Thierry Baudet's new book, "The Significance of Borders," makes an important and timely argument about the degradation of national sovereignty. What's more, Mr. Baudet does so with patience, a lawyer's attention to detail, and a certain charm that all make for a lucid and enjoyable read.
Mr. Baudet starts by tracing the normative developments of the state, sovereignty, and the nation, showing the proper sensitivity to theory and history. These preliminary chapters are important for establishing the categories and definitions to be used in the rest of the book. These chapters define the nation as an "imagined and territorial loyalty, providing an experience of membership;" Baudet contrasts this with "tribal loyalty on the one hand [territorial yet unimagined], and religious loyalty on the other [imagined but non-territorial]." These chapters show how the nation-state, made possible and necessary in large part due to the Catholic Church's loss of political power, became a stable, understandable unit of political organization. These chapters will prove fascinating to students of IR theory, diplomatic history, or politics generally.
Next, Mr. Baudet presents his provocative arguments about the "assault on borders" by "supranationalism from above and multiculturalism from below." These twin phenomena, both premised on an opinion of national sovereignty as obsolete, cannot ultimately prove stable principles for political organization, Mr. Baudet argues.
Supranationalism, the gradual empowerment of international organizations that exert coercive and nonconsensual authority over member states, has been going on for decades. The chapters on certain supranational organizations, including the International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights, the World Trade Organization, and the European Union, are some of the most shocking and interesting in the book. The book, it should be said, does not argue against cooperation between states or international organizations per se; indeed, these can be healthy "expressions of sovereignty." Instead, by supranational organizations, Mr. Baudet means those legal structures that stand above - not among or between - states. Such organizations, often heralded by European federalists, in fact "entail an inversion of classical international law and stand at odds with the very foundation of cooperation between states, which is sovereignty."
Likewise, when criticizing multiculturalism, the book does not seek to attack immigrant culture or even its influence over domestic politics; these should be welcomed as part of a "sovereign cosmopolitanism" advocated by Mr. Baudet. Instead, what he means to criticize is the non-assimilationist type of behavior that proves incompatible with political stability. Each cultural group's traditions and customs cannot be considered totally equal and inviolate in the eyes of the state; the nation must be premised on a demonstrable code of identity, morals, and law that differentiate it from another nation. By fixating on and elevating every possible difference in the name of multiculturalism, many today make political unity impossible and ensure political unrest. Rather, nation-states should be self-confident and unambiguous in their self-understanding so that they can coherently interact with other political communities.
"The Significance of Borders" is a well written, carefully researched, and forcefully argued book. The footnotes are a wealth of knowledge and the extensive bibliography is fertile ground for further reading. The book ultimately advocates reconsidering the European common currency, reinstating national borders, and dismantling complicated EU regulations. Europeans shouldn't shy away from these arguments, but consider them honestly. Even staunch partisans of a federal Europe ought to read it and try to find a flaw in Mr. Baudet's logic. I daresay they will be hard pressed to do so.