I think about sovereignty a lot. I wish I had it, and it’s one of those weird, abstract concepts that underlies pretty much everything. Lion prides, babies, bureaucrats, all want to be sovereign. Everybody wants to be the decider, not the decidee. Sovereignty is especially pertinent to immigration, because then we’re deciding who gets to be here and be sovereign with us. Half the country really likes the idea of having a lot of neo-Americans coming ashore and joining their team to overwhelm the other half of the country, who are just as enthusiastically opposed to losing their political and socio-economic clout. Again, nobody likes being the decidee.

Debating immigration, I am inevitably asked, in a tone betraying belief that the question is a solid and unanswerable coup de grace, “What about the American Indians?”

The argument being, one assumes, that We


don’t even belong here, so how dare We say who else does and doesn’t get in.

First, I’m not sure why this isn’t cautionary instead: Open Borders don’t work out for the native stock. But I understand the specious appeal of the argument. The English and European descended should relinquish the stolen goods and let the First Nations decide what to do with the Africans, Arabs, Jews, Chinese, Hindu, Hispanics, and others, and how many more of them will be let in. Or something like that.

Of course, any adult in the room understands the impossibility of this ethic. The farmers have been chasing off the hunter-gatherers since the Neolithic; the hunter-gatherers frequently killed each other over breeding females and territory; and the farmers often ended up massacred by the pastoralists, who took the farmers’ women and settled down in their stead.

Human history, one might say, is one wave after another, taking over. Even if we decided that everybody owes everybody for all such grievances, it’s impossible to net everything out and restore a theoretical pristine state where every haplogroup occupies an original patch of ground. So practically therefore, nobody owes anybody. We–everybody on the planet–are who we are, we got here, and that’s that. If you don’t keep and hold, somebody else will take.

Second, what-about-the-Indians overlooks that these events happen on the sovereign plane. If Britain invades the Americas and the Americans can’t keep them out, then the Americans are no longer sovereign. If the New Americans decide that they don’t want to be British, and the British don’t have enough rifles to keep them that way, then New America is the new sovereign. There’s no Court of Status Quo Ante where “Britain” can sue “America” to keep it Britain. Same with the First Nations.

Another characteristic of sovereignty is that only meta-entities like nations and states can be sovereign. Individuals who aren’t kings of desert islands can’t be sovereign, because there are too many other individuals with their own will to power for any one individual to be sovereign. Thus, the anarchists are wrong–there’s no such thing as a sovereign individual–and the other term, libertarianism, is not a stand-alone philosophy. “Libertarian” is a descriptor for the degree of individual autonomy allowed in a civic order, like its opposite-side tail on the spectrum, “authoritarian.”

The order governing relations between the Iroquois Federation and the British Empire is anarchic; the order governing relations between two Iroquois or two Brits is civic. This isn’t all decreed in a book somewhere; it’s just how things work out. And that’s why talk about theft of territory from the nominal First Nations is meaningless. There can be no “theft” of territory held by sovereign force. Property rights and property crimes don’t show up until the farmers arrive and kick the hunter-gatherers off and stake out the property lines and the bills of sale. Applying civic principles like property rights to the anarchic order of sovereigns doesn’t work.

This popped into my head and out on the page because I stumbled on a debate about Ukraine on

Felix Keverich says:
July 7, 2018 at 11:35 am GMT • 100 Words
@El Dato
Does Russia desire territorial gains west of the Dnjepr?
In theory – no. Realistically, every part of the Ukraine that we fail to occupy will get pumped by NATO weapons, advisers and used as a platform to wage hybrid war against Russia, so either we’ll need a strategy to deal with this threat or we could just occupy, which will be cheaper and easier, than trying to contain NATO-funded Banderostan.
IMO destroying and ethnically cleansing Galicia would bring a decisive resolution to this conflict.
More on the subject of Ukrainian dysfunction: the country is facing clean water rationing after its Soviet era chlorine-producing plant shut down.
You don’t normally see this problem anywhere outside of Africa and the Middle East. Now it’s a problem in the Ukraine.

NB: The commenter is obviously Russian.

Ukraine is supposed to be a Big Deal right now because PUTIN. Here’s fairly typical commentary from the Brookings Institution.

Now, it’s probably a good idea for sovereign rulers like Putin not to invade Ukraine just because they can since other sovereigns get nervous and we could all end up in a war. But at the end of the day there’s nothing anybody can do about it except assert competing sovereignty. And the Russians have their own perspective on the situation, namely, that Ukraine is a permanent failed state who will invite in NATO to encroach on Russian sovereignty and make life difficult for their fellow Russians in Ukraine.

I don’t really care who rules Ukraine because 1) I’m not Ukrainian, and 2) I don’t see any particularly resonant principle at stake unlike, say, brutal, rotten-rich Saudi Arabia bombing pathetic, poor Yemen. Ukraine would probably be better off under comparatively more competent Russian rule, and the history and genetics of the place are muddled thanks to European imperial history and the Soviets. I do care about influential think tanks like the Brookings Institution saying I should care, because that often means we end up spending national treasure on some faraway, complicated dispute.

Here’s a question I have about nominal sovereignty: why are so many countries deemed sovereign? Haiti, for example, is sovereign. It would be declared a Violation of International Law, numerous talking heads would wet their pants if, say, the United States just swooped in and took over Haiti. But Haiti can’t feed itself, can’t run a municipal water system or sewage treatment plant, and is so freaking poor the people eat dirt. No, really.

haitian mud cookie

Haiti offloads thousands of its citizens to the US which makes impoverished Haitians our problem instead of Haiti’s problem. So why does Haiti’s sovereignty merit any respect? Sell Haiti to the Bill Gates family and let them figure out what to do with it. Same for Honduras, Guatemala, Liberia, and every other place in the world that is, as usual, failing.

Here’s another area where sovereignty, and the Ukraine, pop up:

Ukraine moves to split church from Russia as elections approach

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Orthodox church could become independent of Moscow under the terms of a presidential initiative lawmakers approved on Thursday, a move that President Petro Poroshenko said would make it harder for Russia to meddle in Ukrainian affairs…

Poroshenko met Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, in Istanbul last week, to seek support for giving autocephalous status – effectively, making it independent – to the Ukrainian church…

A spokesman at Patriarch Bartholomew’s office declined comment. Poroshenko has previously suggested he has the Patriarch’s support for an independent church but could not divulge many details about their meeting.

The Moscow Patriarchate sees itself as the only legitimate Orthodox church in Ukraine. It vies for influence with the Kiev Patriarchate, a branch of the Orthodox Church that broke away from Moscow in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union, and other Orthodox and Catholic denominations.

This arcane fight has been going on for some time and, of course, Reuters garbles it a good deal. There are three competing jurisdictions in Ukraine with one in canonical order, ruled by Metropolitan Onuphry under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate. The thinking by the Ukrainians is the Ecumenical Patriarch, the erstwhile Orthodox “Pope,” will grant a tomos of autocephaly to Ukraine, uniting the three factions in a new, autocephalous Church and giving Russia the heave-ho. It would be a radical move so it probably won’t happen, but there’s a lot of friction between the Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople, and they don’t much like each other outside their Sacramental roles as brothers and successors to the Apostles. In fact, I’ve been told by reliable people that bishops everywhere don’t much like each other outside their Sacramental roles as brothers and successors to the Apostles. All of which is simply to say that sovereignty–whether of Nations, States, or Patriarchates–is serious business.

I know a number of non-Orthodox who are perplexed, even repulsed, by these ecclesiological fights. But I find them salutary in addition to interesting. The more time our bishops have to spend defending their sovereignty, the less time they have to mess with doctrine and lecturing us about how many millions of immigrants we should be accepting.

3 thoughts on “Sovereignty

  1. Speaking as someone with largely roots in western Ukraine, Ukraine and the Ukrainian people would be immensely better off as an autonomous republic within the RF. Practically speaking the rather noxious nationalist elements make that impossible but it is far and away the best option for the Ukrainian people in my view.

    Liked by 1 person

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