Post by Nathan Smith (regular blogger for the site, joined April 2012). See:
I’ve decided to try taking my contributions to Open Borders: The Case in a new direction. As I see it, Open Borders: The Case started out as an informational website, then turned into a blog, but never became exactly the running commentary on current events that is perhaps the most typical style of a successful blog. Its raison d’etre seemed to be rather the systematic working out of the case for open borders. Since that involves a certain amount of refutation of widespread fallacies and a certain amount of internal debate, it can drive an agenda of daily posting to a certain extent. But the blog style per se isn’t particularly conducive to cumulatively building a sustained case. I started feeling I’d largely covered the ground, at least in as much depth as the format permitted, and also, forgetting what I’d already written about.
So, my new idea is to spearhead a novel sort of book project. I have a tentative outline, which will doubtless change as I move forward, reflecting my own thoughts and the suggestions and contributions of others. Links will accumulate there to new content as it is written. I envision it as a collaborative project, amalgamating the writings of like-minded people: not a mere anthology– it will have more structure than that– but not quite having the character of a co-authored book, in which the authors bear equal responsibility for all parts and who wrote what is concealed. If other people do participate, we might end up with chapter-specific bylines. Like the Bible: multiple authors and styles, but a relatively unified message. (Obviously I don’t imagine the book will be remotely as important as the Bible, but I’m using it as an example of the kind of diverse authorship I’m thinking about.) My plan is to post new chapters here, as Open Borders: The Case blog posts, and at the same time, to create them as public Googledocs, to which there will be links both from the blog posts here and from the outline. The blog posts will stay as is; the Googledocs will be subject to revision. Fact-checking is for a later stage. For now, I’ll try to be accurate, but I won’t be as careful as I would be if I were intending immediate publication in a book or an academic journal article. Hopefully commenters will do some of the fact-checking for me (for us). At some point down the line, I might submit it to a prestigious university press, but it’s almost as attractive just to publish it through Kindle Direct Publishing, and use the blog itself for initial publicity. After that, the text might go on expanding, preparing the way for future editions. I’ve never heard of a book being written this way. We’ll see if it works.
If anyone wants to help with this project, feel free to just write chapters and link to them in the comments of this or future posts. I’ll take a look. There is no need for posts to be written in the order they are planned in the (tentative) outline: feel free to start anywhere in the outline, or nowhere in it, writing whatever seems important to you even if I haven’t (yet) included it. I’ll think about where to work it in. No need to try to match my style, either, just relevant facts and valid arguments.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s how the argument may begin:
The modern world, that is to say, the world as of 2013 and a few previous decades, is as a matter of official doctrine divided up into sovereign nation-states, with well-defined borders clarifying the scope of the jurisdiction of each state. “Sovereignty” is a concept rarely defined, though its modern sense can be traced to the absolutist political philosophy of Thomes Hobbes in the 17th century. It essentially means having the last word, not being able to be interfered with. For some purposes, it is synonymous with “independence,” but at a deep philosophical level the ideas of political independence and political sovereignty should probably not be equated. Sovereignty implies immunity to external interference. But it also implies a right of making laws, and usually implies an unlimited right of making laws, which is so broad as to include a right of acting coercively without the sanction of any publicly promulgated law. The belief of Thomas Aquinas and other medieval jurists that human laws are unjust and lacking in real authority unless they are based in the natural law and serve the “common good”– a notion hard to make sense of today but which to medieval jurists meant something objective– is inconsistent with the modern notion of sovereignty, and Thomas Hobbes had to do battle with the ideas of medieval churchmen in order to establish his idea of sovereignty. Modern national sovereignty was established, not only on behalf of nations as against dynastic or colonial empires, but on behalf of the secular authorities as against the church, and on behalf of the centralized state and its decrees as against local authorities, customs, and often individual conscience. At any rate, whatever “sovereignty” means, it is now by a global consensus imputed to about two hundred political entities, with relatively little disagreement about which political entities are included in the list, or what their boundaries are.
The establishment and maintenance of this world order depends on a high degree of legal and cartographical ingenuity. In past ages, mankind lacked the skill to draw such sophisticated maps. Some borders, such as the US-Canada border, correspond to lines of latitude or longitude, and could not have been drawn thus until mankind had sufficient knowledge to conceive and apply these spatial concepts. Older borders are sometimes marked by natural features of the landscape that are more readily discernible, such as rivers and mountain ranges, but by no means always. In other cases, territorial boundaries were physically marked. I have heard that there were in ancient times two stones located near one another in Greece. One of them said, “This is Athens. It is not Megara.” The other said, “This is Megara. It is not Athens.” Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China, though they were exceptional cases, may serve as vivid examples of physically marking a border. In other cases, territorial borders between states were vaguer. In any case, the concept of a “sovereign state” is a modern one. In past ages, it seems that “whose territory is this?” would not always have been felt to demand such a clear and unambiguous answer as it would be expected to evoke today. And while political entities resembling modern states and jealous of their territorial sovereignty sometimes existed, it was not the case that the entire territory of the earth was claimed by one or other of these entities, still less that the major powers agreed among themselves in recognizing each other’s territorial claims. To a naive modern person, it might seem that “the world is divided up into sovereign nation-states with well-defined borders” is a mere truism, one of the constant facts of political organization, arising, somehow, from human nature and/or from reason. But it is not. It is a peculiarity of our own modern civilization, which future ages may find odd and difficult to understand.