by Bernie Quigley
At the UN summit this week Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proposed that the UN should move out of New York. He’s right, it should. Some of us here in New England made that same point a few years ago.
At the beginning of the war on Iraq several groups here in the mountains and the top hills and ridges of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine known in these parts as the North Country, proposed that the northernmost states of New England should refuse to participate in the war on Iraq, and that based on Jefferson’s original writings, they had the Constitutional right not to participate.
At the time, the Administration’s propaganda war was in full flower and the President’s men, neocon apparatchiks Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz in particular, were dispatched globally to denounce the UN and even normally sane and moderate voices like Thomas Friedman of The New York Times held their coats. The New England groups proposed that if the United States no longer wanted to participate in the United Nations, the New England states should send its own observer to the United Nations.
This idea of ad hoc secession -- an idea that states could leave the federation at will and come back when they wanted -- was a new idea. In some ways it was like the current Anglican world community, in which groups could leave at least temporarily if they disapproved of the work of the official body. Or they could be tossed out temporarily, as the Episcopalians were last year for their support of gay marriage.
The proposal received surprising support from the most liberal quarters in the north as it did from conservative Southerners. Most northern people I spoke to then had never before considered themselves to be citizens of a particular state and region and having particular rights as a citizen of that state. Until the war on Iraq and the reelection of George W. Bush northern people didn’t care about issues of states rights as they felt they held the balance of power in the federation. But now, no. Now they began to look again to Madison and Jefferson.
Support came from surprising quarters. The venerable John Kenneth Galbraith, still spry and at his desk at 100 years old at Harvard, responded that “Vermont’s desire to establish its own foreign policy is wonderfully to the good.” And America’s greatest diplomat, George Kennan, writing from his sick bed got the very last word: " . . . the idea of the three American states' ultimate independence [Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine], whether separately or in union, I see nothing fanciful ... I see no other means of ultimate preservation of cultural and societal values that will not only be endangered but eventually destroyed by an endlessly prolonged association [with] the remainder of what is now the U.S.A."
The idea that we in these parts were developing a unique, regional identity began to emerge even before the war on Iraq. As Howard Dean, when still governor of the state of Vermont, stated in one of his last weekly televised press conferences, “We in the northeast have more in common with the Eastern Provinces of Canada than we do with Texas.”
This was an organic view of governance reemerging – a view of history as a natural organism that changes its shape naturally over time so long as it is not interfered with; a view brought forth by Oswald Spengler shortly after World War I and advanced later by Arnold Toynbee. The American Revolution was a birth pang or an early growth spasm. The North American lands were virtually empty outside of the colonies when we were first declared a federation. The western states were lines drawn on the map. Since then most of Canada and the United States had developed into fully populated regions, forming natural states with their own temperaments and identities and some of them have developed the full characteristics of independent and individualistic peoples.
From Vancouver to Texas to the sweet and gentle French villages in the Laurentian Mountains to the undisturbed small-church Gospel culture of the southern Appalachians, these cultures are vastly different and unique, like the independent states of the European Union. The Great Lakes region was a “jewel heart” – a pastoral vortex center that united these varied regions and cultures, integrating them into a dynamic North American continent.
In this view we in the U.S. and Canada are unfinished peoples. Until now we in the U.S. were stuck in a North/South condition and the current enmity between Blue states and Red states was merely an extension of Civil War by other means. But we are rapidly becoming an East/West nation in an East/West world. Inevitably over a longer period, our capital would shift to a more center natural to the new condition, one between East and West rather than North and South.
Washington, D.C. was the perfect “benign center” between the industrial Northern and the pastoral and agricultural Southern states in the colonial period but lost that positioning with the opening of the West. In Canada, the “little lumber town” of Ottawa was the proper center for the Province of Canada, which consisted only of Quebec and Ontario when Queen Victoria declared it the capital in 1857. It too was centrally located on the border between the two regions when the large Western cities of Vancouver and Calgary were nonexistent.
As far as I know, most of the people who espoused these views are silent now and gone back to their humble tasks, but the point about having the capital of a place in the appropriate place is still salient and it is more important to the UN. The UN could learn from this scenario. A nation’s capital of a world capital is a mandala – a benign vortex of countervailing forces which in their entirety make up that world’s Universe.
New York City was a terrible place for the UN to begin with. Placing a capital at the seat of power makes it an authoritarian Empire. No question, New York was the capital of an American global economic empire in the post-war world. It might have been better to make it a temporary Authority while the rest of the world, much of it in ruins, got back to strength. But once the world was on its feet again and fully empowered, the wise view of Victoria and Washington, finding the benign center of world between strong forces should prevail. New York City is a pocket of influence and is susceptible to looking out for its own kind. Authoritarianism is innate in a situation like this and breeds contempt.
And the world we face ahead without question, is an East/West world, one delicately balanced between the burgeoning Asian economies, India and China in particular, and the recently reunified European Union. World-class corporations recognize this, as Boeing did when it moved its world headquarters recently from Seattle to Chicago.
This is where the millennium begins. Its center – the center of the world ahead - is the Lakes Region, and in cities like Detroit, Toronto, Chicago or Windsor, Ontario. From Pat Moynihan to John Bolton, hostility toward the UN has been extraordinary and crippling to positive action from Bosnia to Iraq, most recently. Canada, with its great humanitarian Romeo Dallaire on the ground at Rwanda, was the voice of one calling in the desert, in a failure of leadership by the U.S. even greater than that today in Iraq. Since its onset, Canada has shown itself to be a better world citizen than the United States. If the United States no longer wants to be part of the UN, the UN should move to Toronto.
Bernie Quigley is a prize-winning magazine writer and has worked more than 30 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and book, movie, music and art reviewer. His essays and opinions on politics and world affairs have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News and other newspapers and magazines.