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Travel Before Passports

Written by Gary North on July 3, 2013

Edward Snowden is stuck inside the Moscow airport, because the Moscow airport is technically not inside Russia. So, Russian authorities can pretend that they cannot arrest Snowden on behalf of the United States. Russia does not need to extradite Snowden until he officially walks outside the airport.

Snowden cannot escape until some nation lets him land and take up residence there without being extradited to the United States. He is officially a stateless person.

What if we were all stateless persons? Would we all have to live in the Moscow airport? Or would we actually have freedom to cross borders?

A century ago, throughout the Western world, none of this would have happened. A century ago, there were no passports. We forget this. People living in the modern world cannot imagine the following. This is from Wikipedia.

The rapid expansion of rail travel and wealth in Europe from the mid-nineteenth century led to a unique dissolution of the passport system for thirty odd years before WWI. The speed of trains, as well as the numbers of passengers that crossed many borders, made enforcement of passport laws difficult. The general reaction was the relaxation of passport requirements.[5] In the later part of the nineteenth century and up to World War I, passports were not required, on the whole, for travel within Europe, and crossing a border was a relatively straightforward procedure. Consequently, comparatively few people held passports. The Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire maintained passport requirements for international travel, in addition to an internal passport system to control travel within their borders. Most countries issued passports but countries that demanded travelers have a passport were considered backwards.

Early passports included a description of the passport holder. Photographs began to be attached to passports in the early decades of the twentieth century, when photography became widespread.

During World War I, European governments introduced border passport requirements for security reasons (to keep out spies) and to control the emigration of citizens with useful skills, retaining potential manpower. These controls remained in place after the war, and became standard procedure, though not without controversy. British tourists of the 1920s complained, especially about attached photographs and physical descriptions, which they considered led to a “nasty dehumanisation”.

Our world would have seemed inconceivable to any free man in the Western world a century ago. People would not have imagined it possible that a person would be unable to cross a border because his nation had revoked his passport. There were no passports to revoke.

The Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, both considered illiberal tyrannies, had passport systems. People in the West regarded themselves as living under freedom whenever they contrasted their condition with the poor souls who lived inside the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

Today, the Russian Empire still exists, but not inside the Moscow airport. Maybe this idea will spread outside the Moscow airport someday. But that does not appear to be our day. We have made our peace with empires. The nations of the world declare: “We are all empires now.”

World War I did more to undermine liberty in the West than any other event of the last century. European states killed about 20 million citizens, and began taking away liberties from those citizens who survived. War is the health of the state.

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9 thoughts on “Travel Before Passports

  1. Bob Marshall says:

    If you want to know just how corrupt our government is and has been for years and years, you should read The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous devotion to Executive Power.

  2. chamuiel says:

    Gary North now, i
    s a WIKI Scholar, where articles can be changed by anyone.

  3. Blair Franconia, NH says:

    The "new normal" sucks. Don't it?

  4. Jeffrey John Cox says:

    Open Border with Mexico, are we not all born FREE and with RIGHTS?

  5. AD Roberts says:

    If our government is overthrown (like Egypt) would he be welcomed home as a hero?

  6. You didn't offer alternative sources, or even deny the truth of Gary's statements. You are just using a personal attack as a substitute for rational argument.

  7. "World War I did more to undermine liberty in the West than any other event of the last century. European states killed about 20 million citizens, and began taking away liberties from those citizens who survived. War is the health of the state."

    Right on, Gary! Tell it like it is. Also Woodrow Wilson's large part should be mentioned. We don't realize how destructive WWI really was. It changed the world forever, and not for the good. WWII was merely an outgrowth and consequence of WWI. The Bolshevik revolution probably wouldn't have gotten off the ground without WWI. Can you imagine what the world would look like today if these things hadn't happened?

  8. Because everyone should be at liberty to travel between countries, does not mean they should have the right to squat in any nation they choose and soak up entitlements. So, if you want to come and spend tourism dollars, fine. But if you are not an American citizen, YOU GET NO WELFARE, FREE MEDICAL, OR EDUCATION. This means you, OBAMA! Get the hell out of OUR country where you have been sucking the blood of Americans your entire detestable life.

  9. The entire pageant of history is a testament to the triumph of evil.God help us!