Uber-wonk Reihan Salam links this week to a pamphlet, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, by radical academic David Graeber. I read it and found it most rewarding. If a “conservative” is someone who rather likes a particular institution and wishes to see it survive, then Graeber is precisely the opposite. That is, he does not like any particular institution and wishes to see them all destroyed. Consequently, though Graeber and conservatives have opposite goals, they share the same intellectual program: they both wish to understand how the United States, and the West more broadly, could be destroyed or else preserved.
It is interesting, then, that Graeber, a man who has spent a lifetime wondering how to obliterate Western institutions, comes up with this as the most effective technique:
Once during the protests before he World Economic Forum . . . I was invited to engage in radio debate with one of their representatives. As it happened the task went to another activist but I did get far enough to prepare a three point program that I think would have taken care of the problem [of global poverty] nicely:
An immediate amnesty on international debt . . .
An immediate cancellation of all patents and other intellectual property rights related to technology more than a year old
The elimination of all restrictions on global freedom of travel or residence.
The rest would pretty much take care of itself. The moment the average resident of Tanzania, or Laos, was no longer forbidden to relocate to Minneapolis or Rotterdam, the government of every rich and powerful country in the world would certainly decide nothing was more important than finding a way to make sure people in Tanzania or Laos preferred to stay there. Do you really think they couldn’t come up with something? The point is that despite the endless rhetoric about “complex, subtle, intractable issues” . . . the anarchist program would probable have resolved most of them in five or six years.
Now, there is much in this passage that is maddening. For one thing, it assumes that Western leaders could, if they wished, make Tanzania or Laos as nice a place as Holland (with the implication that only malice or greed explains why they have not done so already). Moreover, Graeber writes as if it were simply obvious that open borders would lead either to the collapse of the state or a radical global redistribution of wealth. But how? Graeber does not explain, so the reader is left to guess. Probably what Graeber, an anarchist, has in mind is that, with a truly massive and rapid influx of newcomers, they would overwhelm the natives to such an extent that the newcomers would no reason to respect to the formers’ institutions. To preserve those institutions, therefore, natives would have no choice but to bribe newcomers to stay away. Natives would have to pay a Danegeld or else accept an entirely new political order.
I do not wish to make too much Graeber’s pamphlet, which has much to disagree with. (For one thing, Graeber believes that political decisions are only legitimate when made unanimously, yet he recoils from proto-fascist anarchists such as Georges Sorel who developed techniques for making that unanimity a reality.) But he is surely correct that border controls are the sine qua non of the current order. Every non-anarchist must believe in minimal border controls. The only question is: what kind (and for whose benefit)?