No borders; no nations?
My generation will have to decide what a country is for…
Recently a group of students at the Berkeley division of the University of California started rioting in protest against a public speech on campus due to be given by pro-Trump journalist, the provocative and very strange Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News.
He was unable to give his speech and now much controversy ensues about the ideal of free speech at academic institutions.
But one chant from the protestors really got me thinking: “No borders, no nations, f–k deportations!”
The first thing it reminded me of was John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ – which may well have been written by this Lenin .
‘Imagine there’s no countries/ It isn’t hard to do.’
In short, people have been protesting borders and division between countries for a while now. We have seen this recently in the opposition to Brexit and in support of countries taking in Syrian refugees. Secret transcripts from Hillary Clinton’s speeches to big banks show her support for an ideal world of free trade and open borders.
Obviously Trump’s 120 day suspension of immigrants from seven particular countries (note – he did not ban Muslims) has inspired a new wave of sloganeering, particularly on Facebook against borders.
So are borders and national boundaries immoral? Should countries never refuse access to anybody for whatever reason?
That is what opponents to Trump and Brexit seem to be suggesting. And this is why Trump and Brexit actually won – because there are many people who like the idea of having a country of their own, and who were thus willing to put up with the rest of Trump’s rhetoric and the notion that Brexit might slow the growth of GDP by a percentage point or two.
But who is right in this argument?
To answer this, we have to do some Political Philosophy 101, and ask ourselves, what exactly is a country.
Aristotle wrote that by nature man is a political animal who find himself necessarily in layers of society – starting with the family and ending with the polis – or political community which ensures peace and justice among a collection of local communities made up of families.
Because babies are born to parents who then by nature are meant to rear said children, but need help in terms of providing for their families, communities are born. And because communities require defence and justice in the midst of a world of conflict, the state exists – again as a natural phenomenon – not as some kind of mythical social contract our ancestors made with each other to set up a government.
You can follow this line of thought through history – to Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages teaching about natural law – to Edmund Burke defending English conservatism in the age of the French Revolution. The basic idea remains the same – the state or nation is a kind of organic reality that exists because nature requires it.
Now, on the other side of the argument is the sloganeering of the politically active youth of today – borders should be open, all should be welcome.
Of course it is easy to see the appeal of these slogans. Why should we discriminate against foreigners? Why should there be divisions between various nationalities? Isn’t nationalism the reason behind all war at the end of the day?
Well, let’s tease the idea out all the way. Imagine there were no borders. No passports. How does the state then work without verifiable borders and citizens? Surely it would cease to exist. If there is no state, who administers justice, builds roads, collects tax, and establishes the sense of order and social trust which civilization requires?
To put it simply, if there is no such thing as a citizen, how will we have any countries?
I suspect some people like the idea of there being no state. That is just naive. The places where there is no state are the places from where immigrants flee! Libya, Syria, Somalia.
The places where people try to get to have strong states – Germany, England, Canada, Singapore, and the US.
During the US campaign season, I kept wondering why people were so up in arms when Trump declared he wanted to build a border wall.
Do you protest when you go on holiday to Mozambique that there is a border post? Do you feel oppressed when you show your passport?
At the end of the day, a country is a real thing designed to protect its citizens. Of course countries are obligated by simple human justice to assist where possible in sheltering those fleeing from war and persecution. Hence Trump’s assertion that in the middle of his ‘big, beautiful wall’, there will be a ‘big, beautiful door’.
This is true of households too. My house has walls. And I get to choose who stays within those walls. This does not make me ‘racist’ against other families. Nor does it mean I cannot open my door at times to those who I want to welcome in or shelter. But they have no ‘right’ to live with me like my family members do.
I am sorry to say but if ten homeless people asked to live with me, I would say no. Perhaps this makes me a bad person. But I wonder how many of the protestors against Trump and Brexit have strangers living in their homes.
Now I know households and nations are different entities. But the principle does extend outwards. Countries have to be allowed to choose who to welcome into their borders. Otherwise they have no borders and the country will soon cease to exist.
Aristotle had another great idea – the golden mean. To live well is to avoid extremes.
Nationalism – the rabid belief in national superiority – is an extreme that should be avoided. But political anarchy is equally an extreme.
To live in the golden mean when it comes to immigration seems to me to require walls and doors. Restriction and hospitality. Not one extreme of either.
Right now, the supporters of open borders seem pretty extreme to me.