What the Beltway Libertarians Get Wrong About Borders



I am dedicated to an ideologically pure form of anarcho-capitalist thought in the libertarian style, following the mold of great thinkers like Murray Rothbard.

The beltway libertarians are wrong about borders.

It is common to hear from beltway libertarians that because paleolibertarians and Rothbardian anarcho-capitalists do not consider open borders to be a priority, they must be anti-capitalist, since it is evidently in the interests of business to have free flow of people.

We have often seen that the beltway libertarians favor some nebulous “business interest” as if it were an institution akin to Hegel’s divine State over both popular opinion and principles rooted in natural law.

I have no desire to re-litigate the recent dispute over borders that has been unfolding in the Libertarian Party and various people associated with the party on Twitter.

But I will demonstrate that there is nothing anti-capitalist about ending other state crimes before tackling borders. Capital is not the corporations that have tied themselves to beltway interest. It is in the possession of millions of people who have opted to invest rather than spend, and the open-borders policy does nothing but victimize these petit bourgeoisie.

The border issue.

Borders are the original sin of states. As territorial monopolists, states demand universal control within their boundaries. To do this, they must create borders.

Of course, these borders can be blurry and as enforced in such ways as a state desires. The purposes of borders are manifold. They do not apply just to property, people, and law, but to all these things and more.

While it is common within conservative and progressive thought to look at borders as points of control—to understand borders as serving no purpose than regulating flow, so to speak—this is actually one of many purposes, and perhaps even the least of the border’s uses to the state.

This is precisely why the beltway libertarian focus on open borders is useless.

Saying “the state cannot prevent people from crossing the border” is simply saying that the state is permitted to have a policy regarding its borders.

Opening the borders does nothing to address the fact that the state has claimed vast frontiers of land that it has not homesteaded. It does nothing to address the fundamental issue of sovereignty residing in the cabal of brigands who claim to represent the state.

“But what about the kids in cages?” comes the reply from the beltway libertarians.

They do not follow the proper track of reasoning, which would lead them to understand that the cages have a maker. But it is convenient for the beltway sort to pay no attention to the cagemakers. After all, with whom would they dine? With whom would they spend their evenings in idle conversation? Whose children would attend the same school as theirs, if not the cagemakers’ children?

Do you hate the state?

Rothbard’s question highlights the central distinction between true libertarians and beltway libertarians.

The reason why we do not care about the state border policy is that we do not recognize the legitimacy of the state. What difference does it make to us if the bandits who identify themselves as the kings of Ruritania have chosen to let people into their domain or to force them to remain outside?

There is a strong case to be made for the need to abolish welfare before borders, since it is certainly the case that the taxpayers would be on the hook for many of the expenses associated with the program.

But the need to abolish welfare is not merely a financial consideration. There is a first principle in it: the state cannot steal to bring about its ambitions.

The beltway libertarians would, at least on paper, oppose the welfare state because they recognize that taxation is theft. Even if they would tolerate some taxation as the cost for “living in society” they would demand that it be voluntary, and it seems unlikely that most people would voluntarily bear the cost of forever wars and the welfare state.

But the important thing is this: setting immigration policy is not the same as removing a prerogative from the state.

From a deontological perspective, as someone opposed to all NAP violations, it is not clear to me that excluding access is aggression. Certainly it would be acceptable within the context of private property. I will discuss the complications this brings with so-called “public” (proper term: stolen) property in a moment.

However, it is certainly the case that taxation, war, restriction of substances and weapons, and incarceration (though incarceration is a complex subject for another day) are typically, if not always, NAP violations.

From a utilitarian perspective, it makes no sense to worry about borders and not the other functions of the state. The arguments for borders are based on the monopolies claimed by the state!

Today it is welfare that is the argument in favor of closed borders. Yesterday it was drugs, before the popular opinion toward them became more liberal. The day before that, criminal foreigners were the bogeyman we built walls to protect ourselves against. And there is always the argument against the laborer who will work for less than American wages—wages set by the state’s laws.

By privatizing the functions of the state, we do away with the very preconditions necessary for borders to exist, since everyone will be free to pursue their own solutions to the problems the state claims to solve.

The pure libertarian position: The state cannot permit immigration.

There should be no immigration until the abolition of the state, because everything the state claims is stolen property. It is a violation of natural law to do anything that would muddy the waters with the chain of custody, and the first priority of anyone who earnestly seeks justice would be to return the property arrogated by the state to its rightful owners.

I see no issue with people moving into the frontiers falsely claimed by the state. These do not really belong to the state. I also believe that there is no legal issue with people being guests on private property within our borders so long as there is no danger of confusion when the time comes for the return of property to its rightful owners.

But outside of homesteading and being guests in property that has a clear chain of ownership from homesteading to the present owner, the very idea of immigration is a violation of the rights of the original owners of the property stolen by the state.

Of course, I do not live in Ancapistan. I recognize that we will have immigration, and I do not begrudge the immigrant the opportunity to live life in America or anywhere else. I support the free movement of people either to frontiers or to communities that would welcome them.

But we should not be deluded into believing that some mythical freedom of action trumps property rights. It is property rights that form the foundation of legal action!

My acceptance of the immigrant comes with the forfeiture of some share of my property, both because the resources taken from me by the state in the form of taxes may be spent on their expense and because all future privatization will be made more difficult and confused.

This is a reflection of my own pursuit of satisfying justice rather than perfect justice. I would be satisfied to forfeit all my claims to my previously stolen property in exchange for liberty.

But willingness to forfeit my own previously stolen property cannot rightly be extended by state fiat to all taxpayers. The beltway libertarians arguing for open borders do not, then, argue in the interest of the people, but as always for the interests who fund their foundations.

As the state is stolen property, its use should be frozen until the proper owners can be ascertained. That applies to immigration as well.


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