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Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Libertarian View of Immigration

by Richard Storey, Master of Laws contributing to Ocean Drive


Private Property, No Trespassing




Libertarians side with the Left when it comes to open borders, right? Not so. Libertarianism has recently seen a spike in the U.S. with membership of the Libertarian Party growing since March and presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, receiving increased media coverage. When it comes to the subject of immigration and border control, it is said that libertarianism has been drawing supporters away from Hillary Clinton in its fervent opposition to Donald Trump's push for tighter borders. This supposed standard position upholds the obvious benefits of the free movement of goods and sees the free movement of labour as synonymous with this.

But the fact is that to a significant number of libertarians, indeed some of the greatest figures in contemporary libertarianism, open borders are far from favourable for the modern, western, liberal democracy. Such figures include Lew Rockwell, the most widely-read libertarian blogger and former chief of staff to then congressman, Ron Paul; and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, arguably the most important and influential contributor to libertarian philosophy for decades. In fact, as another giant of libertarian thought, Walter Block, explained to me, abortion and immigration are the two major divisive issues in libertarianism. Make no mistake, libertarians are not exclusively pro-open borders.

This lesser-known counterargument asserts that open borders result in the forced integration of one people with another, which may be undesirable. There may be those locals who do not want to associate with or be neighbours with those from a culture different and perhaps even fundamentally contrary to their own. How about Westerners who feel uncomfortable with Islam, which is contrary to certain classical liberal ideals of the West? After all, even the former head of Britain's Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Trevor Phillips, had to later admit that Muslims still exhibit a cultural chasm, separating them from their Western and Westernised neighbours, thwarting integration even after decades of coexistence.

Many libertarians feel that, for this reason, unfettered immigration would stifle the uniquely libertarian tendencies of the West by allowing such a large and alien demographic to alter political policy with their votes. Of course, leftists would simply dismiss such understandable concerns as 'racist'. However, the argument is deeper than these cultural concerns.

The debate, in libertarian circles, has revolved around the subject of the welfare state and private property. To paraphrase Milton Friedman, you cannot have both relaxed borders and a welfare state. The basic argument here is that immigration in relation to jobs is one thing (a good thing, in fact) but immigration in relation to welfare is a direct drain on national resources — resources which have been coercively taxed from citizens by the state, as any good libertarian will be only too glad to remind you.

To the libertarian, private property is a logical fundamental from which all social theory must flow, however inconsistently. Nevertheless, we live in a state system of government which imposes the public ownership of various things on us and prevents their being privately owned. Whilst the public ownership of things is an economic disaster, Hoppe pointed out that the taxpayer nevertheless does have a part-ownership of them and that no bum or foreigner, having paid no domestic tax, can claim any right regarding them. Therefore, Hoppe and many others conclude, it is an act of invasion when foreign forces come and make use of public property and services owned by and funded (through threat of force) by the citizenry. This argument is very popular among libertarians and is one of the reasons many libertarians see potential cause for allegiance with Trump supporters.

But I must be intellectually honest and describe the most developed, academic position in libertarianism and the one to which I hold. Yes, private property is the sterling tenet of libertarianism and the same Walter Block who identified abortion and immigration as sources of contention has attempted to provide the consistent and middle ground for libertarians on these issues, in line with private property rights. He retorted that public property and services are made use of by foreigners when they enter, by lorry or what have you, to engage in the trading activities we all benefit from, so we cannot administrate the prevention of all uses of public property by non-taxpayers.

Furthermore, a historic foundation of libertarianism is the Lockean idea of homesteading virgin land; to forcibly prevent anyone from homesteading a piece of land is contrary to private property rights. Well then, what are we to do? Focus on private property! We must encourage the reinvigoration of a fundamental respect for private property rights among our conservative friends. After all, this is arguably the chief classical liberal principle which has distinguished the West from the rest.

The best strategy for libertarians is not to take sides with the left or the right, but to take the moral high-ground. We must assert that taxation for the welfare of others removes all moral and charitable exchange in society and promotes dependency and entitlement; we must assert that private ownership is superior, not just economically, but morally too. Then, we will have a natural system of immigration to jobs alone by those who are skilled and want to live in the West. Immigrants who rely on welfare will be excluded. Local workers will be found more readily for obvious reasons and it will be the exception to import labour from abroad, keeping immigration at a natural and comfortable level for all.

It seems that socio-biological factors play a huge role in the development of libertarian principles in a civilization. I follow Ricardo Duchesne's theory that the aristocratic libertarian spirit of Indo-Europeans was the initial source of Western uniqueness, one to be treasured. For the sake of the values I love and wish to uphold for my children, I want the West to grow in the cause of liberty. But, I think the best way to combat any threat to Western cultures is to reignite our ferocious zeal for our individual private property rights, not to raise state walls.

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