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Thursday, September 09, 2010

A House Divided...

...and crumbling:

he United Nations' headquarters undergoing the most extensive renovations in its 60-year history, and QMI Agency saw first-hand how badly the international body’s home base needs the makeover.

The roof is leaking in some places. The walls are filled with asbestos. Wood wall panelling is stained with six decades worth of cigarette smoke.

Then there’s the copper-tube air-conditioning system, which dates to 1950. Technicians have to adjust the settings manually and it takes days to raise the temperature by just a few degrees.

Even the audio room, with its dizzying maze of wires, hasn’t been upgraded since the Second World War.

Metaphors just don't come more obvious than this one, and stories like this are a gift to we valiant few, the credulity impaired. 

Sometimes it’s hard to get a decision out of this organization,” said Adlerstein. “All the systems were falling apart but for the members, their mission is children and peace not air conditioning, not their own house, that comes last.

That one was just bite my hand funny. An organization that blithely presided over the Oil for Food scandal in Iraq, and mass child rape in the Congo, is just too damn altruistic to worry about the plumbing! Orwell observed that saints should be considered guilty, until proven innocent. That applies all the more to large organizations with pretensions to moral grandeur. And there are few pretensions in the modern world greater than the United Nations. 

It stands, in its own moral terms, above mere nation states, which it views as relics of a Westphalian order fated to pass. It proclaims - through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - a new ordering of human affairs along ethical lines. It is transnational in aspiration and staffing. Bureaucrats of every pigmentary hue and ideological conceit gather in a sleek modernistic building by the East River, whose very style of architecture is sometimes described as "international." It is often, wrongly, described as a world government in embryo. It is nothing so modest. It is closer instead to an earnest, but ultimately sophomoric attempt, to imitate the Catholic Church circa 1500. Kofi Annan lacked the style of the Borgia Pope, but certainly not the ethical flexibility. 

Before the great fracturings of Christendom, first with Constantinople and then with Luther, the Catholic Church was indeed universal. As Pagan Rome fell it remained in some sense united, and in some basic sense it was preserving civilization. The choice was the Roman Church or darkness. It then stood above mere princes, whom it could excommunicate, and in doing so put the souls of those princes' subjects in peril. It was a moral authority above the power politics of the day. It was also, ironically, itself a political power, both in its control of the Papal States in central Italy, and its wide influence across the continent. Politics and religion corrupt each other, and the Reformation was required to turn it back in the direction, broadly, of the saints. 

That dream of a moral authority, capable of excommunicating mere political rulers, never quite died. It was resurrected in secular garb with the creation of the United Nations. This new Rome's ethical constructs, however, were rather less precisely argued than those of the actual Rome. Central to the new dogma was peace above all. Even the Church, however, recognized the need for Just Wars. 

The United Nations has, when sufficient pressure was applied by Washington, sanctioned war, but these are exceptions. It is for peace, even when the aggressor is a tyranny and the victim a free country (see the history of Israel). Since the ideal is peace at all costs, it is ambivalent about the who and what. All nations are the same in the balance. The Soviet Union was no different from the United States or United Kingdom. 

This astonishing amorality makes sense only when viewed from the perspective of the UN's own ethical system. It is for peace and above national politics. For it to say that one nation was an Evil Empire, and another a bulwark of liberty, would require it to descend from its Olympian impartiality. That such an impartiality requires the evasion of so much human suffering, is just another price to be paid for its moral ideal. It is a conceit that is crumbling as surely, and swiftly, as that aging monolith at Turtle Bay.

Posted by Richard Anderson on September 9, 2010 | Permalink


It's a case of putting lipstick on a pig.

Posted by: Leigh Patrick Sullivan | 2010-09-09 7:45:15 AM

Sounds to me like the perfect time to just shut the doors and send everyone home.

Posted by: Bob Devine | 2010-09-09 11:45:26 AM

The UN has one purpose ... destroy the free world and take over the planet.

Death to the UN

Posted by: Momar | 2010-09-09 11:49:58 AM

This is a brilliant skewering of the UN. Thank you, made my day, and made me laugh too.

Posted by: janet | 2010-09-09 12:01:47 PM

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