Rethinking the Geography of Power

Where the seats of power are located matters. Given the populist revolt in the United States and Europe against the so-called “global elite,” it is time to refigure the geography of governmental and transnational power.

Take the United Nations. Much of the international body’s perceived negatives derive from being in the world’s richest and most visible city, New York. But what if U.N. elites did not have easy access to instant television exposure, tony Manhattan digs, and who’s-who networking?

Most of the world is non-Western. Many Western elites are apologetic over past sins of imperialism and colonialism.

So why not move the United Nations to Haiti, Libya or Uganda? The transference would do wonders for any underdeveloped country, financially, culturally or psychologically. U.N. officials without easy access to Westernized media and the high life might instead have more time to concentrate on global problems such as hunger, disease, and violence—and be personally enmeshed in the dangers they address.

Given the controversy over President Trump’s supposed disparagements of such countries as “s—holes,” having an underdeveloped nation host the United Nations could refute such stereotyping. Relocating the U.N. to a capital such as Port-au-Prince, Tripoli, or Kampala would prove that such places are unduly underappreciated and surprisingly wonderful cities from which to conduct international governance.

Liberals treasure the United Nations. Conservatives don’t trust its often anti-democratic and anti-American tenor. So why not split the difference by staying in the United Nations but, after 66 years of a New York headquarters, finally allowing another country a chance at hosting the U.N.?

Washington, D.C., is often considered out of touch, both politically and geographically, with the rest of America. Given Washington’s huge number of federal workers, why not disperse at least some of its agencies westward to ensure demographic diversity?

Transferring the Department of Agriculture to, say, Topeka or Fresno would allow bureaucrats far more intimacy with the farmers they regulate.

Putting the Department of the Interior in Salt Lake City would make practical sense, given that the federal government owns about half the land of 11 coterminous Western states, including Utah.

Either Houston or Bismarck would be a seemingly ideal spot for the Department of Energy. Texas and North Dakota will be at the cutting edge of new gas and oil development for generations.

Youngstown and Flint seem like perfect locales for the Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce. These Rust Belt cities played historic roles in America’s industrialization and are in dire need of outside investment and attention.

Such moves would also reduce Washington’s congestion and the soaring cost of living in the nation’s capital. Moving the centers of federal power would defuse the populist rebellion by bringing the administrative state closer to those it administers — and by dousing bureaucratic fantasies with pragmatic realities.

Breaking up Washington’s monopoly on power would also diminish the leapfrogging careerism of professional Washington bureaucrats and politicians. Often, they spend their lives crisscrossing capital boulevards between jobs at bureaucracies and nearby lobbying firms. Government certainly needs fresh faces and diversity.

Europe also could benefit from the same sort of decentralization. The NATO alliance is based in Brussels, Belgium. The institutional seats of the European Union are located in Brussels, Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Strasbourg.

In a geographic and demographic sense, all of these cities are fossilized relics of a bygone postwar age in which such organizations reflected their near-exclusive Northern European membership. But today, European integration extends from the Arctic Circle to Mediterranean Crete, and from the Iberian Peninsula to the Russian border. Why not relocate the European Parliament to Warsaw or Prague to reflect current concerns with European-Russian relations and the need to solidify Eastern and Western Europe?

The Council of the European Union could be transferred to Naples, especially considering the worries over migration influxes into Southern Europe and the north/south financial controversies.

Tiny and tony Luxembourg is hardly representative of the now-diverse EU. Why not at least transfer the European Court of Justice from Luxembourg to Athens, the historic birthplace of democratic government and a city in dire need of financial help?

NATO needs the same sort of shake-up. The transatlantic alliance’s worries are now as much about radical Islam as Russia. Moving its headquarters to Chania, Crete, would give NATO officers a perch at the crossroads of three continents and offer its bureaucracy a better chance to monitor transcontinental crises. If the purpose of the alliance is to protect Europe, it would be smart to defend the continent preemptively from its frontiers than reactively from its interior.

The elite of the Western world faces renewed political charges of hypocrisy and illegitimacy. Administrators often wax eloquently in the abstract. But rarely in the concrete do they live with those they purport to care about.

Transferring seats of power to the hoi polloi is not just practically smart but morally long overdue.


About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won (Basic Books).

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12 responses to “Rethinking the Geography of Power

  • Of course this is Swiftian, but putting NATO HQ at Crete would make it physically very vulnerable, which is a problem for a military organization. Put ‘crats there maybe, but nothing you actually need to fight with.

  • Fully Concur!

    In addition, move the seat of government to Lebanon, Kansas!

  • Displace the Beltway elite into the bigoted hinterlands ?????????????
    OOOOOOOOOOOH THE HUMANITY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • The Supreme Court needs to be relocated to Omaha and required hold arguments for two weeks in the winter in an abandoned strip mall in Minot, ND, and for two weeks in the summer in an abandoned strip mall in Lubbock, TX.

    • I can’t think of an abandoned strip mall in Lubbock. In fact, it’s pretty much booming.

      And please don’t move the Dept/Energy to Houston, I vote for Bismark.

  • This would effectively drain the swamp out of northern Virginia and give the natives our Commonwealth back

  • Displace the Beltway elite into the bigoted hinterlands ?????????????OOOOOOOOOOOH THE HUMANITY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • A nice idea, but not something that would work in the real world. Remember that Albany became the capital of New York because its distance from the wicked city of New York would ensure good government. If you are from New York, then what I just wrote is so ROFLMAO funny that you can feel yourself busting a gut. The problem with Dr Hanson’s idea is that it conflates geography with psychology. Wherever the government is based, it will still be in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats who will still think like politicians and bureaucrats. Unless the mental outlook changes, the change of scenery is just a change in scenery.

  • One of the most interesting, and totally under-reported, changes in POTUS conduct of foreign policy since January 23*, 2017, is President Trump’s Team approach. Almost every Official Visit by a Head of State has a working luncheon after the Oval Office meet, and follow-up bilateral team meets at relevant Federal Agencies, usually the Pentagon, State, Energy, Commerce, and Treasury. Those agendas have follow-ups, with accountability. If Dr. Hanson had noticed the WH luncheon for all fifteen ambassadors to the UN Security Council on Jan. 29, he might appreciate the benefit of access: Ambassador Haley was the co-host of the UN Security Council members, including Russia: After lunch, Amb. Haley continued the day with a viewing of the exhibit “Syria: Please Don’t Forget Us.” at US Holocaust Memorial Museum: This was barely reported news, with huge impacts in Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. French media, AFP, has best reports.

    Many of us would love to see the UN relocate where there are no fancy restaurants as distractions, but the reality is that most nations have Consulates in NYC, which serve as their UN mission. I briefly owned a home in a suburb where two very poor, small, African nations had their Consulates, UN missions, and Residence 100% housed in smaller homes down the street.

    As for Eurocrats? Great idea, except NATO and the EU just built new HQ edifices, and no one has the money to build more.

    Dr. Hanson needs new topics. The. U.S Federal Government has so many sites, from laboratories,
    field offices, regional offices, bases, etcetera that it is impossible to list them. Think of the DC, and suburban sites as HQs, with access to the WH, and the Capitol, and airports for travel, much like any large bureaucratic organization.

    *King Abdullah II of Jordan had a week of meetings Jan. 23-27, 2017.

  • OFF-TOPIC: Will you people at this site please fix the scrolling problem you have, by making the horizontal-scrolling story banner above the comments take up a fixed number of vertical inches? Every time the number of text lines change underneath the pictures it pushes the comments up and down and makes them very hard to read.

    I and others have been complaining about this for many months. This very easily fixed problem is driving readers away from your site.

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