‘Without borders, democracy ceases to exist’

Frank Furedi on his latest book, Why Borders Matter.



We live in a world where it has become fashionable to be against borders – not only national borders but also boundaries of any kind. The distinctions between citizen and non-citizen, adult and child, man and woman, public and private have all been eroded in the name of openness. But what impact does this have on political and social life? This is the focus of Frank Furedi’s new book, Why Borders Matter: Why Humanity Must Relearn the Art of Drawing Boundaries. Furedi is a prolific author and sociologist, and regular contributor to spiked. He joined spiked editor Brendan O’Neill for the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. What follows is an edited extract. Listen to the full conversation here.

Brendan O’Neill: There is a general trend among the opinion-forming set and a certain wing in the culture war that argues borders are a terrible thing and a wicked imposition. What made you want to counter that narrative?

Frank Furedi: I began to realise the calls for open borders and the critique of different kinds of boundaries, such as that between an adult and a child, or a man and a woman, were not motivated by some fantastically interesting ideal. Instead, they were motivated by the belief that any form of distinction is seen as potentially harmful. People say borders are not only bad because they keep people out, but they are also immoral and discriminatory.

Similarly, any kind of distinction, between right and wrong, or in evaluating different forms of art as being good or bad, for example, is somehow seen to discriminate against a group. It is this failure to judge, or fear of judging, that was really a foundational element in the new kind of culture we are moving towards, where identity becomes everything. Any kind of moral imagination that goes beyond individual identity is immediately seen as a kind of sickness. That is what motivated me to begin to look into the subject.

O’Neill: Borders are always judged in relation to what they do to people outside of them. They are seen as a barrier, as something which communicates a message to those on the other side. That is, of course, an important part of a border. But very little attention is paid to what seems to me another important aspect of national borders in particular, which is what they say to people within them. Is that not a vital part of a border too?

Furedi: Yes. I think what borders do is bound people to a specific space. That has an important moral significance because people exist in communities within fairly clearly defined spaces. People are not just members of an abstract global entity – they see themselves as coming from a particular town or county. And that influences who they are and the meaning they attach to life.

One of the important things about borders is that it is through establishing very clear borders that you can have an idea of what a public sphere is, of what is in the public domain, within which social, cultural and political life occurs. Historically, the Greeks, almost to a person, defined the walls that surrounded a city state as being synonymous with the law. Laws exist for people within a given territory. The idea of democracy only makes sense in relation to a bounded people, a bounded demos, where citizens are able to take responsibility for other people who inhabit the same space. Without borders, democracy simply ceases to exist, and public life turns into a reality TV show.

O’Neill: What do you think the current anti-borders trend does to citizenship? A lot of value is still attached to citizenship. We often hear people talking about global citizenship or saying there are new kinds of citizens, connected across the world by huge problems like climate change. But it strikes me that all of that sounds pretty phony – if you erode borders, or push a post-borders ideology, which lots of sections of the elite have been doing, don’t you really call into question the very possibility of citizenship, never mind its substance?

Furedi: I was really surprised to discover in the course of my research that, increasingly, citizenship is criticised and framed in a negative light. I never imagined people would question citizenship because it is such a foundation of our modern political life. But it is criticised, on the same grounds as all other borders are criticised. People say it is fundamentally wrong to make a distinction between a citizen and non-citizen, because if you do, you are discriminating against the non-citizen. Of course you are, because that is the whole point of being a citizen – you are basically saying your citizenship means something to you, because you are not like those people who are not citizens. As a citizen, you have certain responsibilities and privileges that other people do not have. If you erode the distinction, then what you also destroy is the responsibility that citizens have for the democratic future of their own society.

O’Neill: One of the things we have heard over the past three or four years in particular is that the new divide in the West is between people who are ‘open’ and people who are ‘closed’. This has been pushed by magazines like The Economist, as well as leading political figures. Openness is a nice word. Being open is a pretty good thing: open-minded, open to new experiences, able to open your heart to other people – all of those things are generally considered good. But I think there is something problematic with the way openness is currently understood. It seems sometimes to mean the opposite of what we would traditionally have considered to be an open-minded attitude.

Furedi: The more open you are, the better person you are. The more unrestrained you are in your openness, the more value you have. Ultimately, that kind of fetishisation of openness leads to a situation where our culture becomes one big reality television show, where increasingly, pornography is seen as being valued because we are so open about our bodies. We are so open about talking about sex, we are so open about talking about intimacy, that literally anything to do with your own private self, anything to do with your own inner thoughts, needs to be played out and performed within a public space.

The invitation to this kind of openness not only undermines the persona of an autonomous human being who has their own thoughts. It also destroys the private sphere. Increasingly, we are told that anybody who wants to maintain a distinction between what they do at home and what they do in public is somehow suspect. It is felt that a nice, tolerant person would never simply close their doors to the rest of the world, and that there is something inherently wrong with that approach. Any politician who says they want to talk about their policies rather than their inner thoughts is immediately dismissed as an unreliable, untrustworthy individual.

O’Neill: What about the people on the other side of that equation – the people who are judged to be ‘closed’? This includes Brexit voters, probably a lot of Trump voters and lots of voters in Europe who are voting for the ‘wrong’ political parties or who are Eurosceptic. They get branded as being part of the closed group. I see that as a pretty clear attempt to delegitimise the views these people hold, which are actually often strong attachments to a sense of nationhood or community.

Furedi: Throughout history, human beings have cultivated certain attachments – to their families, to their loved ones, to their neighbours and to their communities. As we evolve as a human species, we tend to become much more able to understand other kinds of people with different kinds of attachment.

Nevertheless, we make these kinds of distinctions for the very simple reason that we, as a specific group of people, are able to develop our independence in relation to the world we have created and live in, rather than to the abstract needs and influences that prevail globally. In many respects, the people who claim to be very cosmopolitan, who have no attachment and go from conference to conference or fly from one city to the other, are not open – they are simply confusing escapism with openness. They are escaping commitment and responsibility, and they are flattering themselves by calling that openness.

Frank Furedi was talking to Brendan O’Neill in the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. Listen to the full conversation here:

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Hasting Keith

24th July 2020 at 4:32 pm

Good to see that you guys have seen some sense. Previous articles (look them up for yourselves) have argued for open borders. I know different authors, but it would be good to hear from the Editor why the stance has changed.

Hasting Keith

24th July 2020 at 4:25 pm

Good to see that you guys have seen some sense. Previous articles have argued for open borders (spiked-online.com/2011/04/28/a-cheap-excuse-for-opposing-open-borders , spiked-online.com/2014/11/04/the-barbarism-of-borders . I know different authors, but it would be interesting to hear from the editor why the stance has changed.

Angela White

24th July 2020 at 1:54 pm

Capitalist just means you can own property and sell it as you like. Same with your labour. Britain’s not been capitalist since Lloyd George. I agree though that the current mess in charge aren’t going to change it, they’re socdem as all nonsense.
Read More

June Ray

24th July 2020 at 7:45 am

Spiked – the website to visit if you think Tommy Robinson should have freedom to say whatever he likes but shouldn’t have freedom of movement.

Mor Vir

23rd July 2020 at 10:04 pm

The capitalist state fully intends to keep the borders wide open to maintain and to expand the workforce, GDP growth, profits and the capitalist system. TP admitted 6 million over the last decade, 3 million net, and it has now lifted any cap on numbers – all contrary to four successive GE manifesto pledges. CBI, BCC and organised British capital in its entirely wants as many entrants as the economy can absorb.

ONS released this week new stats for births and for the fertility rate in England and Wales, and long-term trends continue. The fertility rate for UK-born women fell to 1.57 kid per woman in 2019 (ONS, 2020), which is a replenishment rate of 74.76%. Thus the number of births would fall to 55.89% of the original number over two generations, to 41.78% over three generations, and to 31.24% over four.

34.3% of kids born in 2019 had one or both parents born abroad. 33.9% of state-funded primary school kids (age 4-11) are ethnic minority and that has risen by around 1% per year since 2006 (ONS, 2020). Likely around 40% of new births are presently ethnic minority and it will take another decade or so for that to reach a majority.

The British capitalist state has chosen an ‘open’ approach to demographics and the society is just going to have to cope with that in the coming decades. UK is headed to be a truly multi-ethnic society in which indigenous Brits are an ever-smaller minority. 97% of pensioners are white British (ONS, 2019) but the ethnic make up of the future society will be very different.


Bastard Man

23rd July 2020 at 10:10 pm

Capitalist just means you can own property and sell it as you like. Same with your labour. Britain’s not been capitalist since Lloyd George. I agree though that the current mess in charge aren’t going to change it, they’re socdem as all nonsense.

Mor Vir

23rd July 2020 at 11:30 pm

People have sold property for millennia; capitalism is characterised by the dominance of the wage labour system in contrast to the dominance of the landed ‘plot’ system of serfs in feudal times, or classical slavery which was neither waged nor plotted. Capitalism developed out of the feudal economy with the emergence of modern industry and finance, and the land clearances into the urban factories.

Capitalism has become ever more socialised in order to survive its contradictions and crises but it remains capitalism for now. It is heavily modified and decrepit with zombie capitalism and state support of a highly indebted, largely unprofitable/ low profitable economy. Capitalism is staggering on, on life support, for now. Productivity growth has collapsed and capitalism is ever more reliant on increased labour utilisation to maintain GDP growth and to survive.

steve moxon

23rd July 2020 at 11:43 pm

That’s the projection but it’s unlikely to happen. There will be no economy to support large-scale immigration, and no money to pay people to have lots of kids. If migrant enclaves continue to increase in size this will precipitate a Northern Ireland ‘troubles’ scenario requiring draconian government intervention, which is unlikely to work and instead lead to civil war, with a substantial reduction in the migrant enclave population. Of course, things might not get that far, but if they don’t it’ll be because the problem of migrant enclaving has been solved in some way, but I’m not aware in history anywhere where this has happened (other than the migrants being conquerors, of course). The historical precedent so far as I’m aware is pretty well invariably civil war. [And the likely initial victims are not migrants but the Left elite who deliberately caused all this to happen. There won’t be a shortage of people keen to sort them out.]

Mor Vir

24th July 2020 at 12:13 am

I distance myself from that reply.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 9:32 am

Not as far as I distance from your annnonybull, ‘Mor Vir’.

Robin P Clarke

24th July 2020 at 10:29 am

Indeed Steve, the history of immigration is a grim one, but the Greed Globalists imposing this ideology don’t care as they don’t have any loyalty to the areas they are turning into hell-holes anyway. They can take the huge unearned income (from higher rents and property prices) and move to the next place to exploit. As David Goodhart well labelled them, anywhere people as opposed to somewhere people (who work hard to make their somewhere a decent place to live).
Meanwhile Prof Furedi gives the lie to the notion that Sociology is a worthless field populated only by extremist crazies churning out reality-defying propaganda.

Robin P Clarke

24th July 2020 at 10:32 am

“Not as far as I distance from your annnonybull, ‘Mor Vir’.”

Sshhh! Respect must be shown even to those who are completely gaga round here!

Mor Vir

24th July 2020 at 11:59 am

Yet in fact you could keep neither your distance nor your respect.

Bastard Man

23rd July 2020 at 9:24 pm

Hah, you lads are quick on the draw!

Bastard Man

23rd July 2020 at 9:30 pm

My apologies, my comment seemed to disappear until I refreshed a couple of times. Doing great work, even if you’re Commies.

Bastard Man

23rd July 2020 at 9:20 pm

Here’s the thing. I have no issue with them destroying all nations and turning us into some massive global Hong Kong style freeport. BUT that’s only on a few conditions.

1. I get to own whatever gun I like and carry it with me.
2. Smoking bans? They’re gone. People can ask me to not smoke in their establishment, fine. But the reverse is true, I can smoke where I want.
3. Total free speech. If we’re all one global nation, let me publish, draw, write whatever I want. If that’s full on loli rape nonsense, sure. If it’s genocidal calls, sure. We’re strong enough to allow it, right? No cultural relativity either. Note: this is it not defending actual nonsense like that. That shit is sick and evil. But fiction is fiction.
4. Taxes are as low as possible, basically paying for local death squads to enforce civil order and stop warlordism or gangs or such.

But that’s not the case is it? They want to turn the world into Singapore. We’re all controlled, all restrcitred and all forced to get along. And more than that, they want to advance certain ethnic groups above others in British Empire style Sri Lanka plantation rubbish. Not on. So yeah, you want to tear down all borders? Fine by me, just let me have a pistol in a shoulder holster, an untaxed cigar in my mouth and no legal ramifications fo rsaying whatever the hell I want. If not? Go stuff yourselves.

Vivian Darkbloom

23rd July 2020 at 11:11 pm

Bastard Man: on the face of it you are right. But I believe if one digs deeper another pattern emerges. Everything you say is correct: but only for liberal western societies and specifically for you. We do not live in a uni-polar world anymore. There are competing ideologies and cultures, tectonic plates if you will, rubbing against each other. Western values, essentially liberalism, are no longer hegemonic. There is Russia, which has retreated into a revitalised nationalism away from being a European player and more a Eurasian power. There is China, only nominally communist; actually expansionist capitalist; only the old communist structure is intact amongst the elite. There is India, again increasingly nationalist and powering ahead in the new digital world; young educated Indians are skilled coders and well-placed to take advantage of the new economy i.e. the fourth industrial revolution where data is the new oil. Africa as the source of raw materials and growing economies backed by Chinese soft and hard power. The Middle East shattered and undermined by the last gasp of western imperialism and angry as hell because of ill-conceived liberal intervention.

As for the USA it is riven with division and no longer a hegemon. Even its soft power and moral authority is much diminished. As the scale of protest grows it’s possible the USA will fall into some kind of civil war or at least a profound cultural upheaval around issues of belonging and identity. And Europe? Well, we’ll continue in a state of quiet upheaval until the strain proves too much. I think the old political parties are done for. Covid is the great cleanser. Who knows what will happen but it will certainly be data driven and technocratic on a huge scale. In that you’re right; controlled, restricted and all forced to get along.

I’m fairly sure globalism is in trouble; the rise of the countries I’ve mentioned, which have all learnt from the west but with a twist towards their own cultures, should disabuse anyone of this notion. As I said, there now exist powerful and competing blocs in a multipolar world. I can’t agree with your contention that the goal is some kind of universal Singapore. The goal is some kind of technocratic matrix instituted under the cover of a global ‘pandemic’ which, strangely enough, will just not go away until all these technological upgrades are in place; tracking by digital device; remote learning and EdTech for students; a cashless society; soft control by behavioural psychologists via social and state media; surveillance and control mechanisms; AI, robotics, and automation leading to the diminution of well-paid jobs outwith the elite managerial and technocratic class; Chinese-style social credit; state enforced compliance; and so much more.

The USA is no longer the world power but is still big enough for individualists such as yourself to find a space to live and prosper. I wish you well. Oh, BTW this is a Marxist or Marxian website rather than communist in the sense that it analyses society through the prism of class and economics rather than identity groups in the current fashion. There actually is such a thing as left libertarianism despite it being a small voice within the wider political noise.

Having said that I’m increasingly suspicious of online comment as various agents, including British and UN forces, flock to dissident sites and act as agent provocateurs in order to provoke and cancel. I’m very alert to this phenomenon. I’ve got to know and trust the regular commentators on this site even if I don’t always agree with them, but at least I can be pretty sure they’re sincere. Are you? I mean, anyone can smoke a cigar in Europe and almost anyone can own a gun in the USA. Is that the limit of your dissent and desire? To smoke a cigar whilst shooting a gun and shouting about low taxation? Do you not consider wider society or the wider picture? Still, thanks for the opportunity to vent.

Vivian Darkbloom

23rd July 2020 at 11:27 pm

Apologies Bastard Man; I thought you were North American. Still, it’s now a multipolar world and we have to deal with this reality. The best cigars still come from Cuba, eh?

Gareth Edward KING

23rd July 2020 at 8:13 pm

Imagine if Spain were today a plucky little sovereign country (outside the EU for sure). I’m convinced that if it were so the Spaniards’ response to government diktat as regards Covid would be so different. Instead what we have is the expectation that yes the ECB will come rushing to the country’s aid despite the fact that it was the current government which has created mass unemployment, caused the economy to nose-dive and to delve into the private lives of citizens which even Franco would’ve baulked at. At least you knew where you were with his regime; it wasn’t democratic; its source of authority was either from the military, from the Catholic church or from the falangist trade unions. Spain is a mere shadow of itself as it impoverishes itself not only economically but socially. People walk around like zombies in this withering heat pretending that this ‘new normal’ is somehow an appropriate way for a democracy to behave. I get the impression that the results of the ‘transition’ years as from 1977 require too much energy to fight and they’d be content that the omniprescent state ‘looks after’ them to the extent where their faces can’t even be seen. It puts new meaning on the idea of a ‘suffocating conformity’ because that is precisely what it is.

steve moxon

23rd July 2020 at 3:11 pm

Yes, people naturally always see their in-group vis-a-vis (the) out-group(s), and if you try to stretch the conception of the in-group to the world then you cannot other than create instability and division.
Those who don’t like borders despise the people living within the border in unwarranted ‘projection’ of their own unacknowledged hostility towards them.
The Left hate ordinary people en mass, so they advocate open borders.

Neil Wilson

23rd July 2020 at 2:34 pm

Always ask an open borders fan if they have a lock on their front door and if they do why. Then you’ll find they are not against borders at all, just for private borders for those with money

David Cockayne

27th July 2020 at 9:46 am

From Hobbes, as I recall, and nothing wrong with that of course. Prudence and experience tells us that among the millions of decent folk, there are a few who covet our wives and chattels and are not above using improper means to acquire them.

But, in addition to this, we are entitled to invite into our home whomsoever we please (or do not please) and to offer them such refreshments and other comforts as our means and inclinations determine. And, unless we take a special fancy to an individual, we expect them to leave by the end of the evening.

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Bastard Man

23rd July 2020 at 9:31 pm

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Funny how you’re spamming every article here and yet plenty of other easier to log on systems don’t suffer from this.

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