The Libertarian Position on Immigration

Column by Hogeye Bill.

Exclusive to STR

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 would would happen in a market through centralized control is not a free market, anti-immigrationists trying to simulate what would happen in a 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, page 52.

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 natural-rights libertarian seeking morality and justice cleaves militantly 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 revolutionaries. 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, page 19.

I hope Bionic Mosquito, Lew Rockwell, and Hans Herman Hoppe come to their senses on this issue. 

This is the Lew Rockwell speech which inspired the article above:
Open Borders: A Libertarian Reappraisal, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. November 10, 2015

Also see: Coyote Take Me to America.   

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Hogeye Bill's picture
Columns on STR: 7

Hogeye Bill is a chess master, songwriter, and freelance anarchist. He is author of the popular Anarcho-capitalist FAQ and an online history of anarchist thought entitled Against Authority. He currently resides in Ozarkia (northern Arkansas in statist-speak) unless he is on the lam again.     


GregL's picture

Excellent retort to the "Hans Hermann Hoppe" school of libertarian immigration theory.

Paul's picture

'land illegitimately held by government belongs to a collective of “taxpayers” who are the “true owners.” '

I too think Hoppe is wrong here, but (perhaps) not quite in the way you do.

There is nothing wrong with the notion of "collectively-owned" land. In a free society, a town may own the town square collectively, with each of the townspeople (if they want) a shareholder. One can think of various ways for this to take place without any coercion. Such a town square could have any kind of restriction on its use that the true owners pleased; everything from "No immigrants allowed" to "Immigrants welcome; set your tents up on the north side."

Where Hoppe goes wrong is imagining that ALL government land is owned by all the taxpayers. There is no way for this to take place, for the land to devolve to the control of the actual owners, in a free society without coercion. To homestead the land, even if you plan to later cede or sell it to a collective, you have to be there and work it. Impossible with all government land; there's too much of it. He also goes wrong in depending on "representative" government to administer that land, as the notion of representation in government is completely bogus, a logical impossibility.

Terry Hulsey's picture

Mr. Hogeye,
Your article for unrestricted free immigration rests on two propositions:
* That radicals for property would limit free speech;
* That radicals for property living in a world where states exist wrongly assume that the state can be proxy landowners for taxpayers, or anyone.
On the first head, I do state that radicalizing property rights to abolish public property would revolutionize the meaning of free speech. First of all, as no one realizes, the intellectual would cease to exist. The intellectual is an institutional construct of a world of partially public, partially private ownership. His sole function is to be the advocate of how public property is to be disposed. In the absence of public property, he would be replaced by the (privately-funded) expert or by the scholar, whether working as an amateur or on behalf of some school. A discussion such as the one we are having would only have the status of a pleasant conversation among friends, with no bearing on the determination of public policy.
Regarding the second head, it's possible that a lost bundle of cash that was originally stolen may not have a titled owner. This is not the case for most, and possibly all, federal land, since the original owners are a matter of historical record.
But let's assume for argument that there exists at least some land without clear title. Both sides want to avoid the irresolution of an unending, and possibly violent, search of history for the "rightful owners," which would do nothing but spawn a blab fest over the meaning of "rightful."
Let's grant the wish of those who want to return this land to homestead status.
Ownership after this rush of "Sooners" into this bonanza of free land would be determined by whom? Immediately rejected by both sides is the possibility that the state can claim property in its own right. That leaves only two possibilities: Either determination is by the state as proxy for yet-to-be-settled owners, or there is no determination at all. In the latter case, the contending homesteaders would be left to "settle it among themselves" as to who got there first. It is puerile fantasy, in the current context, to assume that they would have their insurance agents or private security firms sit down to tea and crumpets for a polite resolution of the matter. (This truth does not denigrate the natural evolution of such agents in a longer context.)
Therefore the only reasonable possibility is that a proxy state, without right to property of its own, would determine ownership on behalf of others to whom it would give title, peacefully fixed and assured. This same argument for a proxy state applies to all current policy matters, until the state can be replaced by anarchic institutions.

Samarami's picture

Interesting interchange. My take is that once "we" embark upon the daunting task of "libertarian" (or "anarchist" for that matter) "theory", we lose the ability to divest from collectivism. Freedom sidesteps theory.

Terry Hulsey:

    "...ownership...of free land would be determined by whom?..."


We had a participant a couple years ago on this forum that got himself thrown off (I think -- anyhow he abruptly disappeared). "White Indian". I liked White Indian because he was crazy (like me). And he "thunk". Injun was the nemesis of the "theorists". He and I both fit what one judge once diagnosed me: pathological nonconformist.

Injun harped on the idea of land ownership from the standpoint of the original settlers in this land-of-the-free. Hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of years ago. They were tribes with chiefs and with medicine men who were revered (just like politics -- the state -- is rather worshiped today by the white man). They formed no central political authorities charged with "determining" who owned the land upon which they hunted and they gathered herbs. They were mostly migratory. The white man labeled the various tribes and groups of tribes "nations". That was the white man's only mentality. He could not divest from collectivism either.

But the natives of this part of the world did not fit the general category of "nation". They had no formally defined "borders". Where men and their families set up their tepees were their homes. Until it was time to move to where the wildlife had migrated for the season. And fight -- they fought like a bunch of libertarians, as I understand history.

They fought among themselves over wells and buffalo herds and hunting grounds, but not "borders". That was the white man's purveyance -- forming political alliances and defining borders. And fighting wars.

And taxing "citizens" (producers).

And determining who could live where and travel where, etc etc etc.

Oh White Indian, where art thou? Sam

Samarami's picture

Intended to address Terry Hulsey's comments regarding "intellectuals". So I'll make a second comment:

Gary North had an excellent essay regarding the intellectual mentality some years ago. You can read it here: