World without Borders

What if boundaries as we know them disappeared?


in Archive



The world looks a lot more unified on old maps. Maps of today look more like mosaics, like the fragile Earth fell off a shelf and had to have its broken bits pieced back together. You can forget sometimes how new these lines and borders are.

The United Nations headquarters in New York City displays two maps in its lobby. One map is called ‘The World In 1945’. This is the year the UN was founded. The map is a rainbow of colors. Big chunks of blue represent the few nation-states that belonged to the UN at the beginning. Bits of red and tan and yellow and green spread around the map represent places that did not belong to the UN. Many of these non-blue regions were classified as dependent: ‘Territories administered under a League of Nations mandate;’ ‘Territories which by 1949 were under the United Nations Trusteeship System.’ Others were not even countries. ‘The World In 1945’ was a world of empires.

The other map is called ‘The World Today.’ The World Today map, by contrast, is all blue. Only a bare handful of non-member red and yellow spaces remain, most of them faint specs that float around in the open space of sea. Since 1945, the number of people around the world who have been able to call themselves citizens of independent countries has increased exponentially. As a result, the UN maps have gotten bluer and bluer. It is the dream of the United Nations that ‘The World Today’ could, one day, be entirely blue — a world of independent sovereign nations, united under a single hue.

The UN map of member nations vexed Garry Davis to his dying day (which happened to be July 24). This is to say that Garry Davis was vexed not only by the UN but by nations. Davis was no fan of empires either. But borders were his enemy of choice. Garry Davis was a lifelong promoter of the One World movement, which sought to unite all humanity under one universal set of laws that would be based on fundamental human rights. Garry Davis did not invent the One World movement. Philosophers and poets and emperors alike have imagined an Earth united. “As long as there are sovereign states possessing great power, war is inevitable,” wrote Albert Einstein in a letter to World Federalists in 1949. “There is no salvation for civilization or even the human race other than the creation of a world government.”

When, in 1948, Davis walked into the American Embassy in Paris and publically renounced his American citizenship, he became the One World Government’s most prominent modern advocate. In this, Garry Davis was a man out of time. The 20th century — especially after World War II — was the century of the nation-state. Of everything that will come to define the 20th century in the books of tomorrow, this fact may be the most lasting. It’s a fact that Garry Davis thought about, and railed against, for 65 years. “We are born as citizens of the world,” Davis wrote in Passport to Freedom: A Guide for World Citizens. “But we are also born into a divided world, a world of separate entities called nations. We regard each other as friends and yet we are separated by wide artificially created barriers. Whatever we may think of one another, each one of us on this planet is designated as ‘alien’ by billions of his or her fellow humans. The label applies to everyone who does not share our status as a ‘national citizen.’ And many millions of us, despite our religious, ethnic or racial kinship, are forced to wear another label: ‘enemy.’”

During the Second World War, Garry was a bomber pilot. By the time he walked into the American embassy in Paris in 1948, ready to renounce his American citizenship, Davis had had enough of nations and their antics. “How many bombs had I dropped?” Davis later wrote in his memoir. “How many men, women and children had I murdered? Wasn’t there another way, I kept asking myself?” Garry Davis told the newspapers that, from now on, he considered himself a citizen of the world.

In November 1948 Garry Davis stormed a session the United Nations General Assembly with 20,000 supporters in tow, calling for the UN to recognize the rights of Humanity. The following day, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed. “How very much better it would be,” wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in her My Day column, “if Mr. Davis would set up then and there a world-wide international government.” Garry Davis agreed. In 1953 he announced the formation of the World Government of World Citizens from the steps of the city hall in Ellsworth, Maine. No longer would people be citizens of this or that country. With one world government all people would be citizens of the World. It would be a place where people could travel freely, citizens all. A place that had eradicated the “plague of war.” With one world government there would be peace at last. Indeed, the very survival of humanity depended on it. Davis created a World Passport and before he was done issued over 750,000 of them. Albert Camus, E.B. White, Albert Schweitzer were among his supporters.

On Davis’ World Government website there is a quote attributed to U Thant, former Secretary-General of the United Nations. “Last year for the first time humans could see our planet from the moon. They show no borders, no nations, no races, no ideologies and no political systems. They show vast oceans and seas, a few great land masses, precious atmosphere of air and clouds without which there would be no life on earth.”

It is a moving quote. When pictures of the Earth from space circulated to human beings around the world in the 1960s, it was as if the people of Earth were being shown an Ur-map of their planet. This, thought Garry Davis, was how the Earth ought to look from the inside too.

Though it may seem ideologically fanciful, anyone can understand how Garry Davis came to the conclusion that the path to world peace was the creation of one nation. Like the old maps show, national borders are artificial lines drawn in the sand of an otherwise unified planet. Ostensibly, national governments defend the people inside their lines against those living outside the lines. Yet if the borders were erased, wouldn’t the reason for the borders go away too? The group of people who once called themselves Americans would not be worried about the people who once called themselves Mexicans crossing into their neighborhood. They would not feel a need to arm themselves against the threat of visitors because there would be no more “visitors.” It would be like shooting the woman who sat down next to you on the subway for invading your territory. “Invasion,” “immigration,” “tourism” — these categories for how we move around our world would die. Space would be intrinsically shared.

Except that borders don’t just define the outsiders, they define the insiders too. Each person living inside a nation calls that nation home. A person without a nation is considered homeless upon Earth. Garry Davis understood this. Over the years he sent or sold World Passports to refugees and dislocated peoples, hoping that the passports would allow them to defy immigration laws and travel freely. In 2012, Davis sent a World Passport to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since last year. It is a beautiful subversion, this distribution of One World passports. And also, it is puzzling. Because if Planet Earth is the natural home of man, man shouldn’t need a passport at all. According to the logic of the World Government, these passportless people are already free.

Garry Davis’ many opponents have objected to his “crackpot” path to peace for mostly practical reasons. People, it is argued, are as inherently violent as they are peaceful. Without representative governments there would be no way to protect people from each other. This leads to a deeper, more existential question. What causes war in the first place? If we define war simply as conflict that happens between nations, then erasing nations erases war. But erasing nations doesn’t erase conflict. Conflict existed long before nations. It exists not just between groups of people; conflict is inseparable from life. Conflict exists between people and the beasts, between people and the plants, between insects and the plants, between the insects and themselves. Inside each living thing, cells and microorganisms are battling it out for survival. And, of course, the battle is not just biological. Within each individual person is a mysterious invisible force — the soul or psychology or will — battling against itself, turning man into a being at war with Being, a being who lives inside the world and a being who lives outside the world too, because she cannot stop thinking about living in the world. Within each individual are internal borders — borders that are bravely crossed, cannily outsmarted, unbridgeable. There are internal regions with their various points of entry and walls armed by sentries. Externally, a person might have a nation to call home. But inside, a person rarely feels at home, no matter where she is. She is always caught up in the battle of the will, the mind, the soul. It is this internal war within each individual that creates external war. Erasing national borders would not end war for this simple reason: National borders don’t cause war any more than they prevent them.

The pledge of allegiance to the World Government of World Citizens defines a world citizen as such.

“A World Citizen is a human being who lives intellectually, morally and physically in the present. A World Citizen accepts the dynamic fact that the planetary human community is interdependent and whole, that humankind is essentially one. A World Citizen is a peaceful and peacemaking individual, both in daily life and contacts with others. As a global person, a World Citizen relates directly to humankind and to all fellow humans spontaneously, generously and openly. Mutual trust is basic to his/her lifestyle. Politically, a World Citizen accepts a sanctioning institution of representative government, expressing the general and individual sovereign will in order to establish and maintain a system of just and equitable world law with appropriate legislative, judiciary and enforcement bodies. A World Citizen makes this world a better place to live in harmoniously by studying and respecting the viewpoints of fellow citizens from anywhere in the world.”

Why did Garry Davis advocate for One World Government rather than No World Government? Perhaps because, in the end, Davis did not trust individual people to act peacefully any more than his opponents. A World Citizen is still a person looking out, looking to others to feel whole. As Davis wrote, “every human [is] an inalienable member of humankind itself living on home planet Earth.” But living on home planet Earth does not mean that every human being feels at home on Earth. On the surface, his definition of a World Citizen is an inspiring image of man, a vision of how people could live in harmony and peace with each other. But it is missing an essential component — namely, how individuals can live in harmony with themselves.

Pliny the Elder was bewildered by people’s desire to wage war against each other. He wrote in The Natural History: “Other living creatures live orderly and well, after their own kind: we see them flock and gather together… the lions as fell and savage as they be, fight not with one another: serpents sting not serpents, nor bite one another with their venomous teeth: nay the very monsters and huge fishes of the sea, war not amongst themselves in their own kind: but believe me, man at man’s hand receiveth most harm and mischief.” Man, Pliny observed, did not feel comfortable even in the world of men. But Pliny also proposed a solution: “Home,” he wrote, “is where the heart is.” Did we miss the meaning of his words? The phrase is not about the location of home. It is about the location of the heart. A person at peace with herself is a person at home in the world. A person who can make her heart into a home doesn’t need a passport and already lives beyond nations. She is a map without borders. • 22 August 2013


Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany's selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at