BEFORE a recent spell of high-tech growth, Boulder, Colorado, was one of the most charming towns in the United States. A pleasantly relaxed state university dominated the oasis town at the eastern foot of the Rockies, with their ski-slopes, streams and bridle paths. The alumni had such a nice time there, so effortlessly, that a small group of teachers wondered after the war how they might persuade them to think.
This pious idea coincided with the founding of the United Nations, the launching of the Marshall Plan and other stimulating international developments of the time. Wise men were asked to come to Boulder from New York and Europe to expound on the atrophy of nations, wars, and empires, and the imminence of world government. Such heady talk became in 1947 a United Nations Conference on World Affairs. The yearly conference has endured, with only the words 'United Nations' deleted from its name. Mr. Howard Higman, a native of Boulder who brought the conference into the world - then a young sociology teacher, now a professor emeritus - is its permanent chairman. The university's governing body seems to enjoy the disturbance of its peace every Easter holiday. The budget is tiny.
The lecturers and panelists, more than a 100 of them as a rule, appear without fee. They may be academics, writers, diplomats or bankers; a great many are one-issue people riding their own hobby-horses. They stay with dons and enjoy the customary institutional food. They pay or charge their own fares to Boulder, where students ferry them around in borrowed cars. What they do at the conference, whether lecturing to an audience of 1,000 or spinning out chit-chat on a panel of five with a dozen listeners, is in the capricious hands of some committee. The broad selection of North Americans there is an ingredient in the event's appeal.
While the intellectual bill of fare changes with the passing mode, some constants persist. The international order is never quite left to its long rest. Eminent types come from the United Nations. Friends and antagonists of NATO, of armaments and of arms control bandy words year by year. The audiences choose where they need enlightenment, and so confirm the enduring fascination of sex, violence and money as subjects to study and ponder.