Walled States, Waning Sovereignty

Walled States, Waning Sovereignty Character List

Late Modern Subjects

"Subjects" are another word for people, including citizens of a country. “Late modern” describes the time period that we live in. The term suggests we are at a later or more advanced stage of modernity, in which capitalism has grown to a global phenomenon. Late modern subjects are thus all of us who live in this new world, which Brown says is characterized as well by the decline of national sovereignty.

United States

The United States is one of the major actors Brown considers in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. She is particularly interested in its partial construction of a border wall with Mexico, beginning in the 1990s near San Diego. For Brown, the United States provides a case study of how building walls relates to a decline in national sovereignty. She also wants to understand the ways in which citizens of the United States respond to this waning of sovereignty through racist and xenophobic fantasies that their nation can be re-secured so long as it keeps racial others outside of it, on the other side of the wall.


Israel is the other primary case study Brown explores in Chapter 1 of Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. She looks at the Israeli Security Fence built along its border with Palestine. Brown thinks Israel is a unique country since it was founded so recently and has always had to secure its sovereignty by declaring its land separate from the Palestinian land that was there before. But she thinks the border wall is still part of a larger pattern of declining national sovereignty that Israel shares with other countries, too. Israel tries to shore up its sovereignty by building a wall, just like other countries do when they fear their sovereignty is under attack.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis, which explores how people’s behavior is determined in part by unconscious desires, fantasies, and ideas. Brown discusses Freud at length in the final chapter of Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. In particular, she draws from Freud’s ideas about defense mechanisms. A defense mechanism is an unconscious way in which people avoid confronting a challenging or negative idea or reality. Brown thinks people desire walls precisely in order to avoid these kinds of unpleasant realities, including the fact the national sovereignty is waning and the nations can be unjust or damaged.