On the recent edition of Mises Weekends, Jeff Deist interviews Dr. Jörg Guido Hülsmann. The topic is “Nation, State, and Borders.” It is a worthwhile interview. Fair warning: Hülsmann offers views similar to those of Hans Hoppe on these matters. Quite importantly, he makes the distinction of nation vs. state. It is a distinction worth internalizing for those who want to consider application of libertarian theory in this world populated by humans.
From the interview, I learned of an essay written by Murray Rothbard in 1994, entitled Nations by Consent: Decomposing the Nation-State. As is often the case, when I discover something of Rothbard’s I find myself torn between excitement and depression: excitement because I have somehow worked my way to a conclusion similar to his, and depression because all I have done is somehow worked my way to a conclusion similar to his.
It is a quick read – ten pages. I offer only a few highlights:
Libertarians tend to focus on two important units of analysis: the individual and the state. And yet, one of the most dramatic and significant events of our time has been the reemergence-with a bang-in the last five years of a third and much-neglected aspect of the real world, the "nation."
The "nation," of course, is not the same thing as the state, a difference that earlier libertarians and classical liberals such as Ludwig von Mises and Albert Jay Nock understood full well.
This “nation” is…culture:
Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture.
…usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions.
To discuss the application of libertarian theory in the real world – a world made up of humans that are born into a family and culture – without recognizing this reality is nonsensical. Theory without recognizing human realities is bad theory.
Rothbard goes on to the issue of political borders, and suggests that God did not lay these down at the creation – there is no reason on earth to consider these permanent and sacred. He doesn’t write it this way, but this is what he writes. Secession and decentralization and shifting political borders are both a historical reality and fully consistent with libertarian theory.
Rothbard explains when and why he began to rethink his views on immigration and open borders – he previously took the open borders position:
I began to rethink my views on immigration when, as the Soviet Union collapsed, it became clear that ethnic Russians had been encouraged to flood into Estonia and Latvia in order to destroy the cultures and languages of these peoples.
Rothbard recall’s Jean Raspail's anti-immigration novel The Camp of the Saints (I offer some thoughts on this novel here). Government encouraged and subsidized immigration is not libertarian. Many in the libertarian “open borders” crowd ignore this form of government intervention.
Rothbard, on rethinking his views on immigration in an anarcho-capitalist world, has concluded that as no private property owner has “open borders,” no totally privatized community (or nation) would have open borders either. I manage my borders. What does “ownership” even mean if anyone and everyone had access to my property without my consent?
Rothbard would expect to see numerous different communities (or nations), each with their own views on the rules for gaining admission. Perfectly libertarian, and perfectly in conformance with respect for private property.
Read the essay.