on national boundaries

In his book, The open sore of a continent, Wole Soyinka asks a question that I think will remain relevant as long as nation states exist.

when is a state?

Hopefully, by the time I finish with this book, we can answer the question when is a state?

At present, I am only interested in sharing a quote or rather a passage questioning the inviolability principle of national borders.

The inviolability principle of national boundaries is therefore a fictitious concept, born out of nothing more substantial than faith, and therefore every bit as questionable for those of the rational world. And even those whose existence is bound by faith, especially of the religious kind, are cautious to deny
specific boundaries to the provinces of heaven, hell, or purgatory. These are left severely to the imagination, free to be adjusted according to population proportions in the hereafter.

When Satan launched his takeover bid against the forces of God, it was, after all, an attempt to unify the celestial provinces, if Milton’s account in Paradise Lost is to be believed. This, however, proved one instance when the unity principle did not prove popular; the cultures, mores, and ethics of heaven and hell were simply incompatible, and a war of separate identities was won by the supposedly good side, while evil, on the side of unity, lost out ignominiously. Clearly the notion of unification for its own sake
and at any price has been faulted even in the metaphysical realms, so where, then, in this entire universe are we to find the philosophy of wholes and parts that endows one, rather than the other, with immutable authority?

The answer is Nowhere. Nowhere at all. It is we, the occupants of the whole or the part who must decide whether it serves our collective interest to stay together or pull apart. And we can only commence by a
recourse to history, the quality of life in the present and the tangible advantages, as well as the projection that we can make into the future, stemming from today’s realities in all fields of our human activity.

What do you think of this position? Does it make sense and what, if taken to its logical conclusion, would it lead to in regards to national boundaries.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

9 thoughts on “on national boundaries

  1. I think the author’s trying to focus more on the contract part of social contract. That is, collectives by their nature form by mutual agreement. Lose the mutuality, or the agreement on the work to be done for that matter, and the whole contract can become pointless.

    However, something important to note here is the underlying principles behind contracts themselves. While promises are not real, tangible things, they have to be treated as such in order to rely on their benefits. Doing so creates an inertia to a promise, a force that drives the people involved to make good on their intentions. In that regard, it turns intangible promises into real effects.

    This is what makes unity a desirable state of affairs. Not other abstracts like Milton’s fanfiction of a religion.

    Liked by 3 people

    • makagutu says:

      Indeed, unity is a desirable effect and mostly because of self interest. But the case he is making is that the boundaries are not inviolable. They should be subject of negotiation


  2. nannus says:

    States are among the many “things” that are as-if-constructions. They are fictions that become reality by many people taking part. They are like games. Many aspects of our cultures can be viewed as as-if-constructions in this way. For example: gold is valuable, because many people take it to be valuable. In itself, it is rather worthless. It has very little uses and most of what is dug out of earth is reburied in safes in the form of gold bars because nobody actually needs it. It gains its value as part of a gold-is-valuable-game or as-if-construction. Other examples are cowry shells and venetian glass beads that where equally valuable by convention but lost that value when people stopped taking part in that game.
    Another example for as-if-constructions becoming quasi-real because many people take part are races. There is no essential difference between people, but they are then artificially assigned to groups and then treated differently according to those groupings. The races are institutions like gold coins or state boundaries, they gain their reality by enough people taking part in the (malicious) game. And obviously, the problem cannot be solved by people continuing the game, e.g. by defining their “identity” (another as-if-structure) in terms of those “races”.
    States are as-if-structures as well. They are not necessarily of the malicious kind, but in many cases are. Most states and borders in Africa can be traced to the times of colonialism. In the colonial empires, the “race” game was being played to exploit people. When this became problematic, the exploited people who had always been denied their full rights as citizens of these empires did not gain full civic rights. Instead, they were expatriated into homelands, based on an ideology of “independence” that was invented to make them swallow this expatriation. From second class citizens, they were turned into non-citizens who need a visa (which they normally do not get) to travel to the privileged states that emerged from the old empire’s “motherlands”. Meanwhile, the new states in most cases continued being exploited with the help of local mafias aka governments.
    The people in the rich countries think that inherited privileges are a thing of the middle ages, but they exist today. These people have a document of citizenship that the own because their parents have it. They have inherited privileges that they do not see they have because normally they limit their horizon to their own states. The problems of other states are “internal” to those states, so they are filtered away from view. Together, the rich states form a privileged zone. The rest of the people live in their new “independent” states that form a non-privileged zone.
    Like other as-if-constructions, states are stabilized by many people believing in them or taking part in the game. Revolutions and other turnovers of such constructions are normal developments in history, but they take time and rarely lead to an improved condition.
    Sorry for the rant! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • makagutu says:

      nannus you need not apologise because this is really good comment. There is nothing to add except to say I agree.
      I think you should write more on as-if constrictions when you get the time.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Scottie says:

    Hello Mak. I have not read the book, but you have sparked my imagination. Think of god as not an omnipotent all knowing being but just another of many powerful beings, a ruler of a powerful country. Think of the angels as not created beings but as other powerful beings of different levels of strength, alliances, and authorities, as leaders in other countries. Now replay the entire struggle for heaven, and the biblical narrative under the same political struggles we have on earth here in and between nations. It seems to me it casts the entire war in heaven and the struggle between heaven and hell a lot differently and maybe more like a struggle of influence between the countries here on earth as history has shown them. Just a thought. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mordanicus says:

    The state is a bit like Schrödinger’s cat, i.e. it simultaneously exists and does not exists.

    It does not exist, in the sense that trees, rocks black holes and so exist, as a tangible object. Birds and other animals will simply ignore national boundaries nor acknowledge human made laws.

    However, it does exist in the sense that people act if the state exists and as a lone person you cannot escape the state’s machinery, since your fellow humans will force you to accept the state.


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