Borders and their Enemies

The program of liberalism, therefore, if condensed into a single word, would have to read: property, that is, private ownership of the means of production… All the other demands of liberalism result from this fundamental demand.

Ludwig von Mises

Libertarianism alone among political philosophies holds that private property is inviolable; this commitment to private property is what makes it distinctive, not to mention attractive. The non aggression principle, the sine qua non of libertarianism, is itself defined in terms of property, for we must know who owns what in order to know if an act is aggressive. For Murray Rothbard all rights are property rights. For Jan Narveson libertarianism is property rights. In short, libertarians take “finders keepers” seriously.

We can rightly say – although this might seem a rather confrontational way of putting it – that to oppose libertarianism is to oppose private property, and vice versa. For this reason it is a mistake to say libertarians oppose borders per se. In fact, just the opposite is true. The borders of my body, the borders of my home, the borders of my possessions generally, these are what give reality to ‘mine and thine’. These borders are of paramount importance; they are absolutely necessary for the existence of private property. And it is our attachment to these genuine borders that determines our position on immigration, as it does any other issue.

Wisbech Market

Wisbech Market: just around the corner from a whole row of Polish shops. Amazingly, the market seems to be functioning normally.

What aggressive act does a person commit when they migrate? Crossing national borders? But these are merely lines on maps. National borders are not physical things; they are, in the strictest sense of the word, imaginary. It is somewhat doubtful that imaginary objects can be owned, let alone damaged. What about purchasing accommodation then? Is this an infringement of property or an act of trespass? Clearly not, as the owner is happy to make a deal with the immigrant, who is happy to deal with the owner. What about taking work? Again, clearly this is not a problem as the employer is happy to employ the immigrant, who is happy to work for the employer. And the same is true for each and every purchase an immigrant makes in their new country: the vendor is happy to sell his wares to the immigrant, who is happy to buy from the vendor.

So, everyone is happy. Or – to be frank – everyone who counts is happy (ie property owners and those whom they voluntarily trade with). The only people who are unhappy are those who would rather I didn’t sell my house to an immigrant; or who would rather I didn’t offer employment in my business to an immigrant; or who would rather I didn’t sell my wares to an immigrant. Those who, moreover, would prefer it if the State forcibly prevented me from doing any of these things. Which, ironically, would be an actual infringement of private property.

In nuce, the answer to the immigration issue that respects property is that genuine borders should be enforced, imaginary borders should not be. (It should be noted that this does not imply support for measures to encourage immigration; multiculturalism; subsidies, or any other type of State action.)

Now there’s a popular, if, to put it mildly, confused, conservative objection to letting people use their own property as they see fit, along the lines of “you can’t have open borders and a welfare state”. Of course this could very well be true. But the libertarian position is to reject both the welfare state and national borders. Hence, the answer is simple: abolish the welfare state. The typical rejoinder, “That’s impractical, that’s unrealistic” falls flat as libertarians are not responsible for making laws. Let politicians worry about practicalities. And as for the fear that politicians are about to start taking policy advice from libertarians – that’s about as unrealistic as it gets.

An objection to a liberal immigration position based on so-called “public property” is that, as immigrants make use of this and/or other aspects of the existing welfare state, private property arguments don’t tell the whole story. This is not a terribly hard objection to answer if we keep in mind one thing. Say, for example, a public swimming pool is built or public sector workers get a raise or whatever. Although it is common practice to say this is a “cost to the taxpayer”, the fact is that that money could not have been spent if the State did not first take it from taxpayers. It is of vital importance to realise that the only thing that is a “cost to the taxpayer” is the State. This doesn’t suddenly become untrue simply because the subject is immigration.

There is also the “democratic mandate” objection. The idea is that if a majority want a limit to immigration, then “we” should limit immigration. This is a very odd one coming, as it so often does, from people who are, ordinarily at least, free marketeers. We might even call it shocking, as it is an explicitly anti-private property argument. What other word is there when those who kick up the biggest fuss when it’s said,eg, that since the majority wants to put limits on how much individuals can eat or drink or where they can smoke, etc, “something must be done”, turn into rabid collectivists whenever immigration comes up?

And that, ultimately, is what the immigration issue comes down to: private property or state socialism.

  12 comments for “Borders and their Enemies

  1. Paul Marks
    May 20, 2014 at 6:44 am

    There were no immigration controls (as such) in Britain till 1905 (although people who proved themselves to be disloyal to their new country could be kicked out) – and this policy of “free migration” seemed to work well enough.

    However, the United Kingdom was not a Welfare State then – and there were no “anti discrimination” edicts compelling people to trade with or employ those they do not wish to trade with or employ (under the tyrannical doctrine of the late Roman Empire, brought back in modern times, that a private business is a “public” thing like the state – as in “public accommodations” and “common carriers”).

    This is where property rights are violated by modern immigration – they are violated by “anti discrimination” (“civil rights”) regulations, they are violated by demands for money to be spent on “public services” – and so on.

    “Ah but Paul this is all INDIRECT” – not in the United States.

    In the United States property owners (such as ranch owners in the border country) are under attack from illegal immigrants – and if they defend their property against the looting intruders the government (yes the very government that is supposed to keep the illegals out) prosecutes the property owners (under the “Civil Rights” laws – which allow for de facto double jeopardy against property owners who have already been found innocent by local courts).

    Why do “Progressives” in government love this sort of immigrant? (Not other sorts of immigrants – as a German family of Home Schoolers discovered). They love them because they support Progressive polices of looting “Social Justice” (see the Pew Research Centre study of the attitudes of some three quarters of “migrants” from Latin America).

    “But they do not vote” – under “Motor Voter” (supported by a Senator Obama) some of them do vote and see what the media call you if you try and stop illegals voting (and other voter fraud),

    When does “immigration” become INVASION? When the above like things happen (when property rights are violated).

    It one want to return to Victorian “free migration” – one must FIRST get rid of the above.

    No more “public services” for the “immigrants”, no more VOTING oneself more money, and no more “Civil Rights” – “anti discrimination” edicts.

    Then one can indeed have “free migration”.

    As for the idea that borders are just “lines on a map” – even in the 19th century (the time of free migration) immigrants who had that attitude (who had no loyalty to the country they were coming to) would not have been welcomed (to put the matter mildly).

  2. May 21, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Paul, currently people in the uk can eat and drink what they want. However, since we have socialised healthcare the cost of over-indulgence “falls on the taxpayer”. Furthermore, the unhealthy can vote themselves even more of a free ride. Does this mean libertarians should call for the reintroduction of rationing? At least until after the NHS is abolished, that is.

    • May 21, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      Rocco you use the term “UK” – this implies you believe that nations are more than lines on maps. Does it not make sense to ask that new people are loyal to the place they are going to? If not then “immigration” becomes de facto invasion. It would not matter (I AGREE with you that it would not matter) if the new people were anarcho capitalists – but they are not. For example most of the people coming into the United States are not anarcho capitalists and they are not loyal to the United States either, They are loyal to Mexico and other Latin American nations – i.e. they think the wrong side won in in 1836 and 1848 (and their belief in Social Justice reinforces their hatred of the United States).

      A simple act (such as wearing an American flag symbol) can rouse the new people to anger – NOT because they are anarcho capitalists (they are anything but), but because it (according to them) insults their “independence day” (which is certainly not July 4th).

      “That is not true of Britain Paul” – TRUE someone who is worried about Poles or Romanians coming into the United Kingdom is being silly (after all Romanian immigrants are NOT under the impression that the United Kingdom is, or should be, part of Romania). However, the point about “public services” stands (and your counter point about rationing in no way contradicts it).

      And let us imagine that (for the sake of argument) that the Welfare State was done away with – and we returned to the polices of the period when free migration was followed.

      Then imagine many millions of the followers of Islam turned up.

      Should they be allowed in? According to the doctrine of “free migration” the answer is YES.

      Well then one could forget about any idea of liberty – not even in food.

      After all pork would not longer be sold in shops – as soon as the new people became powerful (due to their numbers – and the strength of will their faith gives them) they would crush what little is left of Western liberty as if it was an egg shell (and, indeed, without fundamental beliefs Western liberty is as weak as an egg shell).

      One does not have to agree with Islam (and I do not) to respect the strength of will of its believers – open the gates to an unlimited number of them and the city (the nation) will fall.

      Unless (and HERE is the chance for free migration) they new people could be converted to a different belief system – not necessarily a religious one (for example if they became Randian Objectivists it would be fine).

      However, the last person I tried to explain all this to showed (unintentionally) the weakness of the free migration case.

      The “banal” West (his word – not mine) had nothing to fear from people with hostile belief systems – as belief systems (culture – the efforts to answer the fundamental questions of human existence) were just “soap opera”. As long as one had money and guns nothing else mattered (or, it seems, even EXISTS).

      I hope for a better cultural defence of the free migration case from your good self.

      • May 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm

        My use of the term “uk” implies I believe the NHS exists, Paul. (Maybe I mean “Britain” rather than “uk”, I’m not sure.)

        The point about rationing is a perfectly good one. If we support the State criminalising non-aggressive acts in the one case, why not in the other?

        Regarding “cultural” worries, if we only apply our principles willy-nilly, why even bother being libertarians?

        • May 21, 2014 at 10:19 pm

          Rocco perhaps accidentally you have hit upon the central point.

          Libertarians are not immune from the laws of survival – what you put in quote marks (as if the fundamental questions, culture, did not matter).

          I have stood on borders in the Middle East knowing that if “peaceful migration” was allowed everyone behind me would (eventually) be exterminated or enslaved.

          The laws of survival are not just for other people – they apply to libertarians also.

          As for something not mattering if it is run by the state – the armed forces are run by the state, and if they are badly led then everyone (including libertarians) dies or is enslaved.

          Perhaps military forces can be privately funded and managed – but they would still need to man the defences of “the city”.

          One does not allow drunks and drug addicts in a “public” library – the fact that it is not private property does not effect this.

          As for “free migration” – YES for friends NO for foes.

          If people sincerely wish to join a new nation (accepting its fundamental principles – its culture) then they should be welcomed (regardless of “race”) – but if are hostiles then they should not admitted.

          And you never did answer the point about PRIVATELY owned land.

          Why should “migrants” be allowed to cross over the private property of border ranchers and so on (looting as they go). Why is it a “Civil Rights” violation (whatever that it is) to defend one’s private property?

          This is not immigration – it is invasion.

          • May 21, 2014 at 10:45 pm

            I wasn’t aware you were asking a question about PRIVATELY owned land, Paul. I would like to think that the article (in fact, *every* article I have written both here and at Bogpaper) makes the answer obvious: people can do what they like with their own property as long as they don’t aggress with it – this includes excluding whoever they like from it, for any reason they like.

            I never mentioned “Civil Rights”, or said anything about defending your own property violating Civil Rights, so I’m unsure as to who you’re arguing with here.

  3. May 22, 2014 at 7:39 am

    I’m uncomfortable with words like “national” and “nation” appearing next to words like “culture”. It is worth rehearsing the point (for the benefit of the silent audience) that nations evolve from cultures, not the other way around.

    I think Paul you would agree. I’m just clarifying.

    • May 22, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      If that is the case, and I agree that it is, then what is making you uncomfortable?

      • May 22, 2014 at 5:25 pm

        I would not want the ideas and values of the culture to be defined centrally and imposed on the population, even on new members of that population.

        I do however accept there is some validity in the “de facto invasion” concept that Paul Marks describes but how much validity and what to do –bleah, today has been too long a day.

  4. May 22, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Rocco I am sorry you did not understand my previous comments – however, that is an example of your freedom of choice (which I fully support). Perhaps the fault is mine – for not making my points clearly enough.


    Yes I agree – indeed (if we are dealing with language strictly) the United Kingdom is actually a Union of several nations (England, Scotland. Wales. Northern Ireland – the wild card).

    Actually one of these places (Scotland) is voting on whether to stay in the Union in September – if only American States had the same freedom to secede.

    And British culture (not the culture of one nation) is itself a subset of Western Culture.

    Those six young Iranians who were (briefly) arrested for being in a pop video are clearly as Western as I am (perhaps more so).

    I have stood on a border a few feet away from a black lady (born in Africa) with an automatic rifle – who was also as Western as I am.

    Cultural loyalty (whether someone is friend or foe) is not a matter of “race”.

    This is where Herder (the German philosopher who was actually personally quite nice – unlike Fichte and Frederick List and so on) went wrong.

    Culture is important (vitally important – it is NOT “banal” or “soap opera”), but it is NOT biological.

  5. May 22, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Simon – “culture” (the basic belief systems – principles) must not be “centrally imposed” it must be a matter of individual choice.

    If the beliefs are not sincere (not heart felt) then it is useless – indeed worse than useless.

    At the Alamo there are Spanish (Mexican) names recorded (along side all those other names) – those individuals made a choice (a real one).

    They decided that the Mexican flag was NOT their flag, and that the Mexican Day of Independence was NOT their independence day.

    And they proved their choice was sincere – with their blood.

    A British example would be the former Bishop of Rochester.

    A brown man born and bred in Pakistan – but at least as British as I am.

    Because he made a CHOICE to be.

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