to remove local officials who are apparently quite incompetent or dishonest.


Control of local governments in France, unlike the United States, is partially in the hands of executives of the central administration. The French prefect heads one of the ninety departements into which France is divided. He is a career official, appointed by the Minister of Interior. He may be transferred from one prefecture to another during his incumbency. He appoints subordinate personnel, supervises national welfare, construction, and educational activities within his area, has important public security functions, and also has crucial powers over local government. He may revoke mayoral elections, suspend temporarily the mayor or council, and insist that the council vote various mandatory expenditures. His powers to some extent are confined by the powers of a general council elected by the voters of the département. But this council does not at all have the powers of the American state legislature with regard to the local governments.



1. American Forms*

* The American forms, unlike the European, do not envision continuing intervention of higher authorities (for example, state officials or state legislatures) in the process of local administration. But such controls are increasing. ** The structure of American county government (county boards) and township government (selectmen) follows this pattern on the whole.


II. Local Government Forms Abroad


Lenin's doctrine of "centralized supervision and decentralized activity" applies well to central-local relations in the Soviet Union. For example, the national planning authority, Gosplan, sends its proposed objectives to each community, which then discusses its share of the total operation, makes recommendations, and reports back to Gosplan. Gosplan accepts, rejects, or modifies the local proposals. To take another example, the village soviets have been charged by the central authorities with the duty of carrying out the collectivization of agriculture. Since the collectivization idea was a national one, not local in origin, the local government assumed an administrative (and often unpopular) role.

The machinery for transmission of policy directives from above consists of the federated Soviet Republics (for example, the Ukraine), the oblast (a regional territory not present in all republics), and the raion (a smaller area). The raion is headed formally by a popularly elected soviet or assembly, the leadership of which comes mostly from the Communist Party. The raion soviet and officials directly supervise the city and village governments. Thus raion inspectors look into the administration and fiscal operations of the villages. Furthermore, the village governments must clear all local ordinances through the executive committee of the raion, and the raion in turn must clear its decrees through the oblast, and the oblast requires the republic's approval of its decrees. Thus, centralized control is present throughout the structure of Soviet local government in minor as well as major matters.

The Communist Party fills the key posts-legislative and administrative-throughout the governmental hierarchy. The cumbersome procedures of clearance and continuous intervention derive from the need of the CP to retain central control. Yet the CP is a source of flexibility. Since the party members are informally in touch with one another, outside the formal hierarchy of government, they are able to make many decisions about local government without undertaking the painful process of clearing matters through the formal structure. To put this fact another way, the CP is both the cause and the palliative for the distresses of an unwieldy hierarchical apparatus.


Knowing some part of the controls exercised over localities from above, we may now devote our attention to the internal structure of local governments. Political officers, we said, are elected men and executives who strongly influence policies. Practically without exception, the local citizens of the world possess the formal power of choosing important local officials. The important officials often consist of a single chief or multiple chiefs of the political and administrative structure, the councilmen, and frequently also certain independent officials charged with duties concerning finance or other special tasks. The main deviation from the pattern occurs in the manner of choosing the chief executive(s). As Figure 8 shows, in Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and in parts of the United States, the popularly elected council, rather than the voters, chooses the mayor or chief executive group.


The local councils operate according to a legislative procedure much like that of their national legislature. Bicameralism, it is true, is rare among local governments, but the single-chambered town or city council takes up proposals, considers them in committee, debates them, and votes on them in a manner similar to the procedure followed in the national legislature. The chief officer, when popularly elected, also behaves in many ways like a president or premier, and he and the other top executives of the locality perform functions of planning, organizing, recruiting, directing, budgeting, and so forth that resemble in important respects the functions performed by the analagous ofcers on a higher level.


The chief forms of American city government are the mayor-council form (weak or strong), the commission form, the council-manager form, and a small number that may be called "town-meeting" in form.

Over half of the American cities of over 5,000 inhabitants have the mayor-council form of government. Under the socalled "strong-mayor" form, the city council and mayor are each elected directly by the voters. The mayor exercises strong control over the top executives of the city administration and often has the responsibility of preparing the annual budget. Within the "weak-mayor" category, one finds much variation among cities. Most often the "weak" mayor lacks the authority to appoint and remove the most important executive officers. In these cases, the council may appoint officials or the officials may be popularly elected. At other times the mayor is denied a veto power over council ordinances. The mayors of some 20 per cent of the cities over 5,000 population do not have the right to veto enactments. Of all cities over 10,000 population (943 reporting), over half do not give their mayors the veto power. However, the mayors of some cities with 10,000 population possess the most powerful veto, the "item veto" that may be cast against particular parts of a financial proposal without destroying the proposal as a whole.


The "legislative" branch of American city governments may be small or very large. Chicago has 50 aldermen, Detroit has 9, for example. As the result of past reform movements hostile to party machines, most cities have laws requiring that councils be "nonpartisan." That is, the council members do not have their party affiliations marked on the ballot. Sometimes this fact means that the men are really not affiliated with a party organization; more likely, they are informally or extralegally affiliated with a party. Of cities over 5,000 population, over half have "nonpartisan" councils. The balance have councils the members of which are openly identified with a political party.

Most cities, especially the small ones, are not divided into electoral and administrative districts (wards). They conduct elections at large for council members, while the remainder divide their electorates into wards or elect some council members at large and others by wards. Most cities stagger the terms of office of councilmen so that all are not up for election at the same time.

Continuing the old practice of electing many public officials, about half of the American cities elect, special officers other than mayor and council. Thus, many elect .the treasurer, the clerk, the assessor, the auditor, and the city attorney. In some cases the controller, the police chief, the welfare director, the public works director, and even the city engineer are elected. The tendency in recent years has been to reduce the number of officials to be chosen by the voters, in part because most voters cannot know much about many candidates and also because a lack of co-ordination in the administration is often experienced where the mayor or council does not have the power to hire, discipline, or remove executive officials.


Alongside the movement to reduce the number of elected officials so as to increase their control by the voter and to procure greater economy, a movement to transform the position of mayor occurred in American municipal politics. From its first success in America in 1908, the so-called "city manager" movement gained speed until about one-fourth of all cities of over 5,000 population and many smaller cities acquired managers. The plan is especially popular in cities of between 50,000 and 100,000 inhabitants, one third of such cities having adopted this form. Under its provisions, the council, which is elected by districts or at large, appoints a professional manager who is charged with almost all administrative powers belonging to the locality. He is responsible to the council for the results of his work and may be dismissed by the council or be released at the termination of his contract if his work is unsatisfactory.

It is understood that the manager will not engage in partisan politics; however, only the most naive persons will insist that the city manager can be nonpolitical. Even if he tried to avoid controversy by simply carrying out the orders given him by the council, he would be sure to offend certain council members or local interests; most of the time, a city manager has his own ideas, derived from his professional training and personal values, and will inject those ideas into the city government, perhaps going so far as to influence directly the council members in order to accomplish his goals.

Nevertheless politics in council-manager cities differs from that of mayor-council cities. The issues of municipal politics in a council-manager city are more often relevant to city problems than are the issues in a mayor-council city because the manager, unlike the mayor, usually does not have direct connections with a political organization. Differences of opinion may be heated in a council-manager city, but they tend more frequently to occur over questions of municipal services rather than the Chinese question or the question of communists in Washington jobs. Furthermore, the manager is a politist trained in administration and other skills allied to those required in operating a city, so that the day-to-day tasks of local administration are more likely to be done with a maximum utilization of the available resources than would be the case under a mayor-council system.

Complaints have been lodged against city managers from time to time to the effect that they are so devoted to the efficiency principle in administration that they are prone to neglect the other "human" aspects of local government. To a certain extent, this narrowness, when it exists, is owing to a kind of professional training that mayors usually do not possess. Consequently, the city manager form of government is not to be regarded as a panacea for every city. It may mean an actual retrogression, from the viewpoint of the majority of inhabitants, in certain cities whose mayors are experienced executives, devoted to the culture of the city, and adept at adjusting and compromising conflicts in a manner congenial to the habits of the population.


The two remaining, minor forms of city government in America are the commission plan and the town-meeting type. The commission plan, devised in Galveston, Texas, in 1900 and spreading rapidly over several hundred localities before 1917, has since the latter date acquired few new adoptions and lost a few of the old adherents. It calls for the election by the voters at large usually of five commissioners, who then constitute the general city government. The commission legislates as a body, but, for purposes of administering the various departments of the city, divides up into its individual members, each one of whom is charged with the supervision of a particular branch of the administration, such as parks, public safety, legal affairs, streets and improvements, and finances.

The commission plan is somewhat analogous to the county board and the selectmen of the town-meeting type of government. The first New England towns adopted the practice of conducting local government affairs through the agency of periodic meetings of the qualified voters. Later on, as the population increased, the government assumed continuing functions, and as the number of eligible voters increased owing to the liberalization of the franchise, the town meetings became relatively inefficient and cumbersome agencies of government. Nor were town meetings, close as they might be to complete "self-government," ever free of allegations of minority control and oligarchic or caucus management. As a result, the town meetings were abandoned in many towns of considerable population and often replaced by representative town meetings. These latter governing bodies were composed of representatives of the electorate, elected by the voters of districts, and they held meetings modeled after the older form. Both the older and newer forms of town meetings are supplemented by popularly elected selectmen who manage the continuous business of the towns as "boards of directors" and administrators.


Besides continuing as a form of urban government, the New England town became the pattern for rural government over a large part of the United States. As the New Englanders moved West, they carried with them their forms of government and established them in the newer regions of the country. Meanwhile, the original Southern states were sending settlers into the Western regions also, and their favorite unit of local government was the county. Certain areas of the West chiefly adopted the township form, other areas chose mainly the county form, and in some states both forms overlap. In lllinois, to illustrate the conflict that sometimes arose, northeastern Americans settled northern Illinois and southerners from the Border States settled the southern part of the state. The Illinois Constitution of 1818, strongly influenced by southerners, provided the county government everywhere in the state. After much political strife, the Constitution of 1848 allowed each county an option on the form of local government it wished to be dominant. The northern counties accordingly emphasized the township, while the southern counties made the county the most powerful unit.

The township and the county, where either is the more important unit, perform similar tasks. They usually are charged by the state constitution and laws with the maintenance of peace (save within the boundaries of the incorporated places contained by them), with the administration of justice, the administration of probate matters (settlement of estates of deceased), assistance to the poor, maintenance of a school system, tax assessment and collection, administration of elections, administration as agent for the state government, and other (minor) functions.

As a large proportion of the population of the country has come to be enclosed within the boundaries of incorporated urban places, the township and county governments have become less important to a great number of people. Often, a great metropolitan area will include a number of skeleton townships and overlap more than one county. These remnants of a bygone day are then neglected by the public and are dominated, to the extent of their reduced powers, by a handful of petty officials. The general view of students of such areas is that the townships might best be abolished and their territory and functions taken over by the incorporated places which overlap them, and they also propose that the county, which is often much larger in area than the township, be consolidated with the metropolitan community into a single government. San Francisco and several other large cities satisfy this latter condition, since their governments do not overlap with county jurisdictions and do perform county functions. In most metropolitan communities, political agitation for such reforms has always fallen short of the goal, and state legislatures, influenced by the decadent interests of the old units of government, have failed to grant the powers necessary to accomplish the transformation. It should be remembered too that the suburbs of a large city will frequently side with the county and township interests in order to maintain their legal independence of the city upon which they depend economically.

Neither the township nor county has a uniform set of elective officers. The New England towns (townships) frequently are governed by popularly elected councils or selectmen; the townships of the Middle West, with lesser functions than those of the New England towns, are headed by a number of individually elected officers who may include supervisors (trustees), clerks, assessors, tax collectors, justices of the peace, and constables. Forty-nine states have county governing bodies (Rhode Island has county boundaries but no purely county officers). Twenty-seven different names are given to the county governing bodies, the most common among them being "Board of Commissioners," "Board of Supervisors," and "County Court." While the number of officers on the governing body is usually three or five, the smallest one has one member and the largest has ninety-nine.


Not even England, with its penchant for retaining ancient institutions of government, has more variety in its local offices and functions than the American local governments. This fact is not only true of local governments in rural areas but also of city governments. It is easier to make general structural statements about English, French, German, Italian, and Soviet local governments, both urban and rural, than about American local governments. In those countries, and most others outside America, the central government has laid down a general pattern of all essential features of local government.

England, which once had a bewildering complex of local institutions in its boroughs, has standardized its forms within the last century. Thus the English town clerk, probably the most important single official of the English urban government, is provided for by parliamentary statute. Responsible to and appointed by the council, he is the executive secretary and the principal administrative co-ordinator of the town administration.

In France, we find everywhere the pattern of the mayor who is elected by the council and controlled somewhat by the departmental prefect, and who is thus a dual agent of local and central interests.

In Germany, we find the famous burgermeister, heir to the tradition of the medieval Italian podestd, and forerunner of the American city manager. He is trained in the administration of city affairs, is appointed by the council, and has strong powers in the area of policy making and policy execution.

In the Soviet Union, we are struck by the great size of all councils (soviets), the practice of administering local affairs by committees, the use of local governments as administrators of the policies of the higher authorities, and the presence in key chairmanships and committee (presidium) posts of members of the Communist Party.

In the Far East, the form of local government in China has remained little changed by countless revolutions and constitutions, although the Communist Party threatens to accomplish a greater degree of integration than experts on Chinese history deemed possible. The Chinese villagers for many centuries were governed by councils of the elders of the village families; the elders designated customarily a village representative, the tipao, to treat with the district (hsien) officials and other authorities that might interest themselves in obtaining supplies, taxes, and manpower from the villages.

In India, the ancient forms of local government were shaken up by the British occupation of the subcontinent during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, the nagarattar, or city assembly, that had immemorially been composed of gild and caste representatives was reorganized according to Western ideas of individual representation and balloting. Also, the panchayat, or village meeting (with the elders dominating), declined in prestige and powers under the British, who placed greater reliance upon the more controllable and efficient district officers of their own choosing. Late in the British occupation, there began a movement, encouraged by the British, to restore to the panchayat some of its old functions and authority.


City councils and rural bodies everywhere act in an administrative capacity with much greater frequency than do national legislatures. It may be noted in Figure 8 that America, England, and the Soviet Union provide examples of active participation of local legislative officers in the general administration in government. Even in other types of structures - the French and German, for example-the councilmen have executive responsibilities that national legislators hardly ever possess.

This "violation" of the principle of separation of powers hardly ever carries over to the judiciary. Almost nowhere do urban or rural political officers have judicial functions. More often the local judiciary has political and executive functions. An outstanding case in point is the old English justice of the peace and his American derivative, called by the same name. Both officers have taken part in local politics and often have been the most important general political figures in county government. Several of the Southern states have made the justice of the peace the chief administrative officer of local government. During the nineteenth century in America, many executive duties were placed in the regular courts out of distrust of purely political officers. The county probate judge has been a favorite target for administrative assignments.

Politics, Patronage, and Administration


The formal structures of local institutions, such as have just been described, provide the channels for political struggle. Writing of the county boards of America, Lane Lancaster declares that "county boards do not exist in a vacuum and it will not do to treat them as if they did. A more realistic picture of such bodies is gained if we try to see them as a part of the unofficial, `invisible' government that on every level in the United States makes `the wheels go round.' It is safe to say that in nine-tenths of the counties in the United States public affairs are in the hands of what the irreverent call the `courthouse gang.' This `gang' may be described as a more or less permanent group of elective and appointive officeholders together with private individuals whose business normally brings them into contact with public officials." [4]

Corresponding to this politist group in the rural government of America and in other countries is the "city hall gang," as it is called, in urban government. Again we find a more or less permanent group of elective and appointive officeholders together with personally interested private individuals.

It takes no transcendent public issue to keep up the interest of these individuals in local politics. They have made politics and politically affected business part of their lives, and they run local government most of the time while the vast majority of people stand by. Reconciling the private interests of individuals who are active in government with the need for adequate administration of the functions of local government is most difficult. One school of thought has directed its energies at taking the "political out of local politics." Another has aimed at improving the administration of local government. We will examine these points of view.


Political parties are solidly entrenched in local governments everywhere. National parties, of course, must have national issues, but their local branches must have local issues. Frequently, the two sets of issues are scarcely related. But since parties are the operators of government as well as the coiners of issues, this discrepancy between national and local issues is not all-important. Local political organizations are the cells of the national organizations. Some of their members are inclined toward local issues; others incline toward state, national, or international interests. Amid a great jostling of interests and aspirations, the local peculiarities of the party are manifested in local political struggle.

As we have seen, many American localities do not allow local politicians to be carried on the ballots as the representatives of a particular party. But in fact, the politicians are stamped as members of one or another party, and nonpartisanship is mainly a formal requirement. Local parties do not disappear simply because they may not be called by name, any more than they disappear because many people do not believe that there is a Republican or Democratic way to clean streets, run the police department, or put out fires. While it may be true that such functions are not matters of general principle on which parties may be permanently aligned against one another, nevertheless parties may, by becoming critics of the existing administration, play dynamic roles in urban politics.


Political machines, rural or urban, have a great private investment in the game of local politics. Although local politicians, like most people, are men of many motives, a longstanding motive for participation in public affairs has been that of gettings jobs for one's dependents, relatives, and friends. In practically every local government, no matter how "pure," this motive is likely to intrude to some extent upon the desire to maximize the efficiency of governmental functions. In large cities and in populous counties, the influence of this motive, representing the collectivity of private demands of many politicians, ends in a veritable army of patronage appointments. Not unexpectedly, the efficiency of administration of a local government varies inversely with the extent of such practices. Frequently, the local public payrolls are padded with the names of "employees" who rarely report for work in the positions assigned them. They do "other" political work or else do no work at all.

The jobs held by practicing politicians are not purely the "spoils of office," however. In the first place, many political appointees are competent for their jobs. Secondly, "spoils" appointees very often have a higher degree of communion with "public opinion" than do career appointees; the former certainly cannot very well be cloistered from public life, especially when their party may be defeated at the next election. Finally, the operation of most American local governments as self-governing units presupposes a considerable amount of activity of the voters. The patronage system encourages political activity (whether bad or good is another matter) among a portion of the population. Haphazard and inefficient though the patronage system be in most American local communities and in many localities abroad, it nevertheless ensures the spread of governmental experience among more people than would receive such experience under a career system of administration.


In a number of countries outside the United States-for example, France, England, Germany, the Soviet Union-men can be trained for a career in municipal administration and spend their lives at such work. In America, the possibility of careers in local administration is increasing. The largest cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Boston have thousands of employees who are trained to their jobs and are secure in the possession of them, although alongside these same employees work other thousands who are political appointees, who have party work they are expected to perform, and who have relatively short terms of office.

In the rural areas of America the same situation prevails, though on a much reduced scale. In the least populous places, the few appointive employees are most frequently politically affiliated but not grossly negligent. Too often, critics demand unusual standards of efficiency for the most humble township clerk or county registrar, evidently expecting some magic of "public affairs" to transform a lowly administrative clerk into a high-powered executive with an evangelical mission; the performance of such jobs should be compared, more realistically, with the performance of a small shop-keeper, of a railway clerk in a sleepy town, or of an average farmer.

But, shifting to local governments that employ hundreds of people, perform dozens of complicated functions, and expend many millions of dollars, we naturally find a greater demand for efficiency in government. The progress of administrative reforms in such governments over the last fifty years is impressive. Most large cities and many medium-sized ones have enacted systems of recruiting, retaining, and promoting municipal employees. The existing plans are in many cases adequate in form, though more often deficient in practice. This trend towards reducing the number of public offices accessible to political influences may be expected to continue indefinitely into the future. Even counties are operating under merit systems to an increasing degree. And, as we indicated above, the use of expert consultation is becoming increasingly frequent in smaller localities as well as larger ones. To illustrate this point in another way, a number of state universities have bureaus of local government that train local officeholders, no matter how they may be selected, and that advise local officials about many local problems.

Outstanding Local Problems


Home-rule is the outstanding problem of local government. Although touched upon in the preceding sections, it deserves more systematic attention in connection with its principal facets-the fiscal dependence of localities, consolidation of units of government, and central interference in local affairs. Over the last fifty years, state and local governments in America have markedly increased their functions and expenditures. The states, however, spreading over a greater area and possessed of legal powers greater than those of cities, have been in a better position to finance their functions. Local revenues are derived principally from property taxes whereas states have other major sources of revenue, including sales taxes (gasoline taxes, tobacco taxes, liquor taxes, and so on) and motor vehicle taxes. As a result of these factors, the localities consistently require help from the states in the form of grants of money. Both the states, in federal systems such as exist in the United States and Canada, and the central governments elsewhere assume part of the costs of local governments by giving grants-in-aid.

It is difficult to generalize about .the extent to which the higher-level governments must aid the localities. This problem is part of the general problem of assigning duties and responsibilities among the levels of government-local, intermediate, national, and international. The political activities of government cannot be completely localized or nationalized. Street cleaning may be a local function, defense a national one. But these are not purely so, even though they are selected as extremes. Should nationally owned buildings pay for services to the city or should the nation compel the localities to give free services to national property? Can civil defense be considered only a national military function? In our age, everyone is dependent to a startling extent on everyone else's work and no one can absolutely and for all time define the boundaries between the local and upper-level activities of government. When a central government increases its tax rates, it makes the task of finding taxable resources more difficult and the task of collecting taxes more unpopular for local government. More than ever before, the levels of government today may be visualized as belonging to a giant trunk-line into which functions and resources may enter at many points from the smallest to the largest unit of government, may be transformed or modified at any point in the system, and may emerge at any point.


There are more units of government in many American localities than can reasonably be regarded as required to perform the functions of local government in a given area. A confusion of governing structures produces indirect political disadvantages in addition to fiscal disadvantages. Conflicts among personnel of overlapping units like the township and county, or county and city, or city and suburb occur almost daily in many localities. Even the few voters who are interested in local government cannot attend to the complexities of many special governments. Other voters are discouraged from taking any interest in local government at all. While it is difficult to be precise and conclusive about such matters, it would seem often that the consolidation of various separate units of government in the same area might indirectly create greater efficiency and incite greater citizen participation than would a structural change in the form of government itself. Consolidation seems especially promising as a method of reform in the metropolitan areas, where independent suburbs create problems that the large city population is rapidly finding insupportable financially, physically, and psychologically. No other factor so frustrates the self-governing aspirations of American cities of 250,000 or more as does the presence of unassimilable suburbs.


Indeed, the greatest step towards "home rule" in the general and most meaningful sense of the term would be to consolidate large urban governments into one central government and no more for an area with a radius of from fifteen to fifty miles. Even a paternalistic and interloping state legislature could not nullify the tremendous effect of such consolidation. "Home rule," in its narrower sense, is the right of a city to draft its own charter. This right is important to localities. But giving a city jurisdiction over the source of its most profound woes is much more important. Consolidation of units of government can do this.

me rule, however, in the sense of almost complete freedom from state intervention is less and less possible as the localities become more dependent upon financial subventions from higher levels of government. Localities are also becoming dependent on the upper levels of government for technical assistance. Whatever the localities lack, by reason of their small populations and resources, may come from the central governments.

To the extent that the home-rule movement has sought complete freedom from external intervention it has been directed at abuses of the past and present rather than aimed at intergovernmental co-operation. In this way, it resembles somewhat the "states' rights" movement in America that sought to solve the problems of a centralized economy by a rigid formula of independence, and then failed, as the next chapter will show, because co-operation with the national government in many matters proved essential if state governments were to act effectively in many fields of public works, health, education, and welfare.

It would seem that home rule among today's complex and interdependent localities must arise from a combination of adequate jurisdiction in each locality and of skillful consultation among the communities and between the local and central levels. We leave out of consideration, of course, the vitally important requirements that the voters of localities choose the kind of officers who rule them "well." Concerning the jurisdictional side of home rule, the previous discussion of consolidation provides a view of the technique by which adequate jurisdiction may be attained.


Much anger and little precision usually accompany judgments about the capacity of central governments for ruling the localities. Often, adequate local powers are unavailable because the American legislatures (and in Europe other central authorities) have no desire or compulsion to discriminate between what is necessary for them to decide regarding the cities and what may be decided by the cities in their own political processes. That is, administration is confused with politics to an unwarranted and exaggerated degree.

In Germany, where the failure to distinguish between administration and politics might be called a national disease (Karl Mannheim calls it the bureaucratic ideology), there is a constant tendency even to deny the value of elections in local politics. A common attitude of Germans is expressed in their criticism of attempts by Allied occupation authorities to extend home rule to German localities. Hans Steinmetz, a German expert, refers in the following quotation specially to the Landrat, who is a combination county mayor, county manager, and state official, elected by the Kreistag (county council), which is itself elected by all voters. This statement is, however, an indication of a general viewpoint, found not only in Germany but also in America and elsewhere.

On the basis of experience in many places during the last two years, there is a danger that the Landrat will become a football of changing party majorities, and that he will have difficulty in protecting himself from being a mere representative of the interests of the party or parties which elected him. With respect to changing questions of daily politics, it is desirable and indeed high time to safeguard the independence of the Landrat from the struggle of interests and thereby insure impartial administration. In my opinion, such independence and impartiality are less guaranteed by election than they would be if the state cabinet appointed the Landrat, but with confirmation by the Kreistag. The short term of office which the Landrat has (the term is now six years in the American zone) is likewise a matter of concern. Long experience indicates that an official cannot develop his full potentialities in office unless from the first he has a sufficiently lengthy tenure. I consider six years to be too short.[5]

A contrary general impression of various British local government experts is worth noting, as it is reported by Alderman J. W. F. Hill. A British team visited Germany, consulted with German officials, and officers of the occupying power. Though loath to generalize after a brief study, they nevertheless unanimously concluded that unless certain principles were laid down in the basic law, the German authorities would revert with little change to their previous centralized control over local government. The priniciples they urged upon official quarters were "that effective control of policy must remain in the hands of elected representatives; . . . that the servant of the local authority must not also be a servant of the state; and perhaps . . . that the chief executive officer should not be given security for a term longer than that of the elected councillors."

The lesson of Allied experience in Germany, then, is that there is a tendency there for local government to be regarded purely as the administrative arm of the central government and a tendency to disregard the importance of local political struggles. In the United States there is the same difficulty of distinguishing between the intervention of the state into the locality for administrative coordination and the intervention of the state to destroy the political life of the locality. The first type of intervention is inevitable and increasing, but can occur without destroying localism in a political and social sense.

It is perhaps impossible to devise any specific formal structure that will prevent state or national legislatures from interfering with local governments in elections, appointments, budgets, functions, finances, and otherwise, and at the same time allow the legislatures to help the localities in the same respects. There is no single structure or legal relationship that will forbid "bad" intervention and foster "good" intervention. Charges of legislative "despotism" and local "irresponsibility" will continue to be made indefinitely. First one body of opinion will be offended and then another. In order to have a maximum of home rule, moral principles, not structures, must be changed. The legislators and officers of the state body must be compelled by political pressures to act as if, or must believe that, local self-determination is one of the grand moral principles of political action.

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