On Borders and the Status Quo

I’m afraid I tend to become a little indignant when my radical ideas aren’t blindly accepted by my friends. Like the other day when my suggestion that eliminating national borders (and the nation-states they delineate) would be a good idea was met with some skepticism. It is as if the idea never occurred to me that protected borders, and police, and prisons, whatever their faults, at least provide security and safeguards against oppression and corruption. I know what they’re thinking, too. They’re thinking that I’ve lived my whole life living in my mom’s basement, barely working, reading optimistic 19th-century revolutionaries and I don’t realize that people can be mean. I’m idealistic. Well, I don’t know if anyone is thinking that, but they wouldn’t be far off if they were.

When I picture a world without borders, I picture a world where people can live and work where they want, where wealth isn’t constrained within the borders of wealthy countries, where trade prohibitions don’t construct markets which profit only the ruthless, where immigrants can assert their dignity as human beings without fear of deportation, where there are no militaries amassed for the sole purpose of defending and expanding borders against other militaries amassed for the same senseless purpose. They picture a world where thugs and tyrants, consumed by the desire for power, are free to roam the earth exerting their wills over the defenseless. There are worse things than soldiers asking for papers at borders, after all.

And there is no better defense of the status quo. Not everything is perfect, but if it weren’t for those imperfect systems things would be worse. Things used to be worse, which I would know if I’d only read my history books.

Still, in my idealistic, naive, overly-optimistic opinion, that is a utilitarian argument of the worst order. We must mistreat some people now to prevent the mistreatment of more people later? Suppose the world is full of bogeymen which are only being held at bay by the constructs of the state. Suppose the fears are justified, that if we stop imprisoning people for crossing geographic lines without permission, and if we stop sending soldiers to shoot their counterparts in other states, if we do away with the State as authority, then society will come to a brutal end. Genocide, a war of all against all, the strong enslaving the weak, a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short life for all. Then I would still advocate against borders and states. I would then continue to advocate against the new self-appointed despots for the duration of my short life.

Maybe if, as some of their defenders seem to believe, States were eternal and by perfecting them over the generations we were building some sort of heaven-on-earth, then it might be worth supporting the violence of borders as a necessary evil and mourn its victims as unavoidable collateral damage. But states are not eternal, and more importantly if the choice is truly between being an oppressor or being a victim, my life, if it has any meaning at all, is too short to spend as an oppressor. For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

Luckily the divide between the utilitarian and the deontological is not so sharp. There is no necessary dichotomy between maintaining individual morality and social harmony.

I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.

— Mikhail Bakunin
Man Society and Freedom


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