In Re Brexit: Borders Are a Forecondition of Trade

If there were no borders between nations, that kept them from bleeding into each other, they would tend to assimilate. In the limit, and except for variations arising from climate and geology, they’d all be just the same. At that point, they’d have nothing of value to exchange with each other. Nor then would they, any of them, do anything better than any of the others. There would be then no such thing as comparative advantage. There would be no trade, properly speaking. Nor would there be tourism. There would be only transportation.

It would be cheap, perhaps, and perhaps efficient. But it would not be valuable. It would not, that is, be much good.

There would then still be competition between firms. But there would be no competition between nations with respect to political order. Indeed, eliminating national differences in law and regulation, tax and spending, between its member nations is one of the main long-term objectives of the EU. The idea seems to have been to replace competition between nations with competition among firms; the fantasy was that this would eliminate war – a silly notion. All it does is change the nature of the warring factions, from states to something else.

Thanks to Brexit, that project of the EU seems now doomed. Had it succeeded, there would have been eventually no difference between Scandinavia and Germany, at one end of the spectrum, and Greece on the other. No nation would have done much better than any other, or worse. But this would not have driven all Europe up to the standard of German prosperity. On the contrary, it would have driven the whole continent down to the standard of poor ruined Greece, corrupted by 400 years of Turkish rule.

Excellence being difficult and so rare, the only way to eliminate differences is to cut quality down to the lowest common denominator. But if the stuff I can get from Turkey is no different in any way than the stuff I can get from next door, I have no reason to prefer one or the other. No place then has anything to offer any other. Then every good is commoditized. And commoditization is famously the death of economic profit; of, that is to say, the reward to the production of novel sorts or configurations of value. It is the death of innovation, creativity, invention.

The engine of human social genius is difference. The human race is always an arms race. History cannot therefore ever end, so long as there are still humans alive and kicking.

Nor would the perfect economic and political homogeneity of the borderless globalist utopia be stable even if per impossibile it could be achieved. Like a population of perfect cooperators in an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, it would establish immense opportunities for profit by defection. So there would be defection. The order would break down, catastrophically.

Nations prevent that breakdown. As within any polis political order supervenes upon authoritative hierarchy, so international order supervenes upon nations.

No borders, no nations; no nations, no possibility of peace – or, therefore, trade. There’s nothing traders hate more than war. Sure, it multiplies opportunities for profit from arbitrage to an amazing degree, but mostly by destroying regular trade and all the businesses that engage in it. Within the zones of battle and their near environs, all markets are black. No sovereign exercises exclusive control – because sovereigns are fighting with each other for that control. So tolls and tonlieux go through the roof, and multiply, and their collectors are corrupted, and they buy almost no security.

Secure borders secure peace and prosperity.

In order to perform this wonderful function, borders must be both permeable and costly to permeate. They must erect onerous barriers to entry. The sovereign must exert control over who and what gets through them, and at what price.

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Post Scriptum: Peace and justice are not the elimination of differences, but their clarification and recognition in the minds of men.

27 thoughts on “In Re Brexit: Borders Are a Forecondition of Trade

  1. Pingback: In Re Brexit: Borders Are a Forecondition of Trade | Alt-Right View

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  3. Dear Kristor: The Girardian principle of undifferentiation is central to your exposition. Indeed, the Left has perpetually undifferentiated the societies and congeries of societies over which it has gained dominion. That is the logic of the Left’s commitment to the impossible condition that it calls equality. From a mimetic perspective, undifferentiation, the destruction of differences, is not merely an economic problem (because, as you write, in annihilating comparative value it annihilates the engine of prosperity); it is also a radical existential problem, which portends the death of many. How so? The Left has never understood – but we can certainly understand – that hierarchy or social structure, far from exacerbating resentment, channels and disarms it. It is more difficult by far to resent a king than it is to resent a neighbor. Break down the hierarchy or social structure of a society and nothing remains to channel resentment, which rises. The axiom is: The smaller the difference, the greater the resentment. Because resentment drives the mania of acquisition and because the mania of acquisition leads to violence, undifferentiation is nothing less than the precondition of anarchic violence, from which precondition violence will flow inevitably. The bland stasis of a borderless global society, such as a possible merging of the USA with Mexico or an influx of millions of Muslims, can thus be only a temporary affair, which will soon devolve into implacable spite and mayhem. Violence is the tool wherewith an undifferentiated society, or rather a desperate and panic-stricken mass wanting deliverance from undifferentiation, seeks to redifferentiate itself. Such violence is already present. See Judges. See also Violence and the Sacred. (Tom)

    PS: In respect of nations in the plural, good walls make good neighbors.

    • Exactly. A new proverb has arisen and recently spread across the reactionary discourse: Diversity + Proximity → War. While they still need a border to keep things sorted out, it is easier for the French to be at peace with the Belgians than with the Germans, because the French and Belgians are more alike. It is likewise easier for the French to be at peace with the Germans (although they need a more substantial border than is called for between France and Belgium) than with Syrian Muslims, because the French and the Syrian Muslims are far more different than the French and the Germans.

      A modernist will blithely mix a million Frenchmen together with a million Syrian Muslims cheek by jowl on the basis of the liberal supposition that after all they are nothing more than individuals with different preference schedules that the market can easily accommodate, when in fact their radically different cults mean that their folkways – their notions of the right way to behave toward other people – are radically irreconcilable, and must therefore come into violent conflict.

      When you weaponize your improper reduction of all men to mere individuals, you implement all sorts of perverse policies, with terrifically bad results. Nor can such policies possibly succeed, for there will always be some differences among men, so that as one sort of difference is “eliminated” (or, more likely, written out of the discourse, thenceforth miscalled, and so systematically ignored), another will make itself apparent, and call for some urgent new and more radical policy of elimination. The smaller the remaining differences, as you say, the more likely are they to be essential, and amenable to elimination only by more and more extreme violence.

      If you make it your policy to whack the highest stalk of grass until they are all even, you won’t be able to stop until the earth has been denuded. Then you’ll find yourself troubled by all the bumps in the ground …

      • Yes – difference is related to deference. Without a compulsion to defer (and non-deference is the logic of equality), that is to say, without difference, only a quarrel is possible, until one party or the other, by one means or another, and with whatever is the requisite degree of violence, re-establishes both difference and deference. The Suitors believed themselves to have the same rights in Odysseus’ house, into which no one had invited them, as Odysseus himself. Odysseus needed to access the maximum of violence to restore the hierarchical order of his household.

      • Deference as the settlement of resentments due to difference: that’s wonderful.

        We could characterize it equivocally as love. You can’t love what is not different from yourself. Indeed, you can’t love what is not admirable in ways that you yourself could not attain. You can’t love your neighbour as you love yourself except insofar as he is indeed a neighbour: nigh, precisely – which is to say, precisely, nearby, but not occupying the same space you do. You can’t do a thing to enact your love for someone in the Andromeda Galaxy. But nor can you put on the kettle to prepare a nice cup of tea for a man who is sitting on your lap. As borders are a forecondition of trade, disparity is a forecondition of love. And so is proximity.

        So on the one hand Diversity + Proximity → War, but on the other Disparity + Proximity → Neighbourhood. What’s the difference between Diversity and Disparity? It is, precisely, cultural similarity. E.g.: Belgium and France are good neighbours, as are Canada and the US; the borders of dar al Islam, per contra, are always bloody.

        The current contest between Islam and the West – the contest, I mean, that has been going on for the last 1400 years – is to establish once and for all which civilization will defer to the other.

  4. The phenomenon of the border is philologically engrossing and the philology is in accord with your argument. Another word for a border is a march. The word march, moreover, is connected with the word marsh and with the divine name of Mars. What is the significance of these strange verbal affiliations? Marshes, like rivers and mountains, make convenient borders because people tend not to live in them. This army sends its patrols to one side of the marshes to make secure the frontier; that army sends its patrols to the other side for the same reason. Now we come to another word-association: The march becomes a market (from the French marché) where the merchants bring their merchandise to trade across the line. Commerce has a divine sanction and therefore its own god, who is also the god of war. As Marcel Mauss writes in The Gift, when strangers first meet they can do only one of two things – exchange gifts or kill each other.

    One more verbal felicity: A farmer, who sells his produce at the market, is so-called because he encloses his acre. The French root of the English word farmer is fermier – the one who closes his property within a wall. A farm, in French, is a ferme.

    On the West and Islam: The difference, which can only be resolved when one side at last defers to the other, is that the West is a market society, or anyway a society in which the market is a central institution; and Islam is a plundering society, whose sacred scripture actually contains instructions how to divide booty.

    • Ah hah! Mercury is god of merchants, markets, roads, transitions, boundaries – and language, as may be seen more easily in his Greek and Egyptian hypostases, as Hermes and Thoth respectively. The merchants who want to cross the border must stop and converse intelligibly with the border guards who there march back and forth, and pay them a toll or tonlieu in exchange for a passport and safe passage of their persons and goods – their merchandise, merx – in the domain of the sovereign with whose subjects they would trade. So merchants and warriors must perforce both develop linguistic skills.

      Mercury and Mars then would be the gods of the two forms of cultural interaction, mercantile or martial. Diplomacy is the category that covers the forms both of commerce and war: diploma is “two-fold.”

      Mercury is also, NB, god of thieves. Thievery is where commerce and the reign of the sovereign both begin to break down and slide toward war.

      • The _M*R_ common to Mars and Mercury suggests a deep affiliation! But yes, Mars oversees the productive activity of the farmer, who then takes his produce to the market to trade, under the sign of Mercury. Soldiers always guard the market, not least against thieves. In addition to his market-association, Mercury, like Mars, is identified with roads and borders. The first public outrage of Alcibiades, who later was a principle architect of the disastrous Athenian attempt to subdue Greece under an empire, was his desecration of the herms or milestones of the roads leading from Athens herself to the Attic borders. During the wars, which bankrupted Greece, the ostensible winners even more than the humiliated losers, Alcibiades switched sides several times. Our own age knows many an Alcibiades. It all works perfectly with your thesis.

        Another divinity associated with this cluster of activities is Priapus. Priapus, notoriously ithyphallic, protects the farm against trespassers; he is a god of the wall or property line. Priapus is also the patron-divinity of merchant-navigators.

        In The Merchant’s Tale, Chaucer writes:

        Ne Priapus ne myghte nat suffise,
        Though he be God of gardyns, for to telle
        The beautee of the gardyn and the welle,
        That stood under a laurer alwey grene.

      • Better and better. Notice then the close connection of trade, traitor, and tradent.

        Mars was both god of war and an agricultural god, a Spring Dionysos. Dionysos – “begotten of God” – was sacrificed and reborn. Mars was conceived without help from a male: Flora impregnated his mother Juno with a magic flower touched to her belly. Mars was born on March 1, the first day of the ancient Roman year (presumably it fell that year on a Tuesday). One source I have read speculates that the connection between agriculture, war, and March is that it is in the spring of the year that it is most important to keep muddy, newly planted fields from being trampled by an invading army. In March, then, the defense of the borders would be particularly important, and the sacrifices of warriors in that defense would be understood as devoted to the eventual harvest.

        Mars was the god who kept peace: si vis pacem, para bellum.

        Alcibiades defaced the sacred herms that guided merchants from the border in toward the marketplace, and young men from the City out to the border they were bound to defend. His crime was to sow confusion; which is profanation.

        Borders, bonds, bounds, boundaries, “good fences make good neighbours,” Chesterton’s Gate, Frost’s “something there is that doesn’t love a wall” – we see it again and again: order, life, value, peace, justice, all depend on specifying and maintaining differences, against the chaos and bewilderment that result from the confusion of tongues, the desecration of signs, the indeterminacy of terms.

        Cf. Babel and the Headquarters of the EU:

    • Sir:

      I’m curious. With regard to ‘comparative value’ – are you sneaking a Neo-Classical conception of economic value into a Girardean analysis? The two do not sit easily together – you may observe this form of economics is predicated upon entirely undifferentiated representative agents. Inasmuch as the economy is a system for both creating desire and regulating the violence that arises from it – it is the total absence of the (Keynesian) left in contemporary economic policy that driving the system apart. Brexit is just the start.

      Hugo

      • I don’t think I mentioned comparative value, but rather comparative advantage. If that’s what you meant to ask about, then: no, I wasn’t trying to sneak anything in. All I meant to indicate is that if all the nations were mixed together homogenously, with no differences of social or political order among them, then no nation would do anything any better than any other, and there would be no reason for them to trade anything but raw commodities.

    • Yes! People matter to each other, so that they distinguish one person from another, only because people differ. No difference, then no eros, either of flora or fauna. No eros, no life; then, no caritas.

  5. If you buy a bottle of champagne, who has traded with whom? Has the USA traded with the Republic of France; or has the State of California traded with the Champagne region? Has the America people traded with the French nation? In both cases: no. The trade was between persons, not between states/regions or nations/peoples.

    • On the contrary, it’s all of the above. The supersidiary organs supervene upon the individual drinker, to be sure. But, also, the subsidiary organs subvene upon the supersidiary organs. California and America are nothing without Americans and Californians. But then, you can’t be an American or a Californian if there are no such things as America and California.

      There’s no philosophical requirement to reduce reality to just one sort of thing. Reality is multiple. That’s one of the beautiful things about it. Aquino’s Beard is prior to Ockham’s Razor, and survives it.

      Consider: if a neuron respires, has the brain respired? Has the person respired? Yes; all have respired.

      • On the contrary, it’s all of the above.

        So, if you arrange with the Frenchman who produces the champagne to buy it on credit, and then you welsh on the deal after delivery, who has the moral obligation to make good on your debt? Is it the State of California? Is it the USA? Is it the American people? And to whom? The Republic of France? The nation of France? The Department in which the actual human being to whom the dept is owed lives?

        There’s no philosophical requirement to reduce reality to just one sort of thing. Reality is multiple. That’s one of the beautiful things about it.

        There is also no philosophical requirement to ignore the relevant distinctions between one thing and another, or to pretend that the set and the member are coextensive and identical.

        Consider: if a neuron respires, has the brain respired? Has the person respired? Yes; all have respired.

        Consider: if a neuron expires, has the brain expired? Has the person expired? Yes; all have expired.

      • The improper/immoral reification of social abstractions over actual human beings is *always* the first act of would-by tyrants, and it *always* results in windrows of corpses.

      • No Law, no City. No City, then lots more corpses; or fewer lives to begin with; or both, in a Hobbesian war of all against all.

        That tyrants invoke the imperatives of supersidiary social organs to justify their unjust acts does not mean that there are no supersidiary social organs, or that those organs have no just imperatives.

        There is also no philosophical requirement to ignore the relevant distinctions between one thing and another, or to pretend that the set and the member are coextensive and identical.

        I didn’t suggest that set and member are identical. You imported that notion into what I wrote. In doing so, you fell prey to the temptation to improper reduction. To say that person and brain partake of the neuron’s respiration is not to say that person, brain and neuron are simply the same thing.

        Consider: if a neuron respires, has the brain respired? Has the person respired? Yes; all have respired.

        Consider: if a neuron expires, has the brain expired? Has the person expired? Yes; all have expired.

        Ditto.

        And, yes, of course: when my neuron dies, I participate that death; I have died, in part. No neuron is an island.

        So, if you arrange with the Frenchman who produces the champagne to buy it on credit, and then you welsh on the deal after delivery, who has the moral obligation to make good on your debt? Is it the State of California? Is it the USA? Is it the American people? And to whom? The Republic of France? The nation of France? The Department in which the actual human being to whom the debt is owed lives?

        Ditto.

        Who is obliged by a contract? Who executes the contract is obliged thereby. The State of California and the USA can enter into contracts with each other, with France and Champagne, and with individual Americans and Frenchmen. Happens all the time. They do so on behalf of their members. So their members participate those agreements, both as peoples and as people. When the USA signs a contract, all America partakes of it, and all Americans.

        If I sign a contract with a Frenchman, by contrast, I have not obliged either California or America, or the USA or the State of California, or any other persons than myself. My state and nation and fellow citizens nevertheless partake of my contract, insofar as they are affected thereby. The death of the neuron is not the same thing as the death of the brain; but the brain does indeed partake of the death of the neuron.

      • No Law, no City. No City, then lots more corpses; or fewer lives to begin with; …

        No Men, no City.

        The polis is mortal; the man is immortal — it is the pagans who always got that backwards. Don’t be a pagan.

        The polis serves the man, not the man the polis; the law (and the Law) serves the man, not the man the law. Did not Christ himself — the very Word of God — teach us this? Don’t be a pagan … or a legalist (by which I mean ‘Pharasee’ without the customary implied insult).

        I didn’t suggest that set and member are identical. …

        Nor did I even imply “That tyrants invoke the imperatives of supersidiary social organs to justify their unjust acts does not mean that there are no supersidiary social organs, or that those organs have no just imperatives.

        But the man has duty to the polis — those “supersidiary social organs [have] just imperatives” — insofar as those imperatives *are* just and *are* serving the men — all of them — who together are the polis. Serving the interests of some of the members of the polis at the expense of the others is the very definition of injustice and un-law, and will destroy the polis as surely as favoring one child over another will alienate them and destroy the family.

        I didn’t suggest that set and member are identical. You imported that notion into what I wrote. In doing so, you fell prey …

        HOWEVER, *you* said, “Consider: if a neuron respires, has the brain respired? Has the person respired? Yes; all have respired.

        Ditto. And, yes, of course: when my neuron dies, I participate that death; I have died, in part. No neuron is an island.

        Oh, please! How far into absurdity are you going to go to avoid seeing-and-correcting your initial/foundational mistake?

        All of the matter that comprises your body has been “turned-over” several times during your lifetime, to say nothing of the initial massive increase in the mass of matter comprising you after your conception as a single-celled orgamism. Most of the cells comprising your body at the time of your birth are long dead; and all the cells presently comprising your body, including the neurons, are many cell-generations removed from the initial single cell that once comprised the entirety of your body.

        If you “have died, in part” when a cell dies, then those multiple trillions of part-deaths add up to far more than you being 100% dead — you are dead several times over.

      • No Law, no City. No City, then lots more corpses; or fewer lives to begin with; …

        No Men, no City.

        Sure. Like I just strongly emphasized, both are true: no citizens, no City; no City, no citizens. Where’s the difficulty?

        The polis serves the man, not the man the polis …

        If it were simply true that the polis was for the man, and *not at all* vice versa, then the polis would evaporate at the first whiff of disagreement among its citizens. It goes – it must go – both ways. That the man serves the polis does not mean that the polis does not serve the man. They serve each other. Why is that so hard, or objectionable?

        … the law (and the Law) serves the man, not the man the law. Did not Christ himself – the very Word of God – teach us this?

        Matthew 22:21.

        Nor did I even imply “That tyrants invoke the imperatives of supersidiary social organs to justify their unjust acts does not mean that there are no supersidiary social organs, or that those organs have no just imperatives.”

        If you agree that there are social organs supersidiary to men, and also that they have just imperatives, then their invocation by tyrants is neither here nor there.

        But the man has a duty to the polis – those “supersidiary social organs [have] just imperatives” – insofar as those imperatives *are* just and *are* serving the men – all of them – who together are the polis.

        Sure. Evil has no moral sway. It has only suasion.

        Serving the interests of some of the members of the polis at the expense of the others is the very definition of injustice and un-law …

        No. The murderer is interested in getting off scot-free. His interests must be sacrificed in the interest of the rest of the polis. Adjudication *always* and *by definition* serves some interests at the expense of others. The City systematically and justly discriminates against murderers.

        I didn’t suggest that set and member are identical. You imported that notion into what I wrote. In doing so, you fell prey …

        HOWEVER, *you* said, “Consider: if a neuron respires, has the brain respired? Has the person respired? Yes; all have respired.”

        Yes. And this was *not* an identification of neuron, brain, and person. One must struggle to see that it is not, I grant. I struggle with it every day. The brain is desperate for parsimony. It is *so easy* to think that since x is y, then x must be nothing but y. But it just doesn’t work that way. From “x is y” it simply does not follow that “x is nothing but y.” Fortunately for us, the brain is desperate for logical validity and adequacy as well as for parsimony.

        If you “have died, in part” when a cell dies, then those multiple trillions of part-deaths add up to far more than you being 100% dead – you are dead several times over.

        If I were nothing but my cells, this would be true.

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