Libertarians’ post-it policies on immigration

Last night’s meetup afforded an opportunity to poll attendees on immigration. I asked everyone to imagine themselves to be writing a manifesto and to state their policy on a post-it note. The goal of this exercise is to generate on-topic talking points for attendees, and is far from rigorous. 13% did not participate and the sample that did included non-members, first timers, and potentially people with no affection for libertarian ideas at all (the evening’s main topic was artificial intelligence).

I was impressed by the depth and variety of thought packed onto 25 post-its. There were some really interesting ideas that were unique in the sample: fixed price immigration, giving the issue less importance, supporting the local population to ensure they have something to offer. I particularly liked the idea that governance over immigration should be fractured in some way, by devolving it to localities or creating “100+ countries”. That is the ghost of Hayek showing up, I expect.

 

40% of respondents favoured open-borders as their reflexive or only position, with half of those favouring controls while a welfare state (education NHS, etc) continued to exist. One hacker favoured open borders as a means to collapse the welfare state.

28% favoured selection of immigrants according to culture or merit, with the preponderance of those concerned immigrants must adapt to our culture generally, or to some specific set of values such as “individualism”.

56% favoured unlimited immigration so long as those coming were able to pay their way and accepted elements of our culture. 12% of post-its mentioned both culture and merit as selection criteria.

The rights of employers and landlords to hire or rent homes to whoever they pleased was mentioned on 10% of post its. I think support for this idea is artificially lowered by the fact that the question was open ended. I would value asking this question again as a yes/no question and would expect support for the proposition to be high.

Immigration, identity and Brexit

Why is the immigration issue at the heart of many a Brexiteer? In a recent conversation I was engaged in, it was pointed out that a stable society has a common culture, and that culture is not the same as race. For example, we have a British culture that includes people of many different races and creeds, as seen in the Vote Leave camp which include amongst others, Muslims for Britain and a LGTB group Out and Proud. Interestingly, a lot of the earlier immigrant population of Africans, Caribbeans and Asians tend to support Brexit as well, as I’ve heard from a few different sources. The common thread is a shared British cultural identity. What has cultural identity got to do with Brexit?

Wanting to control the flow of immigration is not racist nor anti-other-people, it’s a sentiment that arises trying to protect one’s identity from cultural erosion. When an immigrant population drastically changes a culture that you identify with, immigration can feel like a personal threat to one’s identity.

Everybody associates with one cultural identity or another.
For Brexiters, this identity is linked to a solid past. How about you? Do you identify with your family from whence you came, your land where you grew up, your language, your history, the entertainment that made you and your friends laugh? If so, then you may want to conserve and protect these aspects of your culture. In which case getting out of the EU is a good idea, because we want certain things to stay the same, i.e., we want control over immigration so as to protect the culture that we identify with. (Addendum: The EU has also undermined a deep rooted English culture of jury trial, Habeas Corpus, and industrial pioneering that is only possible in a free market capitalism. Some things are worth conserving.)
On the other hand, if you identify with an idealistic future of a new world order where everybody in the world is equal and the government provides you with the essentials of life, then the EU probably sounds like a step in the right direction.

Some would say that it is part of British culture to accept immigrants, and that cultures evolve, which is true. In the past, and also currently, immigrants assimilated, and together with the local population, developed a new identity called British. It takes time and will of all parties. But the current open-border immigration is a different matter. When discussing immigration, we must talk about numbers and time frame, to properly understand the situation. My husband explained it like this: Immigration is like rain; when the fields are dry and the crops are wilting, you want it to rain. But when the fields are flooded and the sheep are drowning, the last thing you want is any more rain. So with immigration, a culture can absorb moderate numbers of immigrants at a time, but not large numbers all at once, otherwise the culture, hence society, becomes very unstable.

The Brexit campaign is said to be so much more energized than the Remain campaign (even when Remain has more than twice the funding of Leave). I think this is because the influx of immigration in the last fifteen years has forced us to reflect on our own identities, and have awakened our primal instincts to fight back what feels like a threat to our own identities.

Some Thoughts on Racism

It seems that calling someone a racist these days is one of the fastest ways to discredit that person’s opinions. That is why, for a lot of people, “playing the race card” is nothing but an ad hominem attack. It is the attempt to beat someone in a debate without actually having arguments. And indeed, there are people who use this strategy. Often it is used by political groups that explicitly label themselves as anti-racist or anti-fascist. These groups usually themselves follow a very much totalitarian ideology that is only on the surface different from fascism. They really have more in common with fascism than not. The hope seems to be that labeling oneself anti-fascist somehow will distract people from their totalitarian agenda and make them good people. Well, they are not good people, but their distraction strategy, at least in the past, seems to have worked better than one would have hoped. But is it fair to say that everyone labeling another person as racist is just playing dirty tricks or are there maybe some people who really deserve the label?

How unpopular the label racist is became clear to me when years ago I stumbled upon a propaganda video of the Ku Klux Klan. In the video a KKK member complained that the Klan was viciously slandered in the media as a racist organization. According to him, the Klan loves all races that god has created. But they should not live in America next to the white man.

This is hilarious I thought. The poster-child organization for white supremacy racism in the US rejects the label racist. This seems nonsensical. But in order to understand why this is indeed nonsense we need to have a closer look at what racism is all about.

What is racism?

Different people have different opinions on this. The so called left for example often uses the word to label any kind of attack on an ethnic minority group that they think is underprivileged. This idea of racism is not very coherent. It is hypocritical and really just a form of totalitarian special interest politics.

For a more systematic theory of racism we first need to clarify the meaning of the word at the heart of it, which is race. On the face of it, it seems to refer to distinct genetic differences in a group of people that result in distinctive physical characteristics. This is how a biologist would define the word. However, these days, the word ‘race’ in racism usually means something broader. It refers to differences in ethnic groups. It therefore has a lot to do with culture and not so much genetics.

This broader interpretation makes a lot of sense. The opposition to biological races and the opposition to culture really appears to be politically the same thing. Is white supremacism really different in principle from anti-semitism? I would doubt that people ever really were opposed to genetics. What people have always objected to is culture. Those savages were praying to the wrong god, had strange traditions, spoke strangely sounding languages and were eating the wrong food. The different looks of people were only used as a possible explanation and identification. And as we know today, non of the things people objected to really have a lot to do with genetics. They are cultural. If this is true then objecting to another person’s culture really is politically the same things as objecting to someone’s race.

Until this point, I am willing to go along with racism. I do believe that there are different cultures in the world. I do not believe that all of these cultures are equally good. I am not referring to trivial things like food. I am a libertarian. I believe that the best way for everyone to live anywhere on this planet is to live in liberty. A lot, in fact most if not all, political cultures that we find at the moment disagree with me on this. One could argue that makes me an extreme racist, as I am in conflict with all ethnic groups, including my own. Alternatively, one could argue that I am a consequent anti racist, as I am equally opposed to all of them.

More seriously though, simply acknowledging differences between cultures is not really a racist ideology. Maybe there are some extreme egalitarians who really believe, or want to believe, that there are absolutely no differences between peoples. But even when I talk to people on the so called left they seem to be very aware of such differences. After all, a lot of them are practicing their very own form of ‘non-racist’ racism, by constantly blaming the evils of white, male culture for everything.

However, traditional racism, as a political ideology, does more than just acknowledge differences. I would argue that at the heart of political racism is and has always been the thesis that certain cultures cannot live in the same society together as equals. If they do live together, there needs to be a clear domination of one over the other. This can take the form of one overwhelmingly outnumbering the others, a legal division into first and second class citizens or can even go as far as an outright master/slave relationship, as we have seen in US history. The other alternative is to physically separate cultures from each other, at best geographically if possible. Abraham Lincoln, who famously freed the slaves in the US with very questionable means, continued till his death to work on a plan to deport all blacks back to Africa. That is exactly what racism is all about. The idea that societies can only work if they are culturally homogenous.

Racism has earned its reputation

It is no accident that this ideology has such a bad reputation. It has earned it throughout history. Wherever we see racist societies emerge, they come with a great deal of violence. It can go as far as an outright genocide like the Holocaust in Germany. This was another classic attempt to remove one ethnic group from a society. Of course not every racist society has ended in such an excess of violence. But violence is very much baked in the cake when it comes to racism. Given that racism cannot give everyone the same rights, there are groups of people that need to be suppressed. And suppression simply does not come peacefully. The preferred front line for racist violence in our time is the border of the nation state. Thousands of people die every year by trying to break the brutally enforced national segregation. Despite that you can still hear the racists scream that the state is not using enough force to keep the unwanted ethnic groups out.

Oh, but I hear the racists object. It is not racism that is causing the violence, it is multiculturalism. After all, good fences make good neighbours. This is of course nonsense. Good neighbours make good neighbours. You only need a good fence if you are living next to a socially incompetent asshole. The violence that racists predict from multiculturalism is a self fulfilling prophecy. If it wasn’t for racists disturbing the peace, there would be no problem with multiculturalism. So it is the racists that are the problem. And by racists I mean all of them. The Imam that preaches that western culture is evil and Muslims should fight it just as much as the members of the English Defence League.

Social incompetence seems to really be a problem of racists. Britain First is another one of those organizations that pretends to be only concerned citizens instead instead of racists. In this video you can see them systematically harassing and antagonizing people. Around 12.45min in the video they cause a confrontation with random people in the street. It almost ends in a fight. The spin that the Britain firsters have on the incident is that they are being threatened in their own country. But really what is going on is just a simple tit for tat strategy which is social skills 101. They antagonize people, so they get a hostile reaction. Their idea of a sociably acceptable behaviour seems to be that they have the right, as Englishmen in England, to not show any tolerance and don’t make any compromises when it comes to the lifestyle of the people around them. In return for this intolerance they expect a complete willingness to compromise and be tolerant from the other side. Of course that is causing trouble.

Political strategies of racists

Given my explanations, I think it is very fair to say that calling organizations like Britain First or the KKK racist organizations is not an ad hominem attack. However, that these organizations are uncomfortable with the label ‘racist’ shows that even hard core racists have realised that they cannot win political battles with it. That is why they are trying to make the word meaningless. The idea is to reverse the ad hominem attack. Anyone who labels anyone else as racist automatically disqualifies as an honest person who is seriously interested in a debate. That is because assumingly everyone knows that there could not possibly be such a thing as a racist movement in our times. Only some totalitarian left-wingers would call another person racist.

Of course this strategy can only work, if they manage to organize racist political ideas under a new, more acceptable label. The most popular label seems to be nationalism. Since most people still accept the idea of nation states, and also the rather strange underlying assumption that there is such a thing as a clearly identifiable nation, nationalism cannot be as easily discredited as racism. It seems perfectly acceptable to physically separate people according to nations. Every state on the planet has laws in place attempting to do just that. This reality seems to give the nationalist agenda a lot of legitimacy. The problem for the racists however is that, at least in the west, the central planning of migration increasingly does not serve to separate cultures from each other. It is just a more or less arbitrary bureaucratic machinery, which distributes visas to all kinds of people from all kinds of cultures. So it is not doing what the racists want it to do.

There are different attempts to deal with this. The most common one is to fight for the concept of the nation. Given visas to members of the wrong culture is simply a mistake. It is betraying the country and therefore treason. Another attempt however seems to be, to change the label again. Unfortunately, more and more of these people think that maybe libertarianism is a good alternative label. There are a number of reasons for that. Libertarianism is not in any form associated with the old racism. It is also anti-establishment. The establishment is perceived to be left wing. Therefore, although libertarianism really is neither left nor right, it can easily been portrayed as right wing. Libertarianism is all about individual, interpersonal liberty. And as it turns out, in order to have liberty, individuals need to have certain private property rights, that allow them to be left alone. To be left alone is nothing else but to be able to exclude people from your life. And here comes the wrong twist in this idea that suddenly makes libertarianism seem attractive to racists. Since individuals can exclude people, groups can do the same. In fact, so the claim of people like Hans Hermann Hoppe, not only can they, but they will. Naturally, so the argument, if you have private property, you will end up in some kind of voluntary segregationist society, in which every culture is living in their very own little harmonic and homogenous communities. And these communities will be big, even as big as a nation.

In principle, I don’t mind people preaching the virtues of private property. But there is a problem when you do that in order to support a false theory. The theory that private property will lead to some kind of culturally homogenous society seems false. Although it seems true on an individual micro level that birds of a feather flock together, all the evidence that we have suggests that this is not what is happening beyond the micro level. Whenever we see people being free to move where they want on the basis of private property they seem to mix up fairly quickly. There are huge economic benefits from doing that. That is why segregationist societies always had to be protected with the full power of the state. There goes the illusion that you can somehow have a harmonious racist paradise without the violence of suppression. And that is the problem with these racist allies of libertarianism. If you have a wrong theory about reality, you can either change the theory or try to change reality. The latter however is not very practical. And that is where the state comes in. The state pretends to be some higher being that can change reality according to an ideology. So the question is, will racists go along with liberty or try to use the state to make reality fit their wrong theories? I think the current migration ‘crisis’ has given us a good hint of what the answer is. Racists are very unreliable allies in the fight for liberty.

Lew Rockwell’s Problem with Freedom

Lew Rockwell is a big name in the libertarian movement. He was close to Murry Rothbard, worked for Ron Paul early on and most importantly he founded the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn Alabama of which he is still the chairman. It is probably thanks to the latter that the austrian school is enjoying a revival. So there is a lot to like about the man. And I for one thought for a long time that the Mises Institute really is the centre of the real revolutionary libertarian movement. I particularly liked the fact that after 9/11, the Mises Institute was one of the few remaining sane voices within all the statist war propaganda. That unfortunately was not the norm among libertarians, many of which seemed to had forgotten about the evils of the state and turned around to cheer for the murder machinery.

That is why LewRockwell.com, which is one of the biggest, if not the biggest libertarian blog on the internet was on my daily reading list for many years. In the last couple of years however, I found myself increasingly estranged from what is going on in this particular circle of libertarians. There have always been blog posts that made me scratch my head. But nothing so severe that it could not be tolerated. For example, there were repeatedly articles that portrayed the theory of evolution as some sort of state education conspiracy that would not have a chance on the free market of ideas. Another strange meme was that carbohydrates are not healthy and that is why the state is recommending it. One of the more dangerous ideas the side was pushing was opposition to vaccination. And all this under the banner of ‘anti-war, anti-state, pro free market’. What do these issues have to do with that?

The blog is not an open platform on which everyone can write. All articles are subject to editorial decisions. It is also not really a place for open debates in which every side of an argument is presented. To the contrary the header makes very clear what the bias of the opinions presented is. Only on a few issues one can even read a pro and a con. But even then it is usually clear which side the editor wants the reader to take. Given all that, one wonders why these strange issues are being pushed.

But whatever the reason, these things never bothered me too much for the simple reason that I consider them to be private and LewRockwell.com never really suggested that as a libertarian you have to have a certain opinion on these issues. The fact that debate is not really encouraged however, is something that I, as someone who likes ideas never really felt comfortable about. I am perfectly ok with a libertarian propaganda site. The idea that it is possible to report politics neutrally is bogus anyway. But even within libertarianism there are many issues that need to be debated. If that debate does not take place, one might end up as a dogmatic organisation that will lead its members into a wrong direction. And I think this is to a small degree happening at the Mises Institute as there seem to be a number of issues that aren’t really been discussed there.

One issue that is a little bit more important than your diet or creationism on which Lew Rockwell gets it completely wrong in my view is immigration. LewRockwell.com puts out article after article after article condemning the idea that the free movement of people should be supported by Libertarians. The arguments for this basically come from Hans Herman Hoppe and are repeated in every article that is published. The hope seems to be that since the arguments are wrong, and wrong they are indeed, repeating them will make them stick with at least some people.

Lew Rockwell himself just wrote an article in this series, that was published on 10th November on his website. The piece is called ‘‘Open Borders: A Libertarian Reappraisal’ and once again we mainly hear Hoppe’s arguments repeated. I am not going to go through all of the arguments again. I have done so in a previous article with the title ‘‘. In a nutshell the argumentation claims that supporting the state in controlling immigration is self defence. We don’t have a free market at the moment, but closed borders are closer to market result than open borders. Since immigrants have access to welfare and public spaces, they represent a threat to the property of the people inside the borders.

If that was a legitimate argument against immigration, we for example could also argue in favour of libertarian birth licensing laws. After all, as long as the welfare state exists we cannot allow people to just freely reproduce. Some of these children will grow up to become welfare recipients. Even worse, the state is subsidising certain people to become parents. Therefore, as long as we have a welfare system, libertarians cannot advocate freedom in getting children. As long as the state exists, the state needs to make sure that everyone who wants to become a parent will most likely be able to bring these kids up without becoming welfare recipients. Is that really a libertarian argument? I don’t think so. If it were, libertarianism would become useless. With the logic of this argument, pretty much any state action can be justified.

The interesting thing about Rockwell’s article however is that he is going a little bit further than Hoppe. He has this interesting idea that libertarianism is not about freedom, but about private property. To be fair, Hoppe says this too, but not quite as explicitly as Rockwell who writes:

“Some libertarians have assumed that the correct libertarian position on immigration must be “open borders,” or the completely unrestricted movement of people. Superficially, this appears correct: surely we believe in letting people go wherever they like! But hold on a minute. Think about “freedom of speech,” another principle people associate with libertarians. Do we really believe in freedom of speech as an abstract principle? That would mean I have the right to yell all during a movie, or the right to disrupt a Church service, or the right to enter your home and shout obscenities at you. What we believe in are private property rights.”

There are two major errors in this argument. Firstly, he is giving the terms “open borders” and “freedom of speech” a meaning that it does not have. “Open borders” does not mean the completely unrestricted movement of people. It usually means to open state borders. That is nothing else but to say that the demand is to get the government out of the way. The same is true for “freedom of speech”. This has always meant that there are no legal restrictions on expressing certain opinions. It has never meant to have the right to use other people’s resources to express what you have to say. But even if there were people who used it that way, libertarians definitely do not use it that way.

Second and more importantly, Rockwell basically implies that there is a clash between libertarianism and freedom. He explicitly says freedom is not the main issue of Libertarianism. Instead, according to Rockwell, it is all about private property. He argues that if there is a clash between freedom and property, Libertarians have to prefer property. Think about that. We have a leading libertarian who argues that we don’t need freedom, we need private property and presenting those two as being somehow opposed to each other. How could it come to that? Why should there be a contradiction between freedom and property?

To be fair to Rockwell, he is correct in so far as the vast majority of libertarians out there probably would agree that libertarianism is all about private property. I think this is fundamentally wrong and a big problem for this movement. Libertarianism should be about liberty. That is not to say that I am not in favour of certain forms of private property. But property is a consequence of liberty. And only property concepts that follow from liberty are libertarian. As such it is by no means clear that, as Rockwell suggests everything will be privately owned in a libertarian society.

However, to understand the connection between property and liberty one needs to first have a theory of what liberty is. And unfortunately most libertarians, including Rockwell don’t have such a theory. If libertarians don’t understand what liberty is, how are they going to explain it to others? This is a problem that I was made first aware of by libertarian philosopher Jan Lester. And I think he is correct. To explain why I think he is correct however deserves a separate article.

Despite the tremendous service Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute have done for Libertarianism, they appear to be theoretically muddled on certain issues. That in itself is not much of a problem. No one has all the answers. I certainly do not. But in oder to make progress one needs to have an open debate on these issues. And that does not really seem to happen at the Mises Institute. Or if it happens then only behind closed doors. I cannot see it as an outsider. That is why the Institute for lack of a better word increasingly appears to me to be a little bit cultish. And that is a real pity.