Lew Rockwell on Immigration: The Mild Statism of Secular Libertarianism

Berlin-wall-escapeFew things are more commonly misunderstood than the nature and meaning of theocracy. It is commonly assumed to be a dictatorial rule by self-appointed men who claim to rule for God. In reality, theocracy in Biblical law is the closest thing to a radical libertarianism that can be had.1

These words by Rushdoony have often been misunderstood by Christians to mean that the Biblical social order mandates less than perfect liberty in the society. The misunderstanding usually comes from misunderstanding of what he meant by “radical libertarianism.” Many have assumed that by “radical libertarianism” he meant “secular libertarianism” and its claims that it is most consistent in defense of individual liberty; so, some have insisted that libertarianism can’t be the Biblical political order, and Christians should always be at least a notch less eager to defend liberty than secular libertarians are.2

But such interpretation of Rushdoony’s words is obviously wrong, given the words in his direct text: “that can be had.” It would also contradict the conclusion from his Vantillian presuppositionalism that outside a Trinitarian epistemology, the very definition of the individual is impossible, let alone a definition of individual liberty.3 Rushdoony was not saying that “radical libertarianism” really existed as a system of thought or ideology, or that it “could be had.” He was using it as an ideal notion, a limiting concept of the ultimate theoretical expression of a specific idea. It was for him the idealized limit against which all really existing practical ideologies must be compared when assessed in terms of their faithfulness to that specific idea. And in his view, theocracy, as a practical ideology, was the closest possible to it. In other words, if you want maximum possible individual liberty, theocracy in the Biblical Law is what you want. Anything else will mean less liberty when applied in practice. Which means that the only true libertarianism we can have is Biblical theocracy. It’s the closest to the ideal.

So where does that leave secular libertarianism? Secular libertarianism – that is, libertarianism not based on the Law of God – is in fact less libertarian than theocracy; or, it’s farther away from the perfect ideal of “radical libertarianism” than is theocracy. I would argue also that it is not real libertarianism at all, for it really doesn’t care for liberty that much. As I have argued before, secular libertarianism always degenerates into some mild form of statism or collectivism every time it tries to apply its ideas in practice. As Mark Rushdoony, R.J.’s son and heir, mentioned once, “Biblical Law makes secular libertarians look like statists.” Indeed.

I have given some examples of it before.4 This article responds to another example of such anti-liberty solutions: Lew Rockwell’s talk delivered at the Mises Circle in Phoenix AZ a couple of weeks ago, “Open Borders: A Libertarian Reappraisal.”

I am far from the intention to denigrate Mr. Rockwell’s contribution to libertarianism and to the liberty movement in the US; he is a great mind and he has been one the key players in the development and the propagation of the ideas of liberty in this country, as well in the development and the propagation of the practical conclusions and applications these ideas. But even the greatest minds have their bad moments. And in my opinion, this speech may well be his worst moment. On the issue of immigration, he is inconsistent, self-contradictory, and he adopts the ethics of those very same statism and collectivism that he has been criticizing for many years. And here, I will try to offer a response showing his inconsistency, and then offer in brief the true libertarian position on the immigration, that is, theocracy in Biblical Law.

Why Is Private Property a Factor?

The most basic problem with Lew Rockwell’s thesis is epistemological: he makes private property a fundamental factor in determining the degree of liberty of individuals. While most libertarians who are not familiar with the foundations of Classical Liberalism would intuitively accept private property rights as a sufficient moral guide and standard – which would legitimize Rockwell’s use of them – in reality, Classical Liberalism rejects this intuition. Private property is not a basis for an ethical standard under Classical Liberalism; in fact, private property is not sacred, and the right to it is not legitimized by any previous state of the property or action by the owner. I have offered a critique of this often overlooked characteristic of Classical Liberalism in my article, “Classical Liberalism Has No Place to Stand.” Von Mises is very clear in his Human Action: private property is not sacred. There is no underlying metaphysical ethical principle which defends private property in its very essence. As an abstract principle it may be beneficial and expedient, which is the thesis of Gottfried Dietze in his study, In Defense of Property (1963). But that’s where the “goodness” of private property ends; there is no ethical value in private property beyond its utility or expediency. And no, it’s not utility or expediency for the private owner himself, but for the multitudes of non-owners, as von Mises makes very clear in his two pages (!) on private property in the 800-page study on Human Action.5

And no, it’s not an omission by Mises, nor an inconsistency. He is bound by his very operational presuppositions not only to reject the notion that private property is sacred, but also to reject the notion that anything whatsoever is sacred. In chapter VIII of the same book, laying out the epistemological basis for his thought, he specifically criticizes the “holistic and metaphysical view of society” on the basis of its “essential problem”:

By what mark do I recognize the true law, the authentic apostle of God’s word, and the legitimate authority?

Thus, Mises’s inability to find a principle for discernment between alleged transcendent causes (or refusal to accept it when offered), becomes the foundation for his rejection of all transcendence. Thus, his epistemological foundation is all immanent, and as all immanent philosophies, he has to resort to some form of dialectics (to reconcile the dualistic opposites). His dialectics is the combination of individual human action and social co-operation.

While discussing this dialectics and its inconsistencies is a different topic, the question remains: Why should Lew Rockwell judge the ethical value of open borders based on the issue of private property rights? If private property itself is not sacred and is judged by its utility and expediency, shouldn’t we judge any alleged conflict between immigration and property rights based on that higher principle, human action and social cooperation? After all, there are multiple studies that show immigration to be helping the economy. More immigrants, more consumers. And since Mises says that under capitalism, private property is the consummation of the self-determination of the consumers, the more consumers, the more validation for the goodness of private property. N’est-ce pas?

And indeed, those libertarians whom Lew Rockwell criticizes for favoring open borders actually do have the data on their side. The evidence shows that immigration helps the economy; and they quote multiple studies that prove it. Obviously, the more the borders are open, the more human action and social interaction are encouraged, and the data shows it. Rockwell is wrong when he says that they just “have assumed” that this is the correct libertarian position. Based on the original presuppositions of Classical Liberalism, these libertarians are consistent and logical, while Lew Rockwell is inconsistent and illogical. They have the evidence on their side, and Rockwell has only metaphysical bias on his side.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not denigrating private property here; to the contrary, and in disagreement with Mises and Classical Liberalism, I believe private property is sacred, that is, there is a transcendent, divine sanction for it, independent of Mises’s imaginary “self-determination of consumers.” It is in the Law of God in the Bible. But then, the Law of God has a different view on immigration and liberty than Lew Rockwell. And we will see what it is at the end of this article. As of now, suffice to say, Rockwell has failed to remain faithful to the fundamental philosophical principles of his own professed ideology.

Liberty Principles Justify Government Coercion?

As bizarre as his departure from the philosophical presuppositions of Classical Liberalism is, his justification for government control over the movement of non-criminal individuals is even more bizarre: He apparently believes that the right of a private owner to control behavior on his private property justifies the power of the state to control any behavior whatsoever. He knows he is in conflict with the principle of freedom of movement, so he uses a completely irrelevant example to justify this conflict: the limitations of a person’s “freedom of speech” on private property:

But hold on a minute. Think about “freedom of speech,” another principle people associate with libertarians. Do we really believe in freedom of speech as an abstract principle? That would mean I have the right to yell all during a movie, or the right to disrupt a Church service, or the right to enter your home and shout obscenities at you.

Notice the reasoning: Because a private owner has the right to regulate speech on his private property, therefore the government has the right to control the movement of non-criminal individuals on a certain territory. The government has the same right on its territory as a private owner has on his property. And here I thought that as libertarians we should never agree to equate the government control over a territory with private property rights.

So, if I may ask, what if the government decides to control the movement not only of immigrants but of home-born citizens as well? What principle can Lew Rockwell offer to counter it? If the rights of a private owner to control behavior on his private property justify the right of the state to do that on the territory, why limit that right to foreigners? Why not include Lew Rockwell in the “immigration” restrictions as well? Or, since the example involves “freedom of speech,” why not limit his freedom of speech in public? After all, the Internet is not his property, and he hasn’t asked anyone for permission to speak publicly, but the Internet is not no one’s property, therefore . . . the government should have the moral right to prevent Lew Rockwell from speaking publicly.

Obviously, Lew Rockwell would argue that the right of a property owner to silence visitors on his property doesn’t extend to a right of the government to silence people who speak in public. Why would then the right of a private property owner to control movement through his property extend to a right of the government to restrict people who want to travel through public territory. (And later we will see if he is realistic when he talks about traveling through private territory as well.)

What “Open Borders” Isn’t

He says his ideas were not original, he took them from Murray Rothbard. Apparently, the irrelevance of the examples is not original either; in Rockwell’s words, Murray Rothbard himself began re-thinking his commitment to freedom of travel based on a case example which, obviously, is quite irrelevant to the issue of immigration:

He noted, for instance, the large number of ethnic Russians whom Stalin settled in Estonia. This was not done so that Baltic people could enjoy the fruits of diversity. It never is. It was done in an attempt to destroy an existing culture, and in the process to make a people more docile and less likely to cause problems for the Soviet empire.

Murray wondered: does libertarianism require me to support this, much less to celebrate it? Or might there be more to the immigration question after all?

I wonder what blinded Murray Rothbard to the fact that the situation he described had nothing to do whatsoever with the issue of open borders. While I can’t speculate on what was going through his mind at that moment to create such an unrealistic quandary in it, I can certainly say that he was quite unlucky not to have at hand at that very moment an Eastern European who would point to him the obvious solution to that quandary: Government resettlement of populations is not open borders. There may be many things we can say or speculate about Eastern Europe and about the realities there, but there is no way on earth to even begin to imagine that the Soviet Union was in any sense – absolute or relative – a society of open borders. Not only the outside borders were sealed (and people casually killed if they were found without a permit within a certain distance from the border), but there were immigration restrictions within the very territory of the Soviet Union. No one was free to decide where they could live, or even travel. A person was a “citizen” of his city or village, and moving to another city or village could only happen after a long and elaborate bureaucratic process similar to the immigration process in the US today. Some of these restrictions are still in force today in Russia, although in a milder form. Any citizen of the former Soviet Union would laugh at the very mention that there was anything remotely similar to open borders.

Thus, if this is what made Rothbard change his mind on immigration, then that change was the product of a false dilemma: that there are only two possible situations with immigration: closed borders and government resettlement of populations. If I was around, I would point Murray Rothbard – as I would like to point Lew Rockwell – to the obvious libertarian alternative to both, that is, zero government control over non-criminal individuals and freedom for private individuals to travel and settle as they see fit. Immigration, you see, is not resettlement; it’s millions of individual decisions of millions individual private individuals who are looking for a better life.

(And the truth is, Stalin’s plan didn’t work anyway. A superior culture is not destroyed that easily. He could resettle Russians in, but he could not force those individual Russians to remain faithful to his directives. Today, most of those Russians don’t want to return back to “mother Russia,” and prefer to be part of that very culture which they were meant to destroy. Rothbard and Rockwell have a reason to celebrate: individualism defeats collectivism ten times out of ten. No need to change your ideology and compromise your ethical and intellectual integrity because of the puny plans of some temporary dictator. This is where the optimism of my postmillennial eschatology is of importance. Both men could have learned a lot from Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony in this regard.)

Now, I can understand Rothbard’s and Rockwell’s ignorance about the Soviet Union – their knowledge of it comes from theoretical studies, not from real experience, and it is expected that they would misinterpret things through their limited experience. What leaves me scratching my head is a much more profound mistake: their calling the current situation in the US and Western Europe “open borders”:

. . . the regime of open borders that exists de facto in the U.S. and Western Europe. . . .

Huh? What open borders? Compared to what? The US had open borders until 1921; there were no limits on immigration or travel before that year. Texas kept its border open until 1954 when President Eisenhower used the troops returning from Europe to force the closure of the border in Operation Wetback, which was an undeclared war by the Federal government against Texas. Western Europe had open borders de jure until the late 1930s (de facto it was WWI that introduced the first restrictions, which were only temporary). Outside Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, the first legal restrictions on travel and immigration didn’t appear until the mid-1950s. As late as 1930, anyone could travel on the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul without a passport. Before 1921, anyone in the world could travel to California, dig for gold, then travel back home to his country with his gold and his guns with him, and never use a passport nor even give his real name to anyone. Compare it to anything we have today. Open borders?

The current immigration law – the brainchild of Ted Kennedy designed to protect the trade unions against competition – gives all the power to the Federal government, and that not only on immigration but on simple tourist and business travel as well. Have Rockwell and Rothbard read the law at all? Contrary to the misinformed opinion of millions of Americans, the main purpose of the law is not to establish an accessible procedure for legal immigration; its main purpose is to declare all immigration and all travel illegal except for certain limited groups, and that only at the discretion of Federal bureaucrats. The control given to the Federal government is so total, and the restrictions are so extensive, that the Federal government spends more than $20 billion each year just to enforce those restrictions. No need to mention the enormous army of bureaucrats hired in the US and in consulates abroad. Does Rockwell know that the US is one of only three countries in the world where a traveler needs a visa to go sightseeing when he has a layover of several hours when flying transit through an American airport? (The other two are Cuba and North Korea.)

What open borders are Rothbard and Rockwell talking about?

Just a simple logic could have told them that if we had open orders, we wouldn’t brand so many people as “illegal aliens.” To say that a regime which criminalizes aliens is “open borders” is just the same as to say that a regime which criminalizes work or business without government permit is “free market capitalism.” Rothbard and Rockwell themselves have multiple times refuted the leftist argument that our current system is “free market capitalism”; how did they manage to make the same mistake in respect to borders is beyond me.

Or may be they mean the current regime of open borders between states and counties? I can see Rockwell’s logic. If open borders between nations hurt private property, then surely open borders between states and counties hurt it even more. After all, more people cross those state and county lines every day than cross the US border a year. Why should these folks from Louisiana and Oklahoma take advantage of our Texas roads built by the tax money of millions of Texans?

Who Decides?

Amazingly enough, Lew Rockwell knows very well we don’t have a regime of open borders. He does say that “immigration decisions are made by a central authority.” Wait, if immigration decisions made by a central authority is “open borders,” why not call “free market capitalism” a system where economic decisions are made by a central authority? But this also brings us to the important issue of “Who decides?” Rockwell says:

In an anarcho-capitalist world, with all property privately owned, “immigration” would be up to each individual property owner to decide. Right now, on the other hand, immigration decisions are made by a central authority, with the wishes of property owners completely disregarded. The correct way to proceed, therefore, is to decentralize decision-making on immigration to the lowest possible level, so that we approach ever more closely the proper libertarian position, in which individual property owners consent to the various movements of peoples.

OK, great. I agree. How about we decentralize it to the really lowest possible level, like individual property owners having the liberty to hire whomever they want?

No, says Lew Rockwell, we can’t go that far. We have a “current situation” with the state and the state-owned property. We can’t allow individual owners to hire whomever they want, because they will be taking advantage of that state-owned property which belong to the “tax-paying public.” He quotes Hoppe to this effect:

Equipped with a work permit, the immigrant is allowed to make free use of every public facility: roads, parks, hospitals, schools, and no landlord, businessman, or private associate is permitted to discriminate against him as regards housing, employment, accommodation, and association. That is, the immigrant comes invited with a substantial fringe benefits package paid for not (or only partially) by the immigrant employer (who allegedly has extended the invitation), but by other domestic proprietors as taxpayers who had no say in the invitation whatsoever.

Paid not by the employer??? Is Hoppe saying that employers don’t pay taxes? Is he saying that the will of the majority should trump the individual will of the employer? And here I thought he was serious when he said that “democracy is a god that failed.” Is he saying that unless a person hasn’t already paid taxes, he can’t be hired? What do we do with the young people in the community who have never paid taxes? Should they never get hired? He may say that their parents paid taxes for them; but how is that different from adoption where an adoptive parent “sponsors” another person? And how is that different from an employer “adopting” and sponsoring an employee with his own taxes? And who said that the employer hires the immigrant against the interests of the public? If hiring that immigrant would increase the quality of his products and decrease the cost and the price, wouldn’t everyone benefit from it? Why should the tax paying public subsidize local candidates for the job if they can’t offer a better service in terms of quality or cost? (And if they do offer it, why would the employer go for immigrants in the first place?)

Hoppe’s “logic” makes absolutely no sense here. But Lew Rockwell employs it to deny the individual employers the right to hire whomever they want. He seems to think they won’t be defending the public interest, I suppose. He doesn’t trust the centralized state, but then he doesn’t trust the decentralized property owners either. His solution is the third way – some form of local government deciding, because we have a “current situation.”

But wait, that “current situation” includes freeways that are Federally owned and paid for. Many parks are Federally-owned and maintained. Much of the welfare state is Federal, not local. Rockwell can’t trust the private property owners because they would be taking immoral advantage of government property which is not theirs. But he can trust local governments to take care of government property which is not theirs? Private owners can’t be trusted, but local government officials can? Is that the meaning the “lowest possible level of decentralization”? Real consistent logic would demand either total centralized control (if one doesn’t trust the private owners) or total individual liberty (if one doesn’t trust the government). The middle position is schizophrenic.

At the foundation of Lew Rockwell’s reasoning here is not libertarianism but half-way libertarianism, half-way statism. He is libertarian in his assessment of government property as stolen property. He is statist in his belief that government officials would be better managers of that stolen property than private owners. As I said above, taken to where the rubber meets the road, secular libertarianism always degenerates into some form of statism.

Also, the very idea that we should change our ethical commitment to liberty, giving more power to the state because of some “current situation,” is a progressivist idea. Situational ethics belongs to the leftist side of the spectrum. And really, since when is Lew Rockwell the man arguing for more power to the state in one area to fix the mess it has created by having too much power in another area? And what is that logic he is using? His logic, translated into simpler terms, is that a thief who has robbed a family (state-owned property) should be given the right to legally chain them and even murder them (control over movement of private individuals), because he has already robbed them anyway, and who knows what complications would follow if they were allowed to go free. Or may be entrust their chains and life to smaller thieves, for better management. Can a libertarian accept such logic as valid?

I suspect he knows his argument doesn’t hold water so he uses the good old tactic of scaring his detractors with the expected horrific consequences of their position:

Obviously, in a pure open borders system, the Western welfare states would simply be overrun by foreigners seeking tax dollars. As libertarians, we should of course celebrate the demise of the welfare state. But to expect a sudden devotion to laissez faire to be the likely outcome of a collapse in the welfare state is to indulge in naïveté of an especially preposterous kind.

Nice scare tactics, but wrong. And what outcome does he expect when the borders are controlled by bureaucrats whose power grows proportionally to the power of the welfare state? Does Lew Rockwell expect the bureaucrats to conduct their immigration policies in such a way as to favor a free market? Allow more libertarian-leaning future voters who would vote for less power to the state? The fox keeps stealing the chicken; Rockwell’s solution to it to put the fox in charge of the coop. Tell me again, who’s indulging in “naïveté of an especially preposterous kind”?

What Is a Violation of Private Property?

Rockwell’s and Rothbard’s view of borders is based on their vision of what an anarcho-capitalist society will look like. They believe it will be a “closed borders” society except where the owners specifically allow passage to certain people:

If every piece of land in a country were owned by some person, group, or corporation, this would mean that no person could enter unless invited to enter and allowed to rent or purchase property. A totally privatized country would be as closed as the particular property owners desire.

Now, I am far from the intention to challenge both men’s right to speak with authority on what such a society would look like; but then again, neither of them can claim to speak with divine authority, and they do not have a divine document that establishes that an anarcho-capitalist society will look exactly as they imagine it. And logically, there is a contrary view that is just as faithful to the ideals of liberty, and much more realistic than their view: an “open borders” anarcho-capitalist society. Rothbard’s and Rockwell’s view is unrealistic; a society where movement is possible only by constant procuring of positive permission to travel would be a society of high social costs and high transaction costs. A much more realistic society would be one where all movement is allowed by default, unless there are specific restrictions imposed by the property owner.

We can see the logic when we reduce it down to the simplest piece of private property – the individual’s body. Actually, let’s go even more private – the individual’s . . . er . . . private parts. Let’s assume that we have an individual who doesn’t want people looking at his private parts. He considers it a violation of his “private properties.” Now, if this individual appears in public naked, whose fault is it if people look at his private parts? Would we say that the others are guilty of violating his private property when he is naked in public?

Naturally, no. If the man doesn’t want others to look at his “private properties,” it is his responsibility to create a barrier between their eyes and his private parts. He needs to put something on – pants, or a kilt, or another kind of material. He will thus show everyone else that he doesn’t want people to look at his private parts. Now, if after he has put on the pants someone comes and yanks them down to expose him, this will be a violation of private property. But unless the man has made the effort and paid the cost of covering his private parts, no one in the world is obligated to assume that the man doesn’t want to be looked at.

In the same way, if he wants privacy, he buys or rents a house; breaking into a house is equivalent to yanking his pants down. If he has a commercial property he wants to protect against trespassers, he must pay the cost of building a fence or a wall around it. Just as no one is obligated to assume naked people don’t want to be looked at, no one is under obligation to assume that a “naked” property – that is, property without fences or walls – is a property out of reach for travelers. A capitalist society should be a society of mutual responsibility for all; and part of that mutual responsibility is the responsibility of owners to pay the cost for fencing people out of their property if they don’t want their presence on it. Thus, as an alternative to Rothbard’s and Rockwell’s views, a totally privatized country will be a country in which property owners take full responsibility for their property without unnecessarily limiting the freedom of others; travel would be free and borders would be open, except where a property owner has declared a ban on crossing by building a fence or a wall.

Or . . . where he has decided that building a road through his property is a better and cheaper solution than building a fence or a wall. Because such a policy of open borders would encourage more large property owners to build more roads and thus benefit the society more. If people pass through your property, it is because there is something on both ends of it that makes economic sense to travel between. Shooting people for simply passing through your property is immoral. You better build a road and take advantage of the economic opportunities.

This alternative view – of an “open borders” society – happens to be the Biblical solution, as I will show later. Amazingly enough, it also happens to be the logical conclusion from the fundamental view of property of Classical Liberalism, and – take that – of Hans Hermann Hoppe and Murray Rothbard themselves! I have to say it directly: On this particular issue, Rothbard and Rockwell deviate from their own professed first principles. How can I say that?

Rothbard’s and Rockwell’s “closed borders” view requires a definition of “violation of private property” as simply “being present on it”; and it requires a non-economic definition of the function of private property. It requires that private property is viewed as some religious, occult entity (like sanctuary of the family gods, as in des Coulanges’s The Ancient City) where the mere presence of strangers is offensive. Crossing the boundary then would be like stepping over Terminus, the god of the landmarks. It would be a violation whether there is a real damage to property involved or not; something like the mere presence of non-Muslims in Mecca of of non-Mormons at a Mormon church service. Thus, the presence is lawful only when positively sanctioned by the property owner. A person then is in “violation of private property” by even touching it without a sanction. He may be doing nothing harmful to the property; he may actually be doing something positively beneficial to it – like putting out a fire or sheltering his family from a coming storm – and yet, in Rothbard’s and Rockwell’s view, he would be “trespassing” if he doesn’t have the owner’s express permission to be there.

But there is nothing in the presuppositions or the ideology of Classical Liberalism to justify such a metaphysical view of property. To the contrary, as we saw from Mises, the “sacredness” of private property is excluded. And indeed, when Hoppe himself talks about private property, he specifically bases its ethics and economics not on some metaphysical nature of it, but on the economic issue of scarcity! Quoting at length from Hoppe would take a little too much space, but the readers can always go to his lengthy article on “The Ethics and Economics of Private Property.” Private property is defined economically; it only makes sense against the issue of scarcity. Therefore, in matters where scarcity is not involved – where economic (scarce) value is not used up or destroyed – private property rights are irrelevant.

And, take this: he bases his view on no other but Murray Rothbard himself, from his book on Man, Economy, and State!

In this view, logically, trespassing or violation of private property would be only that activity which either destroys economic (scarce) value, or re-directs the use of that economic value for the benefit of the trespasser. If a person sets someone else’s property to fire, or breaks into a house, or jumps over a wall or a fence clearly designed to protect crops or other economic value, or harvests a field to take economic advantage of the crops – such a person is a trespasser. But if a traveler stops to have a picnic in a private forest without destroying any trees; or pitches a tent or a shelter in a field overgrown with tares (no economic value); or, even better, uses an unoccupied shelter to save his family from a coming storm; or puts out a fire on someone else’s property, etc., etc.; such acts neither destroy nor re-direct the use of economic (scarce) resources, and therefore are not violation of private property.

Thus, logically, private property boundaries will be open for anyone who travels without destroying economic value. Mere presence does not destroy economic value, unless we define “economic value” to be some sort of occult reality which is polluted by the presence of strangers. Under the very fundamental presuppositions of Rothbard’s and Rockwell’s own ideology, borders in a capitalist society would be opened for everyone except the criminals. What Rothbard and Rockwell envision is something completely different: a society of borders that are closed to all except for those who have procured a permit. But in this vision, they go directly against their own professed principle of the economic nature of private property.

Criminalizing Natural Behavior

In his speech, Lew Rockwell repeatedly makes strange statements about what the free market would do or not do, but he never explains the reasoning behind it. As if the free market is driven by a person who is utterly predictable in his actions, and Lew Rockwell just knows what the person would do. For example,

. . . the result is artificial demographic shifts that would not occur in a free market. Property owners are forced to associate and do business with individuals they might otherwise avoid.

What makes him think that demographic shifts do not occur in a free market? And what makes him think property owners wouldn’t do business with those individuals in a free market? The government today bans property owners from hiring illegal immigrants, and yet they keep getting employed. It would be one thing if the government forced property owners to hire illegal immigrants . . . but that is not the case! It looks rather that property owners are so committed to hiring those illegal immigrants that they are willing to defy the government for it. Why would they refuse to hire them in a free market? Again, what is Lew Rockwell talking about?

It is in fact the free market that encourages more immigration, by lowering the cost of travel and opening a world of opportunities. Karl Marx complained about the free-market open-borders system in England which brought in many Irish workers. He saw this “demographic shift” as a “capitalist conspiracy against the working class,” designed to keep full the ranks of the “reserve army of unemployed” and thus weaken the bargaining position of the workers. In the US, starting from the 1860s, it was the trade unions and the Marxists who most vehemently argued for immigration restrictions because it was a “conspiracy” against the people.

He says that the current migrations are “government-subsidized.” Why? Because they happen in the context of the welfare state. But does that mean that all, or even that the majority of the immigrants are agents of the state, and they wouldn’t immigrate if we had free market? That logic is just as ludicrous as to say that just because businesses today work in the context of the regulative state, they are all government-subsidized; and then argue that they wouldn’t exist in a free market. Rockwell knows that his logic makes no sense in the greater picture of the economy, so he is trying to deny the logical connection between the movement of people and the movement of capital:

In the case of goods being traded from one place to another, there is always and necessarily a willing recipient. The same is not true for “free immigration.”

Why not? There is always an employer. And there are always the employer’s customers. Ah, but Rockwell has already criminalized the employer. Why? Because he wants to hire someone outside the “tax-paying public.” Why would he want to hire that someone? Well, because he is better qualified, for example, than the locals. Or because he would do the same job for a lower pay. What is more natural for the employer than wanting to have better service for the same money, or the same service for less money? And what is more natural for a foreign worker than to want to find a job for a better pay than he has had in his own country? And what is more natural for the customers than to want to pay less, or want to get more for the same price, which will certainly happen if better qualified or lower paid foreigners get hired by the local businesses?

What principle of free markets would declare such natural behavior impossible, or illogical, or immoral? Isn’t it the same principle which works in outsourcing today? Since the borders are de facto closed (contrary to Rothbard and Rockwell) and local businesses can’t have those better qualified and lower paid workers here, they move their businesses where they can find them. Why is this not a natural free market behavior? What is there in the free market that would stop people from seeking the best and the most at the lowest price?

But Lew Rockwell declares this natural behavior to be “not free market.” And is if it’s not bizarre enough, he calls for policies which will effectively criminalize it, claiming that it is for the “protection” of free markets, and “the closest thing to a libertarian policy.”

He doesn’t say directly that he wants it criminalized, but it is the logical conclusion of his position. If there’s a government policy of immigration control – or any kind of control whatsoever – it has to have sanctions included in it. Those who do not comply must be forced to comply by some form of punishment. Thus, criminalization of behavior is inevitable. And in Lew Rockwell’s policy proposal, what is criminalized is perfectly natural, free market behavior. And that in the name of “protecting private property and free markets.”

A Mexican worker who can’t find a job south of border knows that there is a market for his skills and his level of pay on the north side of the border. An employer on the north side of the border wants to decrease his costs. Lew Rockwell wants to criminalize both. Criminalize them for what? For wanting to improve their situations?

No, he would say, but for wanting to improve their situations in the context of the welfare state.

But why should the existence of the welfare state force such ethical demands on either of them? Whose fault is it that we have welfare state in the US? Is it the fault of the Mexican worker? Is it the fault of the American employer? If not, why should they be forced to adjust their market behavior to the demands of that false god, the welfare state? Why should either of them care for the interests of the very same tax-paying public that has brought upon itself the welfare state in the first place? And why should they be criminalized and penalized for something that is not their fault?

This point completely stultifies Lew Rockwell’s entire career as a libertarian thinker. If the welfare state is such a huge factor, such an enormous game-changer that it makes us turn 180 degrees and call for the criminalization of behavior which in a free market society would be not only allowed but actively encouraged and given as a positive example, Rockwell better close the shop and go home. Nothing libertarian can be done or said before that Mastodon is removed; anything libertarian we say will be abstract and impossible today, and anything practical we suggest will have to negate our abstract principles to the point of where we end up criminalizing in practice what we would praise in the abstract. If he thinks such schizophrenia can advance the cause of liberty, well, I must say, at best, he is gravely mistaken.

The “Culture” Card

Nothing brightens my day as the occasional collectivist argument thrown on the table by a professed libertarian and methodological individualist. And few things are more collectivist in their nature and presuppositions than throwing the word “culture” in a debate about immigration. Lew Rockwell says:

If four million Americans showed up in Singapore, that country’s culture and society would be changed forever. And no, it is not true that libertarianism would in that case require the people of Singapore to shrug their shoulders and say it was nice having our society while it lasted but all good things must come to an end. No one in Singapore would want that outcome, and in a free society, they would actively prevent it.

How would they actively prevent it in a free society? Shoot the newcomers? Shoot those who hire them? If there is a market need for the newcomers, would a free society deny the market what it wants because it wants to save the “culture”? If there is no market need for the newcomers, why would they come? Does the market care for that abstract entity of “culture”? Would every single individual and private owner in Singapore prefer to forsake economic benefits to save the “culture”?

All of a sudden, Lew Rockwell sounds eerily similar to a neocon, or a collectivist. Apparently, Singapore doesn’t have individuals, it has a collective called “culture,” and all individuals – in one soul and one mind – will ignore their individual private benefit in favor of that culture. Garrett Hardin’s commons in a spiritualized version: the “culture.” Everyone uses it, and everyone is expected to voluntarily sacrifice market benefits to maintain it. Seriously. And we have this from Lew Rockwell.

What if one Singaporean private owner decides to hire the four million Americans to work in his factories in a free society? Would a free society ban him from doing that? What if he buys them four million apartments to house them? Would a free society criminalize him for that? If that society is really free, how can Lew Rockwell predict what exactly will happen, if a free society is defined by default as a society of individual liberty? Or does Lew Rockwell expect a free society to be a society of people who always in everything think and act and plan the same? The Brave New “Free” World?

A reality check is needed here: Singapore’s culture and society were changed forever within the course of less than a half generation. What Singapore was in the 1950s is vastly different than what it is today. And it has changed forever. There is no return to that old culture, period. Singapore didn’t need immigration to change forever. There is no evidence that four million Americans would have changed Singapore’s culture more abruptly than what four million Singaporeans did. And by the way, Singapore is a multicultural society: it’s a mixture of religions and cultural backgrounds. Adding Americans to the mix wouldn’t change anything; except the Americans themselves.

Contrary to Lew Rockwell’s collectivist expectations, individuals do not belong to the culture of their birthplace by default. It applies in even lesser extent to those individuals who undertake the journey of immigrating to another land. They do not change the culture of their new country – they are changed by it. In fact, while this may run contrary to many people’s stereotypes, there is ample evidence that immigrants have adopted the culture of their new country prior to their immigration. Something has to trigger that decision to immigrate; something that draws the immigrant to another place and makes him uncomfortable where he is.

Texas is the greatest evidence of all. Settled almost entirely by immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, which during the 19th century were areas of Europe still very much under feudalism and the old aristocracy – like the Austrian Empire and the Russian Empire. Some still had slavery at the time, like the Ottoman Empire. Some came from areas like Bosnia or Slovakia which were a mixture of feudalism and patriarchal village clans. Some came from nomadic cultures like Gypsies or Ukrainian Cossacks. Where the majority of the Texas population came from can be easily seen by a simple ride through the towns of Central or Northern Texas; the Slavic, German (Austrian), Hungarian and Romanian names tell the story.

And yet, how much of that feudal/aristocratic/clan culture did Texas develop? None. Contrary to Rockwell’s expectations, Texas actually developed its diametrical opposite: a culture of rugged individualism and free social co-operation, until the socialist anti-immigration forces in Washington DC defeated the state in an undeclared war called Operation Wetback.

“Cultural destructionism”?

It is obvious Lew Rockwell doesn’t know what he is talking about. And it is obvious that on this issue he has abandoned his commitment to methodological individualism and has adopted a collectivist view of society.

The Biblical Solution

The real libertarian solution – a solution which doesn’t involve a compromise of the principles of liberty or private property for no reason whatsoever – is the Biblical solution.6

First, contrary to von Mises, private property is sacred, and there is divine sanction behind it. Initial appropriation is by providence, subsequent transfers are by legal right, and at every step, property is defended by divine decree. No temporal factors – expediency, economic efficiency, the “self-determination of consumers,” etc. – are needed to justify or legitimize the concept of private property. Its utility or uselessness is an issue which is determined entirely on an individualist basis, between the private owner and God, or rather between the family and God. The “culture,” the consumers, the government institutions have very little to say about how private property is used.

Second, while it is sacred, it is not divine or absolute. What is divinely protected is its economic value, that is, the scarcity principle. The mere presence on private property doesn’t constitute violation of it; the physical space over the property is not an economic (scarce) good. (Well, it is in some cases, like in a theater during a Star Wars projection.) Only the destruction or unauthorized use of economic (scarce) value is forbidden. This would ban entering a house without permission but would free other people to be present on a property without causing economic harm.

Therefore, third, the mere crossing of a property line is not a violation of that property. The Law of God specifically allows it, and even more than that, it allows eating of the produce for satisfying the immediate needs of the body:

When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket.

When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain (Deut. 23:24-25).

It’s taking economic advantage of it that is banned, not eating of it on the spot.

Fourth, the practical principle of liberty in the Bible is ethical/judicial, not economic. It is the separation of powers and sphere sovereignty: No institution under no circumstances should be allowed to have power that is not given to it by the Law of God. The civil government is not given the authority to control the movement of non-criminal individuals, period. And it is not given the authority to make new laws that criminalize people where the Law of God doesn’t criminalize them. The only people over whom the state can lawfully exercise authority are the evildoers – that is, those who are murderers, thieves, adulterers, perjurers, etc. Seeking gainful employment in another land is not a crime that the government is allowed to criminalize and punish.

Fifth, no practical solution can be libertarian in any sense of the word if it involves giving the government more power than belongs to it. No matter what the “current situation” is, it is never resolved by making it worse. To protect liberty, we need to call for shrinking the state back to its proper boundaries, not extend them in one area to supposedly fix another. One crime can not be fixed by another crime.

Therefore, sixth, we as libertarians must call for open borders. The current regime is not open borders, not by a long shot; it is socialist, tyrannical, and it criminalizes and penalizes perfectly natural and righteous behavior. National borders are for restraining governments, not for government control over individuals.

And seventh, cultures stand or fall based on their inner moral strength, not on external factors. A superior culture will absorb all the immigration waves thrown at it, will digest them and change them in its own image, and will ask for more. An inferior culture will eventually collapse even if it has sealed itself hermetically against any external influence. Also, individuals do not belong by default to the culture of their birthplace. In the case of immigrants, historical evidence shows that they are more devoted defenders of their new culture than those born in it. Very few people are eager to carry over the same culture they have escaped.

That is true libertarianism.


I am not surprised that Lew Rockwell would eventually abandon the principle of liberty when he gets to specific applications, and would adopt statism, at least as a temporary measure. That is exactly what had to be expected given R.J. Rushdoony assessment of theocracy as “the closest thing to radical libertarianism that can be had.” Secular libertarianism can’t be close to radical libertarianism; it has a flaw at its very foundation. That flaw can be expressed in four words: “There is nothing sacred.” When there is nothing sacred, everything is possible, and everything is morally permissible – including the abandonment of the fundamental principles of one’s own professed ideology. Granted, secular libertarians will never go as far as to argue for consistent statism as applied in practice in the Soviet Union. But small compromises here and there, for one reason or another, will be morally permissible, even if they undermine the very stated goals and meaning of secular libertarianism. Where there is nothing sacred, there is confusion of values. And where there is confusion of values there is defense neither of liberty, nor of private property, nor even of life.

Lew Rockwell’s position on immigration and open borders is the perfect example of that confusion of values. There is no consistency in it. He abandons the fundamental premises of Classical Liberalism to adopt collectivist principles of interpretation of reality; he abandons the solid ethics of liberty for the situational ethics of progressivism; he abandons the facts of history for the scare tactics of imaginary consequences; and he abandons the definitions of his own professed ideology to adopt the definitions of his opponents as his operational definitions. It’s a complete mess, from beginning to end.

The true libertarian position on immigration must be simple:

Never give any government any power over non-criminal individuals; and never call for criminalization of behavior which is perfectly natural under the free market principles. Because, no matter what you imagine, a government that has power over one group of non-criminal individuals will extend its power over all non-criminal individuals. And a government which criminalizes one specific expression of perfectly natural behavior will eventually criminalize all expressions of perfectly natural behavior.

And that, Mr. Rockwell, is true libertarianism.

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  1. R. J. Rushdoony, Chalcedon Position Paper No. 15, in Roots of Reconstruction, p. 63. []
  2. Kenneth Talbot makes that mistake in his article, “Libertarianism vs. Theocracy: Is Libertarianism a Christian Political Philosophy?” For a logically and Biblically consistent presuppositional refutation of Talbot’s thesis, see Joel McDurmon, “Is that Rushdoony’s libertarianism, or someone else’s?” []
  3. See Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy. []
  4. Bojidar Marinov, “Classical Liberalism Has No Place to Stand,” “The Only Possible Defense of Private Property,” and “No Other Single Principle but God and His Image in Man.” []
  5. Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, ch. XXIV, s. 4, “Private Property” (revised edition, 1963), p. 682-4. []
  6. The reader should familiarize himself with the works of Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony to get a more detailed treatment of this topic. See also my lecture series on immigration at http://bit.ly/MarinovImmigration. []

About Bojidar Marinov

A Reformed missionary to his native Bulgaria for over 10 years, Bojidar preaches and teaches doctrines of the Reformation and a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Having founded Bulgarian Reformation Ministries in 2001, he and his team have translated over 30,000 pages of Christian literature about the application of the Law of God in every area of man’s life and society, and published those translations online for free. He has been active in the formation of the Libertarian movement in Bulgaria, a co-founder of the Bulgarian Society for Individual Liberty and its first chairman. If you would like Bojidar to speak to your church, homeschool group or other organization, contact him through his website: http://www.bulgarianreformation.com/

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