Static Concept of State and the Migration Crisis

Creative Commons

The migration crisis is being tackled from many different perspectives and analyzed in accord with a miriad of indicators. Some tend to look at numbers, counting refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, and by this try to judge the justification for migrating. Some deem it more important to stress institutional rules and compliance with international law to conclude how the migrants should be treated. Then there are the EU laws and the will of member states to react according to their supposed capacities. No matter the focus of states and institutions, the underlying motive for doing so is to establish guilt and responsibility. The motive is to ascribe guilt to someone who or something that caused the migration and responsibility to someone to solve the problem – to accommodate the migrants with a perfect solution, thereby taking the crisis out of migration crisis and return Europe to a state of order.

There is an anomaly in such thinking, namely, in trying to ascribe guilt and responsibility by looking at treaties, numbers, or even history. There is no solution whatsoever (and almost never) hidden in the archives or ascribed in the name of past actions of states, empires, colonial powers etc. There is no such thing as collective guilt, which would legitimize the imposition of certain responsibilities or guilt of the present for the sake of the past. Such behavior would cause the world to repent forevermore for their sins and to apologize to one another for their mistreatment since the beginning of history. Such norms are nothing more than the institution of vendetta on a state level. Holding an offspring accountable for his predecessor’s sins leads to eternal war. However, such generalizations of guilt that supposedly entail responsibility are present in the narrative of the migration crisis. However, they need to be laid to rest if we are to tackle the problem in terms of reality, rather than a sentimental leap into history. Looking for a murderer in the past, will not create a savior for the present. Practically speaking, the recognition of the culpability of the US, and to some extent Europe, for disrupting security by its intervention in the bloody Middle Eastern business will not give any peace of mind to the disciples of the Islamic state. An apologetic welcoming of migrants will not cause European right-wing extremism to settle down. The only impact of looking to history for responsibility is the assumption of guilt because of past actions. It is an impotent attempt and leads nowhere except perhaps to a personal feeling of peace for self-conscious European cosmopolitans.

The way many perceive the crisis is in terms of a static concept of state, that is, we are born in a state and die in a state; we live in a state and provide for our survival with the help of a state. Or so it seems. However, people are actually dynamic – they are not statues; they are not trees in a forest, sucking the life out of some determined ground. The economy is not static – it is changing: trade and enterprise moving from one place to the other and money travelling across borders in the speed of light. The law is ever more regional and international; wars, militant groups, and civil societies are entities of common issue, not of common territory. Nonetheless, we cling to the premodern concept of the static state as an immovable mountain that still sets the fate of everything and everyone as it so desires. In this state of paranoia, we set up fences and walls, not to keep the unwanted out, but to keep ourselves in – to fence ourselves into the unchanging feeling of comfort and safety. It is the static concept of the state that we are trying to protect and prolong into eternity. And as we lock ourselves into a cage physically, we consequently lock ourselves in it at the level of thought. We are looking for solutions in terms of state actions, state guilt and state responsibility. I am convinced that in such a conceptual framework, a solution is nonexistent.

There is no one else included in solution making – no individual, no family, no municipality, no company, no association, no organization that is considered to have any real position as a stakeholder in the crisis, no one but governments. And to assume that governments are a perfect representation of the people’s will in this matter is to claim that democracy is infallible. Such a caged-in system of solution making explains it all: not only do the migrating multitudes not matter, but also the people of the European states don’t matter. In fact, no interest other than the interests of the state matter. It makes for a schizophrenic diagnosis of a static state, when it is clear that there are many capacities that should be taken into consideration before claiming there are no capacities. Actually there are no capacities in the conceptual framework of this thought – the static state. In contrast, there are investors willing to buy space for people who have nowhere to go; there are large homes ready to accommodate migrants; there are NGOs making efforts to support the migrants search for a better life.

Since the people believe in the static concept of the state, they believe it is a birthright to determine entry into this belief system. They believe the state border is the moral entity of which they are a part, and they judge newcomers accordingly. They judge them like a protective father would judge his daughter’s fiance: with a hunch of distrust and a paternalistic predestined notion of responsibility to live up to his standards. Any notion of potential danger that a newcomer might impose on the sanctity of the state triggers the guiding principle: better safe than sorry. But, morally speaking, such a principle is unjustifiable. Just as much as the notion of collective guilt is unjustifiable. We must not forget that if we do not assume collective guilt with regard to ourselves (the supposed interventionists, the colonialists etc), we have no right to impose collective guilt on people of whom we have no proof of harmful intentions (e.g. terrorists).

This tendency stems from the sanctity of majority rule in a liberal democracy. We internalize the notion of security at any price – disregarding the moral implications. An atypical example of this is the issue of childhood vaccinations. Parents who vaccinate their children would (if there were no such law already in place) enforce with no hesitation mandatory vaccinations for everyone, since their majority status allows them to assume a supposedly higher moral status. The latter is assumed by reasoning that if all children were not vaccinated, harm may come to others and further that prevention of potential harm is one of the morally imperative principals by which everyone should abide. However, there is no justification to infringe on an individual’s rights for the sake of one’s own benefit. In allowing so, individual rights are collectivized and thereby robbed of their meaning. If one is to live by the principle of individual rights, one must not assume the prevention of potential harm as a moral imperative but rather the assumption of optimal security.

What is the difference between the two in the case of migration crisis? The first one discriminates every migrant as a potential terrorist and gives moral justification to the citizens of the receiving state to collectively reject anyone, while the second assumes the protection of the citizens of the receiving state, should any harm come to them. The first one is solely based on collectivist ethics, while the other one is solely based on individualist ethics. Since one of the only proper functions of the state is to provide security for its citizens, the state should be providing that rather than predetermining potential harm and fencing itself into a false higher moral ground based on the moralization of a state border. However, a state border is not the border of morality, not unless we assume we are all a collective entity supporting the state interest as the only collective interest of the people. Because by being human, and thereby intrinsically mobile, we have the right to move, unless we individually and physically pose a threat to another human being. Contrary to this statement, a state border by default implies a threat to an individual, no matter the merit of the individual. And this only because we have this preconsidered notion that security at any price and its imposition on another individual are moral imperatives. Further, security for some on account of others is not actually security, but it is rather an abuse of it; and thus by not being imposed equally, it becomes freedom without responsibility – as such it can and should impose guilt on those who support it.

Alen Alexander Klaric