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Libertarian Position on Immigration

by Hogeye Bill


Apr 2, 2016

When intelligent libertarians get an issue totally wrong and seem to endorse government aggression, it is worthwhile to examine their reasoning and look for error. Lew Rockwell’s piece endorsing State controlled simulation of markets in immigration is a case in point. Although Lew Rockwell and others on his web zine (Bionic Mosquito, Hans Hermann Hoppe) get the non-aggression basic description of the problem right, they suddenly go off on various tangents - red herrings that have little or nothing to do with the immigration issue.

Every (sticky property) libertarian agrees that in a stateless propertarian society the immigration issue would disappear, since on the individual level it reduces to trespassing. Libertarians agree that the idea of rights is intrinsically connected with property. A individual right is a moral claim to freedom of action - that no person should prevent you from doing anything you are entitled to do. Thus, freedom of speech and freedom of travel and immigration depend on consent of the property owner of the podium or destination. We agree that, when the State enters the picture, things get more complicated.

Here is where true libertarians apply the non-aggression principle, but anti-immigration quasi-libertarians start diverting, hand-waving, and hemming and hawing. The obvious NAP conclusion is that the State should not aggress against immigrants or travelers. Anti-immigrationists spurn this conclusion and begin spouting red herrings. They suddenly start talking like statist utilitarians, worrying about “artificial demographic shifts that would not occur in a free market” and the immorality of anti-discrimination laws and welfare laws, and voting patterns. Since they don’t like the predicted demographic results, they jettison the NAP! And then, they suggest a centrally controlled and enforced approximation of what they predict a free market would look like. The Soviet economic controllers of old would be proud!

openborderslogo Let us examine their plan as it would relate to freedom of speech, their own chosen analogy. Freedom of speech is often exercised on “public” property - street corners and parks and sidewalks. Using the Hoppe-Rockwell argument: If that “public” property were privately owned as it should be, there would be a lot less exercise of free speech - many private property owners would not want soapbox speakers on their property. The invalid government de facto ownership of sidewalks and parks causes more speech than would otherwise be the case. The government, in effect, subsidizes this speech. Therefore, according to the anti-immigrationist logic, the government should limit or prevent the speech of soapbox speakers and pamphleteers to (what the government deems) is the level that would occur in a free society.

Does any libertarian buy that argument? Of course not! Libertarians treat the NAP as a moral side-constraint, not something to be minimized. Read Rothbard on that. Killing or imprisoning all inner city teenage black males may minimize aggression, but that would not be a libertarian solution! Just as the USSR trying to simulate market operations through centralized control is not a free market, anti-immigrationists trying to simulate the migration market by using centralized control (including kidnapping of innocents) is not a free market.

We agree that everything the government has was stolen or paid for by stolen wealth, that The State does not legitimately own “government land.” Lew Rockwell asks a good question: What is the status of land which the State owns de facto but which is not legitimately owned by entitlement theory? I think Hoppe gets the wrong answer. Hoppe thinks that land illegitimately held by government belongs to a collective of “taxpayers” who are the “true owners.” Is this reasonable? I don’t think so. I think that stolen property which cannot be returned to rightful owners reverts to “commons” status - anyone can homestead it. If a load of extorted cash falls from a mafia truck, the finder may keep it. According to Rothbard, anyone except the thief may homestead such stolen property. Thus, the correct libertarian answer is: If immigrants come in and are so bold and heroic as to squat on illegitimate government “property,” then they are homesteading it. Libertarians should cheer! They are freeing land from the grasp of State and returning the stolen wealth to Society.

The notion that the evil State should be the monopoly police to enforce a blessed collective’s (taxpaying xenophobes) whims is disgusting, from a libertarian point of view. The fact that this Soviet style planned “market simulation” is proposed by self-professed free marketers is mind-boggling. With libertarians like this, who needs commies? We have a name for someone who puts their cultural and social vision above freedom - a progressive. It is sad that some salient libertarians are ardent immigration progressives, trying to rationalize government immigration nazis kidnapping innocent people.


Libertarian anti-immigrationists make a fatal error in their application of the non-aggression principle. They consider non-aggression as a moral goal to be maximized. How is this unprincipled? It is basically smuggling utilitarianism into the non-aggression notion. It is no longer a principle. Let Robert Nozick explain:

“But a theory may include in a primary way the nonviolation of rights, yet include it in the wrong place and the wrong manner. For suppose some condition about minimizing the total (weighted) amount of violations of rights is built into the desirable end state to be achieved. We then would have something like a “utilitarianism of rights”; violations of rights (to be minimized) merely would replace the total happiness as the relevant end state in the utilitarian structure.” - Robert Nozick. “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” p52.

Rothbard considered such non-aggression utilitarians to be “selling their souls ... for a mess of pottage.” He wrote:

There were two grave consequences of this shift from natural rights to utilitarianism. First, the purity of the goal, the consistency of the principle, was inevitably shattered. For whereas the natu- ral-rights libertarian seeking morality and justice cleaves mil- itantly to pure principle, the utilitarian only values liberty as an ad hoc expedient. And since expediency can and does shift with the wind, it will become easy for the utilitarian in his cool calculus of cost and benefit to plump for statism in ad hoc case after case, and thus to give principle away. … Second, and equally important, it is rare indeed ever to find a utilitarian who is also radical, who burns for immediate abolition of evil and coercion. Utilitarians, with their devotion to expediency, almost inevitably oppose any sort of upsetting or radical change. There have been no utilitarian revolution- aries. Hence, utilitarians are never immediate abolitionists. The abolitionist is such because he wishes to eliminate wrong and injustice as rapidly as possible. In choosing this goal, there is no room for cool, ad hoc weighing of cost and benefit. - Murray Rothbard, "For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto," p19.
I hope Bionic Mosquito, Lew Rockwell, and Hans Herman Hoppe come to their senses on this issue. To paraphrase an old saying, with “libertarians” calling for massive State intervention and government kidnapping of immigrants (to minimize aggression of course) who needs statists?


Author's note: Here is the speech which motivated me to write the article:
Open Borders: A Libertarian Reappraisal, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. November 10, 2015

Also see the song: Coyote Take Me to America.

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