In today’s polarized social and political climate, rural alienation from government is often dismissed as “just more politics” or a symptom of problematic cultural norms. This Article takes rural disaffection from government seriously, with a focus on rural relationships with the federal regulatory state. The Article argues that rural disaffection from the regulatory state is not solely a cultural or political phenomenon among white conservatives. Rural disaffection is also a broader structural issue that stems in part from the regulatory state’s crisis of legitimacy.
Two factors show that rural disaffection from the regulatory state is more diffuse and profound than is often appreciated, implicating the regulatory state’s capacity to elicit deference among those it governs. First, as illustrated with a robust synthesis of socio-legal literature on rural views, racially and politically diverse rural populations exhibit overlapping themes of distrust toward the regulatory state based in perceptions of procedural exclusion, agencies’ disregard for local conditions, and arbitrary substantive outcomes. This broad, intersectional rural disaffection suggests at least some of the problem lies with the regulatory state itself. Second, objective, structural features of the regulatory state align with rural populations’ subjective accounts, including the failure of cost-benefit analysis to accommodate salient rural conditions and the unique, under-mitigated impacts of regulatory developments in rural regions. The pervasive nature of rural disaffection alongside the alignment of structural factors with subjective rural accounts together lend credence to rural populations’ sentiments, in turn evoking common concerns about democratic accountability and inadequately guided decisionmaking within the regulatory state.
This Article contemplates possibilities for reform based in recognized pathways to help establish institutional legitimacy—including procedural, distributive, and restorative justice—with a view to defusing rural alienation’s destabilizing influence while working toward a regulatory state that is more trustworthy, effective, and fair for all.
Ann M. Eisenberg, Rural Estrangement and the Regulatory State, 126 Penn St. L. Rev. 739 (2022).