Book Review: Paul Scheffer – Freedom of the Border

Freedom of the Border is an emphatic onion of a book. Best read with a notebook and a whisky. Paul Scheffer has the ability to rewire brains with his words, plugging in lightbulbs in the dusty rooms of your mind.

His thorough bilateral examination of our world is extensive, considerate and with the intelligence that only comes from being a master of a subject. Whether or not you agree with every syllable is not the point. The discussion is there to be evaluated by each individual.

Paul Scheffer, helped by the adroit translations of Liz Waters, opens a dialogue within the current wilderness of public thought in our time. Paul Scheffer reaches out and uses history as a geographical loop. He draws on the knowledge of the Ancient Greeks, minds of The Enlightenment, the governance of war worldwide and modern philosophers and thinkers. He looks into every social background and has studied attitudes and populist mentalities.

His statements would be better understood by placing them on a globe rather than a timeline. Observing history repeating itself and rolling into timeless predictions. His detailed research extensively examines the extant problems we are facing. He has analyzed statistics from across the globe and formed theories and ideas from continuing trends, not just from figures, but from attitudes of people across the human race.

The book becomes a continental buffet of topics and social exploration, from which you can draw on to spark invigorating and refreshing dialogues. Importantly, no matter what ideals you have or political position, you will find a point of discussion.

Reading this book is a definite journey. Taking the time to listen and learn if it investigates something you do not agree with may be a lesson in patience and openness for many readers.

It touches on almost every issue which is either debated frequently or quietly ignored in our times.

The book itself is borderless.

Scheffer explores the open society and its borders. Focusing mainly on Europe but taking the reader on a journey across the world, through history, geography, time, sociology and philosophy.

There is a lot to argue with in this book. There will, for many people, be statements and whole pages that you want to turn away from. But don’t. Whether you agree with parts of it or disagree with most of it, the book is a wealth of information written by a shrewd, acute writer.

There is something for every university essay, politician’s handbook or even those interested in world domination (whether you would like to achieve it or put a stop to it).

Scheffer delves deep into difficult issues on his quest to discuss borders. From war to race, migration to illegal immigration. The humanitarianism in all of us, compared with our fundamental need to survive. The limits of the human psyche and how we might be better off not listening to the governments that tell us to become multi-cultural, but those that push diversity and love for each other’s differences. Striving to have the ethics of responsibility for our fellow person.

Paul Scheffer investigates the idea that “we must be able to tolerate forms of intolerance”. That a willingness to listen to both sides is essential for an open society, and that freedom of conscience is crucial. That if someone has the freedom to their religion, they should expect their neighbour to have the freedom to their religion, or to atheism. That “the right of one is the responsibility of another”. In a world where these ideas are increasingly frowned on, it is difficult to say if I agree or disagree entirely. But it does open scope for conversation and he does make a valid point towards the Christian ethos of ‘love thy neighbour’.

“The open society needs borders … The better able we are to shape our societies; the more people will tend to welcome change”. Scheffer explains that trust in the government and the feeling of security and control over your life, gained from adaptation and regulation, naturally gives way to trust in your fellow human and a cohesive community.

Scheffer looks broadly across the COVID – 19 pandemic. How, in our modern society, ‘one damned bat from Wuhan’ can bring the entire world to its knees. He investigates how borders have played an extensive role in slowing the spread of the virus. How the European Union reacted internally, and how it highlighted the necessity for stronger external border control. How attitudes in the media and globally were less focused on a one-world approach when perhaps they shouldn’t have been.

Later in his book, Scheffer looks into Globalization and the scenarios behind the future of our world. He states that, if we are destined to live in a multipolar world, with several superpowers dealing in economics and trade, it could well become a frictional society. The idea that, as the US pulls away from monetarily helping Europe, the Union may have to become a federation of Nation States itself. The growth of China and their entry into the World Trade Organization. The unification of smaller countries as a response to loss of power within the world. How countries become united when faced with a shared responsibility, and how relationships between powers can be so shaped by their history.

The book answers some questions and highlights many more. For example, if we are to increase borders, what happens to the citizens that already have strict border regulations imposed on them? Or will the worldwide muting of mouths that seems to be underway actually open the doors for big business to monopolize the planet? Is the media representation of migration and immigration so warped that people really think that their countries would be better off without it? Why haven’t governments shown their citizens the figures professed in this book proving that many Western countries would be doomed without immigrants? How should Europe make its external border safer for both the citizens inside it and at the same time reduce the enormous 30.000 death toll per year of illegal immigrants hoping for a better life and trying to cross it? What can be done to create a more open society? And how can we increase these powers without losing our freedoms completely?

The book calls for solidarity. For Europe to speak with one voice. For the European Union to experience each other as fellow citizens and for citizen’s trust in those that make the laws to be renewed by decisive and honest action. Scheffer wants a pathway to be cut between nationalism and federalism within the European Union, and a united front towards the security of its external border.

A challenging read, not just with the level of writing, but with the level of content. But a relevant one, greatly worthy of study.

Freedom of the Border is out now in the UK via Polity Press.

Review by Jessica Milner:

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