Localism in the United Kingdom became a national issue in May 2010 when the UK Coalition Government made localism a core part of its political programme based on 'The Coalition Agreement' which promised a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people and said that the new government would 'promote decentralisation and democratic engagement'. It would 'end the era of top-down government by giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals' . In June 2010, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, declared that his priorities were 'localism, localism and localism'. In December 2010, the government introduced the Decentralisation and Localism Bill, as a key component of the government's flagship 'Big Society' policy, with the assumption that localism and decentralisation would have a positive effect on community empowerment. Current international examples aimed at engaging and empowering local people also share this assumption.

In relation to the environment, a practical localism emerged from the Rio Environment Summit in 1991 in the guise of 'The Local Agenda 21', a blueprint for international action at the local level for living sustainably. A Local Agenda 21 is a global approach working through localism where a community defines a sustainable development strategy and an action programme to be implemented. The national biodiversity/sustainable development action plans envisaged that citizen's environment networks would be established for bottom up stakeholder neighbourhood management.

A bottom up approach is usually initiated by the local authority, which provides leadership for the process. Its success hinges on close cooperation between the population, NGOs, private enterprises and other local interests.

The process normally involves five steps:

1. Setting up a Local Agenda 21 Forum and/or working groups;
2. Discussion and analysis of the main local issues;
3. Identification of goals and ideas for action for the sustainable development of the local area;
4. Integration of these goals and ideas into a Local Agenda 21 action plan that is adopted by the local authority and others;
5. Implementation of the action plan, with the involvement of all relevant players.

There is no prescription for what issues and activities the process should address, as all places are different and the principle is to enable partners in each location to identify their own priorities. However, the process should focus on economic, social and environmental sustainability.

The International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) estimates that more than three and a half thousand local communities worldwide are now establishing or implementing Local Agendas 21. Over the coming years their number should continue to rise, thanks to inter-community networking, international information campaigns and the circulation of training guides and other materials. But the uptake both globally and locally has been slow.

In the broader sweep of history, localists assert that throughout the world's history, most social and economic institutions have been scaled at the local level, as opposed to regional, inter-regional, or global. Only with European imperialism and the industrial revolution did local scales become denigrated. Most proponents of localism position themselves as defending aspects of this earlier way of life but with an emphasis on democracy; the phrase "relocalization" is often used in this sense. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) lived at the time of these two revolutions, the democratic and the industrial; their impact upon the traditional order furnished him with the major themes of his scholarly work. Tension between traditional and modern values dominated Tocqueville's life and writings. Convinced of the irreversibility of democracy and contemptuous of reactionaries who thought they could block this historical movement, he was nevertheless obsessed by the erosion of those traditional contexts and values, where localism was placed alongside, aristocracy, honour, religion, and cultural variety, on which European liberty had depended for so many centuries. Tocqueville's localism is the jealous defence of spontaneous, dynamic communities resting on custom or on "ancient" and distinctive identities. These bodies include vocational guilds, villages, municipal corporations, religious fraternities, communal hierarchies, and family or kin. Such localism builds on attachments to a particular place or geographic location. Its disposition is to favour that which is directly known or experienced and to link sympathies and ideas to such attachments.

This backward historical analysis of the origins of localism in Britain eventutally takes us to the 16th century. Here, John Adrian sees the appearance of literary localism in William Lambarde's narrative of the Perambulation of Kent, the first English county history. He also sees it as a calculated response to the Tudor centralization of shire government; to the primacy of local landscape in Michael Drayton's historical poetry, and its role in creating a heroic alternative to Jacobean court culture; to George Herbert's depiction of parish religion in the 'Country Parson'; to a shift in the representation of the English country house, exemplified in the poems of Mildmay Fane, shifting it from the centre of a local social community to become an exemplar of the new landscape aesthetic. To Adrian, these case studies offer an interdisciplinary treatment of localism, underscoring its versatility as a response to political centralization, religious uniformity, court culture, and top down ideas of aesthetics. Indeed, Drayton's masterpiece, is Poly-Olbion (1612 and 1622), a thirty-thousand-line historical-geographical poem that celebrates all the counties of England and Wales, originated in the consolidation of numerous Anglo Saxon tribes.

As an expression of rights, by the 16th century, localism had expanded with the separation of towns from the countryside which began from the twelfth century onwards, giving them specific rights within counties. These included exemption of feudal dues, the right to hold markets and the right to levy certain taxes. This was social progress of seignorialism, known in England as manorialism, a system of political, economic, and social relations between seigneurs, or lords, and their dependent farm laborers.

How did the English state overcome these separate spheres and create a single entity? Most crudely put, over many years and many conflicts, a political "alliance" developed between "the people" and the "law." This alliance takes the institutional shape of a triadic configuration of linkages among the crown, urban dwellers, and pastoral peasant communities. This configuration must be visualized as a geometric matrix of networks and linkages in continual relational tension and movement among and between the different connecting nodes.

The monarchy had carried out a legal revolution in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. It was crafted by the crown forging structural links with the pastoral and urban communities. At the same time, through a widely expanded elaboration of royal legal rules and regulations, it formally encircled all the communities of the realm by creating powerful territorial-wide public institutions which functioned over and above private feudal power. The result was an early territorial-wide nation-state, which incorporated the localities into a single entity, but without dismantling the smaller ones. Rather than setting up an alternative state apparatus parallel to its competitors, the state was created by the crown's incorporation of all these preexisting legal and governing bodies into a single entity. It can be pictured as a transformation from numerous local entities, but not the fundamental disruption of them, by a surrounding set of public institutions. These formed the heart of the public sphere--an institutional matrix of complex connections. The pivot of these changes was the Magna Carta, which although mainly concerned with freeing the lords from the king, contained a few clauses that dealt directly with the villagers. The charter limited the fines which could be imposed on them, so as not to deprive them of their livelihood. It also prohibited royal officials from seizing anyone's goods without payment, and forbade officials from arbitrarily forcing anyone to carry out bridge-building or riverbank repairs. Although Magna Carta primarily addressed the concerns of the barons, knights and other free men, in the long term the establishment of the principle that the king was subject to the law benefited everyone.

Seignorialism first emerged in England, through the edicts of King Alfred, who reigned from 871 A.D. to 899 A.D. He decreed that every man should have a local lord, and throughout medieval Western Europe seignorialism was the norm. Seignorialism is distinct from feudalism, which was a system of military and political relationships among the lords only. When the German invaders conquered the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, they took over a system of estates with dependent cultivators. Outside the Roman Empire, in England, Germany, and Scandinavia, seignorialism was introduced by the war lords. Small freeholders continued to exist everywhere, but more and more of them found it desirable to "commend" themselves to the care of the nearest lord. The breakdown of strong central government in the 9th century accelerated the development of the seigneury as the principal unit of political authority on the local level. Economic localism, in the absence of strong urban settlements and a market economy, also strengthened the economic control of the seigneur as the head of an agricultural unit of production and consumption. All the people under the jurisdiction and economic supervision of the seigneur tended to be assimilated into his family and treated as if they were his children: to be judged and punished by him, to be directed by him in their work, and to be under his care and protection. They were his serfs, to use the term that became common after the 10th century.

The Law of Æthelberht is a set of legal provisions written in Old English, probably dating to the early 7th century. It originates in the kingdom of Kent. Known as the Textus Ruffensis, the content consists of a series of domas, "dooms" or judgments, providing historical information about Kentish compensation and management of public order. In addition to protecting church property, the code offers a fixed means of making social conflict and its escalation less likely and ending feud by "righting wrongs"

Finally, in this backwards view of history we arrive at the Greeks because localism of a kind can be traced to Aristotle, who argued that intermediary groups are essential to the exercise of liberty and freedom in a state, failing which there can be no opposition to tyranny. Though Aristotle certainly advocated there be many things held in common, he argued that not everything could be, simply because of the "wickedness of human nature". "It is clearly better that property should be private," wrote Aristotle, "but the use of it common; and the special business of the legislator is to create in men this benevolent disposition." In Politics Book I, Aristotle discusses the general nature of households and market exchanges. For him there is a certain "art of acquisition" or "wealth-getting". Money itself has the sole purpose of being a medium of exchange, which means on its own "it is worthless... not useful as a means to any of the necessities of life". Nevertheless, he points out that because the "instrument" of money is the same, many people are obsessed with the simple accumulation of money. "Wealth-getting" for one's household is "necessary and honourable", while exchange on the retail trade for simple accumulation is "justly censured, for it is dishonourable".

To run history fast forward from Aristotle to the present, the modern tyrants threatening human survival are the CEOs of big corporations. They know that the planet is on the path of disaster and that their day to day decisions are threatening the lives of their grandchildren. In this context Noam Chomsky takes the view that, they are threatening what they own. They own the world, and they're threatening its survival. Although this seems irrational, from another perspective it is highly rational because they are acting within partially-market systems, which disregard what economists call "externalities," i.e. the effect of a transaction upon others. The example given by Chomsky is, that when we purchase a car, we try to make a good deal for ourselves, but we don't take into account the effect of the transaction on others. Multiplied over many such transactions, pollution, congestion, wasting time in traffic jams, etc. becomes a major environmental impact of the market system. This is why the community is the cultural unit from which to dismantle an entire sociological, cultural, economic, and ideological structure, which is just driving us to disaster on a planet with limited resources.

Going back to pre-history

To go even further back into pre-history we find the biological origins of localism in the realm of hominid evolution, when between about 1 and 2 million years ago, the first global migration of hominids is believed to have taken place. This migration carried African hominids to other continents: to Europe, parts of Asia, and beyond. Why these earliest migrants left Africa to colonize the world is a complex question. The answer is likely to be found in a web of interrelated factors centred around human behaviour, specifically behaviour selected to reduce risk and increase the individuals' fitness for survival. Calculated migration must have resulted from information sharing, alliance building, memory, and the ability to negotiate-all skills that necessarily accompanied increasingly complex social and cultural groups. The increasing complexity of existence inevitably led hominids out of Africa, resulting in a global distribution of diverse human settlement.

Human settlements vary greatly in size, composition, location, arrangement, and function. These organized groupings of human habitats are the focus of the most important aspects of human social evolution, which followed on from the genetic determinism of hunter gathering: economic activities, transportation systems, communications media, political and administrative systems, culture and entertainment. This variety in learned behaviour within spatial relationships between settlements of different sizes: their spacing, their arrangement, their functional differences and their economic specialties, is of great importance to human survival. These spatial relationships are shaped by trade and the movements of raw materials, finished products, people and ideas. Thus, settlement patterns influence the environmental impacts of settlements, how populations use resources and produce wastes and affect social and economic prosperity. Ideally, higher density human settlements and a more compact urban pattern are better for reducing resource inputs and for reducing waste outputs. At the same time, this has emphasised neighbourhoods as the functional unit of cultural ecology.

Because human neighbourhoods are the physical expressions of adaptive economic and social activity, within a certain spatial dimension, no creative act can take place without being influenced by the condition of neighbourhoods. Hence, the building of workable human neighbourhoods inevitably becomes an objective of, an indicator of, and a prerequisite, for social and economic development. As an objective of development, neighbourhoods are places with spatial dimensions where people can live, learn and move out to work, in conditions of safety, comfort and efficiency. They meet the most fundamental and elementary needs of human beings. Neighbourhoods are also indicators, in that they are the most visible expression of a society's ability to satisfy some of the fundamental needs of its members: they can mark accomplishments as well as expose destitution, neglect and inequality. Finally, stable neighbourhoods are a prerequisite for social and economic development, as no social progress for sustainable economic growth can occur without efficient neighbourhood/settlement systems and networks.

Our innate gregariousness in neighbourhoods necessarily conforms to the selfishness of the genes. For some scientists this is considered a factor that limits human generosity to kin and tribal mates; that is, to those that altruism was established for by the process of evolution. In order to evaluate to what extent this limitation is operative, it is essential to understand how evolution actually operates. One important factor is to recognize that evolution does not necessarily create optimal behaviour; it is sufficient that the species behaves in a manner conductive to survival and procreation. The fact that the starling does indeed care for the cuckoo's egg is one example. If optimal fitness was required, the starling would either have evolved the capacity to differentiate between its own eggs and those of others, or become extinct. Instead, the tendency to brood whatever eggs are in the nest has proven to be sufficient so far.

It has been proposed that these neighbourhood behaviours are by-products of selection for early humans to inhabit a "cognitive niche." Pinker sees the "cognitive niche" (a term invented by John Tooby and Irv DeVore) is a lifestyle of using both thought and social cooperation to manipulate the environment for personal or group well being. Ernst Mayer has argued that this kind of intelligence is a lethal mutation. His argument is that organisms that do well in evolution are those of limited behavioural flexibility, that either mutate very quickly, like bacteria, or have a fixed ecological niche, like beetles. But moving up the scale of intelligence, species become less and less successful. Evolution has produced very few mammals as compared with, say, insects. Humans evolved from a very small group. Although there are a lot of us around now, we have built up our huge population size only by taking over more and more of the planet's resources through our intelligence and inventiveness, attributes that in terms of us having exceeded Earth's productivity, may be seen as being non-adapative for our future survival. On the planet's evolutionary time scale the average life span of a species, of the billions that have existed, is only about 100,000 years, which is about the time that Homo sapiens has existed.

Magna Carta to Earth Charter

This is a time line which threads social progress in Wales to ideas of freedom exemplified by highlighting recource to Magna Carta. You can also see a virtual museum which runs history of five topics exemplifying social progress in the following page of this wiki which is entitled 'Threads of social progress'.