I recall reading about a political movement in the U.S. that, rather than being defined by contemporary left-right cleavages, was about championing small institutions (smaller, more local governments and small companies) over large institutions (big government and big companies). It was many decades ago – possibly the 1800s or early 1900s. I can't remember what the movement was called!

Does anyone recall what this movement was called?

Also: have there been similar movements elsewhere in the world, with similar aims?

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    Do you remember if this political movement was mainly happening in the US, or was it happening in other countries as well?
    – Giter
    Mar 5, 2019 at 15:20
  • Do you remember if this was in response to anything in particular, e.g. FDR's New Deal?
    – Gramatik
    Mar 5, 2019 at 15:55
  • not exactly an answer, but somehow related and perhaps of interest, the EU treaties enshrine a subsidiarity and proximity principle, which one might consider to follow that spirit of championing smaller institutions (where it "makes sense"), so perhaps based on similar movement. "The purpose of including a reference to the principle in the EU Treaties is also to ensure that powers are exercised as close to the citizen as possible, in accordance with the proximity principle referred to in Article 10(3) of the TEU" europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/7/… Mar 5, 2019 at 16:59
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    Does anything in the Wikipedia article on localism ring any bells?
    – Brian Z
    Mar 5, 2019 at 20:15
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    @Joe I don't remember the Catholic angle or the European focus. But the movement does an excellent job of illustrating the confluence of ideas I'm seeking! Distributism is a great example of the political concept I'm looking for. Mar 8, 2019 at 13:35

3 Answers 3


Anti-federalism is almost certainly the political movement I was trying to remember. You also uncovered distributism, a movement that does an even better job of illustrating the historical political cleavage I'm seeking to describe.


Whilst not an exact match, this seems to have many features in common with localism ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Localism_(politics) ) , especially with regards to government.

  • A good suggestion @orangesandlemons. But I'm afraid that, as addressed in my comment to Brian Z above, the movements linked to from the Localism wikipedia page are far newer than what I'm thinking of. None of them rings a bell. Mar 8, 2019 at 13:14

So small government vs. big government is one of, if not the only, driving motivation of just about every political aspect of American Society (Does the government have a right to kill a prisoner? Does the Government have the right to allow slavery (there was a war over this issue) does the government have the right to punish hate speech? Does the government have the right to make a buisness do something?

There are a lot of terms for this aspect, but in legal parlemence it is the difference between "Enumerated and Unenumerated Rights/Powers" as described in the U.S. Constitution (Mostly the 9th and 10th amendment). The 9th Amendment is the Unenumerated Rights clause and says that rights of the citizens that are listed in the constitution are not the only rights listed, just the really really important ones. In fact, the United States Constitution doesn't actually list many freedoms of the citizens at all. Only Three (First, Second, and Third)... at the time of the authorship Bill of Rights' Authorship. Amendments 4-8 are considered "Justice Amendments" and are restrictions on the government in courts and legal matters, it pretty much encompassed every grievance they had against Britain during the Revolutionary War (Fun Fact... the Third Amendment was so egregious to the American citizens, that to this very day, no SCOTUS case ever hinged on the interpretation of the Third Amendment). The 9th Amendment was basically put in to tell the government that, just because the right isn't out right stated, doesn't mean it doesn't exist (the reigning philosophy is that the Constitution wasn't granting rights, but limiting the government from infringing on Natural Rights, which all humans have by dint of being human (God-Given Rights, but I'm trying to be secular about this). Tl;DR: We're lazy and only wrote three liberties and restriction on government on justice matters, but that doesn't mean there aren't more rights, so don't try to do it.

The 10th Amendment basically rebuked another possible argument by saying that, that the Federal Government does not have enumerated rights. It only has enumerated rights to do anything we said it could do in the Constitution and that if we didn't tell the Federal Government it can do something in the Constitution, it cannot do it. If there needs to be a governing body on a matter, it's a state government that can make calls not in the constitution... and if there isn't a need for a governing body, than it's an individual's choice.

Finally, noticing that this set up allowed states to decide if slavery was a thing and gave the Constitution had no rule on managing slavery, they basically passed the 13th Amendment (Saying that the Federal Government had the power to ban and enforce such a ban on slavery) and the 14th Amendment which basically says "If we explicitly said we don't want the Federal Government to have these powers, why the hell would we give them to you?!"

Limited Government is a bedrock of Liberal ideology (I'm using Liberalism in a much more broad form, rather than the term that Republican Voters call members of the Democrat Voters... but that's not a discussion for here. Just known that American Politics uses a lot political terms differently) and a Liberal Government is usually limited by a constitution that restricts the power and authorities of government to one degree or another (Australia's constitution exists in multiple governments and New Zealand and England don't have constitutions for almost every government that is a Representative Democracy, they all have constitutions, but they do recognize limits to the government).

In modern America, limited government is a major plank of the Libertarian party (another curious word use... It means different things on (almost opposite ideolgies even) depending on the side of the Atlantic you reside on. Favoring a smaller or limited government is specifically called Minarchism. A uniquely American school of thought is that of Jeffersonian Democracy, which basically holds that the power over an individuals life should be inversely proportional to the size of the government. So while an individual should have the most power over his or her self, followed by the local government, followed by the state, followed by the federal government (Power: Individual > Local > State > Federal) the scope of that power (How many individuals that power affects and how difficult it would be to reverse the decision or otherwise leave the scope) is lessened as you climb (Individual < Local < State < Federal).

  • Thanks @hszmv. There's a lot of interesting stuff in here, particularly your succinct overview of Jeffersonian Democracy. But I'm afraid your answer only addresses government size, which is the cleavage over which American politics is divided today (Republicans believe in smaller government, Democrats believe in larger government). My question is: was there a past American political movement that was anti-large government AND anti-large companies, and instead believed in smaller, more local, more responsive institutions on both the public AND private sides. Mar 8, 2019 at 13:12
  • @FinStockton Jefferson Democracy had components in the anti-banking contingent and Jefferson's romantic ideals of the Yeoman Farmer, who Jefferson believed was the ideal American Citizen. The Progressive era between the 1890s and 1920s gave rise to Trust Busting, but most of the reforms were made by government expansion, not simultaneous limitation.
    – hszmv
    Mar 8, 2019 at 13:37

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