The Strange Case of Borders
“The Strange Case of…” series is a series in which I confront issues that divide the libertarian movement by attempting to make both cases and analyze the veracity of these beliefs, and how compatible they are with the Non-Aggression Principle and the Private Property Ethic. Some of these cases openly violate the NAP, and the NAP will in fact be an issue which I will address. In cases in which one of the sides openly violates the NAP, I will not consider the NAP, but will describe different philosophical principles first. In some of these, I will address cases that are blatantly unlibertarian, in which I will attempt to dissuade the reader of any myths regarding the libertarian nature of said case. This is The Strange Case of Borders.
DISCLAIMER: I am going to clear the air with this right now. If you believe in open or closed state borders, I am not going to claim that you are not a libertarian. I believe that one can still be a libertarian and have conflicting views on borders, although I do believe that neither answer is inherently libertarian by nature.
Perhaps the most divisive issue in the liberty movement is the question of borders. Should they be open? Should they be closed? Should they exist at all? With this article, I hope to explain the case for both. I feel that I am qualified to give both cases and give my thoughts on both viewpoints, especially considering the fact that I have held both viewpoints, all the while maintaining the idea that I am a proponent of natural law and capitalism, and therefore libertarianism. Through this article, I will analyze the libertarian cases for open and closed borders. I will then give what my interpretation of a libertarian stance on borders should be.
When I first became a libertarian, my belief was that state borders must be open. As a minarchist, I believed that giving the State the power to regulate who comes in and out of a country was a dangerous precedent for a vast expansion of state power. The open borders libertarian will go on to say that by allowing the State to close the borders, one is thereby permitting the State to utilize eminent domain to seize land to secure the border, increase taxation to fund enforcement of immigration and customs law, rapidly militarize the police, and take other measures to impede upon an individual’s natural right to movement. Perhaps the strongest view of the open borders libertarian is that everyone has the natural right to travel as they please so long as they are not trespassing upon another individual’s private property. Since the government manages the border, the border is not privately owned and therefore anyone and everyone has a right to cross said border (as time progressed and I began to become an anarcho-capitalist, I began to not even recognize the existence of such a border as it was merely a creation of the State).
I began to rethink my views on borders when a few people within the libertarian community, even anarcho-capitalists, began to challenge me on this belief. The main challenges posed to me were that of welfare, culture, and sovereignty. Before learning how to think critically, and eventually even accepting these viewpoints, I just dismissed these guys as statists attempting to hijack the liberty movement. But that isn’t the case. These people are just as well-intentioned as the hardcore open borders advocates. From here, I shall refute my once-held beliefs and then make the case for restricted immigration.
With regard to my first point, claiming that support for restricted or closed borders implies support for a massive state is simply not true. There are varying degrees of border control and various degrees of enforcement. For example, do I want to build a wall? Do I want to set up a border watch? Do I want to create a zone in which the 4th Amendment is suspended as long as it is near enough to the borders? Arguing against any of these is a strawman. One can argue for securing the borders all the while arguing for none of the above means of control and enforcement. By arguing against these things, one is not arguing against securing the border. You are arguing against something completely different.
Open border libertarians claim that all people have the natural right to travel, and they’re right. You do have the right to movement as long as you do not trespass upon someone’s private property. But there is an answer to this which closed border libertarians have found: open borders are a violation of an individual’s private property rights. Ultimately, those who cross the border are crossing a plot of land that is paid for by tax payers. They will use roads funded by tax payers. They will use services funded by tax payers. Some will even take welfare (at a much greater rate than native-born citizens, mind you) funded by tax payers. Are you seeing a pattern here? Closed borders libertarians argue that having open immigration is merely promoting parasitism in one’s society.
In addition to this problem of welfare, a closed border libertarian will mention the issue of sovereignty. If the State has any duty whatsoever, it is to define what the State is, and that includes where this State is located. And since the State is funded by the tax dollars of its citizens, the land the State “owns” is best classified as tenant property that has been bestowed upon the State to protect. With this in mind, the State has the duty to draw a line in the sand at which people who cross are now subject to the laws of said State, including immigration.
Perhaps the strongest case against open immigration as a libertarian position is that of culture. The culture of western civilization, meaning that of adaptability, individualism, self-governance, and later free markets, enterprise, and entrepreneurship. These cultural elements widely come from and are accepted by western civilization, and therefore we must not let in adherents to non-western cultures, claims the closed border libertarian.
After hearing these cases and watching what I believed to be an infallible belief in open immigration fall apart, I came to accept the notion of closed borders and a willingness to allow the State to do as it will in order to stop the influx of anti-west, pro-welfare migrants. But I knew something was missing. I couldn’t sit here and accept this belief. I knew then as I know now that government is the negation of liberty. I couldn’t go back to being open borders as I knew that was just as wrong as the closed border argument. I legitimately developed this sense of anxiety regarding immigration (I obviously wouldn’t allow this anxiety to be publicly conveyed, thus compelling me to double down on being anti-immigration. To say I was a classic case of Dunning-Kruger Effect is a massive understatement). Political Philosophy is extremely important to me. Advancing the cause of liberty and discerning what true liberty is are perhaps my first principles. I feel that that is my God-given destiny. So this contradiction in my philosophy led to such a great internal conflict. Fortunately, after months of contemplation, I realized that both open and closed borders violated the Non-Aggression Principle, the very foundation of Liberty.
This article would be worthless if I did not offer a solution. Without a solution, I am merely tearing down preconceived notions without building up truth. The truth is that privatization is the goal. The one true libertarian answer to the question of borders is that land must be privatized so that people can engage in original appropriation and voluntary exchange of said land. What I am advocating is a complete and total free market for the Earth’s land.
Some open border advocates will respond to this answer by claiming that they agree, but they contend that borders are unowned, and therefore I have no right to impede upon one’s use of this land. This very notion falls apart in theory and in application. If a resource is unowned, then any single individual has a right to use his labor to make that resource his property through original appropriation. Suppose the State vanished tomorrow. The now unowned land over which the State held dominance would also vanish rather rapidly. This is due to the very nature of property acquisition. With unowned resources having been introduced, a process of homesteading would take place, just as it happened when Europe discovered the Americas. In a libertarian society, the borders question would become obsolete until groups set up communities in which they agreed to the conditions of the maintenance of the community’s commons.
In this sense, if the State were to vanish and I immediately build a wall along the former border between the US and Mexico, I would be utilizing my right to original appropriation and making that land my property. By restricting movement through land, or encouraging individuals to come onto a plot of land, I am exerting ownership of this land.
This leaves advocates of open borders with two options. Either accept the case I set forth, or grant the notion that land ownership is illegitimate. The former option is obviously the better one. Land is a scarce resource and therefore, a resource which can (and naturally will) become property. If one claims that land ownership is illegitimate, a tragedy of the commons will occur. If land would be unowned, everyone would have an equal right to use of this land at all times. If one allows for this, the deterioration of the health of our natural resources would immensely accelerate. In addition, the definition of property would become blurred and the foundation for strong property rights, the very core of libertarianism, would fall apart. The philosophical and environmental implications are far too great.
So what should we do now? The privatization of land is clearly the right answer, but it is not yet practical to achieve. One could argue that we should pursue the policy which implies a lesser NAP violation. Others consider that we should pursue the option that would yield a greater sense of freedom in the long run. The solutions for both of these standards are the same. I would advocate that we promote liberty-minded statesmen that will treat the borders as they would their own property. I would also encourage involvement in campaigns for homesteading or for candidates who support homesteading.
I do contend that the political process is absolutely essential in this fight and for every fight that pertains to freedom. The State is willing to use the political process against you. It is not only within your rights, it is within your best interest, to fight back and pursue the cause of liberty by any means necessary. This is not a call for violence, but a call for reclaiming your dignity. Politics is dirty work, but it is necessary. If we allow the bureaucrats and leftists to continue the path on which they have put America, we will be offering to pay for the transportation into the country so long as these commuters agree to take welfare and vote for bigger government.
This is one of the top reasons why open borders would be a harsh violation of one’s right to property. With the massive welfare state the US has, people are incentivized to come to America not to find employment, but to find welfare. This is not a blanket statement, but this is a major incentive to coming to America in the 21st century. Restricting immigration in the same way a property owner restricts access to his property is a much lesser crime than our welfare state, which amounts to more than 50% of the federal budget.
So in closing, if we abolished the State tomorrow, what form of force are you willing to use to stop me from restricting immigration onto my new property?