Remove The Borders In Your Mind

Europe is unique. Nowhere else on Earth has so many markedly different cultures crammed into such a small space. Europe’s jagged coastlines, numerous, high mountain ranges and broad rivers have fostered huge diversity. In recent centuries, this has been largely to the continent’s benefit. Fierce competition between European tribes and nations spurred technological development at breakneck pace, which led to the development of modern science, the industrial revolution and (for a while) to the global dominance of European empires.

This, of course, comes with a big downside. Europe is prone to spasms of nationalistic feeling, which tend not to end well. The last big eruption, ending in 1945, left Europeans, yet again, determined to put an end to all this nonsense. The postwar European project, culminating in the creation of the EU, was a huge, liberal exercise in knitting together countries with long histories of enmity. It is an attempt to gradually eradicate nationalism from the continent and provide us with a more peaceful future.

But 1945 was a long time ago. Those who were adults in that year are all over 90 now. Generation by generation, Europeans have become increasingly seduced (yet again) by the idea that internationalism is not necessarily such a good thing; that nationalism, done right, can be a force for good. So, once again, European nationalism is taken from the back of the wardrobe, dusted off, and accessorised to make it look like a brand new outfit.

So in some ways, we’re in a situation similar to the 1930s. But in the 30s, there was a clear ideological choice to make between left and right. As right-wing nationalism blossomed across Europe, so the left-wing opposition became an international struggle against fascism. WWII, though a national struggle, was also an international one, which united internationalist socialists with national armies. My left-wing Jewish grandfather saw his time in the RAF as a fight against fascism, not a battle for British supremacy.

Today, the divide between right and left is increasingly a cultural, rather than political one. The left, a progressive force in the 1930s, is today a defender of the status quo. From left to right, the argument has been reduced to: Which form of social democracy works best? What proportion of GDP should be devoted to state spending? How much involvement should private companies have in state-provided services? And with no clear ideological divide, nationalism has infected the entire political spectrum. Sadly and dangerously, European politics is becoming a decision about which kind of nationalism one prefers.

The old, ugly nationalism is becoming rampant. In predictable places – Hungary, Denmark and France (for example) – anti-foreigner sentiment is once again fashionable. But this is more than matched by left-wing nationalism, which in many ways is more worrying. From painful experience, Europe understands the dangers of the old, xenophobic nationalism of the right, but that not of the left. Many on the left will respond that left-wing nationalism isn’t nasty like the right-wing variety. But intent is irrelevant. What matters is outcome. If the EU unravels, along with free movement of people, goods and services, who cares whether it’s done under the pretext of progressivism or xenophobia?

So: Scotland has become a nationalist one-party state, under the auspices of fighting for “fairness” and “anti-austerity”. The SNP, once a right-of-centre force, has reinvented itself as a left-wing one. It dangles a social democratic dream in order to achieve a separatist, regressive aim. It proposes contradictory policies and ideas to maximise its populist appeal: thus, it doesn’t want laws made in London, but is fine with those from Brussels; thus it rejects English rule, but embraces the Royal Family; thus, it invokes a false history of colonial oppression under the English, whereas in reality Scots enthusiastically participated in the British Empire. Seeing a sea of national flags waved in Scotland on election night in May conjured up Europe’s darkest past, not its progressive future.

In reality, the SNP’s independence calculations were cynical in the extreme: they realised that, with oil above $100 per barrel, Scotland would be better off keeping its oil revenues to itself, rather than redistribute. This is the opposite of progressivism: successful unions (whether the UK, EU or US) redistribute from wealthy regions to poor ones. Scottish nationalists want to keep it all for themselves. Since the referendum, oil prices have crashed. If it had gained independence, Scotland would be forced to implement worse austerity than England, or face bankruptcy. SNP voters should be outraged that they nearly committed such a gross error under Alex Salmond’s guidance, but they don’t appear to have noticed. Nationalistic fervour outweighs economic and political common sense.

Similarly, Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, and resents sending its hard-earned money to Madrid. Catalans are set for a confrontation with the national government as nationalist populism has surged. In reality, Catalan nationalists resent redistribution of their money to poor regions like Andalucia. This isn’t “progressive nationalism”, it’s good, old-fashioned dislike of poor, “lazy” southerners packaged as a heroic independence struggle.

Anti-EU sentiment has surged on the British left, most notably in this year’s Corbyn Labour victory. So, bizarrely, Labour’s leader agrees with UKIP’s that the EU is a bad thing, while the Tory leader is on the same side as the Lib Dem and Green leaders (underscoring the point that left and right are increasingly blurring into one). Labour still officially maintains a pro-EU stance, but with its most senior figures now being eurosceptics, how effectively will it fight for a pro-EU vote in the coming referendum? While Corbyn’s win won’t take Labour close to power, it has certainly edged us closer to Brexit.

The Corbyn position on the EU (like many of his policies) is deeply childlike: he says the EU is “like a free market“. Which, of course, in part, it is. What he doesn’t explain is why this is a bad thing, or what his alternative might be; the very word “market” is supposed to conjure up horror, without the need for further explanation. I remember this position from my own days on the far-left: we took the meaningless position that we were internationalists, but couldn’t support the EU because it was capitalist internationalism, not the good socialist variety. Owen Jones, the bellwether of the moron-left, has predictably taken an anti-EU position based on the left’s complete misunderstanding of what has been happening in Greece.

The Corbynites say they support the free movement of people, but not free markets. So do they think Polish plumbers should come to the UK but be prevented from selling their labour? Should Spanish companies be able to build British factories, but not sell their products to Germany? The left rails against unskilled jobs moving to China, while ignoring the huge rise in Chinese living standards these jobs have created. This is xenophobia disguised as support for British workers: we can ignore poverty in China or India, or blame it on ‘neoliberalism’. In this attitude, the far-left is virtually indistinguishable from the far-right.

Borders are obstacles to progress; there is no progressive nationalism, in Scotland or anywhere else. In the face of surging inward-looking nationalist sentiment, we need to re-imagine how borders can be dissolved, bit by bit, and this requires three unbreakable principles:

  1. Free movement of ideas: in other words, an implacable opposition to state censorship. China carefully blocks dangerous foreign ideas using its Great Firewall, under heavy criticism from the West; and yet there are powerful forces lobbying for site blocking here in the UK, under the auspices of “counter-terrorism” or “protecting children from porn”. Both left and right are guilty of failing to defend free expression.
  2. Free movement of goods and services: here, the left is often guilty of the deepest conservatism. Global poverty is shrinking faster than at any time in history. The rest of the world is catching up with the West; rather than celebrate this, the nationalist left focuses on economic stagnation in the wealthiest countries, and ignores progress everywhere else. To oppose global free trade is to attempt to disconnect the world’s poorest from the global economy.
  3. Free movement of people: this is the toughest objective of all, and will not be seen in our lifetimes: but it’s an objective towards which we can continually move. We cannot entirely lift border controls while there are such disparities of wealth and poverty in the world. Thanks to the EU’s removal of trade barriers, wealth was spread across the continent. As a result, Europe was able to introduce free movement – something that would have seemed like a utopian dream a few decades ago. The same thing can, and will, happen globally, in less time than we might today imagine.

There is no economic reason why borders cannot continue to be dissolved. step-by-step, worldwide: the reasons are political: the old left and right parties are collapsing into nationalism and xenophobia. The one European hero of open borders, Angela Merkel, is coming under attack domestically for her pro-immigration stance. As the world becomes richer and more interlinked, the need for borders diminishes. The only obstacle to creating a borderless planet is the one in our minds.

10 thoughts on “Remove The Borders In Your Mind”

  1. Your maths is a little out! Anyone who was an adult in 1945 (70 years ago) is about 90 now. There aren’t many left who remember the lead up to the Second World War (which allows nationalism and its ugly sibling, xenophobia, to grow unchecked by experience). The current refugee crisis (which is largely of European – mainly British and French – making), combined with the after effects of the recent recession (a sharp increase in income disparities between the “haves” and “have nots”) seems to be increasing the level of xenophobia sharply.

    I’m not sure I’d agree that the 1930’s left was entirely a progressive force – too much of it actively defended Soviet Russia under Stalin.

    I have no issues with your 3 principles. Interesting (and potentially alarming) example on TV this morning. There appears to be another famine looming in Ethiopia (the bad news). The better news is that recent economic growth has means that the Government there has money available to buy food to feed the people.

    1. Fixed the maths!

      Soviet Russia was still seen as progressive in the 30s. The Trotskyist split from communism came in the 40s, but it wasn’t till 1956 that many international communists realised the grim reality of the USSR and quit the party. People could be forgiven for admiring Russia in the 30s, especially when compared to Germany.

      The greatest danger today is that Bob Geldof and Bono will notice the Ethiopian famine and decide to do something.

      1. Thanks. I think the important point on the maths is that the loss of folk memory of the 30’s (anyone who was an adult in 1935 would be 100 now) allows the sort of economics and xenophobia (separate but not entirely unrelated issues) prevalent then to resurface.

        I suspect the perception and the reality of the Soviet Union in the 1930’s were 2 different things, but I am using hindsight! The road to hell is, they say, paved with good intentions. And, of course, there were plenty on the right in Britain in the 1930’s who admired Hitler and Nazi Germany (including Edward VIII, Oswald Moseley and Viscount Rothermere). A lot of the justification for WW2 (and it was justified) is retrospective (the Final Solution, for example, might be a valid reason for declaring war, but wasn’t implemented until 1941).

        Sometimes the best idea is to do nothing, and not succumb to the pressure to “Do Something” (see for example UK and US policy in the Middle East). Especially if you’re Bob Geldof and Bono! It could be worse. I wish Phil Collins a long and happy retirement (and please stay retired!). Mind you, if they can get Roger Waters and David Gilmour to play together again …

  2. “Remove the borders in your mind” and completely ignore the fact that science is now showing more than ever that people from different regions of the world have very different IQs and temperaments and that we are not “blank slates”. Also bear in mind that the world’s richest people and most powerful multi-nationals are desperate to see borders come down because it completely gets rid of trust, solidarity (ethnocentrism is man’s natural state and only the West has had 70 years of anti-racism training) and people power. The whole of what we know of history and human nature shows us that diversity is not strength but competing groups of people which is why we see centuries of ethnic and religious warfare. You can’t overturn science and biology so by taking this stance you are doing the 1%’s work for them. Well done.

    1. Well let’s fact-check that. It’s true, the fashionable “blank slate” view of the human mind is outdated. People are born with different intelligence, skills and temperaments. HOWEVER, across racial groups the differences are small if any. IQ is misleading, because it’s based on education as well as innate intelligence. The average European has a far higher IQ than Europeans of a century ago, for example.

      Your knowledge of science and biology is limited, and apparently acquired from some racial-nationalist group.

      Regardless of the facts, what would be wrong with blending different cultural groups anyway? Britain is very mixed today, and yet has lower violence and higher IQ than ever before. Based on experience, diverse societies are strong societies, even despite racial problems that arise.

      1. “Based on experience” – on what experience? The Balkans? Myanmar? India and Pakistan? IQ in the UK of secondary school pupils has declined by 2 points since 1986 due to immigration and you are misrepresenting the Flynn effect when people have not got “smarter”, their worlds have expanded which Flynn himself acknowledges is the case and is not repeatable with other populations. In elite American universities which have no racial quotas there are large majorities of East Asian students which causes resentment and cries of “it must be because of oppression” from groups with lower IQs. Black people in the USA complain about police racism while committing the majority of violent crime. East Asians earn more on average in the USA and are arrested less often than white people yet “white privilege” is blamed for the failings of black people. My knowledge of IQs and temperaments across populations is from Wikipedia. You say that difference between racial groups are “small if any” yet for Africans it’s 70, American blacks 85, Mexicans 88, Caucasians 100, East Asians 105, Australian Aborigines 62 etc. As I say, Wikipedia acknowledges all of this and it corresponds to the real-world success of these groups.

        Why is it that billionaire bankers are the ones who say homogeneity in the West must be broken down and that the borders must open? Is this out of the kindness of their hearts or because it creates fractured societies of competing groups that are easily manipulated? I just find it interesting that the left these days does the work of the 1% for them.

      2. across racial groups the differences are small if any


        IQ is misleading, because it’s based on education as well as innate intelligence

        The education element is overrated.

        European has a far higher IQ than Europeans of a century ago, for example

        IQ seems to have gone up all over the place in last 100 years. But the relative gaps between broad racial groups have stayed the same. Perhaps the tests should be re-normed in some way?

  3. Architect of neoliberal capitalism Milton Friedman was a proponent of no borders, gleefully arguing that you cannot have a welfare system and unlimited free movement. The EU was always a neoliberal capitalist project. We were duped in the UK because continentals appeared to enjoy a more cosy mixed economy social democratic model but with Thatcherism it just meant the UK was one step ahead of the game. Europe is now catching up with brutal austerity measures dictated by the ECB.

    We see the move towards the no borders/ultracapitalist model in the reform of the welfare state not just here but in other EU nations. If anyone can pour in and access the welfare system then people will have to have individual insurance or loans to cover periods of unemployment, health, university, you name it. Of course, many will not be able to afford this so a black market ‘law of the jungle’ criminal underground will likely flourish. The rich will live in gated communities with their private police on their private streets and continue to count the profits can be having a near infinite reserve army of cheaper and cheaper labour.

    The European Parliament of MEPs has little teeth and this is by design. There are so many Eurosceptics of various types in the parliament that they cannot be given any power over the legislative process, else reversal of the project may occur. Legislative power is in the hands of the European Commissioners unelected but lossely ‘nominated’ by member states to sing from the EU hymn sheet.

    Did Canadians, Indians, Jamacians, Australians, etc. turn down their independence to avoid losing their ‘place’ in the British Empire? Did Eastern block countries um and ah about leaving the Soviet system? No!

    Stodgy old empires are so last century. Choose independence. Don’t be a moron and vote Brexit.

  4. I’m a an avid reader of your articles but would say that your summing up of the Scottish independence movement is a bit simplistic. I feel too often that pro-independence Scots are written off by the left South of the border as being flagwaving baffoons, however with the exception of a minority on both sides of the debate who pine for the ulsterisation of Scotland flagwaving nationalism is very rare and I’ve almost never heard anyone claim historic victimhood.
    This is a diverse society with many reasons cited for desiring independence. I can sum up my own thoughts and those of many of the pro independence movement outside of Glasgow as follows:
    Scotland is in dire and urgent need of economic diversification, this requires insentivised private and public investment with which Scotland competes with the cities South of the border. This competition is naturally skewed due to low population, our votes mean little to UK governments who will not focus policy and projects here. Independence appears to be the only way of achieving a change in focus, it may fail in the objective but otherwise I feel that our communities face certain economic ruin in the long run.

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