Walled States, Waning Sovereignty is a book written by the political theorist Wendy L. Brown. The author in this book, focuses and discuss mainly the need that people have created of building walls along national borders in order to separate countries from one another. Walls are constructed as prevention against illegal immigration, illness, fear and even the countless other real and unreal forces that threaten to break and undermine the myth of the sovereign state. As mentioned before, walls are used as security or even to deter refugees so they are no able to enter the country illegitimately. She sees walls as a tendency, as many countries want to create one or improve an existing wall which is the case of the United States and Mexico. Borders will divide their territories, people feel that by protecting their borders they are protecting themselves.
Although Walled States, Waning Sovereignty is a short book with only four chapters, Wendy is able to discuss neatly many topics such as globalization, nationalism, theology and capitalism. In this book, Brown, shows big interest in the psychoanalytic concept of defense methods, which citizens establish and have developed in a way in order to avoid certain philosophies to enter their country. Building a wall, simplifies the distinction – a boundary between “us” and “them” (p.37). Brown believes that these walls are explicitly used against non-state. For her, walls demonstrate loss of power, and not the increment of power of the state.
The assumption of walls being the representation of waning state sovereignty, is a major argument in this book. We are able to see how the desegregation between the sovereignty and nation-state has taken to the migration of the key sections of sovereignty to the selected area of unrelieved domination of capital and God-sanctioned political violence. For some people, walls and other border security efforts resemble like a “security theater” meaning that these walls are like a psychological barrier which helps inspire confidence and safety, but does not help to prevent the movement of people as desired. This is particularly the scenario when the economic causes make mass migration continue.
Once again, these new borders that surround us have another level of significance: they demonstrate the waning of state sovereignty. Brown stated, “it is the weakening of state sovereignty… the detachment of sovereignty from the nation-state, that is generating much of the frenzy of nation-state wall building today. Rather than resurgent expressions of nation-state sovereignty, the new walls are icons of its erosion” (p. 24). Basically, for Wendy Brown, walls are a sign of weakness, she sees it like loss of control. On the other hand, some people have different views of borders, they see these barriers as protection of the outside world.
In Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Wendy Brown utilizes numerous sources to support her thesis in the book. The research she made included reliable online newspapers from around the world, such as, New York Times, Washington Post, Jerusalem Post. She relied on some information that these newspapers released a while back and integrated it to her arguments. Many of the subjects were about why and who was building walls and some reactions that were emerging, and some were just comments of analysis that were made, she then provided her point of view of the situation.
In addition, some other tools she used to make a point was photographs’ she shows around 10 different photographs of different borders all over the world. Including walls such as, the Israeli in the area of Qalandiya, also, the wall enclosing Bethlehem, US- Mexico border, India- Bangladesh border. Furthermore, she even adds a diagram of a barrier built by Saudi Arabia on its border with Iraq. In this diagram, it is shown clearly the component that make up the fence and what people have to go through if they try to trespass it. This as an example of what countries are capable of building in order to distinguish and protect themselves and halt immigration and refugees. She makes mention of many academic papers from university professors, articles and even governmental cites. She utilizes information from the U.S Department of Homeland Security. All of these sources are consistent and reliable with the information they provide.
As an author, she presented the work in an unbiased format, making her work more credible. As she presented arguments with different point of views. Even though the author has a lot of sources where she took information from and even argued, she draws too from only one example. What are the significance of walls built from the inside, to keep what’s inside there, like the North Korean border? Or of the Israeli wall with Palestine? Is it as an enforcement of a territorial ownership? There are other examples which Brown lists, but none as significant as the questions and notions to this particular matter. It seems that this book is a case of taking one specific example and generalizing it to an entire phenomenon. It is always good for theorists to keep an open mind, she obviously made a point but dragged the topic a long way and it was too monotonous.
Brown’s approach to stating and explicating her point in this book is by a continuous engagement with her readers. Her theory and augments revolve around sovereignty which is a key subject of discussion this this book. She manages to engage the readers by efficiently drawing upon historians like Greg Eghigian, to describe sovereignty and also early modern political philosophers. One of the major strengths presented is the fact that all of these philosophers are well known and their work has had a big influence in the world today. In the book, it is noticeable how she analyzes some of the work done by these philosophers and how she includes it to support her view point even when she doesn’t agree with some. For example, Hobbes and Brown they have contrasted views of sovereignty. Working from those who defined sovereignty itself (Thomas Hobbes, Jean Bodin, and Carl Schmitt), Brown is able to construct her own thesis. Outlining sovereignty as a concept, near the end of its time, and the basis of it emerging a subordinate economic religion and government. Brown’s views contrast those of Hobbes, a father in sovereignty. Hobbes’ views are what laid the foundation of Brown’s thesis on the contrary, allowing a place for her to make her own statement and use published facts to weigh against.
Real world examples that were shown in the first chapter of the book, such as the US – Mexico border, Israel and Palestine, they are all physical supporting points of Brown’s thesis. To truly understand what the source of power is limited to, one must be deep inside government rule for all these countries, but then again this is a thesis. To contrast, building walls and barriers between individuals and land can show strength and power among some, in other ‘untouched’ minds it can be seen as quite the opposite, towards Brown’s point. Putting barriers can represent loss of control, and with that comes loss of power. It shows that the country in question can, and is challenged by outside ‘forces’, and some as small and gangs as an example can be what causes this apparent need for safety behind walls. “The migration, smuggling, crime, terror, and even political purposes that walls interdict are rarely state sponsored, nor, for the most part, are they incited by national interests. Rather, they take shape apart from conventions of Westphalian international order in which sovereign nation-states are the dominant political actors. As such, they appear as signs of a post-Westphalian world” (p.21). In this quote, Wendy Brown explains the composition of the post-Westphalian world. In the Westphalian world, the globe is divided into nation states and nations are the basic unit of global order, each nation state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory. As result, conflict is a consequence of states disagreeing with one another. Nowadays, the main relations are no longer between states and other states, but between states and non-state actors, this includes multinational companies and even terrorists. Therefore, the nation is no longer the basic unit of order, the wall becomes a unit of order as well.
This is my first time reading a book about politics. I felt that Wendy Brown was clear on the idea she wanted to transmit but sometimes the reading felt too dry, also, she used a lot of big words that made it hard for me to follow and understand the idea she was trying to communicate.
None the less, anyone who is interested in the topic and is capable of theoretical thinking will benefit by reading this book. I did enjoy when she stated some good and interesting points which I believe it definitely enhance the literature about the decreasing sovereignty of the nation-state in the 21st century and what that eventually signifies for the forthcoming of the state`s influence over its people. Wendy Brown also brings up matters surrounding bordered which coincide a little with my point of view which is that at the end walls are set up to fail and that it does represent limitation and flaw. Although it is a short book, she examines clearly the relations between sovereignty, independence and democracy. Moreover, I did feel she was a little too repetitive but it is possibly that she just wanted to prove her point of view. Overall, I did enjoy the reading although I am a foreign to political science literature, yet this book is still worth reading and I highly recommend it.