In all of my reading and writing on the topic of open borders and immigration, I keep returning to the idea presented in the title: the answer to the issue, especially in a world of state borders, will not be found solely through the application of libertarian theory.
Why do I suggest this? To begin, open border advocates offer many good arguments via application of libertarian theory. The problem is that there are arguments against open borders that are also slam dunks via application of libertarian theory. If application of the theory results in good arguments for different conclusions…then what?
I believe the arguments against open borders are more consistent. I do not intend to offer another examination of these points. My attempts at this have proven fruitless.
Instead, I will expand on the idea that the answer cannot be deduced – and most certainly not in a world of state borders – solely via strict application of the non-aggression principle.
Rothbardian anarchism is the logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle if consistently applied. It offers a world without states, therefore a world without state borders. Instead, all borders would be private borders.
A single-family home, an amusement park, a resort hotel, a condominium, a grocery store, a homeowner’s association, a self-organized community, a park: each one privately owned, each one with rules established by the owner regarding admittance. No state agency telling the property owner who he must allow to enter.
Is it reasonable to assume that the property owner would allow anyone to enter, no questions asked? Do you do this with your home?
Can one describe any of the resultant property lines with the phrase “open borders”? To answer yes would turn the meaning of private property on its head. (As I have often written, once a “libertarian” considers diminishing the rights regarding private property, he ceases to be a libertarian.) Yet such would be the only “borders” in an anarcho world.
In other words, the non-aggression principle, taken to its logical conclusion, would be a world of managed borders.
Please, someone refute this; I beg of you.
Three aspects must be explored. First, there is a jurisdiction over which the governing body governs. Second, minarchists typically suggest three functions for government: some form of internal police and punishment for violations of the non-aggression principle, courts, and defense from foreign invasion. Finally, the method of payment for such services: involuntary (taxes) and voluntary (contractually consensual).
First, the jurisdiction: certainly there must be boundaries for the government, unless one advocates a global monopoly provider of these services. As a global monopolist of government would mean the end of liberty, I will ignore this dream of communist utopians and instead stick to boundaries – political lines on a map depicting the region being governed; lines on a map separating the governance boundaries of one provider from another.
Second, functions: the most relevant for this discussion is defense from invasion. In order to properly defend from invasion, the governing agency must ascertain the intent of those crossing into the boundary. Invasions are not always announced. The answer to “is this an invasion?” is not always black and white.
Will the invaders always fly in on gray helicopter gunships blaring “The Ride of the Valkyries”? Wear camouflage? March in formation? I recall a story of a Trojan horse….
An invasion of Lichtenstein would look quite different from an invasion of Russia, would it not? What does this imply for the minarchist state of Lichtenstein when it comes to defense from invasion? What if the governing body had jurisdiction over an area the size of a large homeowner’s association? What would an invasion look like in this case? Must it look like what the United States has done to Iraq or Vietnam?
My point is not to be silly; my point is…defense from invasion requires judgement regarding who crosses the border and for what purpose, based on subjective – and not only objective – factors. To suggest otherwise is…silly. These subjective factors cannot be found in the non-aggression principle.
Finally, method of payment: we can immediately exclude the involuntary from this examination. Once involuntary, we are in no minarchist condition that is consistent with the non-aggression principle.
What of voluntary payment? A group of individuals, families, businesses, etc., decide to voluntarily fund an agency to provide punishment, courts, and defense from invasion. All perfectly compatible with the non-aggression principle.
We have examples today that approximate such a model: hotels, condominiums, homeowner’s associations, amusement parks, etc. In every single case, the funding for such services is voluntary. In every single case, the establishment has in place rules that govern who is or is not allowed on the property. The borders are “managed”; none have “open borders.” All perfectly compatible with the non-aggression principle.
Can an alternative be imagined?
“I call this meeting of the Podunk Homeowners Association to order. Look, here is the deal. We have all agreed to pay $100 a month to Joe to keep the neighborhood safe and to settle disputes among us. Joe, can you say a few words about your policies?”
“Sure. I am not going to do much of anything. Anyone who wants to come into Podunk will be allowed – why should I stop them and ask them their business?”
“Yeah, but Joe, you are getting paid to provide security. You know, not everyone who comes here is on the up-and-up. We only want people here who we have invited. Guests, gardeners, the cable guy…. For sure, I don’t want my mother-in-law dropping by whenever she wants.”
“Henry, that’s it. I want a divorce!”
“Calm down, you two. Look, if they are flying Apache helicopters and coming in on LPD transport carriers I will do what I can to protect you. Otherwise I will let them enter, no questions asked.”
Of course, it is ridiculous to consider. Is there a single gate-guarded community that does not manage who is allowed to enter the gate? (OK, maybe one.) Homeowners authorize who is and isn’t allowed into the community. The homeowners’ association has rules established regarding access. If they didn’t want to be protected from invasion, why would the homeowners pay for protection from invasion? Yet there are tens of thousands of such examples today.
In a minarchist world, funded voluntarily, those doing the funding will actually want that for which they pay.
Please, someone refute this; I beg of you.
The Early United States
This example is offered by some libertarians who proclaim “open borders.”
We are told: “the words of the founders are sacred; for 100 years and more, this country had open borders – anyone could come.” Except it isn’t really true.
The founders believed in open borders for Europeans, primarily British; they believed in open borders for importing slaves. They didn’t really believe in open borders for anyone else. (Read this for an examination of immigration in early American history; as long as the immigrants were primarily British or slaves, the borders were relatively open. Once others started entering, this changed quickly.)
It is true that the founders believed in “open borders” for property occupied by Indians; the founders did not reciprocate with “open borders” for their own property. They believed in “open borders” for the shack occupied by a slave, but not the other way around. Yet I don’t think this is what the advocates of using the founders as a model are referring to.
The Statue of Liberty – for all those poor, tied masses – looks toward Europe, not toward Mexico, South America, or Asia.
I say all of this without making a value judgement; this is a separate discussion. I state it merely to make clear the lie (or half-truth at best) that this nation was founded on open borders, where all were welcome.
In any case, the United States – even in its founding under the current Constitution – cannot be considered an example for minarchist libertarians to rely upon.
One is free to argue for open borders on a basis other than the non-aggression principle – such is the case when it comes to this US founders’ argument. As it is outside of the NAP, I am not terribly interested in a further discussion on this point.
Walter Block, Jacob Hornberger, Sheldon Richman…they all make good points when applying the NAP to the question of borders, and conclude “open.” Of course, they make many not-so-good points as well.
I will suggest that I and others have made good points when applying the NAP to the question of borders and conclude “managed.” While I believe my arguments are more consistent given how a private property owner manages his “border,” this does not diminish the validity of many points on the other side.
However, what seems quite clear is that the answer of open borders – and most certainly in a world of state borders – cannot be found via the non-aggression principle alone.