The Precarious Dialectic of Border Regimes: On the Relationship between the Construction of Borders and the Dismantling of Democracy in the Trump Era

This entry is part 11 of 26 in the series Vol 6-2021

Abstract: In her book Walled States: Waning Sovereignty (2010), the American political theorist Wendy Brown shows that today’s massive wall-building projects – whether in the United States, Israel, or Europe – are not primarily protective measures but rather must be understood as the expression of a fundamental crisis of the modern state. In her view, the erection of barricades is a desperate act of resistance of national sovereignty against its unavoidable demise in a globalized world. Therefore, according to Brown, the current border regimes represent but a final stage act that reflects the desire for clearly defined identities and must be deciphered as fear of a world that becomes ever more complex.
In my paper, I agree only in part with Brown’s theory of a ‘ruse of reason’ – that the building of border walls signifies, all appearances to the contrary, the demise of the sovereignty of the nation state. As convincing as her analyses may be, the staging of border regimes, which comprises not just the factual control of borders but also the bellicose political rhetoric surrounding the building of walls, is also a consciously used political instrument to transform democratic conditions, legal institutions, and social policy achievements within nation states. In my paper, I probe into this peculiar dialectic between, on the one hand, building walls at the borders and, on the other, dismantling borders of political discourse, both theoretically and by means of empirical examples.
To underpin my argument, I shall first focus on the United States under Donald Trump to show that the concentration on the building of a border wall between the United States and Mexico is accompanied by a weakening of security services vis-à-vis right-wing terror. After that, I shall demonstrate that Sebastian Kurz’s talk of shutting the Balkan route for migrants and shielding Austria from third-country migration implies a focused attack on the social partnership and the welfare state.

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Lo sviluppo della democrazia liberale: un itinerario da John Locke a John Stuart Mill

This entry is part 19 of 33 in the series Vol 2-2017

Abstract: This essay, from John Locke to John Stuart Mill, focuses on the development of the liberal tradition in politics. Much in the history of Liberalism was a set of important challenges to Hobbes’s emphasis on the necessity of an absolute sovereign. John Locke, for instance, argued for a limited sovereignty of which people were the true repository. But, the main problem of liberals was how to protect the right to the unlimited accumulation of private property basing, at the same time, their claims to liberty on the fundamental equality of all individuals. On the other hand, democrats had the problem of how to reach the right of all individuals to determine their lives where all possibilities of material well-being and progress were based on private property. For Mill, Liberalism needed Democracy. First, it needed Democracy for ethical reasons and, secondly, to avoid the total disaffection of the lower classes, the majority. His theory – affected by Bentham’s thought – is not based, like that of Hobbes or Locke, on the idea of certain inherent natural rights of the individual, but upon the doctrines of Utilitarianism. In Bentham’s view the obstacles to good government were the sinister interests of the ruling classes. In a democracy the ruling few could only further the interests of the whole community, because there were different kinds of institutional arrangements that limited the power of the rulers. Bentham thought that the rulers could still further their sinister interest even if there was a separation of powers and the good government was guaranteed only if the rulers followed the will of the people. The balanced constitution was the traditional answer to this problem, but Mill proved, that it would not work: the only way to guarantee good government was to create a system where the people elected their representatives. The chief mechanism for keeping the elected representatives in check was to have a short interval between elections.

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