Monday, 7 January 2013

The immigration question - or how to spot a libertarian


Lots of people lay claim to being 'libertarian'. This credo is quite popular these days as people rant and rail against "statism" and "big government". Calls are made for more free speech, for the dismantling of the nanny state, for the troops to be brought home post haste, for fewer regulations and less government interference. Gay (or rather an ever lengthening string of letters - I think we're up to LGBT now but more may have been added while I wasn't watching) rights are extolled and encouraged and religions are condemned for their outmoded attitudes to all sorts of things - but mostly sex.

And then we get to immigration. At this point I watch as strange contortions go on while people explain how they really are libertarian but that this doesn't mean we can't have a ban on "permanent" immigration. Accompanying this almost Cardhousian contortion is a commitment to the nation state - to Britain or England.

Let me explain - firstly by quoting a pretty good liberal (in the days when liberal meant what we now mean by libertarian):

“The world is my country,
all mankind are my brethren,
and to do good is my religion.” 

Pretty good, eh! But it is a philosophy without boundaries - it's not just trade, speech and enterprise that should be free but movement. To call for tighter restrictions - even bans - on immigration is to reject the essence of this freedom. And that means you aren't a libertarian.

Nor can you hide behind statements about "level playing fields" or misconceptions about immigrants and benefits. These are no different from arguments for protectionism and managed trade - they block our goods so we block theirs, they protect their farmers so we protect ours.

You see folks, you're not libertarians at all really - what you are is conservatives. You like small government, you're a fan of voluntarism, you think business is important and you place great store in the old liberties of England - all that Magna Carta and killing the king stuff. But just as importantly you think place is important - nation, county, town, Your place, my place - a sense of belonging to somewhere that really matters.

A bit like Kipling - who certainly wasn't a libertarian:

 GOD gave all men all earth to love,
    But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
    Belov├Ęd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
    So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
    And see that it is good.
So one shall Baltic pines content,
    As one some Surrey glade,
Or one the palm-grove’s droned lament
    Before Levuka’s Trade.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
    The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
    Yea, Sussex by the sea! 

So, my friends, if you are a conservative, have the good grace to admit to it rather than pretend you're a sexy, trendy, Rothbard-quoting libertarian.



Bucko The Moose said...

Eee. I beleive in open borders. What I don't beleive in is giving people free money when they cross those borders.

If we have an immigration problem (Which I think we do) then it's down to our overly generous benefits system, not overly open doors.

Many people would not up sticks and come here if they had to make their own way in life.

Leg-iron said...

I agree with Bucko. As far as I am concerned, anyone can come and live here. I just don't think we should pay them to come.

Joshua said...

I think it's a misconception that libertarianism is, or ought to be, in favour of open borders. In the ideal libertarian society, all land and property would be privately owned, so it would be up to the property owners to decide whom to let in. There would of course be no government restrictions on immigration, but the openness of the borders would depend on individual preferences. This is perhaps one problem with libertarian fetishising of property rights.

Jonathan Bagley said...

If a million people left or died tomorrow, I wouldn't ba against half a million arriving, but not to beg, steal or claim benefits. I'm against population growth rather than immigration. The usual argument for population growth proposes a giant Ponzi scheme where we need more and more working people to pay for old people. this has to stop sometime, so now is best. High population density reduces quality of life.

Anonymous said...

You raise an interesting question. I do consider myself a “libertarian”, the basic principle being “freedom FROM…” not “freedom TO…”

As others have stated, perhaps more eloquently than I, this does not give carte blanche for invasion. As a libertarian, I live in a society of my choosing; having immersed myself in it for some decades now, I have chosen to be British (or, more specifically, English). This is a society with which I am very comfortable; throughout history, it has shown itself to be reasonably fair and just. (This does not deny that other societies are so, but, being an English-speaker and having a poor grasp of language, I have limited my aspirations.) I do accept that it has had its failings – it is made up of humans, after all – but that is not a cause for too much self-flagellation. What I am finding difficulty accepting is its almost headlong rush into self-immolation, with the state intruding into every aspect of our personal lives, forcing upon me the idea the mores and ideals of others that I might not be in agreement with, and with whom I may make no argument; I have to adapt to the other’s point of view, despite allowing him into my home.

Being a libertarian does not make one a doormat.

Radical Rodent

Anonymous said...

More from the same source, which could be considered particularly relevant today:

“The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.”

“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

Radical Rodent

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure you should be quoting Kipling as evidence in support of your position. The Sussex that he loved has completely vanished, the old accent subsumed into Estuary English and dialect words that I knew as a child now lost, people born outside the county ( as was Kipling ) making up the overwhelming majority of the population and small towns turned into huge conurbations. This is pretty much the inevitable outcome of a growing economy and free movements of people, I don't complain but let's be clear minded, large scale immigration alters a nation's culture and politics, sometimes that's good and sometimes it's bad and libertarians aren't obliged to like all of it or to desist from pointing out the bad bits.