Leave Our Borders Open!

by | Dec 12, 2005 | POLITICS

It is impossible to seal America’s 19,857 miles of borders. But to gain a few votes and look “tough,” politicians today have no qualms against throwing money at an impossible task. But it would be wrong to seal our borders, even if we could, beyond a defined period of emergency. Militarily, such a policy reduces […]

It is impossible to seal America’s 19,857 miles of borders. But to gain a few votes and look “tough,” politicians today have no qualms against throwing money at an impossible task.

But it would be wrong to seal our borders, even if we could, beyond a defined period of emergency.

Militarily, such a policy reduces the war to tactical moves. We’ll have to outguess the enemy perceptually, by finding EVERY particular threat in every particular suitcase. A major success by us (say, stopping a nuke) would preserve the status quo; a tiny success by the aggressor (a spy gets in and out, and then brags about it) would be a victory for them. We need a principled response against the center of an enemy’s motivations, rather than to act as an animal protecting its lair.

Human beings are goal-directed. An enemy fights with the hope he can win. The return of a spy who has beaten the defenses emboldens others to try and try again. To react defensively against such threats leaves the core of an enemy’s motivations intact. Permanent border defenses are like trying to stop the leaks in a steam heating system while the boiler burns out of control. You need to go to the basement and put the fire out.

To dedicate our resources to building border defenses whether walls or elaborate check-points would be a concession to a pre-civilized, brutal world-view. We would be building our nation into the shape of a world under siege, rather than defending our own values: free association among willing people. In the world-view of a Saddam, every nation has armies on its borders, every city has walls, and every person walks around armed.

Such defenses have a deeper effect. They remind us that the universe is malevolent; evil can come at any time, and the good is permanently at risk. They implant in us a siege mentality, the idea that we are permanently under threat of attack, that life is a foxhole, and that mass murder is the norm. An offensive strategy would empower the good to assert itself, which would affirm the benevolent nature of the universe.

A defensive policy would be a repudiation of America itself, a land of opportunity where foreigners come and work for their own success. Lots of good people would be thrown out, because we must err on the side of hurting the good in order to protect against the evil. A defensive policy forces a “balance” between good and evil, rather than fulfilling the basic program of a proper government: to protect the rights of its citizens.

The US / Canada border is the longest, and longest lasting, undefended border in human history. It should be the source of immense pride; it concretizes all that is good about America. We should defend its undefended status as a matter of principle.

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John David Lewis (website) is a Visiting Professor of Political Science, Duke University. He has been a Senior Research Scholar in History and Classics at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, and an Anthem Fellow.

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