On unarmed invasions

On unarmed invasions
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The news is filled with caravans of people from Central America moving north to cross Mexico. They seek to enter into the United States from its southern boundary. Two to three years ago we saw a similar phenomenon in Europe with thousands of people coming from Africa and the East.

America was initially settled by what can only be called invasions of Indians from Asia. Later from the seventeenth century on, the invaders came mostly from Europe. Going still farther back in history, the population of Europe had to contend with centuries of invasions from South, East and North. After the seventh century, we saw the expansion of Islam from Arabia that conquered North Africa, the Near East, and, for a time, Spain and the Balkans.


Roman, Greek, and Chinese history can in part be seen in terms of dealing with invasions and counter reactions to them. Fortified cities were built with walls precisely to prevent invasion from neighboring tribes and cities or from unknown peoples coming off of the Eurasian landmass. The Great Wall of China is an ever present reminder of one way of dealing with the threat of invasion. Human history is, in fact, a record successful or unsuccessful invasion.

Earlier invasions were often marked by plunder and confiscation of the accumulated wealth of this or that city or country. The Old Testament itself can be read as an account of invasions and efforts to defend a tribe or city against them.

Most of the invasions that we read of in history were armed and saw armed resistance to them. Invasions had to be met by counter-arms. The boundaries of modern nation-states are often decided by both geography and victory or defeat in wars.

When we look at what must be called the “unarmed invasions” of the 21st Century, we see them in the light of certain views about human nature, politics, and the nation-state as it has developed. Indeed, we must include views about the gods and how we relate to them.

What is unique about the current unarmed invasions is their justification. These invasions are not primarily Machiavellian in character. They are not conceived to be undertaken for power, glory, or honor. Rather, they are pictured as “the wretched of the earth” claiming what is due to them as human beings.

The world today is divided into some 195 nation-states. Theoretically, the members of each of these states are to live and prosper within their borders and according to their customs and laws. The unarmed “invasions” that we see today largely arise from states that have systematically failed to foster freedom or prosperity to some or all of their citizens. Seeking to escape a local tyranny or endless poverty, large numbers of people search for other countries in which they can dwell. Obviously, no one wants to escape a dire local condition for something perceived to be worse. The first principle is that unarmed invasions direct themselves towards states perceived to be better than local ones of origin.

The implied theory behind the unarmed invaders presumes that we are all indiscriminately citizens of the world. This claim means that everyone has an implicit “right” to go to any country of his choice when necessary. No one has a right to stop him. The country he chooses must accept him. It is a question of both right and compassion. To resist these unarmed invasions is seen as an act contrary to the human good. Thus, the unarmed invaders make a moral claim. Their dire condition entitles them to benefit in the goods of other states. Everyone is potentially a citizen of every other state. Passports, border guards, citizenship requirements are immoral as they discriminate against those who need new domiciles or goods here and now.

The counter-argument is that every state has an obligation to remain what it is. The moral and theoretic justifications of a state to remain itself are fundamental to its existence. Some ideas, ideologies, and religions are incompatible with others. Each state has to decide how many and of what kind any new members are to be welcomed into its citizenship. The ideas that the unarmed invaders hold cannot be ignored. We are not citizens of every nation but only of our own.

The first task of any government is to maintain its internal order of law and custom. It must do this by force if necessary. A state that does not control its own borders will soon cease to be the kind of state that it is. New citizens to any state are expected to obey the laws of the new state if they are admitted through recognized entrance requirements.

Because of their failure to reproduce themselves, some states need new citizens. Much persecution does exist in certain states. We need to reform states that are poorly governed. The solution to the poverty of the poor is not to make everyone poor. What the unarmed invasions of our time indicate is the need of nation-states to retain their integrity. They do this by resisting unarmed and armed invasions.

The only way to protect freedom and help the poor of our era is for nation-states to retain and protect their internal integrity. If they do not do this, no reason for the unarmed invasions to continue could be given since, once overwhelmed with new peoples, every state would be reduced to the level of the places from whence the contemporary unarmed invaders come in the first place.

The Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., author of “A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning & Being Forgiven,” is professor emeritus at Georgetown University. His latest book is “The Universe We Think In,” published by The Catholic University of America Press.