Statelessness (and self-governance)

This is something most people don’t even think about; I myself hadn’t even considered this until recently. The idea is statelessness – the state (pun intended) of having no nationality. Some people give up their nationality (renunciation) in exchange for another, but very few actually give up nationality altogether. From what I can tell, statelessness is considered a very bad thing.

[Disclaimer: my reasoning may very well be flight of fancy, but it’s at least interesting to consider. Take it how you will; statelessness with not likely ever be considered a good thing by any nation since all nations typically are self-promoting and protectionist.]

The Wikipedia entry on statelessness mentions several problems associated to it. One of those problems is diminished civil rights. The problem with this problem is that it’s taken for granted that only those citizens of a nation are given rights. That’s simply not true, or at least shouldn’t be true. If an American, for example, were to visit Canada, then that person would have all of the important rights in common with all others; just because he’s not a citizen, there’s no reason why it would be permissible to assault him, or commit some other crime against him.

Admittedly, this leaves a number of rights out. For example, the right to find employment and make a living would be denied, unless they have a work permit and Visa. Regardless of citizenship however, one may find residency (at least temporarily). So the question becomes not something of citizenship or nationality, but rather of the knowledge that such a person exists. So long as the government knows you’re there, they shouldn’t have any reason to deny you a way of life.

The rights regarding voting in national elections and other integral political functions can be denied validly. That isn’t to say that a non-citizen is powerless in the process. For example, Bono isn’t Canadian, but even he gets to talk with Prime Ministers and make splashes regarding certain issues. The ability to affect the process is not limited by nationality, but rather by an appeal of reason and/or charisma. I would argue that anyone may influence a nation’s decision, but that a nation’s decision is that of the nationals.

The second problem listed by Wikipedia is the perception that stateless persons are not loyal or committed to the nation. My response is this: So what? I feel no need to harbour feelings of blind pride; the fact that I was born here does not obligate me to be remain here, nor to claim that this is the “best place on earth” as self-promotion by the government would have me believe. Rather, having the ability to look objectively at the nation allows for a greater deal of critical thinking regarding a nation’s policies. For this reason, I am convinced that even if stateless persons were not loyal to a nation, that fact does not degrade them.

Of course, there’s really no reason that a stateless person would be disloyal to a nation. The laws will always apply equally to all, regardless of citizenship. Presumably the law is enough to convince anyone that there are things that you can’t do (for example, spying). The only time you may consider them disloyal is if they disagree with a nation’s war, but that’s something that even citizens do. In nations without conscription, this really isn’t a problem, as military service is voluntary. Furthermore, no stateless person could possibly join the military, as the military is a governmental institution (which serves an “integral political function”). Thus, loyalty holds no value in a democratic nation.

The third problem is regarding a child’s nationality. Once again, this isn’t a problem as I see it, since statelessness shouldn’t be a problem in the first place. The question is one of equality, and no self-respecting democratic, liberal nation would allow discrimination based on nationality (or lack thereof). Furthermore, the right to gain citizenship is a vital piece of the puzzle that allows this problem to be overcome quite simply. If you consider the possibility of being a stateless person living in a nation for an extended period of time, so long as that nation knows you exist, the naturalization process can occur. Thus, a child born into a stateless family would naturally have the same potential for naturalization.

Of course, this type of thinking relies upon a certain framework to exist within a nation. The first is that all basic rights are conferred to anyone regardless of social capacity and conditions. The second is that only nationals may hold positions vital to the nation’s well-being (this includes the position of “voter”). The third is that so long as one is known to exist within the framework (in addition to meeting other specific criteria), that person may gain citizenship on the basis of naturalization.

The fourth problem posed by Wikipedia is lack of consular services outside country of residence. The saving grace is provided along with the problem in the form of the UN. There’s no reason why international consul cannot exist to provide a safe-haven for people regardless of citizenship in certain nations. Furthermore, in the theoretical framework I laid out, there’s the possibility for such a nation to grant a right of consular services to all residential persons of that nation.

What I’m really trying to get at is this: the only reason why nations feel it’s important to require citizenship of residents is the idea of security (protectionism) and self-promotion (“best place on earth” thinking). However, any forward thinking government (one which prides itself on protecting rights common to all people regardless of race, sex, nationality, etc.) would only consider nationality necessary in cases where valid concern can be applied. For example, you can’t allow non-nationals to vote, or else the decision is no longer that of the nation’s. You also cannot allow non-national politicians, for the same reason. You cannot allow non-nationals to join the army, or else you might find your army run completely by another nation (and an ensuing coup d’etat); foreign legions are perfectly acceptable, but it’s wise to have a national army. In short, citizenship is only necessary in cases of integral political functions and national sovereignty.

The fifth problem is that stateless persons have no home country to which they would have the right of return. Of course, refuge needs to be granted in certain cases (escaping danger within a certain country of residence), and nationality shouldn’t play a role in that case. For those stateless persons who hold residency within a certain country, and that must is known by the government, should be given the right of return based on that residency. Once again, I don’t believe that residency should be strictly limited by nationality.

The final problem for such a stateless person is the lack of a country to which he can be deported to. I’m sure that Wikipedia made a mistake on this one, as that’s not really a problem to a stateless person. Why would anyone want to be deported? The result would be the necessity for a nation which recognizes stateless residents to apply the law of the land. Presumably, the law is universal to all perpetrators of crime regardless of nationality. The only effect of statelessness is that there won’t be another nation hunting such a criminal down and attempting to interfere with a nation’s sovereignty and laws.

In cases of “illegal aliens” who enter a country without a passport or whatever…that doesn’t really matter. In a nation where statelessness is acceptable, the nationality of any person living there does not matter. Then, the question is one of the “quality” of the nation. That is, “What kind of people are letting into country?” This, of course, is a type of discrimination. If residents are poor, that’s too bad; to not allow someone into your country because he’s poor is quite ridiculous. The question of crime is answered by effective policing. So long as they haven’t done anything wrong, they shouldn’t be judged prematurely.

All in all, I don’t believe statelessness is necessarily a bad thing. If the mechanisms of a nation could be generalized to accept persons regardless of nationality except in concerns of integral political function, then there’d be nothing wrong.

The logistics of such a framework may be impossible, but I believe that this is a thought worth entertaining. I don’t believe that the strength of a nation should be determined solely by the ground on which people are born. I don’t believe that people should be denied common rights based on nationality (or lack thereof). What I do believe is that the world’s nations have placed too much importance on keeping tabs on people they don’t have any business in knowing. So long as essential laws can be maintained and enforced, there’s no harm in leaving the stateless alone.

As a final note, the lack of discrimination based on nationality allows for cross-cultural influence. For example, if Americans could freely come and live in Canada without restriction (after security measurements of course), then Canada would become more American in a way. But the fact is that it doesn’t really matter. Since Canada prides itself on multiculturalism, there’s no shame in society subtly transforming.

The only reason to restrict immigration is capacity (the logistics of a nation). Aside from that, what reason is there to disallow a new life to anyone seeking it? Security issues can be handled if the capacity to handle them exists. If not, then the reasoning of denying immigration still holds. But really, that’s all there is to it.

If anyone’s read this far, I hope you enjoyed reading this flight of fancy. Do I believe that it’s possible to achieve a world in which nationals, non-nationals and stateless people are able to co-exist? Maybe, if nations consider certain rights to be absolutely, completely universal to all people. If not, then we’ll continue to see nations of pride (self-promotion) and security (protectionism).

I have some final questions. If we don’t stop and rethink about how we deal with keeping track of people, what will the consequences be? How much do nations really need to know about people? Why do nations have the right to arbitrarily decide that people “belong” to a country upon birth? More specifically, in nations that enforce laws of conscription, what gives them the right to force people to fight a war on their behalf?

These questions all relate to the importance people place on individual independence and self-sovereignty. Even if certain constraints can be placed upon people justifiably (laws), does that give nations the right to maintain a hold on every individual within that nation? Can a nation be reduced? Changed? Dissolved? If it cannot, then it isn’t a democratic nation at all. A democratic nation is one in which the people have the power to self-govern. If one cannot claim individual independence from a nation, then how is that nation democratic?

[Disclaimer: this is crazy talk now 🙂 but don’t let that stop you from reading this.]

Imagine if the sovereignty of a nation could be conferred to an individual. So long as that sovereign person does not attack individuals of the residence-nation, there’s no problem. If two sovereign persons were to engage in a “war” (perhaps just a fistfight), then the residence-nation could justifiably resolve the issue by enforcing “international” laws (perhaps by placing “sanctions” upon each sovereign person). Thus, individuals who secede from a nation could justifiably live within that nation just as anyone else does. Furthermore, there’s no reason why the government couldn’t keep tabs on that individual like it would have done normally.

Taking this idea further, there’s no reason why an sovereign person couldn’t buy land from the residence-nation. He’d still be subject to paying for gas, water, etc. since it’s unlikely that an individual could supply those himself. The most interesting prospect is that new nations could arise from within, allowing for true self-governance to occur. And yes, buying land from a government is entirely possible, as it has happened historically.

Of course this will never happen. A government is more interested in taxing people than letting them self-govern. If people were to take land away on top of denying taxation, then what reason is there to allow this type of thing to occur? There’s no reason that tariffs couldn’t be placed upon an individual-nation. Though he might be able to buy land, he would still need to pay for gas, etc. On top of the regular costs, he would also pay tariffs for importing those things. In other words, while an individual can claim sovereignty over oneself, by existing within the context of international relations, he can still be subject to similar conditions.

Okay, anyone tired of this rambling of mine? I’m fascinated by my concept, but it’s just a dream. In writing this, I have questioned my own belief in a central government which applies laws fairly to all within the nation. If one may secede from government and establish self-governance fairly, then what challenges does the main nation have in order to maintain order as well as increasingly complex international (or intranational) relations.

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