Walled States, Waning Sovereignty

Walled States, Waning Sovereignty Metaphors and Similes

Nation as Temple (Metaphor)

Important to Brown’s argument are the theological dimensions of walling. In medieval times, Brown explains, temple walls divided sacred space from worldly space. You are usually walking around in the world, but once you cross the walls into a temple, you are walking around in holy land. Brown argues that this religious sense of awe and worship has not left, even in societies that claim to be secular. This is what makes nation-states modern day temples:

Ancient temples housed gods within an unhorizoned and overwhelming landscape. Nation-state walls are modern-day temples housing the ghost of political sovereignty. (133)

In this metaphor, the walls separate off the holy land of the nation from the unholy land of the dangerous world. But in a twist to Brown’s argument, the nation has actually lost its power. It’s like states are trying to be temples, but there is nothing left to worship.

Physical and Psychic Defense (Simile)

National sovereignty is often a symbol for personal sovereignty, Brown claims. That’s why people want to wall states, because it symbolizes protecting their own autonomy as well. The identification also goes in the other direction, so that personal forms of protection are like national forms of protection. Brown explains using this simile:

Viewed as a form of national psychic defense, walls can be seen as an ideological disavowal of a set of unmanageable appetites, needs, and powers. They facilitate a set of metalepses in which the specter of invasion replaces internal need or desire and the specter of invasion replaces reckoning with colonial displacements and occupation. (130)

Walls defend against physical threats, but this is also like people defending against psychological threats. In both cases, people are trying to keep themselves sealed off from something that seems dangerous. It’s just that sometimes the “danger” isn’t an actual threat like terrorism, but an idea that will make people feel bad, like the nation’s history of colonialism.