Two libertarian values: individual liberty and free markets. Yet, borders transgress both.
What is a border? Webster’s defines a border as, “the line that separates one country, state, province, etc., from another.” The border and the state go hand-in-hand. Here we must distinguish a border from a property line. The term does not demarcate an area that has been homesteaded in this usage. A border is not a function of ownership, but a function of control.
Borders Violate The Individual Rights of the Immigrant and the Emigrant
An initiation of aggression guards every frontier. It is the threat of force, as well as its occasional use, that prevents individuals from crossing. This not only applies to the immigrant, but also to the emigrant. In the West we largely focus on the immigrants who desire to enter a state. We overlook that borders also infringe upon the liberties of individuals who are natives within a given state.
The threat of force, the initiation of aggression, is thus used not only upon those who would immigrate to your area. It is also used to prevent your emigration. The border dictates under what circumstances you will or will not be allowed to leave. Every border crossing involves two coercive acts: a threat of aggression from the emigrant state upon leaving and a threat of aggression from the immigrant state upon entering.
It should be reiterated that the threat used to enforce borders is an initial act of aggression. It is not defensive. This act of aggression is portrayed as defensive in nature in order to legitimize and justify it. However, it is always in the context of a general defense of “society,” “community,” “economy” or state.
The border is never in defense of the individual; the mere act of travel is not an act of aggression in and of itself. The individual has not delegated third parties to protect their property, despite the facade of democracy. Even then the individual would have no authority to make such a delegation unless the border were also his or her personal property line.
Border Rationalizations for Partially Free Markets
We can not justify borders as the defensive responses of individuals. Borders can only be justified in the context of the collective. And even then it is a collective acting coercively. How, then, are immigration restrictions by libertarians justified?
Justifications for borders always take consequentialist, utilitarian or pragmatist forms. They rarely address rights. Consequentialism, utilitarianism and pragmatism are largely absent theories on rights. And we have seen that borders by nature infringe upon individual rights.
While there are consequentialist, utilitarian and pragmatist libertarians it is accurate to call them libertarians only insofar as they are adopt libertarianism because they believe it will produce desirable results or political policy. If liberty no longer produced desirable results, if it no longer held the greatest utility or was no longer practical, then it would have to be rejected. The individual is thus a consequentialist, utilitarian or pragmatist first and a libertarian second. Libertarianism is the vehicle that moves toward the desired goal or maximum utility.
Nonetheless, many self-styled libertarians reject rights but embrace a free market. A free market is desirable because of the results it produces, they say. And this line of argumentation is fine. Yet it would be more accurate if they told us they embrace partially free markets. An inherent feature of borders is a limitation to trade. Borders always create limits on the market by limiting trade.
If a free market did not produce desirable results the libertarians in this camp would have to reject it. And in a sense many do. Their libertarianism stops where their stance on borders begins. The belief in negative economic consequences of open borders is a tacit rejection of free markets. If open borders have negative results (they don’t, but those who oppose open borders believe they do) the free market is no longer a suitable vehicle for consequentialist goals. It must be limited, restrained, infringed upon and held back by the state.
With borders markets still exist. Individuals still have liberty. But they are not free markets, nor is individual liberty maximized. Instead, the freedom of the market and the freedom of the individual can be measured in latitude and longitude.