Walled States, Waning Sovereignty

Glen Newey writes:

Brown’s thesis, summarily put, is that modern-day walls are discredited markers of failing sovereignty. What is sovereignty? It is the revealed will of a political association to dispose of its own affairs. As that definition implies, it contains an irreducible element of the de facto. For Brown, sovereignty is now a ragged oriflamme, a wilful but doomed exercise in self-persuasion. Think of Russian divers planting a titanium flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole in 2007 to bag oil and mineral rights from under the noses of other Arctic nations, or the berm in Western Sahara excavated by Morocco in its continuing stand-off with the Polisario Front. The wall and its symbolic proxies are built when a political authority cannot flatter itself as a settled fact, whether granted by god or imprescriptible title. It comes too late or too soon.

(LRB 17 March 2011)

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