Column by Alex R. Knight III

Exclusive to STR

Among the numerous other rifts which have divided libertarians over time, none of them in recent memory seem to have created as much consternation as have the intertwined issues of both immigration, and state (national) borders.

Now it should seem at first glance that this dual issue, as it were, is an easily resolvable one from any even basic grasp of libertarian concepts: Since each individual human being is a self-owner (and I think here we can skip the semantical arguments that term raises on occasion), it follows that people should have the freedom to travel and live where they wish, so long as they do not violate the property rights of any other individual. Hence, immigration laws, and the arbitrary government boundaries within which they are enforced, are entirely illegitimate threats and uses of force against innocent people.

Seems fairly solid and noncontroversial, right? If only.

There exists a sizable wing of self-proclaimed libertarian thought wherein it is posited that while the above line of logic might hold true under more idealized circumstances, current ones dictate a divergence away from such permissiveness as both a cultural and philosophical preservation tactic. To simplify, we must use this one aspect of the State (such thinking goes) in order to keep out populations whose political or social orientations are antagonistic or even anathema towards traditional Western/American values of capitalism, individual initiative, and private property, in order to slow down – if not reverse – trends leaning away from these foundational attributes of any free society. Allowing unchecked immigration will render us overrun by such people as are enthralled by and culturally acclimated to socialism, collectivism, and welfare statism. If we hold true to purist libertarian principles in this regard, it is argued, we will lose the final vestiges of Western thinking. All will, in short order, come to ruin and apocalypse.

Just how and when a sufficient degree of libertarian education will have been achieved in order that such retreats to statism might then be abandoned entirely is never made clear. Nor is there much discussion, for that matter, among such “bordertarians” as to just how re-educating that segment of the populace who are native and already here differs to any great degree, or can expect to be any more successful in the presence of strict state border controls.

But my purpose at present is not to either convince or dissuade anyone from either side of this particular argument. Plenty has been written in that vein elsewhere already. What I'd like to point out is a salient fact heretofore, to the best of my knowledge, overlooked.

If our mutual goal, as either libertarians or bordertarians, is to diminish and ultimately abolish the State, I think we can rest almost entirely assured that its more exigent extravagances (welfarism, foreign aid, corporate bailouts, etc.) are likely to be the very first things to meet the chopping block, and then on downwards through the chain. Not those characteristics which are foundational to its very existence, such as police, tax agencies, military – and borders.

Think about it: What more basic delineation of any government is there than the geographical area over which such arrogant thugs claim to have jurisdiction over a given population? Without borders, no government can ever assert its perceived authority successfully, or with any measure of public credibility. If bureaucrats and powermongers have no space over which to rule – well, then their claim of “rule” doesn't really count for very much, does it? Indeed, what is one of the first things any conquering power in history has done after occupying an enemy's territory? The borders are either reproclaimed as they stand, or altered to conform to the new military reality, against neighboring states. Within those imaginary lines, the rulers are everything, and wield vast powers. Without, they're effectively nobodies who can be disregarded, and who must themselves observe codes of conduct established by other rulers.

In summation, then, I'll only point out that whether you favor open borders with Mexico and Canada such as existed in the 19thCentury, or a couple of modern-day Berlin walls replete with razor wire, guard towers, and machine-gun nests along both imaginary lines, you can rest assured of one immutable reality:

After both the welfare and warfare states are gone, after the Federal Reserve is just a grim passage in history, after all nonviolent victimless crimes are no longer crimes – even once taxation is nothing but a barbaric memory from the past – when even the night watchman state is itself sound asleep and deeply snoring . . . there will still yet be borders.

Until, that is, the State itself, at long last, is entirely gone.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 150

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His Facebook page can be found here.  Receive Alex's occasional Tweets here.


Paul's picture

The State will never entirely be gone, as there are too many people who want it. With Panarchy and secession, there may be smallish localities (possibly as large as a state) where there will be no State. But there will still be borders with the surrounding states, even if those borders are administered only by those surrounding states.

I am leaning a bit toward bordertarianism, but also pointing out that welfare is what draws immigrants (particularly the worst kind) and maybe we should get rid of that, before anything else. But the reason I lean that way is an observation by Mark Twain:

"Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed."

... which at least suggests that keeping people fed is a good idea (if we want NAP to be observed), so maybe we shouldn't import too many Venezuelans. The best way to keep people fed is to have people who appreciate liberty and the free market, as much as is possible.

The other thing that occurs to me is that there needs to be examples of places where people live in liberty. If there are no such examples, how will the rest of the people ever know the advantages of liberty? And how are such examples maintained without borders? Perhaps there is some way, but I am not capable of imagining it.

dhowlandjr's picture

hi Paul. sometimes i like your articles. i get your intention to be a pessimistic curmudgeon. but this comment is not good. if the state could be gone in some places what could stop a better way of life from gradually catching on? borders are needed by the state, what use do free people have for them? I'm as much an admirer of mark twain as anyone, but one could also say that when a certain state of consciousness is reached hunger is no match to ones commitment to principles. and i've known quite a few pretty nice venezuelans, too, what are you talking about? your tax money has been used to make it impossible to survive inhabiting the place they come from. i think your ideas sound way too political!

Paul's picture

I sent another article on borders to Rob, which considers a narrow aspect on the issue. If he doesn't post it here, it will be found on The Libertarian Enterprise.

Borders are needed by property owners, right? At least the border around one's property...