Borders cross. They cut, severing communities. Due to the happenstance of birthplace, they exclude with the threat of lethal force. As the scholar, Joseph Carens (2013), succinctly puts it: “Borders have guards and the guards have guns” (p. 225). The post-Westphalian development of the nation-state as the dominant form of global political organization has evolved in the 21st century into a world system that facilitates capital flow while restricting the movement of human beings. None of that is news to you, nor was

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it news to me when I began doing research with Larry Friedman in 2016 for the forthcoming World Without Nations: Pragmatic Visionaries and the Quest for Global Peace.

What was new: the sudden sense of possibility that came with imagining otherwise, the dizzying awareness that the global order is a product of human choice and historical contingency, and that we do not have to take unjust present circumstances as natural. While working on the One World project with Larry, I began diving into the words of Grenville Clark, Norman Cousins, Ralph Bunche, Harris Wofford, Robert Maynard Hutchins, and other idealists who saw in the wreckage of World War II a map for future peace. While the shapes and colors of that map varied over time and between the core visionaries who sought to make that world possible, they were united in the recognition that nationalism is entwined with global violence and that the work of collective political change begins in the imagination. As Larry initially pitched the idea to me, it’s what John Lennon said: “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for.”

While I only worked on the project for less than a year, the refusal of those men and women to accept a global order that perpetuates exclusionary violence—national citizenship produces its other, the alien, the refugee—has continued to inform my research, activism, and teaching. As an activist, I work for migrant justice and the abolition of the carceral system, as freedom of movement, including across borders, is core to global justice. As a theater scholar, I study the performance of displacement and the intersection of forced migration and dramatic art. The theater and classroom are both sites of imagination, loci of collective experience, and laboratories for collectively thinking our way into alternative forms of living.

While I was recently writing about Mohegan theater maker Madeline Sayet’s Where We Belong, which charts the journey of an Indigenous Shakespeare scholar in-between the United States and the United Kingdom and the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism, I thought of Larry and the One-Worlders. In one scene at a border checkpoint, Sayet’s (2020) character notes the grim irony of the situation: “You’d think they can’t keep Native Americans out. But try telling that to the Indigenous nations whose territories fall on both sides of the border to Mexico. They predate the U.S. constitution” (p. 30). Borders cross, and Indigenous nationhood troubles not only legitimate claims of settler states but also denaturalizes

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the statist political organization itself. Sayet’s work likewise suggests a relationship to the earth that is not based on exclusive ownership but on a common responsibility to the one world in which we all live.

In the novel Spring, Ali Smith (2019) writes: “What if… [i]nstead of saying, this border divides these places… [w]e said, this border unites these places… What if we declared border crossings places where… you yourself became doubly possible?” (p. 196). Written in the wake of Brexit and rising nativism, Smith’s narrative depicts Britain’s turn away from the European community. Across that continent, nationalist leaders are now thriving—I am drafting this brief essay the week that Italy has elected Giorgia Meloni—and anti-migrant vitriol fuels the Right wing of U.S. politics. Imperial nostalgia afflicts Liz Truss and imperial expansion through war drives Vladimir Putin’s attempted annexation of Ukrainian territory. Against the prevalence of such forces, it may seem naïve to work for subnational and supranational forms of belonging beyond borders. Yet the alternative, as the One-Worlders knew, is to choose violence. I am extraordinarily grateful to Larry for introducing me to the visionaries behind the 20th century campaign for world federalism, whose idealism continues to inspire my research, teaching, and activism. It is a given that we all live in one world; its future depends on the imaginative courage of people who refuse to accept it as it is.

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  • Carens, Joseph (2013). The ethics of immigration. Oxford University Press.
  • Sayet, Madeline (2022). Where we belong. Methuen Drama.
  • Smith, Ali (2019). Spring. Anchor Books.


Robin Alfriend Kello

Robin Alfriend Kello is a PhD Candidate at UCLA where he focuses on Shakespeare, the theater of migration, and early modern literature in Spanish and English. His other current research interests include bilingual theater, translation, adaptation and appropriation, prison education and performance, and Shakespeare and Social Justice as dramaturgy and pedagogy. He can be contacted at .

How to Cite This:

Kello, R. A. (2023). One world, open borders. In M. I. West, P. H. Elovitz, & N. D’Andria (Eds.), Lawrence Jacob Friedman Festschrift. Clio’s Psyche, 29(3), 329-331.

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