Rockwell’s recent piece Open Borders: A Libertarian Reappraisal provoked an angry response by Carson in How Low Can Lew Rockwell Go?. However they both go wrong. The former assumes a nonsense, fascistic idea that all American and European whites despise immigration and would prefer communities governed by restrictions on movement that have never been seen and takes a simplistic view of immigration and its forms and effects. However the latter also takes a simplistic view, asserting implicitly that because America was founded on robbery and imperialism, the people who live here now have no right to protect their culture and ideas in the way they would like. What if this argument was made for tribal peoples or for native cultures? Many of these were founded on similar crimes, but of course that doesn’t matter. Instead there is a ridiculous conflation of skin colour and the crimes of governments that happen to share that skin colour.
At the end of the day it comes down to state agency and recognising there is such a thing as cultural borders and personal fences. As Hoppe has pointed out, the state induces both forced exclusion and forced inclusion. That means that both Carson and Rockwell’s arguments are far too simplistic in what is a complex, multifaceted issue.
To tackle this we have to understand the issues at hand with immigration and how they would fare in a stateless society that is free of the assumptions of intellectualism posited by these authors. The first issue that comes up in regards to immigrants is welfare. The regular claim is that immigrants come over to Western countries and claim their generous welfare. Now this is a simplistic picture, and ignores the levels of discrimination that immigrants face in terms of access to welfare and benefits. Fekete has noted forms of ‘xeno-racism’ and stigmatisation for immigrants who are frankly down on their luck and don’t have anywhere else to turn. This doesn’t mean that abuse doesn’t exist as it obviously does, both anecdotally and empirically. However simplistic notions on either side aren’t going to create solutions.
From the libertarian perspective the first question that must be asked is ‘why the welfare state?’ The welfare state as it exists is mainly an expropriation of community welfare provisions that were done through friendly societies and mutual aid organisations. Thus the right to welfare should be contingent on the community’s acceptance. However as the state controls these means it becomes difficult for the determination of each situation. A solution would be a significant devolution of welfare powers to local authorities, which would both limit abuse and allow for stronger community acceptance and solidarity.
However if a community were to be closed off and self-segregate, thus limiting welfare, is this a bad thing? No its not. The means of welfare are a collective decision, and collectivities should have the right to exclude or include whomever. As I have previously noted, if a voluntary social contract is developed, third parties may be excluded within that contract. On the other hand, this should also mean that immigrant communities can develop their own welfare mechanisms and institutions. This already happens to some extent with religious organisations, such as Mosques and Gurdwaras, providing social services and community activities. The market also responds in a similar, spontaneous manner, such as with the provision of Sharia-compliant mortgages for British Muslims that developed due to Islamic banks starting in the UK market. The issue again becomes state agency, with the tentacles of the welfare state entangling communities in the effects of xenophobic bureaucratism and crushing individuation that limits community solidarity and the social economy.
The second issue that comes up that is directly referenced by both authors is the issue of property, and in particular roads. Carson is quite right to ridicule the idea of a fully private society, as it would be unworkable due to the ridiculous levels of paperwork and bureaucracy involved in being able to move over some border. He’s also right to note the way rights of way were seen as owned by common usage, and not by a feudal landlord or the equivalent modern corporation.
But let’s not pretend that the commons as a form of economic organisation are the utopian ‘let everyone in to share the work and reap the reward’. This is very typical of the left-wing view of commons, that of unrestricted yet workable socialism. In fact, in many ways they were restrictive. As Ostrom noted in her rules for governance, there are many complexities and nuances that need to be worked out, and one of those is access. This applies to the rights to share land and use it sustainably as much as it applies to those who can use it and share it. Bauwens has added to this, talking of the commons being restricted to the direct users, thus limiting the influence of corporations and capital. The same can applied to cultural borders and personal fences. Some commons and communities are going to want to keep people out. Thus communities who self-organise may indeed have restrictions on who can enter and the ways in which they can enter. There will be complex arrangements that allow for the entrance of goods and certain peoples but not other peoples. With roads, there will certainly be some that are restricted to certain permit or licence holders. However, as with any free society there would be ample opportunity to develop other commons arrangements that suit the immigrant, such as with alternative transport options and the creation of their own self-organised communities. Society is neither simply homogenous or heterogeneous, it is both.
It comes down to a conception of sites of exclusion and those of inclusion. The modern world is very complicated, and the movement of people is influenced by a number of different agencies. Those that are social and even potentially exclusionary, if not violating the non-aggression principle, aren’t really a problem. These are sites of exclusion. They can include ethnically homogenous communities with strict entry rules. They can run services exclusive to those who have signed a social contract and meet entry requirements. Then there are sites of inclusion. These would most likely be multicultural cities with many different, overlapping communities of mixed ethnicity and cultural background. Both are valid, as they influence structures and agencies from the bottom-up position, allowing for genuinely democratic rule.
Further, the complex structures that govern the movement of people intra-community would most likely develop through networked governance structures at the regional level, thus having structures inter-community also. Again, these would be multiple and significantly different, with some being extremely restrictive and others meeting the idea of pure open borders with many inflows and outflows of people.
Finally, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that modern immigration flows are indicative of a stateless society. The influence of state agency is massive. In terms of labour markets, governments influence their development to allow for a pool of cheap, secondary labour. If those same immigrants had the opportunity to develop entrepreneurial activity in their birthplace, would they be so willing to come for meagre wages and poor living and working conditions. By having Third World states being so restrictive of the development of freed markets, the corporations of the Western world have a ready supply. And it is corporations that receive significant benefit for this type of labour, as immigrants legal rights are curtailed so as to allow for very low wages that undercut smaller competition. The problem of the corporate state also arises from this, as without the state many corporations would be swallowed up by competition, and there would be a significant decentralisation of the economies of scale, favouring local employment rather than immigrant employment. That’s not to say immigration will stop, but that the economic side of things would become much more equitable.
Both authors take extreme, abstract positions that have little grounding in reality. Open borders are as impossible as closed borders, as both immigrants and natives are complex people with different feelings and ideas. What is right for one community/locality isn’t necessarily right for another. Thus libertarians should stop this petty squabbling and focus on political decentralisation, with communities having control over immigration and developing complex rules and forms that suit what they see as their particular needs. The ending of state agency would potentially allow more immigration in some places, less in others. The flows of people would be potentially more equitable, and the ability to develop self-organised societies would be massive, as the ending of the state in all areas means bottom-up governance and representative, democratic structures. If libertarians want immigration or not, working against the state is the best way of doing it.