Small Is Ethical (Or: The Morality of the Micropolis)

The following paper was presented at the 2016 Telos Conference, held on January 16–17, 2016, in New York City. For additional details about the conference, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.


State institutions, starting with the entity we call “the state” all the way down to city DMV offices, seem no longer capable of acting or behaving ethically, regardless of what type of ethics we prefer to apply to politics—consequentialist, deontological, virtue, or any other—or whether we prefer liberal or communitarian normative agendas. Two features of modern political institutions block their intended functioning, ethical or not, and lead to new ethical crises. Those features are too-large size and incoherence. Thus even when policies[1] are ethical, institutions’ failures to implement or follow them undermine an ethical politics. And when various policies are implemented unevenly, new ethical problems arise. At least a partial antidote to these problems may be found in libertarian municipalism, the social-ecological approach articulated by Murray Bookchin, that demands small scale and direct democracy.

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