Individual freedom is at the center of all libertarian thought. Ever a lover of human liberty, Ronald Reagan hailed libertarianism for that very reason. Unlike the neosocialist Democratic Party and the neoconservative Republicans, the Libertarian Party is driven by a devotion to an idea instead of an unprincipled pursuit of power.
But as is the case with academic theories whose connection to the real world is precariously tenuous, the sad state of freedom in America means that too many libertarian ideas go untested by reality. One idea, however, that has been tested to some extent, is the libertarian concept of open borders.
Unfortunately, in the United States, de facto open borders have had the net effect of increasing central state power, as immigrants legal and illegal eagerly sample the many services provided by the state and federal governments. One can recognize this most surely by the assiduous support for “undocumented persons” voiced by Democratic Party leaders, who recognize a potential constituency when they see one.
Advocates of open borders assert that this is only because of the attractions of the welfare state, as if it is not the mere fact of societal wealth that draws aliens to a new land. This assertion is not only unsupported by fact, but is historically dubious considering the amount of human migration that occurred throughout all of human history prior to the notion of an expected claim on government largesse.
Furthermore, if an ideological theory is accurate, it must be accurate in all cases, not merely the exceptional case of the United States. Consider Switzerland, for example, a nation of some 7.5 million people, surrounded by four countries containing almost 28 times as many people. Despite strict immigration laws – even marrying a Swiss citizen or being born in Switzerland is no guarantee of obtaining residency, much less citizenship – almost 20 percent of the population is alien. And, in contradiction to the welfare theory, this has occurred despite the fact that France’s welfare system is more generous.
If a Libertarian Party were to open Switzerland’s borders to free immigration, Switzerland would cease to exist within a year. It would be swamped instantly by the North African tide now threatening to engulf southern Italy. The United States, being almost 40 times larger and situated further from impoverished population centers, would require more time to meet the same fate, but it would be inevitable nevertheless.
If the borders are to be open, who can then tell 1 billion Chinese or Indian citizens that they are not permitted to immigrate? Either the government has the ability to close the borders or it does not. Libertarians must remind themselves that they are not anarchists, nor do they hold to a mutant Trotskyite vision of world libertarian revolution. Protecting the national border is one of the few necessary and proper duties of a national government.
Still, the open borders policy is half right. The chief hallmark of a free society is its voluntary nature. Even if entry is, necessarily, to be restricted, the exits must always remain open. The United States fails badly by this score, as its addiction to theft-by-government causes it to not only attempt taxing non-resident citizens, but even to claim a Soviet-style exit tax as well as additional taxes for 10 years following a former citizen’s relinquishing of his citizenship.
This is precisely backward when viewed from the perspective of human liberty.
Conservatives often argue that we libertarians are seeking perfection in politics. That is manifestly untrue, as I support the Libertarian Party even though its appeal is hamstrung by its flawed logic and anti-libertarian conclusions on abortion and open borders.
The Libertarian Party is still young, by historical standards, and already its position on abortion is beginning to change, as science reinforces the baby’s property claim to itself. I am optimistic that the same process will eventually unfold on the immigration issue, which, as with so many other issues, will give the American people a genuine alternative to the statist policies of the bi-factional ruling party.
Ideas which cannot stand the test of time and reason must fall. The 1971 platform was a beginning, not an end, and I am confident that through its principled dedication to reason, human liberty and individual freedom, the Libertarian Party will only grow stronger as opposition mounts to the metastasizing cancer of the central state.