The Evitable City
by Levi Kornelsen
I'm here with Jason Wright, the leader of the Federalist party. Jason, your new book is titled “The Evitable City,” which I and no small number of my readers find a little baffling. Could you start with that?
Happy to, Mrs. Ruis.
Oh, call me Maria, please.
Why, thank you, Maria. The title is a play on the idea that our modern city-centric view of politics isn't the state of affairs one might expect from history. We treat the constantly growing power of cities as inevitable, but it isn't at all.
Jason, I'm going to come back to that in a moment, but first, I think we should at least nod at the elephant in the room here.
The anglo thing.
That's a bit blunter than I would have put it! But yes, a lot of people get very uncomfortable hearing an anglo man like yourself pushing a nation-state agenda, for reasons I'm sure you can appreciate. Is there anything you would like to say to that?
I would, and I understand it entirely. Furthermore, let's be up front; the federalist party is almost half anglo, and there are still a scattered few of them with things to say about what they’d call their white heritage. But it's something the party has addressed and rejected internally a number of times, and I reject it now. I’d invite people to review my record in as much depth as they like - I am onstream.
When you say onstream, do you mean a full commitment?
Privacy in the bedroom and the bathroom, never in the boardroom. My transparency rating is double-A, and there is a dedicated group of watchdogs who do regular reviews on me. Not very kind stuff, but scrupulous; I read them myself.
That’s as good an answer as I could imagine. Let's go back to the book. How much can you break it down for us without taking away any incentive to read it ourselves?
I’d be fine with spoiling it. How much detail would you like?
Well, I would like to have lunch today, so restrain yourself to that, if you could.
Okay. Let me actually go chapter by chapter here.
(Noise of book being handled)
So, chapter one lays down the groundwork. The existence of federal states, what they were like, and the various tensions that would later create the localization movement.
Localization as opposed to globalization, yes? I remember that globalization was a… movement of sorts.
A trend, certainly. And, yes, the localization movement drew from anti-globalization sentiment, but not only that. Environmental concerns about shipping pollution, humanitarian concerns about exploitative labour hidden by distance and borders, and other positive concerns were present. Beyond those, the desire to limit what was called “big government,” the division between rural and urban communities, and more factors all played a part.
However, all of these pieces were part of different political philosophies; they didn't coalesce until later. In many ways, the movement came after the victory.
Sorry, got a bit ahead of myself there.
Chapter two is about the erosion of eminence. We’re used to thinking of actual states like Arkansas, Georgia, and Maine as being like caretakers for the areas outside city control, but it used to be that municipalities like cities and towns answered to states and states answered to the federal government. Provinces rather than states in Canada, of course, but the same concept. There were exceptions and local powers, but that was the order of eminence.
But that changed.
On paper, that's still the grand scheme of things. However, a number of things conspired against it, coming from both sides of the then-binary political split.
From the conservative coalitions, there were constant attempts to break down federal power and render the federal government toothless, as well as efforts to move power towards the individual states. The defanging of the federal government was ultimately quite successful, while the empowerment of states never fully worked out.
Meanwhile, from the liberal coalitions, there were efforts to lift up the ability of cities to exempt themselves from decisions made by their rural neighbors through the state government. This because on the whole, rural regions were more conservative, urban areas more liberal, so giving urban areas the power to ignore rurally-driven state legislation was always a liberal preference.
This went on for a long time, creating more and more exceptions and amendments to the original order - both here and in Canada. Eventually, it reached what they used to call a tipping point.
The Portland consolidation.
At the time, it was referred to as “the seizures,” but yes. That's the opening of third chapter, where the city of Portland charged almost every multi-national corporation operating in it. The city alleged exploitation of their citizens, which was at least technically true though not nearly as tidy as they alleged, and won the case. As damages, Portland then annexed the corporate properties within the city as a material fine, and put them under municipal rule.
It was a revelation of the new order, and an immediate cause for division between those favouring local, global, and national or federal concerns.
I notice you're dividing national from federal there. Are you projecting your party's own struggle to shed nationalistic elements back into that period a little?
Well, a little projection is probably inevitable, but the fact is that those favouring the old order of eminence were busy disentangling the useful philosophy of it from the nationalism of the generation before, and conflicted over it. While the division wasn't clear, there was division, even if it wasn't on the exact lines as Federalism and Nationalism break along today. The would-be defenders of the old order, thus confused, looked terrible even when they meant well or when the real and valid arguments for federal unity surfaced. “Patriot” had long since fallen from being an aspirational claim to being… well, you wince when you hear it, don't you?
...All right, let me get back into it. So, the Portland seizures were the first major move in a serious conflict. But despite the loud debate about whether power should be centralized in cities, the actual conflict was over who would run the cities themselves.
This was the fight that really shaped the modern landscape, the struggle between mayoral democracy, council bureaucracy, corporate economic development groups, and other interests.
This was the diversification?
That was the latter part of the conflict, which is the fourth chapter of the book, after municipal overwrite became fully realized as the method for winning city governance in a decisive way. The early part of the conflict was messy, but never really decisive.
I feel like my listeners have a pretty good understanding of municipal overwrite. Do you believe you have anything new to say about it?
Only to put it into context. My view of the basic process of incorporating a new municipality where an existing one is present, but with entirely new structure and bylaws, and then forcing a referendum on which one should continue, is pretty standard. My notes are primarily about how this process came into being as an abuse of laws and procedures, not an intended use. Those laws and procedures were intended to consolidate cities and outlying communities that had grown into having shared borders. The drastic revisions to government structure we see now as a normal part of overwrite were never intended – and thus don't have any checks or balances, and are easily corrupted.
And this is why you’d like to see the federal government reinvigorated.
Do you think Baron City, hiding slavery under the cover of indentures for crime, grew naturally out of Birmingham, Alabama, and its needs as a city? I’d say that came about because the prison industry consolidated around it and ran a referendum so crooked it didn't deserve the name.
Or how about the transitions that took New Orleans down the road to becoming Delta City? It went from an attempt at a socialist utopia to a propaganda-driven isolationist enclave in the space of a generation, subverted from within its council.
For every city whose natural character has been enhanced or realized, another has been captured by government that doesn't serve the people.
That's why we need to bring back a strong federal government, and break down the laws that have been put into place to hamstring it. Municipal power needs to have watchdogs just as much as modern politicians do.
It’s a strong argument, I’ll agree with that much. “The Evitable City,” now available, and Jason Wright, federalist, running for president next year.