Secure Borders Are Libertarian

February 1st, 2017 | R. Rados
secure borders

One of the most basic tenets of libertarianism is the construction of barriers, borders and boundaries. These boundaries are usually invisible, but they could just as easily be manifested into something physical. To protect individual liberty, libertarians believe in placing constitutional limits on the government's power and reach. Figuratively, libertarians believe in building barriers around individuals to protect them from physical coercion, violence and various other external elements. Some libertarians would argue that they're building barriers around the government – but the outcome and intent are still the same: individual freedom. In most cases, to protect one individual from another, each individual requires a personal wall or protective boundary. The concept is the same as having walls and a locking door on your house. Despite this being the most basic tenet of libertarianism, an unhealthy number of mainstream libertarians reject the idea of stronger national borders, travel bans and extreme vetting. Their embrace of open borders and borderless societies contradicts the most basic tenet of their own ideology.

Libertarians like Rand Paul only oppose immigration because of the welfare state. According to the arguments of libertarians like Paul, immigration and open borders are good, but not as long as there is a welfare state for immigrants to suckle. The argument makes sense, but it doesn't take into account the cultural affects of open borders on a free society.

If it were only border controls that had to do with people coming to work, I’m for as many people coming to work who want to. I’m for an expansive work visa program where we don’t mind people coming to work. The problem is, as Milton Friedman described it, is that we have an enormous welfare apparatus. Not everybody comes to work. Some people come to receive. If 60 million people come here, it would overwhelm us.” - Rand Paul to Andy Hallman, June 2015

Self-described libertarian, Jacob Hornberger, has argued that open borders can be the only libertarian position on immigration:

The core principle of libertarianism is what is called the non-aggression principle. It holds that people are free to do anything they want so long as their conduct is peaceful. That is, so long as people are not murdering, assaulting, raping, burglarizing, defrauding, trespassing, or otherwise initiating force against others, they are free to engage in any action they want. In sum: anything that’s peaceful.

Thus, liberty necessarily encompasses such principles as freedom of association, freedom of travel, freedom of movement, economic liberty, freedom of trade, and liberty of contract.

Those principles necessarily lead to but one conclusion: Open borders, or the right of people to travel across borders in search of a better life, sustain and improve their lives through labor, enter into mutually beneficial transactions and contracts with others, trade, invest, open businesses, hire people, visit, tour, or engage in any other peaceful activity.” - Jacob Hornberger, May 2016

What some libertarians choose not to acknowledge is the idea that freedom and liberty are just as dependent on social attitudes as they are on laws. In the US, laws protect free speech, free association and personal liberty, but most of those laws could be overturned in the future by a massive cultural shift. Overturning the Constitution in the United States isn't easy, but it's not impossible. With enough support, both houses of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court could overturn any law or constitutional amendment together. In Canada, limiting free speech and personal freedom is as easy as a vote in the House Of Commons. Unlike the US, Canada has no real, rock solid protections on individual liberty.

Hornberger's argument sounds reasonable and compelling, but it has a big flaw. In the same blog post, he states that libertarianism is a sound ideology with absolutely no contradictions. That's plain wrong if you consider how we achieve individual freedom and then argue in favour of open borders. To protect a person's life, property and liberty, there needs to be boundaries. Libertarians often resort to the classic argument, “without law there cannot be freedom”. It turns out, laws are barriers. Without barriers, borders and boundaries, we can't maintain personal liberty. If we view nations as individuals, we can apply this idea in the same way.

It's wrong to exclude collective societies and nations from the concept of individualism. Libertarians are the first to defend a private organization's right to exclude, reject or terminate a person's membership based on its own private criteria. These same libertarians argue against a nation's right to do the same, probably because they believe individuals shouldn't be bound by their birthplaces or any other uncontrollable existential realities. Despite the lack of choice, like any private organization, nations are individuals in the global community. Anyone who has travelled the world has seen the difference in cultural norms and values shared by people in different countries. Based on this diversity alone, it's fair to give every sovereign nation its own individual identity.

Libertarians who advocate for open borders view all individuals, globally, as sovereign entities. According to open border libertarians, borders only act to restrict individuals from achieving their own goals and pursuing their own happiness. To an open border libertarian, a Russian is equal to an American or a Chinese national. To an open border libertarian, countries and societies aren't the same as exclusive clubs because most individuals can't control where they're born. This argument sounds reasonable – and it is – but it fails to accept that liberty isn't a universal concept and that opposing cultural attitudes can pose a threat to liberty. Unless libertarians believe that everyone is a libertarian, their logic fails. If libertarians actually believe that everyone is (or can be) a libertarian, they're delusional.

We can argue about why some countries are dictatorships and theocracies while others aren't, but the countries that are dictatorships lack the sentiments required for liberty. If a large enough portion of Iran's population really wanted Western liberalism, Iran would have Western liberalism. Iran is currently a dictatorship run by Islamic theocrats because a majority of its population supports Islamic theocracy. The most revealing and scary fact about Iran is that it wasn't always an Islamic theocracy. Prior to 1979, Iranian women wore short skirts in public and the country's Pahlavi dynasty embraced Western liberalism. The country's Islamic revolution under the Grand Ayatollah was backed by large portions of Iran's population, including student and advocacy groups.

If we look at the Arab Spring that led to the revolution in Egypt, we see one dictatorship replaced by another – in what was supposed to be a “freedom” movement. The truth about the Arab Spring is that it was never about freedom or democracy, it was about one faction of fascists against another faction of fascists. There was no move to embrace Western liberalism because no one really wanted Western liberalism.

Open border libertarians must assume that everyone who seeks refuge or citizenship in the US and Canada are doing so because they believe in personal freedom and liberty. That's totally wrong and freakishly naive. It's even fair to say that most native-born Americans and Canadians don't believe in personal freedom and liberty, unless it's convenient. Most homegrown socialists only believe in personal freedom when it comes at someone else's expense. Libertarian societies have failed to manifest themselves in history books because most people don't really believe in personal freedom and responsibility. Libertarian societies don't exist because the sentiment required for their existence isn't shared by a big enough majority. Just based on these simple and irrefutable facts, the argument for open borders collapses. Unless libertarians believe that everyone will always share their views, they can't logically believe that a truly libertarian society would survive –without protections and barriers– for more than a day.

A society built on liberty and freedom requires protection in the very same way individuals do. Governments are nothing more than collections of individuals and – when individuals are put in positions of power– their self interests almost always supersede their principles and values. If you need examples of free societies succumbing to fascist mobs and dictators, read a book. History is also riddled with examples of powerful countries invading their neighbours.

This brings us to another weird, glaring contradiction within the libertarian circles that support open borders: military defence. Most libertarians fairly believe in non-aggression, but they also believe in having a defensive military designed to protect from foreign invaders with opposing principles. That alone begs the question: if libertarians believe there are external threats that require military defence, why don't they believe there are external, ideological threats that require borders and vetting? There is probably a swamp full of ridiculous arguments that libertarians would dip into, but nothing can logically justify ignoring non-physical threats to liberty in a democratic society, where individual rights can be voted away by a majority.

One of libertarianism's greatest minds, Murray Rothbard, came out against open borders in his later years, as pointed out at OpenBorders:

Murray Rothbard, one of the most prominent libertarians of the 20th century, and one of the leading exponents of anarcho-capitalism, started out as sympathetic to free immigration. However, in his later life, he became opposed to the idea and fleshed out arguments against open borders based on the anarcho-capitalist counterfactual. The arguments were further developed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe and challenged by other libertarians.” -

Countries founded on freedom and self determination have enough homegrown resistance to freedom and liberty on their own, without the influx of foreigners with similar sentiments. In the world of risk assessment, leaving your front door unlocked in a bad neighbourhood would be ill-advised. In the real world, everything outside of any Western border is a cesspool of violence and fascism. Liberal democracies are fragile boats floating in a sea of tyranny. Opening our borders is the equivalent of letting the water in.

Rothbard referenced the dangers of cultural influence on freedom via open borders in his paper, Nations By Consent: Decomposing The Nation-State:

I began to rethink my views on immigration when, as the Soviet Union collapsed, it became clear that ethnic Russians had been encouraged to flood into Estonia and Latvia in order to destroy the cultures and languages of these peoples. Previously, it had been easy to dismiss as unrealistic Jean Raspail's anti-immigration novel The Camp of the Saints, in which virtually the entire population of India decides to move, in small boats, into France, and the French, infected by liberal ideology, cannot summon the will to prevent economic and cultural national destruction.”

If you're a libertarian who believes in open borders, your own ideology will succumb to itself. If you had your way, freedom would die out like an oxygen-starved flame. Your strict, stubborn, naive and counter-productive ideals are suicidal. On a planet where no one else is a libertarian, you risk expediting your own extinction. To survive, you'll need to relearn history and eject yourself from the choir of globalists who think free trade and diversity depend on open borders. As Murray Rothbard and others have proven, it's possible to reassess your own worldview to make it more sustainable and reasonable while remaining within the parametres of libertarianism.