…or Principled Libertarianism from a truly Principled Libertarian.
Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle
- The Three Stooges
Nations by Consent, by Murray Rothbard
I preface this essay: almost every time I read Rothbard I am struck by how he has resolved countless issues of libertarian theory and application decades ago, issues that I have only recently worked through. The man developed many concepts and applications associated with the non-aggression principle out of whole cloth; it is amazing how well his work stands up to time.
In this essay, Rothbard examines the idea of nation, collective security, secession, anarcho-capitalist open borders and a few other topics. I will focus on the topics of the nation and open borders. I have previously offered a minor examination of this paper. Today, for some reason, it seems like a good day to go into some detail.
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."
Atomistic-individual-libertarians (i.e. left-libertarians) need such a lesson from Rothbard. For the rest of us…mmm, we get it already.
Rothbard is writing at the time of the decentralization of the Soviet Union; if ever a case study involving actual human beings might offer the value that actual human beings put on “nation,” this was the case study (for example).
But let’s not be confused by the term “nation”:
When the "nation" has been thought of at all, it usually comes attached to the state, as in the common word, "the nation-state," but this concept takes a particular development of recent centuries and elaborates it into a universal maxim.
If one defines “state” as an entity with a monopoly of legislating, interpreting and enforcing law, it is a concept developed in the west primarily after the Reformation and Renaissance.
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.
Economic efficiency and exchange has never been and will never be the primary glue that holds society together. “Family, language, and a culture,” or – because I like triggering my leftist enemies – blood and soil.
Can one conclude “open borders” purely from the non-aggression principle? I say no, but don’t take my word for it:
I raise the pure anarcho-capitalist model in this paper, not so much to advocate the model per se as to propose it as a guide for settling vexed current disputes about nationality. The pure model, simply, is that no land areas, no square footage in the world, shall remain "public"; every square foot of land area, be they streets, squares, or neighborhoods, is privatized.
As Walter Block has offered, full private property rights are one requirement if one is to speak of “open borders” as a principled libertarian policy. For those who are not sure about our present condition, we do not have full private property rights today.
…on rethinking immigration on the basis of the anarcho-capitalist model, it became clear to me that a totally privatized country would not have "open borders" at all.
Wow! Why didn’t I think of that? Wait, I did (about 20 years after Rothbard wrote these words; see here and here for two examples). But I guess I wasn’t sitting on Murray’s knee when I wrote those pieces; maybe it carries more weight when one hears Rothbard say it.
If every piece of land in a country were owned by some person, group, or corporation, this would mean that no immigrant could enter there unless invited to enter and allowed to rent, or purchase, property.
Is your house an “open border”? That must be an interesting place.
A totally privatized country would be as "closed" as the particular inhabitants and property owners’ desire.
Sounds like a managed border to me, a border managed by the private owners. You mean to say that the non-aggression principle applied to this question would result in a managed border? I’m shocked, shocked! (Not really.)
But wait! It gets worse (well, better for me but worse for some): Rothbard used the plural? “Inhabitants”? “Property owners”? You mean two or more (or a hundred or a thousand or a million) people could agree to close the borders to their combined lands? And this would be perfectly compatible with a principled libertarian position? Rothbard seems to think so.
Look, don’t blame me, all you principled libertarian minarchists (talk about an oxymoron) out there – take it up with Rothbard. He will pay as much attention to your opinion as I will.
One cannot deduce open borders solely from the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle, strictly applied would result in a) all property privately owned, b) therefore result in all property borders “managed” by the property owner.
I understand the following objections from libertarians on state border control:
· The state, when enforcing border control, commits numerous – and even violent – violations on person and property; these should not be accepted by libertarians.
· Anything the state does is inherently a violation of the non-aggression principle.
· Joe invited his friend Mohammed for a visit; why should the state stop this?
On the first item, I unequivocally condemn the state’s violent actions – some people are confused about my views on this; I think people such as these just have a hard time following an argument. Of course, a minarchist cannot hold to the second and third objection – not on anything approaching minarchist grounds.
All of these are valid objections – and it might surprise some people if I said I personally agree with one or more of these (actually, it shouldn’t surprise anyone who actually reads what I have written on the topic).
With this said, there is no pure libertarian answer to borders and immigration in a world of state borders: conceptually impossible for principled libertarians; illogical for minarchists, who – once they have given privilege to the state for defense – cannot at the same time take away defense of the state borders by state actors.
Principled libertarians are left to choose from second best – using criteria other than what the non-aggression principle offers. For this, I say: to each his own.
Anyway, ask Murray; maybe you will listen to him.
Mark my words: the attacks on this post will come quickly. Rest assured, it will only come from individuals who have trouble with reading comprehension.
But, if anyone who attacks the comments in this post wants to demonstrate that he is not a coward, deal with this. The challenge is open to open-borders libertarians, both named in the post and unnamed.