Tag Archives: open borders book

The modern borders regime was designed to secure international peace

This is part of a book project, see explanation here. It’s written as part 1B in this outline. For the Google Doc version, see here.

The UN-led international order is primarily dedicated to protecting the “sanctity” of borders against foreign invasion, or, to a lesser extent, interference.

The universal hegemony of the Western nation-state model is a major historic victory for the statesmen, especially Anglo-American statesmen, who built first the League of Nations and then the United Nations, and who successfully established a post-WWII world order largely conforming to their ideological vision of how mankind should be politically organized. Though Woodrow Wilson’s career ended in humiliating failure when the US Congress failed to ratify the Versailles Treaty, leaving the US outside the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson is probably the single most important intellectual influence on the modern geopolitical order, which attempts to embody the principle of national self-determination that he propounded.

The world was definitely not organized on the basis of national self-determination in 1914. For one thing, there was great freedom of migration. Though some border controls existed, e.g., at Ellis Island, where a small proportion of would-be immigrants were sent back for medical reasons, it was possible for most people to go migrate into and out of the leading nations of the world without passports or visas. If it is part of national sovereignty to control citizenship and residency in a nation’s territorial boundaries, as is often alleged, the nations of the world in 1914 did not enjoy, or at any rate did not exercise, effective national sovereignty. Furthermore, most of the surface of the globe at that time was governed not by nation-states, but by large transnational empires. Among these, there was a distinction between dynastic empires ruling over large landed territories containing ethnically varied peoples all subject to the same monarch, and colonial empires in which a “mother country” with an independent national life ruled over overseas territories inhabited by peoples who were definitely considered to be at a lower civilizational level, and with whom the mother country’s historic contacts, usually commercial in nature, had begun much more recently, during the European Age of Exploration. Of the dynastic empires, the leading examples were the Austrian Habsburg empire and the tsarist Russian Empire under the Romanov dynasty; China and the Ottoman Empire were other examples. Of the colonial empires, the leading examples were the British, French, and Dutch empires, though the Portuguese and Spanish empires, dissolved well before 1914, had helped to establish the pattern for this kind of colonialism. Woodrow Wilson’s principle of national self-determination, though initially directed mainly against the dynastic empires, was also inimical to the colonial empires, and the dissolution of most of the dynastic empires in the immediate aftermath of World War I and of the colonial empires after World War II both represent victories for Woodrow Wilson’s idea.

Many reasons can be suggested for the long-run success of Woodrow Wilson’s geopolitical reorganization of the world. Obviously, US military power is one major factor. The US remained potentially the largest military power in the interwar years, and became the world’s largest actual military power during and after World War II, as it remains to this day. Indeed, the military preponderance of the US only increased after the fall of the Soviet Union and may have been at a historic peak at the time of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. But the US did not exactly march out and impose its geopolitical vision on the world. It didn’t join the League of Nations and turned isolationist during the interwar years, except for a few interventions in the Western hemisphere. It joined World War II in self-defense after the attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war. That said, the US needn’t have prioritized the European theater, and the energetic war it waged in western Europe probably reflected sympathy for its democratic allies in Europe and pursuit of its principles of justice and right, more than national self-interest. Moreover, the US aided Britain and blockaded Japan before it was officially at war. From WWII on, US military power was deployed worldwide, but often in ways not particularly consistent with Wilsonian principles. Thus, in WWII, the US was the ally of two empires, and after the war, the US connived at the Soviet conquest of eastern Europe. In the Cold War, the US often made “realist” (i.e., cynical) alliances with authoritarian regimes, violating Wilson’s slogan of “making the world safe for democracy.” Wilsonian principles remained the goal, however. The US preferred to ally itself with democratic nation-states when it could, and US backing made it possible for some of these, especially in Europe and East Asia, to flourish in a security which they lacked the military strength to obtain for themselves. Continue reading “The modern borders regime was designed to secure international peace” »

From Blog to Book

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:

1.A. The world is, in theory, divided up into sovereign nation-states, separated by well-defined borders

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.