Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why the Fuss About National Borders?

Here is a noteworthy comment from Bionic Mosquito at my post, A Second Round on Libertarianism and Ukraine
I try to remember to not use the words “always” or “never” in my writing, unless I really mean it – or want to exaggerate a point. I am not sure which it is in this case, but I feel pretty safe in suggesting that political decentralization is ALWAYS a good thing, and something that libertarians can support.
Decentralization means smaller political units; decentralization means more political units; decentralization means more choices for individuals.
Most importantly, each act of decentralization leads us one step closer to my view of a libertarian world, one with about 1.5 billion sovereign units – one per household.
None of this means one has now become a supporter of Putin (in this specific case), or that one cheers violence to achieve the separation (the USSR and Czechoslovakia offered wonderful examples where violence was not necessary).
And it doesn’t mean one supports Putin when suggesting that one considers a map or the makeup of the population: Ukraine is an awful lot closer to Russia than it is to the US; Ukraine is populated with many more ethnic Russians than ethnic Americans.
Given that we live in a world with tyrannical governments, it seems rather obvious that what is happening in Ukraine is far more important to Russians than it is to anyone in the US.
And I will bet people in Russia can at least find Ukraine on a map.
And here is a recent Bionic Mosquito essay on national borders:

Why the Fuss About National Borders?

By Bionic Mosquito

Joe Biden: “That's [SIC] inviolate borders are honored…”

Biden is speaking here about Ukraine.  But this refrain is trotted out whenever it is convenient – not whenever borders are violated (after all, Biden is in the employ of the biggest border-violator in the world today), but whenever it is convenient to point out that borders have been violated.

Borders are an interesting thing.
  In this context, they delineate the boundaries for the state’s right to exercise its monopoly of violence.  Often – unless delineated by a mountain range or body of water – there is nothing to distinguish one side of the border from the other.

At least in Europe this idea of the sanctity of national borders became institutionalized with the Treaty of Westphalia:

These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the independence of the Dutch Republic.

The treaties did not restore peace throughout Europe, but they did create a basis for national self-determination.

The treaties resulted from the big diplomatic congress, thereby initiating a new system of political order in central Europe, later called Westphalian sovereignty, based upon the concept of co-existing sovereign states. Inter-state aggression was to be held in check by a balance of power. A prejudice was established against interference in another nation's domestic affairs. As European influence spread across the globe, these Westphalian principles, especially the concept of sovereign states, became central to international law and to the prevailing world order.

…the principle of international law that each nation-state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs, to the exclusion of all external powers, on the principle of non-interference in another country's domestic affairs, and that each state (no matter how large or small) is equal in international law.

One could consider this outcome either good or bad, I suppose.  On the good side, at least conceptually there was less for individuals to fear from external governments.  On the bad side, it marked the final end of the competing sovereignties that offered tremendous decentralization to the people of the European Middle Ages.  I vote for bad, myself.

Stand anywhere on the shore of Lake Constance (Bodensee); you cannot distinguish Germany, Switzerland, or Austria.  For most of the last two-thousand years, a resident of Friedrichshafen had far more in common with a resident of Romanshorn than he did with a resident of K√∂ln or Berlin, for example.  Some would argue it is still true today.

Follow the Rhein River from the lake.  To your right – the north – is Germany; to your left – the south – Switzerland.  Well, unless you happen to be on the north side in the Swiss city of Schaffhausen, when being on the wrong side of the river contributed to Allied bombs falling on your head in 1944.

Such confusion about borders isn’t limited to Europe, of course.  Does Alaska (residents, geography, climate, resources) have more in common with Florida than it does with the Yukon of Canada (how did those Canadians get in the way?) or even Siberia?  To ask the question is to answer it.  Hawaii – could just as easily be Australian as American…let alone…Hawaiian!

Size does not seem to be a constraint or requirement.  It is too easy to trot out Switzerland as a small state that has remained relatively independent.  What of places like Singapore, Monaco, Vatican City, Malta, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Luxembourg, Qatar, Brunei, Kuwait, and Bahrain?

It gets even better: even vast oceans do not stand in the way.  Take the case of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, in Canada…well, except it isn’t in Canada:

Saint Pierre and Miquelon (French: Collectivit√© territoriale de Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon), is a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France, situated in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean near Canada.  It is the only remnant of the former colonial empire of New France that remains under French control, with a population of 6,080 at the January 2011 census.

I will translate: it isn’t merely near Canada, it is 25 kilometers from Canada; correspondingly, it is almost 4,000 kilometers from the nearest point in France.

And it isn’t quite as self-governing as presented in the above brief description.  The inhabitants are French citizens; they speak French; they use the Euro for currency; they vote in French elections; they send elected legislators to the French National Assembly; France appoints a government representative for the territory – in charge of “national interests, law enforcement, public order and, under the conditions set by the statute of 1985, administrative control.”

France is responsible for defense of the islands; law enforcement is the responsibility of the French Gendarmerie Nationale, occupying two police stations.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon are not alone.  On this list are over sixty such territories – many of these thousands of miles from their so-called government.  What on earth is sacred about this, Joe Biden?

Consider this: if residents of Saint Pierre and Miquelon can be governed by France, why not by Ireland, Japan, or South Africa?  Or form a government amongst themselves? Whose business is it anyway beside those who live in either Saint Pierre or Miquelon – wait a minute…you see, these are two separate islands.  Come to think of it, why can’t the residents of each island choose their own way?

Why not?

And then, why not each household on each island?  (That’s as far as I’m willing to go).

Borders change all the time – here are several dozen changes just in the last 100 years – Joe Biden’s demands notwithstanding.  If they are going to change anyway, why not smaller?  Why not more decentralized?  After all, this has been the trend for the last several decades – today there are something like 200 countries on the face of the earth, while just a few years ago the number was more like 150.

If Saint Pierre and Miquelon can be governed by France from 4,000 kilometers away, the islands can be governed by any other country on earth – or none.  And this is but one step removed from every household self-governing.  That would make for perhaps 1.5 billion little governing units!

It could work.

The above essay originally appeared at Bionic Mosquito.


  1. When I grow up, I wanna be like Bionic Mosquito. As I remember it, he started as a frequent commenter on The Daily Bell. His comments were always (oops, sorry, B.M) well thought out and on point. He's since evolved into a first class blogger / political writer.
    If this history is not right, please correct, Jonathon.

    1. BM was born at DB, this is correct. BM also learned much (and was forced to learn much) via the interaction with both DB and several of those who commented at the time - few of which are still around, sadly.

    2. Well, I'm still here! (For what that's worth :) )

  2. National borders are like cattle ranch fences. They delineate which tax cattle belong to which oligarchs. And if the border moves, that's tax cattle rustlin'!

  3. Bionic Mosquito is the only mosquito that I love... And I am happy there are no bionic Mosquitos here in Alaska, just trillions of normal ones.
    Well, if THE bionic Mosquito was here, I wouldn't mind that...