About  |  What You Can Do

Review by Jon Roland of

Freedom's Frontier -- Atlantic Union Now

by Clarence K. Streit

Whether or not one supports the purpose of this book -- a federal union of the leading democratic nations -- one can appreciate it as a classic treatise on international conflict, federalism, and the principles of constitutional republican government that rank it with such other classic treatises as The Federalist. It examines with eloquence the various kinds of calamities and lost opportunities that arise from the division of the planet into independent nation-states and the various forms of and approaches to international co-operation that might be attempted and the potential each of them has to avoid those calamities and realize those opportunities.

The author, Clarence K. Streit, was uniquely positioned as an observer and commentator on international relations. From a World War I foot soldier he was appointed an aide to the U.S. mission to the Versailles Peace Conference following the war. Later he became an international correspondent for The New York Times, covering international affairs in Europe, including the activities of the League of Nations. By 1939, discouraged by the inadequacies of the international system to avoid the Depression and the coming World War II, he published Union Now, the first of a series of books calling for the leading democratic nations to unite, in much the same way the 13 American states did, beginning with the Federal Convention in 1787 and culminating with the ratification by all 13 states of the Constitution in 1789. The book became a best seller, and it had a profound influence on a generation of scholars, diplomats, and political leaders. During World War II, Streit published a revised version, Union Now with Britain, and after the war a revised postwar edition, Union Now, with the focus shifted from opposition to fascism and the expansionism of the Axis Powers to communism and the expansionism of the Soviet Empire.

Streit and supporters, acting through an association called Federal Union, Inc., got the U.S. Congress to adopt the Atlantic Union Resolution in 1961, calling for an Atlantic Convention of delegates from the leading democratic nations, which supporters hoped might draft a constitution for adoption by the participating nations. The convention met, but disappointed supporters of federal union by only adopting a vague statement calling for increased co- operation and referring the matter to the foreign ministries of the participating nations for implementation, which resulted in nothing.

In anticipation of the Atlantic Convention, and to prepare for the selection of a resolution on Atlantic Union as the debate topic for the upcoming national student debate contest, Streit published this revised and enhanced version of his previous books, which stands as his last thoughts on the subject in book form. Other of his essays appeared until his death in the magazine Freedom & Union, published by Federal Union, Inc.

My own evolution on this matter began as a child, beginning with my affinity for science fiction, much of which seemed to assume a future in which the United Nations had been transformed into a world government, and my study of the founding of the U.S. Constitution. I tried to conceive plausible scenarios by which the U.N. could be transformed into a world government and could find none. On the other hand, I could conceive of how a world government, or something approaching it, could be achieved by having additional nations be admitted to the United States as new states, or by holding a constitutional convention for some group of leading democratic countries, having them adopt it, and then admitting more countries until most were included. I read about the gradualist approaches to European Union, but could not see how such an approach could work, or could maintain constitutional legitimacy during the long transition process to true federal union.

While in college during 1962, when the Atlantic Convention was held, I came across an article on Atlantic Union, and immediately recognized it as the concept I had been working out in my own mind, but didn't see anything about an organized effort to achieve it, nor did I pursue it further at that time. Finally, while serving in the Air Force at an Army installation, Ft. Campbell, Tennessee, I found a hardcover copy of this book, Freedom's Frontier - Atlantic Union Now, in the Post Library. I read it twice in a couple of hours, and it had an address of Federal Union, Inc. I contacted them, and became a supporter. Later, after leaving the Air Force, I would spend two years in Washington, DC, from 1970 through 1972, dividing my time working for international federation and for various environmentalist causes. During that time I came to know Clarence K. Streit well, worked with him, and, when he resisted my ideas for a more vigorous organized effort to support the concept, joined with four other supporters to form a new organization, backed by about 20 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress and the parliaments of the democratic NATO countries, to operate on an international level. We had trouble raising funds, however, and I left for Texas to run for Congress.

Perhaps the key contribution Streit makes to federalist theory is his identification of a minimum package of what we might call "national" powers that cannot be separately delegated to different levels of a federal union or international alliance, and that cannot be transferred "gradually", but must be transferred through a discrete process such as the ratification of a federal constitution or admission as a new state. He convincingly argues that any lesser form of association than federal union is unlikely to work, and may even be worse than no alliance, because it is likely to engender false hopes and complacency, as the League of Nations did, and the U.N. does to this day.

Although he does not expand on the idea in this book, in some of this other writings Streit also explored the problem that intermediate stages in a gradualist approach to federation lacked constitutional accountability and legitimacy, and contrary to the arguments of the supporters of this approach, were unlikely to lead to the same outcome. While he did not go into much detail as to what the likely outcome of the gradualist approach might be, I foresaw that it would be some kind of oligarchy, and very likely an oppressive one.

Streit tended to favor the convention approach to federal union, in which a new constitution for the larger group of nations would be drafted and proposed for adoption by the participating nations. We discussed the possibility of admission of other countries into the U.S., but he did not think this would be acceptable to these proud countries with their long histories. However, he also thought that nations would be unlikely to turn to federal union until there was another international crisis like that in 1939, and when I brought up the subject with supporters in several European countries I visited following an organizing conference in Britain in March, 1972, I found widespread agreement with that, together with the notion that, as one parliamentarian put it, "when our countries are ready for [federal union] they will probably also be willing to [apply for] admission [into the United States]". They also agreed that, while none of these countries would be likely to seek admission separately, they might agree to do so if they went in together, or at least most of them did. There was general support for the need to maintain continuity of government during the process, and they could see this better done by keeping the central government of the U.S. as the government of them all while the transition to full statehood was implemented. However, they also agreed that their countries would not want U.S. laws to apply to them that they did not participate in adopting, so the admission process would have to involve the re-introduction in an enlarged Congress of every U.S. statute, and the repeal of any not adopted by that larger Congress. The result would likely to be a much reduced body of U.S. statutes, perhaps more in line with the U.S. Constitution before the New Deal.

There is another problem that international federal union might more effectively address: the excessive power and undue influence of multinational corporations, many of which are now more powerful than national governments, and which are not subject to the effective control of any of them. Most of those multinational corporations are based in one or more of the leading democratic countries, the same ones that international federalists seek to unite. Such union might be the only effective way to make those multinationals subject to law and accountable to the people, and thereby prevent them from emerging into a lawless global oligarchy.

Of course, there is also the danger that the central government of a larger federal union could be subverted by those special interests in ways that are inimical to the interests of the people, just as the present U.S. central government has been, thus providing the oligarchs with a single point of control of a larger part of the planet. However, it also seems likely that by taking advantage of the existing rivalries and suspicions of the new states in this federal union, they would actually reduce the powers of the central government from what the U.S. central government exercises today, in violation of the Constitution, and thereby get us back to something resembling what the Framers intended.

The movement has survived the death of Streit, and continues today as the Association to Unite the Democracies, based in Washington, DC. It continues to try to keep the idea alive against the time when people might be ready to consider it. In the meantime, constitutional scholars and historians may find the writings of Streit and other international federalists enlightening. Many of them were in direct contact with the key players in their countries and in a position to see historical events unfold and to try to steer history away from catastrophe and toward a brilliant future.

privacy policy