The past month reveals an important fault line that increasingly characterizes politics around the world: the struggle between powerful, centralized bureaucracies and the people and communities they are supposed to serve.

Item: The constitutional crisis in the New Europe. Last week Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty, which provides for a common currency and other provisions that would have propelled the 12 nations of the European Community toward a true United States of Europe. Because Maastricht requires ratification by all 12 member countries, strategies for the further development of the European Community are now ambiguous.Exit polls clearly showed that the Danes were not saying "yes" to nationalism and "no" to Europe. Danish voters clearly identify with and support the "idea of one Europe," but they were greatly put off by the approach and especially by the increasing power of meddlesome Eurocrats who run the European Commission in Brussels.

Now, EC opponents in the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere have been encouraged by the Danish vote to renew their efforts to ensure a more democratic process in the new Europe.

Item: The Earth Summit in Rio. The United States has refused to sign the biodiversity treaty - not because we are opposed to biodiversity but because we are opposed to the way the proposed treaty undermines biotechnology research and the development of new biotech industries. Once again, U.N. bureaucrats have developed a statist's dream: a system run by bureaucrats according to rules that leave little room for concepts like innovation, change and ownership.

Item: Public schools in the United States. School administrators, in league with school boards, teachers' unions and sympathetic politicians, deny parents and students the power to shape the curriculum or choose the schools they attend. As a result, increasing numbers of middle-class parents are abandoning public schools for private schools and home schooling. Those left behind are increasingly restive. Signs of rebellion are everywhere, including increasing voter opposition to school bond issues that do not include fundamental reform.

By contrast, people and communities worldwide are rising up to solve their own problems - without the aid of self-serving bureaucrats lacking in imagination. Strict national environmental laws that are flexible, innovation-friendly and take into account local conditions, are rapidly becoming the norm.

In Europe and North America, subcontinental regional groups are increasingly shaping economic, social and environmental policies. An example: the Pacific Northwest Legislative Forum, which brings together elected leaders from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska with provincial legislators of Alberta and British Columbia.

Many years ago, Plato justified rule by philosopher kings. Aristotle, however, taught us why philosopher kings don't work. It's a lesson that many still need to learn - including EC chief Jacques Delors, Earth Summit chief Maurice Strong and most of our local school system chiefs.

(Philip M. Burgess is president of the Denver-based Center for the New West.)