They call it Cascadia—a land of plunging waterfalls and snowcapped mountains, a mythical kingdom of towering trees and raging rivers. Here in Seattle, capital of this Arcadia, the sleekly modernistic Space Needle rises up against the backdrop of Mount Rainier, which dominates the horizon—a distinctly Cascadian juxtaposition of mountain and cityscape, forest and skyscraper, greenery and growth.
The name adorns hundreds of local businesses—from Cascadia Software to Cascade Steel Door and Hardware—and was inevitably appropriated by radical environmentalists—such as the “Cascadia Action Group,” an Earth First!-type organization bitterly opposed to any and all development—as well as by more sedate “bioregionalists,” such as admirers of Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia, who peddle socialism under the aegis of regional planning. In a review of Robert L. Dorman’s Revolt of the Provinces: The Regionalist Movement in America, 1920-1945, the bioregionalist writer Patrick Mazza asks us to “envision new cultural institutions meshing the knowledge gained through natural sciences with theater, ritual, narrative and music, recalling earlier native, folk and immigrant cultures while recognizing some fundamentally new synthesis is needed.” Politically, this means “nothing less than creating new political institutions rooted in community and region, that work confederally with their allies in other regions.”
If all this sounds like an MTV rock video, the “ritual” that Mazza mentions is meant to be taken literally. For the fact is that a self-styled “neopagan” subculture has emerged here, as in the wackier regions of northern California. But there is something more substantial in the vision of Cascadia than the woozy utopianism of these marginal folk. Beyond the subsidized playpens of academia and the “alternative” culture, the idea of Cascadia has caught on in certain elite circles. While Seattle’s pierced-and-tattooed left-Cascadians are culturally chic but politically irrelevant, the quasi-conservative or right-Cascadians are in a position actually to implement their agenda —which is not separatism but de facto union with British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, and perhaps other provinces of Canada.
This scenario was vividly and convincingly described in a 1994 book, Breakup: The Coming End of Canada and the Stakes for America, whose author, Lansing Lamont, was Time magazine’s chief Canadian correspondent in the 1970’s and a managing director for Canadian Affairs at the Americas Society. As one might expect from a descendant of Thomas W. Lamont— Morgan partner, New York investment banker, and a pillar of the power elite—his is a cultured voice, resonant with a patrician self-assurance: the authentic voice of that legendary creature, the Eastern Establishment. His book, which reads like an internal policy memorandum written in the form of a future history, raises the Cascadian Question in the following context; Quebec nationalists declare independence, after which the demise of Canada, “the first international nation,” follows swiftly. “As for British Columbia, aloof on the other side of the Rockies,” writes Lamont, “it pondered a private agenda of its own. Its west was the Pacific Rim and the Oregon coast, not Alberta or Manitoba; its future lay in Tokyo and Seattle, not Calgary or Winnipeg.” Having “recast itself from a prairie to a northwest mountain province and elected to take its chances for the long term in a distinctly American-edged coalition,” Alberta takes the same road. The Western provinces follow Quebec out of confederal Canada and into the waiting arms of the United States.
Lament envisions a “Pacific alliance whose other members [include] Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington,” a postindustrial economic powerhouse rich in raw materials with a gross annual product of some $280 billion. An independent Cascadia would be the ninth wealthiest nation on earth—but that is not on the agenda. “In short,” writes Lamont, “Cascadia or Pacifica, as the new region was variously tagged, constitute [s] a perfect vehicle for the gradual assimilation of Canada’s drifting provinces into the American matrix.” Lamont cites a story related by former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner. At “a raucous dinner in 1992,” at a restaurant outside Vancouver, one of the businessmen present turned to the Prime Minister and said, “only half in jest, ‘John, tell us how to cut a deal with the United States. We’re ready to join.'”
Unlike the Quebecers, says Lamont, British Columbian separatism “is a mind-set grounded not in bitterness but in optimism” animated by a need to break free of feuding Easterners. Much of the enthusiasm, however, seems to be coming from the other side of the border, where potential deal-makers are champing at the bit. The center of Cascadian regionalism is the ostensibly free market-oriented Discovery Institute, headquartered in downtown Seattle. Endorsed by Steve Forbes, George Gilder, and other free market luminaries, this quasi-libertarian think tank has set up a “Cascadia Task Force” whose task is to blur if not completely eliminate the American-Canadian border and whose agenda throws the free market completely overboard. The Institute says its purpose “is to discover and promote ideas that can chart the future in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market, and individual liberty,” but this is true only if by the free market the Discoveryites mean plenty of government subsidies for business. A major activity of the Cascadia Task Force is lobbying for “renewed and continued expansion of Amtrak service from Vancouver to Eugene,” as well as improving “intermodal connections through public-private partnerships.”
Funded by the cities of Seattle and Surrey, British Columbia, as well as the Port of Taeoma and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, the Cascadia project is pure mercantilism. A helpful map of Cascadia posted on the Discovery Institute’s website reveals the scope and possible evolution of their ambition; it defines “Main Street Cascadia” as Portland, Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver. This is surrounded by a shaded area deemed “Cascadia” proper, which includes two states, Washington and Oregon, and all of British Columbia. An even larger swath of territory, stretching from Alaska to Idaho, and including Montana, is designated the “Pacific Northwest Economic Region,” clearly meant to delineate the outer reaches of the Cascadian empire.
In a policy paper issued by the Institute, “Cascadian Adventures: Shared Visions, Strategic Alliances, and Ingrained Barriers in a Transborder Region,” Professor Alan F.J. Artibise of the University of British Columbia makes the case for Cascadia in cultural as well as economic terms. There is, says Artibise, such a thing as a “Cascadian culture,” the first principle of which is that “for Cascadians, environmentalism has become a sort of secular religion.” In the absence of such cultural signposts as a Cascadian literature, Cascadian art, or even Cascadian folk dances, the author informs us that “the Cascadian region is also tied together by sports” and that this constitutes “a shared sports culture.” Bruce Chapman, Discovery Institute president, exults in the fact that “When it comes to baseball, the Mariners have the only major league team in Cascadia . . . on average, 10 to 13 percent of [Mariner] advance sales are from B.C. and roughly 8 percent from Oregon.” Another major aspect of Cascadian high culture is an emphasis on “the quality of life”: as Artibise puts it, “the ‘lotus land’ stereotype associated with Cascadia is, in fact, quite accurate.” So here we have it: a culture of nature worshiping, lotus-eating Mariners’ fans. Get ready for the Cascadian Renaissance.
In its weakness and lack of content, Cascadian “culture” seems very Canadian, i.e., virtually nonexistent. But in these days of the New World Order, this is considered a virtue: it means no resistance to the global monoculture and no barriers to its corporate tentacles. “In the new global economy,” declares Professor Artibise, “national borders are less and less important.” “Regions,” he claims, “are on their own,” and “the message is to think globally, but act locally (or regionally). In short, the modern world—especially technology—has transformed notions of territory, space and nation.”
In other words, the victory of Cascadian regionalism is an inevitable consequence of technological development. Cascadian patriots on both sides of the border can therefore afford to be discreet. Instead of pushing their agenda all that loudly, or publicly, they work quietly, and doggedly, to accomplish their goals gradually. One of their projects is the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER), what Artibise describes as “a public-private partnership” run by a bipartisan Delegate Council and administered by a secretariat located in Seattle. PNWER has established nine working groups, where planners, businessmen, and government officials design regional policy. Apart from PNWER, there is a whole constellation of business and intergovernmental alliances, partnerships, and forums, which, adds Artibise, sponsor “a host of cross-border studies and research initiatives on such topics as the environment, tourism, the economy, the border, transportation, and governance.” If Lamont is right, and British Columbia is admitted to the American Union tomorrow, then the bureaucratic infrastructure—the cross-networking of business and government in literally dozens of organizations, agreements, alliances, and informal “public-private” working groups—is already in place.
Union with British Columbia would change the demographics of the Pacific Northwest forever. Two million immigrants from the Third World will pour into Canada this decade, many of them Asian. More than 150,000 have so far settled in British Columbia, whose Lieutenant Governor is the first Chinese-Canadian to hold such a post. Across the border, Gary Locke, the first Chinese-American to be elected governor of a state, reflects a similar demographic trend; in Washington, the percentage of Asians and Pacific Islanders has increased nearly 60 percent since 1980, from 214,570 to more than 342,900, the largest increase of any ethnic group. Cascadia is already, in large part, a colony of the Chinese diaspora; in the event of a mass exodus from Hong Kong, as people and capital flee a communist crackdown, it could become a new (and safer) Taiwan on the east side of the Pacific Rim. Vancouver is already known as “Hongcouver” because of the influx of wealthy Hong Kong entrepreneurs; the city’s population is now 20 percent Chinese. Economically as well as ethnically, British Columbia is increasingly linked to the Ear East, with 60 percent of its exports destined for China, Japan, and Korea.
All of this raises an interesting question: whether the greatest threat to the United States is not secessionism but expansionism, not states wanting out, but whole regions wanting in. No direct assault on American sovereignty is likely to succeed; if our old Republic is overthrown, it will be death by submersion in a “multicultural” continentalism. Although such a merger or series of mergers would shift the political center of the country decisively to the left, the Republicans would not only play along, but would doubtless lead the way. Amid jingoist displays, appeals to “national security,” soaring rhetoric about “the future,” and the glories of hi-tech, free trade, and the global society, the American identity would be quietly suffocated and discreetly buried, without ceremony, beneath the avalanche of freshly minted American citizens, millions of instant immigrants who did not have to lift a finger for their new-won entitlements.
In his mournful elegy for fractured Canada, Lamont writes that this terrible tragedy should “send the world a message of despair,” for if Canada, long the model “multiethnic society,” cannot survive, “the obvious question is, who can?” The lesson for the United States, he says, is ominous, for “if Canada, with more than a century of democratic governance, cannot hold, so the thinking in Washington goes, it raises questions about America’s ability to hold its own sprawling union together: ‘What then of Alaska, Hawaii, and other remote American territories where there is potential for independence movements?’ a senior diplomat asks.”
Far from admitting any new states to the union, we might consider getting rid of a few. Hawaii should never have been admitted to begin with; aside from the sordid history of America’s conquest of the Hawaiian kingdom, it is a net drain on the U.S. Treasury. The same is true for Puerto Rico and all our other far-flung “dependencies.” As for the Alaskans: if they want out, how will we keep them in? And regarding the Spanish-speaking secessionists in the American Southwest, Lamont scolds the Americans for not having listened when “responsible Canadians warned Americans that the United States was not immune to the stresses tearing Canada apart.”
But it is not too late, Internationalism is the creed of the elites, but the people hate it. The cartographers of Cascadia, floating in cyberspace, are free to map out any future they can imagine. But the mindset of the policy-wonks in downtown Seattle is far removed from that of the ordinary Northwesterner, a point brought home to mc at a Seattle gym. I had just joined, and it was my first workout. My former gym in San Francisco had marked the weights in kilograms, instead of pounds. At a loss, I asked the young lady on the next bench a seemingly innocent question: “Are these weights in kilograms or pounds?” Narrowing her eyes, she looked at me with utter contempt, and snarled: “This is America, buddy. We don’t have any kilograms around here!” As she strode away, I smiled to myself, and thought: I stand corrected.
This article was first published in the July 1997 issue of Chronicles.