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Libertarianism, Open Borders and Intellectual Honesty

Immigration remains a huge topic in the western world. The scale and quality of immigrants reaching western countries has lead to a true crisis in many places. The hallmarks of this crisis are cultural clashed, economic damage through large welfare programs and a measurable increase in criminality. All of these are certainly unpleasant and therefore unwanted outcomes.

This has intensified the debate among libertarians about which position to take with regards to immigration. There are still many, like Bryan Caplan, who remain convinced that the government has to stay out of controlling people’s movements.

This is a position that I myself was favouring for a long time. I still remain very sceptical of whether trusting the government with immigration policies is the right way forward. As I wrote in an article a few month ago, far from being incompetent, the government actually seems to favour the current bad immigration policies.

One thing that always bothered me about advocating government licensing of people is that it is clearly not a libertarian policy. I get annoyed when libertarians portray it as such with bogus arguments. I have written articles about why defending government immigration controls cannot possibly be a libertarian policy recommendation. I am not going to repeat the arguments here, I think they still very much stand.

Does that mean that someone who identifies as libertarian has to support open borders no matter what the outcome? I would say only if he want to be a pure libertarian above all else. That, however, would be dogmatic libertarianism. Libertarianism should not be a cult. It is merely a theory that if we allow individuals to be as free as possible, in other words, if we maximise their individual liberty then that is moral and will lead to attractive outcomes.

But like any theory, this could of course turn out to be false. If it can be shown that maximising liberty leads to very unattractive outcomes then it does not seem reasonable to continue advocating this policy. For example, I would not advocate liberty if it could be shown that this will lead to the end of humanity.

In fact, it is easy to image a world in which libertarianism would not work. On the other hand, it is also easy to imagine a world in which it definitely would. The real question is therefore, does it work in the real world? If it does not then what is the point?

I remain convinced that maximising liberty is probably a good idea in the real world. Empirically it can be shown that relatively free societies in the past were attractive societies. So why wouldn’t they be in the future? In addition, I personally simply hate to be told what to do with my life. I want to be left alone. I therefore think that it is worth working towards a free society. In fact, because I really like to be left alone myself, I cannot help but to continue advocating liberty.

I also remain convinced that governments are inherently evil institutions. I am, however, increasingly less convinced that it is realistic that we can get rid of them. The fight for liberty is probably never ending and will have to live with constant set backs.

However, while I was more of a revolutionary in my 20th, I am strategically increasingly a conservative. The core of conservatism is to oppose revolutions. Any positive change needs to be gradual and slow, so that the effects can be studied and negative developments be averted. I do believe that that is the only way to achieve lasting positive societal change. However, I do also acknowledge that gradual change is not always possible. Sometimes, the only way to get rid of the old system is a disruptive collapse before something new can emerge. This, however, is far from idea. If possible, society should be changed gradually and slowly.

Still, with regards to immigration, the dilemma remains that advocating for the continuation of state immigration controls is to ask the exact institution who got us into this mess to fix it. It is the state who is providing welfare. It is the state who is enforcing hate speech and anti-discimination laws. And it is the state that very much currently has a deliberate policy of bringing in certain types of unwanted immigrants in order to destabilise society and establish a tyranny.

Let us not forget that the state has not lost control, but is very much in control of the borders. We saw this with the Covid regime. Therefore, what is happening is not an accident, it is a deliberate policy and the people pursuing this policy are quite open about it. Consequently, I continue to think that the current immigration crisis is in large parts a consequence of too much state interference, in other words of a lack of liberty.

Is it really realistic to turn to this institution as a saviour? Is it realistic for a burglar to turn into a policeman and lock himself up? I am very much still a libertarian in that I believe trusting the state is a very flawed strategy. It is not realistic that it will get us truly out of this mess. And if it really did try to do so, that would come with huge trade-offs.

Nevertheless, however flawed this strategy might be, there is an argument that the state might be the last available option. It is not entirely unrealistic that a popular uprising might change immigration policies. This is definitely a lot more realistic than the abolition of the welfare state and a full return to free association. I especially cannot see the former happening, too many people are dependant on it.

But it does look increasingly likely that we will get a popular uprising against too much of the wrong immigration. Therefore, if we were to get a political change that would undo some of the craziness of the last few decades with an authoritarian hand would I support that?

Well, if it comes down to this or continuing the madness then the change would probable be the lesser evil. Unfortunately, in the real world, real choices often come down to two bad alternatives. But there is no reason to not pick the slightly less bad one.

However, supporting a more authoritarian right-wing uprising would not be a libertarian policy. It is a huge trade-off that will lead to all kinds of other problems down the road. We need to be honest about this. If we get this change, then I would bet some money that in 20-30 years, I will be forming a new coalition with a then defeated left that will have become sensible compared to the then authoritarian right wing establishment.

However, what is happening right now has to to be stopped. I have come to realise that in a world dominated by states, one has little choice but to sometimes support very sub-optimal policies. That is for example, why I advocate cooperating with Russia. Putin might be a bad guy, but all the alternatives to not cooperating with him are far worse. The Ukrainian government (itself a terrible tyrant) is stubbornly refusing to learn that lesson. And we can see that we don’t want to be like Ukraine. We have to get along with Putin, there simply is no better alternative.

In a world in which there are states who can use immigration as a weapon, libertarianism might not fully work. Even if a state decided to pursue some truly libertarian reforms, what if another state tries to undermine such an effort by sending an army of trouble makers across the border? If such a plot were to be discovered, the newly libertarian state would certainly have to react to that by limiting the freedom to move. It therefore seems, short of an unrealistic worldwide move towards a libertarian system, a single state moving towards libertarianism is at high risk of being overthrown quickly.

This would mean that libertarians will have to accept that compromises will have to be made when it comes to maximising liberty, in order to at least protect some other won liberties. How these compromises will look like will certainly change from time to time. These compromises, however, would be not libertarian and pretending otherwise is just intellectually dishonest. As such, it will get us nowhere. We need a realistic assessment of the real world. Pretending things like “war is peace” or “closed borders are libertarian” will only lead to bad theories. And bad theories will lead to bad strategies in the future.

Of course libertarianism works in an ideal world. In a world in which all states have disappeared, people have a libertarian mindset, there is no welfare states, speech controls and we have free association, yes then open borders would clearly work great. Open borders have also worked in the past, when many other factors were different. But are open borders a good compromise at the moment? It looks increasingly like more liberty is lost with them than won.

That does not mean I give up on libertarianism in principle . What makes me a libertarian is that I think it is worth working towards a truly free society. By all means, let us work towards that. In the meantime, however, let us also acknowledge that we do not live in such an ideal world, in fact we are a very long way from it.

In the real world, we are confronted with all kinds of nasty trade-offs, from which we have to determine which of these trade-offs might be the best for us. The argument that it would be better if we didn’t have to make these trade-offs changes nothing about the choices we have in the real world.

For me personally, it is increasingly clear that the woke, climate change, green central planning agenda will get us to probably one of the least attractive trade-offs imaginable. I am therefore willing to support a lot of opposition to it, however imperfect it may be. I am fully aware that this strategy will not lead us to libertarianism any time soon. That is tragic, but probably the best we can do at the moment.

We need to remain intellectually honest. These policies are not libertarian. They are not ideal and come with huge trade-offs. There is no harm and lots of benefits to continue to point out what ideally should happen. Ideally, the government has no business to license people. Open borders are a policy that could work under certain circumstances. However, we don’t have those circumstances. While working towards creating those circumstances, we can make realistic choices with the real options available. Time will tell whether these trade-offs will have been a wise strategy.

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