Saturday, March 18, 2017

Open Borders: No Answer in the Non-Aggression Principle

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

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.


  1. "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."

    The open borders argument reminds me of what the Spartans used to tell Athenians promoting democracy; try practicing it in your own home.

  2. In the Rothbardian world its not just the property owner who wants 20 migrant strawberry pickers on their farm for a week to pick the strawberry crop who must give permission but every landowner on route that the strawberry pickers must travel who must give permission. And give permission again as they leave your property or they are stuck on your property

    And that permission would not be unlimited, there would be strict rules on use of that land by the strawberry pickers. Including how long they can stay, what they can do, how much they must pay, etc. And the rules would vary from property owner to property owner.

    What would not happen would be the “open borders” mentality that anyone could travel anywhere without needing permission or being restricted in someway or paying for it. Giving away unlimited use of your property is giving away your property. Ownership is based on control, give away control and your property is gone.

    “”””They believed in open borders for importing slaves””””

    But even that was restricted, they did allow a tariff to be put on imported slaves and after a delay to 1807 they did allow the importation of slaves to be banned.

    So open borders types should clutch their pearls since the Constitution did allow a tariff and the banning of importing certain class of people.

    1. On the flip side, if the 3rd world folks would adopt private property and the NAP, they would be safe and prosperous and not forced into a situation where they must literally flee for their lives. It's white "progressive" westerners and their universities who taught the 3rd world "leaders" to adopt statist, socialist and Keynesians institutions most everywhere when they were granted "independence".

      It's all the "progressive's" fault. Like always.

    2. Bob Roddis, Synthoid Clone number 23, year 2317, Neo-Dubai:

      The secret to harmonious and peaceful existence was discovered in the 20th century by jewish economists. Although never implemented in the soil that spawned it (due its being anathema to the ruling class and incomprehensible to the average person), it was then exported to the Islamic world where it was initially met with fierce resistance by the religious authorities, who declared it "Haram" and promptly executed its first missionaries. However, after vigorous debate on logical principles, and with the aid of thousands of translations of The Ethics of Liberty being air dropped on Mecca, the Arabs came to be persuaded that what they were doing were "acts of aggression." Many scholars attribute this to the fact that the "new idea" allowed for a thriving market in "voluntary white-slavery" where the few remaining Europeans would sell their daughters (correctly regarded as property) to the wealthiest (most productive) Arab merchants.

      And so began the Arab-Libertarian golden age which has seen the creation of 12 Lunar colonies and discovered the secret to eternal life in the form of self-replicating synthoid clones that are programmed (using a sophisticated NAP algorithm) to be in perfect harmony with cosmos.

      In recent years researchers and archeologists have ventured into the uninhabitable nuclear wasteland of that was once called "Europe" in search of the birth place of Ludwig von Mises, most commonly referred to by the honorific "first teacher."

    3. DJF. The Constitution did not mention slaves, but Persons. That clause had to due with the immigration power as it related to the States and the Federal Government

  3. This “open borders” discussion is an example of why the Libertarian Party have received .9% of the vote for 40 years. “Open borders”, “legalization” of drugs and prostitution and “zoning” take on completely different meanings if enacted under our current system as opposed to being a part of an AnCap covenant community. A covenant community could ban drugs and prostitution and druggies and prostitutes and evict people who violate those rules. “Zoning” is moot when there are private roads as the road owner would have a veto over the type of buildings serviced by the road. And the type of people driving on it.

    As I recall, the southerners wouldn’t vote for Ron Paul because he was seen as “socially liberal”. I supposed that is technically true because if drugs and prostitution were “legalized” but nothing else in society changed, then those people could live next door and their kids could go to school with your kids. Just who exactly is going to vote for that? Why no appeal to evangelicals explaining that they can live in their own private communities with their own schools with “morals clauses” to their heart’s content?

    The NAP means that drug testing, genetic testing and charging super high insurance rates for druggies are all “legalized”. Libertarians seem to be hiding that feature.

    Are we purposefully hiding the notion of covenant communities from the public until AFTER they buy into the “meth cookers living next door” temporary model of libertarianism? Are we that afraid of “progressives”?

    Why would anyone try to appeal to “progressives”? Charles Murray supported gay marriage. How much did that help him?

    1. Very well said, Bob. Libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice; it doesn't have to be prostitution and gay marriage and meth labs in practice.

      Within a "covenant community," using your term, make the rules.

  4. Open border advocates want to open the border of the state, not of private owned properties.

    So they recognize that 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 can have rules established by the owner regarding admittance.

    Their reasoning is exactly this: if it is the owner that must have the right to set the rule, the managing of border by the State is in the way.

    To give the right to set the rule to the owner, we must neutralize the state border managing that is an interference, and that is a kind of decentralization, taht will move the decision downstream.

    Open border, no-welfare, self-defence rights, respect for private property, in the vision of open-border libertarians, go together.

    That said, I'm with you that it's impossible to find a clear solution in the NAP, and that open border is irrealistic and can be dangerous.


    1. Anonpoof,

      With open borders people it is always open borders first and elimination of welfare never.

    2. And "elimination of immigrant citizenship so the newbies and their extended family can't vote Democrat for the next 300 years" never.

    3. "Open border advocates want to open the border of the state, not of private owned properties."

      It is true that some libertarians pretend to take that position, but the vast majority of open-borders advocates are only interested in the first part.

      The libertarians who (pretend to) take this position are either intellectual/moral cowards or snakes operating on behalf of the dark forces of this world.

      The reason being that we live in a dead civilization and suffer all the attendant dysfunction and chaos that comes with that. The once high culture of the West is simply incapable of withstanding an influx of foreign people while at the same time trying to remove the extra-european culture-distorters from our midst.

      Libertarians are supposed to recognized the problems of foreign and domestic tyranny but pretend not to notice that architects of these imperial wars and domestic oppression are the ones pushing for the destruction of the ethnic foundations of western nations. Could there be a reason for this? Is it just fluffy humanitarianism. Like the fluffy humanitarianism of the Iraq war?

      People like Hornberger imply its our moral duty to be burned twice. First we have to pay for these wars in blood and treasure, and second we have to accept these wars coming home to us. How is this a moral position?

      You people are playing with fire and you are gonna get burned.

    4. Anonproof,
      "Open border, no-welfare, self-defence rights, respect for private property, in the vision of open-border libertarians, go together.

      That said, I'm with you that it's impossible to find a clear solution in the NAP, and that open border is irrealistic and can be dangerous."

      By that logic, the NAP can’t apply to US born either, as most of them benefit from government transfers and are supporters of such, in one way (and to one extent) or another.

    5. Jack, your logic doesn't hold. As "immigration" is nowhere to be found as a "right" under the NAP, what does this have to do with application of the NAP to US born (or anyone else, foreign born, etc.)?

    6. BM, the NAP isn’t a list of positive rights, so that’s a non-sequitur. It’s a prohibition, in an ethical sense, of aggression by individuals.

    7. Jack, as I understand and agree with your statement, it is clear we are not communicating well with each other. It happens.