A Panarchist Take on Borders and Immigration

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

Bionic Mosquito has written a thoughtful piece on the border/immigration issue. The money quote? “So what does culture have to do with maintaining a libertarian order? This, to me, is quite simple: the less conflict, the less chance that some self-proclaimed and self-pitying disadvantaged group will look to a savior to deliver them from their perceived suffering.”

I’m not sure I buy this. It does seem true to some extent that a society of like-thinking people will have less conflict; however, a leavening of other culture does add its own form of good to society--for example, the questioning of authority, and reducing mindless conformism. Personally I think society works best with a strong majority culture along with small percentages of other distinct cultures. It’s when a minority culture approaches majority status, and challenges the majority culture, that gives rise to lots of conflict.

Add to this the fact that almost any modern larger society will have large segments of distinctly different cultures, just as Panarchy posits, then you are left with the fact that people are simply going to have to learn to tolerate others. This is not an impossible task, as Panarchy is itself modeled on religious tolerance, which was a new thing a couple hundred years ago. A “Panarchic” society will contain both smaller monocultural towns, and larger multicultural cities. There’s no getting around the fact that real tolerance will be a primary element of the larger society. It will be aided by the lack of imposition inherent in Panarchy.

There’s another problem with Bionic’s view, here. He worries that a “disadvantaged group” will look to a savior--that the state will be brought in to “help” these people in its usual fashion. But we have to look at two scenarios to parse this out.

In the first scenario, we are in the present. The state is ubiquitous. It needs little excuse to stick its nose into various things anyway; we have debates in Congress about how to reduce obesity. More to the point, we have constant war. It is pointless to worry that the state might “help” this disadvantaged group. We can take that as a given in any case. A society of conformists, with no such disadvantaged group, in this scenario is not going to avoid state “help.” I recently heard Norway described as the most conformist society on Earth, on one of Tom Woods’ podcasts. Yet the state is “helping” everybody there, and was doing so long before the Muslims arrived. It is present to an oppressive degree.

In the second scenario, we have transitioned to Panarchy. The state is limited to operating within each polity, and there are multiple concurrent states. Now suppose some disadvantaged group needs “help.” Well, what polity does it belong to? If a more leftist polity, then yes, the state will “help.” Nothing wrong with that, in that polity. In some other polities, there will be no “help,” and other forms of relief for that group will have to be found, such as voluntary action. So what is there to argue about? If Bionic would worry that one polity might think members of that disadvantaged group in a different polity also need their “help,” and might be moved to supply it--well that is an inter-polity aggression. There will always be opportunities for inter-polity aggression, not only for this issue but for any other; each polity will clearly need to be able to deter such. Polities will have to maintain a defensive stance. That is a given.

Yet another problem with his argument is that it depends on government coercion. Libertarians do now have to make such compromises, (e.g. the use of roads), but they should be avoided where possible. If too many compromises are made, libertarianism becomes a word devoid of meaning.

I don’t find his rationale for closed borders very convincing. In fact, the whole milieu over there in lewrockwell.com on the issue of borders and immigration does not sound very libertarian to me. I suppose they might all be minarchists.

Framing the question as “open” vs. “closed” or “managed” does not really help, either. No one is advocating that immigrants can run willy-nilly over the landscape. The fear of a few bombed-out Syrians is just silly, particularly given the two-year vetting process. The state gorilla is sitting on everybody’s back, yet they are worried about orphans? Sometimes a person has to get hold of his fear, and man up. Fear seems to be a big fad among the conservatives.

Anyway, the true aim of closed/managed borders is to preserve the welfare state--anyway that is its effect, the perhaps-unintended, but easily-predictable consequence. Strange that conservatives support it--or maybe not: “We are all socialists now.”

In a Panarchic world, some polities will accept immigrants (who sign onto those polities) and others won’t. That’s all. The people should look to their own polities, and shut their pie holes about what happens in the others. MYOB!

Well, what about “excessive” immigration? That is a problem in socialist welfare states, such as Germany, that have lots of goodies to dole out. It is also a problem generated by war, as in Syria. In a Panarchist America, there won’t be war, or not much of it (the tiny neocon polity might have fantasies of it--maybe they can invade Grenada again). There will be socialist and welfare polities in America, but oversubscription of welfare bennies is just a cross they will have to bear somehow. Not my problem.

I’m not much of a fan of “managed” borders. The problems that arise from immigration (and there can be some) are largely state-created. Get rid of the state, or at least confine it in polities, and the problems will go away, and the immigration will be self-regulating (just as it was in the 19th Century). I don’t need bureaucrats managing my travel, thank you very much--and I don’t understand why conservatives would put up with that.

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