Immigration: the philosophical case

2015-05-20 Hungarian-Serbian_border_barrier_1

To put it bluntly: there is no libertarian philosophical case for open borders.
To put it in a different way, libertarians must choose between property rights and open borders.
We cannot have it both ways.

The idealized case

Let’s suppose an ideal world where there are no ideological, cultural, religious or philosophical differences between people. Let’s imagine the libertarian garden of Eden, the Neverland of eternal freedom. Every piece of land in it is owned, acquired with the strictest observation of the Non-Aggression-Principle.

Let’s suppose you want to enter my property. Should I have the right to refuse you entry? If I would not, I wouldn’t really have a property, would I? Let’s suppose that I hook up with a hundred other people and their families and build a community. We create a ‘constitution’ to formalize the rules within this community. Shouldn’t we have the right to create such rules? Couldn’t those rules include provisions to accept or exclude new members to the community? Couldn’t we demand that anybody who wishes to be part of this community must abide by its rules? Thousands of such neighborhood associations exist in the USA.
Let’s suppose that our experiment is so successful that thousands join in, all accepting the rules previously set. As the community grows we figure out a way to delegate some decision making to some of our representatives. We all agree that we will abide by the rules these delegates make on our behalf
……. or let’s suppose that we work out a perfect way to have direct democracy and every decision we make reflects truthfully the will of every single ‘shareholder’ of our commonly owned property. Can we then still decide at that point to refuse entry to some who wish to come?

Would the size of the community change anything in this model? Would the method of delegating authority? As long as private or incorporated property owners have true property rights, the treatment of the borders of their property is entirely at their discretion. Denying them the right to control their property is denying them the right to fully own that property.

In its idealized form, the democratic state is the representative of the will of its citizens.
In its idealized form, the democratic state is the owner of any land that is not directly owned by one of its citizens.

A country, in an idealized form is nothing more and nothing less than the ‘collective’ property of its citizens, its fate decided through whatever form of decision making system those citizens set up.
Every new citizen whether born or naturalized is getting a ‘share’ of the collective property which is the nation state.
The right to enter this collective property should be regulated through collective decision making. How a decision is made or how the decision making is delegated is irrelevant to the essence of the question.
No matter what angle we are looking at it from, the idea of open borders is in direct conflict with the idea of private property.

The pragmatic case

Now let’s consider the other side of the question. Let’s suppose that I want to invite you into my house. Should anybody be allowed to stop you from entering? I hope not. But I don’t own my house alone. An indivisible half belongs to my wife. Shouldn’t she have the right to veto my decision?

Let’s suppose that our hundred family community needs some workers to mow our lawns or to teach our children. Should any outside agent be allowed to interfere with the decision who we hire and from where? Again, I hope not. But could any previously made ‘inside ‘agreement prevent it? What if it is part of our community constitution that we do not allow loud motorcycles into our community? That would exclude any teachers coming on choppers.

Should we be allowed to put restrictions on ‘consensual’ relationship? Should I, for example, be allowed to say that “you are welcome in my house except one room, and tomorrow morning you will have to leave”? Any hotel owner does just that.
Or to say that “You have a two year contract to work for our community after which you will be asked to leave”? As long as our agreement is consensual, even far more complex sets of conditions should be allowed as a matter of fact.

I hope it is not difficult to see how these arguments can scale up to the size and complexity of an existing nation state.

We could, of course, question the decisions made by our elected representatives or the executors of their decisions.
We can even question the appropriateness of the system of representation or the scope of the decision making power delegated, but not the idea of collective decision making.

On a philosophical level, libertarians have to make a choice: it is either property rights or open borders.
We cannot have both.

This is an unusually short post, because the point it makes is so obvious. How is it possible that so many libertarians cannot see it?


This post is part of a series on immigration, you can find the rest here:

4 replies on “Immigration: the philosophical case”

  1. says:


    Itt maradt egy extra S “I hope it is not difficult to see how these arguments cans scale up to the size and complexity of an existing nation state.”

    En nagyon sokszor azzal durrantom ki az emberek problemajat, hogy az eredetet megkeresem es ujraertelmezem. Erdekes lehetne belenezni a jelenlegi immigracios struktura eredeteibe is.

    Hivtalak volna a heten parszor de Solecita orokbefogadasi dokumentumait forditom, es nagyon lassan haladok. Jovo het.


    • zorkthehun says:

      Nagyon értékelem a hozzászólásaid, de még jobban értékelném ôket ha angolul tudnád írni ôket, hogy meg lehessen osztani a világgal is.
      To be more specific: I absolutely agree, we need to look for the root causes, I think I know what they are and I will discuss them in some of the upcoming posts about the morality and the politics of immigration.

  2. That is an interesting post and much along the lines I am thinking in my understanding of an ideal society. One of the questions that arise though is, don’t we have that now with our existing society? The likely answer is no, using the argument Spooner gives in No Treason. But we could certainly transition to your ideal society by going for the consent of the governed model. If a future government of any stripe decide to organize society along those lines, going for explicit consent by, for example, asking everyone in the country if they want to consent to having their own personal property encumbered by a covenant of the nature you describe. I believe if something along those lines were proposed today, the vast majority of people of any political stripe would agree to it, because basically, it entrenches the democratic society we already have, but does so by gaining explicit consent.

    The only question would be what to do with the people who don’t consent. I believe they would probably be few and far between, mostly libertarians. They would have to be bought out or isolated. On a small scale, if, say a community of 100 landowners were so polled and 98 gave consent and agreed that all common property of the community would now be entrenched in an explicit property agreement, the two libertarian dissenters would be isolated. They could, conceivably be denied permission to use the common property since they declined to become owners of the property. They would either have to agree eventually or starve. Doesn’t sound very libertarian.

    But let’s for the sake of argument, this isolated community gets 100% consent and it is now a libertarian community because all the property in it is privately held, either individually or jointly. Could the community now outlaw drugs, ban Sunday shopping, impose censorship, forbid prostitution or any of the other things libertarian think should be legal? The community could even develop a mutual aid pact to provide help for domestic industry and to bar the importation of some foreign goods. They could deny free trade.

    In many ways, such a community, while libertarian, could impose some very unlibertarian laws. Would it properly be called libertarian? If so, how is it any different than what we have now except for the small detail of explicit consent?

    Libertarians are fond of railing against government, but I have long believed that the changes would be minor. They would be a matter of gaining the explicit consent that i now missing. Once that consent is explicitly gained, it would operate very much like our democratic society operates today.


    • zorkthehun says:

      Your comment, Marco, would require a very long answer which I will offer in a separate post. We are thinking very much along the same lines.
      The implication is the importance of culture, not just political structure. Liberty can only exist in a CULTURE that is generally in support of its ideals. How we organize ourselves matter a lot less, than how we think a good society should be like.

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