Lew Rockwell’s not libertarian border argument

Media Alert 1: Jim Babka to guest-host the Gary Nolan Show, Friday and Monday.
Media Alert 2: An editorial by Jim Babka has been published by Students for Liberty.

Details about both are in this message!

Students for Liberty has published an editorial titled,

I Want Lew Rockwell to Be Libertarian on Immigration [Links updated]

I asked Lew Rockwell if he’d like to publish this piece. He very politely declined. I understand. But I want to be clear: My dissent is with his argument, not with him. I’m thrilled Students for Liberty has agreed to publish it. I encourage you to read it.

But why did I feel the need to write this article?

“You’ve drunk the liberal Kool-Aid” 

Over at Downsize DC last week, we published a piece, by Perry Willis, explaining why prohibition doesn’t work. It didn’t work with liquor. It hasn’t worked with drugs. Prisons cannot even keep guns out!

Perry further illustrated government incompetence specific to the U.S. immigration service. After ten years and $1 billion, they had only digitized one form out of 95!

Downsize DC got more email response to that message than any other we’ve published all year. Nearly all of it was negative.

Three things are of note about the initial responses (all of which I’ve read)…

  1. Nearly half of the messages to us were ad hominem or ugly, with no actual argument made. One of the nicer comments was, “You’ve drunk the liberal Kool-Aid.” But anyone that’s actually followed us should know we’ve been an equal opportunity critic of left statists and right statists.
  2. No one engaged a single point we made in the piece itself. Instead, they offered pet arguments about things like “open borders.”
  3. Four people sent us a new article by Lew Rockwell.

And that recent commentary (linked in the first sentence of my article) claims a libertarian defense, based on a definition of property rights that is remarkably broad, to say the least. In the process, it tramples the central libertarian concept…

The Zero Aggression Principle

Then Paris happened.

To be clear, I started circulating this editorial more than 24 hours before the Paris massacre. Nothing in the commentary is about Paris. Editorials are size-constrained; they can’t cover everything. This article only addresses arguments Lew Rockwell made in just one essay.

Your feedback

I hope you find it thought-provoking. Either way, there’s an opportunity coming to talk to me directly and publicly about it.

On Friday (11/20), Tuesday (11/24) and Wednesday (11/25), I will be guest-hosting the Gary Nolan Show. It airs from 9 AM to Noon Central time.

The show broadcasts in Columbia and Jefferson City, MO. You can listen at http://theeagle939.com/ — click on “Listen Live,” on the top right side of the page.

During the Friday episode, second hour (11:05 AM Eastern, 10:05 AM Central, 9:05 AM Mountain, 8:00 AM Pacific) — UNLESS there’s an earth-shattering breaking news event — I will discuss…

  • Borders
  • Immigration
  • Syrian refugees

And you can call-in to support or critique my position. In fact, here’s the number: 800-529-5572.

If you’re unavailable to call, feel free to comment on our blog (below) or on our Facebook page.

If you’d like to stand by us, as we stand on principle, please consider a generous tax-deductible contribution.

ZAP The State and have a nice day,

Jim Babka
Co-Creator, the Zero Aggression Project

Show Comments 9


  1. Open borders are a voluntary act where one allows another to come to their property. But that openness is dependent upon the property owner. The NAP or what you call the ZAP only makes sense founded on property rights. There is nothing libertarian in welcoming people to services they have not paid for which were extracted from others. That is done under coercion not voluntary choice.

  2. What’s astonishing is that Babka’s SFL op-ed merely asserts that human rights are real…yet it immediately provoked a hostile reaction.

    Not one word of that op-ed suggested how a federal or state immigration policy should be implemented. This brings us squarely to the primary issue of human rights under the US Constitution. The Constitution commands the federal government not to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

    And somehow, politicians keep re-defining the meaning of the word “person”, to exclude people from having their rights honored.

    The Lew Rockwell argument asserts that the US is property of it’s citizens, who are free to limit access to it.

    However, that’s precisely what the US immigration laws do NOT do. Nobody consults the average citizen, about whether he or she would invite some new neighbors over, from abroad. Politicians seize the power and use it for their own unjust enrichment, then pretend to be protecting us.

    Christians and Muslims believe that it is their duty to help refugees, out of love and compassion. Judaism’s command on the subject, it attributes to the voice of God: “Be kind to foreigners, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.”. If an individual so moved by constitutionally-protected religious belief, alone or together with other believers, seeks to feed, clothe, and house some refugees fleeing a war, the US should not interfere. That interference is an act of aggression against the refugees and against the Americans trying to help them.

    But neither should the US government force people to give money or land to refugees. That, also, is an act of aggression.

    It seems reasonable to ask people arriving at the US border, whether they are refugees, and if they are refugees, whether anyone here has agreed to help them to get settled…such measures keep the flow of traffic orderly. What is unreasonable, is the present practice of imposing racial quotas, on how many people from a given country, may be allowed in.

  3. tldr; both articles invoke useful thought but neither puts forth a solution

    Lew Rockwell’s piece is well thought out and interesting but stops right when it should have been getting interesting. He describes the problem but doesn’t describe a solution. He also recognizes there are two perspectives: what is ideal and what he’s really discussing which is “In the current situation”.

    The response seems more of a: but there’s still this problem and you don’t solve it. Which is true. As a result, these two pieces seem to be the beginning of an exploration of the issue and nowhere near an end.

    Rockwell’s piece is very clear that he’s discussing the problems with approaching this one issue in isolation of the very non-libertarian policies already in place. More than half his article is talking about things that are a result of that. So… I think he’s raising the very real issue of: how do you work with an issue in a libertarian way when it’s surrounded and affected by the very non-libertarian policies in place that are unlikely to go away any time soon?

    In other words, I think you’re talking past each other. Lew is suggesting “here are some things to consider in this imperfect world we live in”, and you are criticizing him with “this is how it should be in a perfect world”. For example, you mention “forced association” which should not be an issue in an ideal world. But Rockwell is very specific in explaining that this “forced association” specifically exists today because of the non-libertarian policies that exist right now. So, your question: “Who, amongst the libertarians, is willing to pull the first trigger?” is the wrong one: it’s the non-libertarians that are already pointing the guns that Rockwell is talking about.

    “Does a man in Cincinnati, with only the deed to his house” but he doesn’t just have the deed to his house. A government “stole” money from him to preserve and provide improvements on “public” property and thus he arguably has an “ownership” share in everything that money was used for. Also, he does address this a little: “The correct way to proceed, therefore, is to decentralize decision-making on immigration to the lowest possible level” which contradicts your suggestion of control a 1000 miles away. Lowest possible level implies trying to avoid that situation.

    In summary, I would really like to hear proposals for both situations:
    1) What is the “best” (or “least-bad”) policy for immigration given the messy state of the current laws? That’s what Rockwell was discussing but he didn’t propose a solution.
    2) What is the best policy for immigration if we did have an ideal libertarian situation? That would include discussing how should public property be handled in an ideal libertarian world.

    1. Post

      There’s something missing or misunderstood in your analysis. The hypothetical man in Cincinnati was permitted, in Lew’s plan, to prevent a politically-designated illegal person from walking down the street — even if that person was going to a place he was invited or would be welcomed, such as the house of a landlord or the factory of an employer. It was starkly accurate, entirely just, and completely relevant to ask the question, “Which libertarian would stop, even shoot him on the street?”

      Others may chime-in and disagree. I’m not interested in figuring out how to make a welfare state work better. I want welfare to be entirely a voluntary matter, devoid of coercive force.

      Therefore, the solution we’d propose should be clear. We have an entire website now on the concept. We oppose the initiation of force to achieve any political or social goal, full stop. Zero Aggression. In a world where that was the ethic, walking down a street while brown or even Muslim wouldn’t, itself, be a crime. It’s not self-defense, even a defense of personal property, to arrest or shoot someone for merely walking down the street. It’s not libertarian, either. We want everyone to think brand new, outside the box — outside The State — thoughts.

  4. Although I certainly agree with Jim’s position on the topic from a philosophical perspective, there is the reality of the current welfare state to consider.

    We do not live in a libertarian society today.

    We live under the threat of violence from THE STATE, who takes from the productive the fruits of their labors to distribute them to others to sustain and increase their (THE STATE’s) ability to apply the violence of THE STATE against us.

    Those who lived in the fictional “Galt’s Gulch” kept their borders secure by keeping their very existence hidden. This was done, not out of desire, but NECESSITY.

    As long as THE STATE continues to tax the productive to bribe the non-productive, expanding the dependent class, I believe border controls are essential, a practical reality of our present situation.

    1. Post

      Libertarians know that a free country has nothing to fear from anyone coming in or going out – while a welfare state is scared to death of poor people coming in and rich people getting out. – Harry Browne

      1. There was a very real threat of that some years ago in Oregon like that. When the universal health care law was going to be voted on in Oregon, there was at least one large company (technology related, I think) that told people: “We can’t tell you how to vote, but if this passes, you won’t have jobs here anymore”. That law would have driven companies away big time.

  5. Immigration is not theoretical. For probably 90% of US citizens, it is actual.
    Having lived in a community with a huge Islam population, my concern is assimilation. While all immigrant groups tend to settle in areas where they feel comfortable with neighbors like them and ethnic goods, some adherents to Islam believe they are entitled to special treatments even though they might deny the “natives” the right to practice their traditions. Examples: Shira law rather than US law (honor killings, punishment for adultery), women insisting upon fully covering their faces in public, abuse of women, prohibition of certain sexual practices. Some people requested that Germany not hold Oktoberfest in Munich because nearby refugees felt insulted by the drinking and loose behavior of women.
    Don’t US citizens have the right to continue to celebrate their traditions? Most my Muslim neighbors are Shiite moderates- no problem. But some “immigrants” are seeking to impose 8th century laws and social behavior not only upon their own people but eventually all of us. If you thought Prohibition was bad………..

  6. Speaking for myself (the only one for whom I can speak), I only provisionally agree with the libertarian insistence on open borders. This is because, in order to further the Libertarian cause and principles, we must map out a way to get there from here. Taxation must cease, government-forced redistribution of income must cease, and arms-control laws must evaporate before this country has “nothing to fear” from the free movement of living individuals, regardless of country of origin.

    Personally, I would love to see all the prerequisites satisfied, and I am working to implement what I can, inch by inch. Libertarian purists who don’t want to compromise their principles even for an instant, the sake of progress, are actually holding back the Libertarian Party as well as the USA from realizing the goals of Libertarianism.

    I object to ANY group being given special treatment; I object to people being handed taxpayer funds and taxpayer-funded “benefits” because such largesse is impossible without first violating the ZAP. I object to criminals being released by law enforcement back into the unsuspecting and unprepared populace just because they came from a different country. I especially object to the unsuspecting populace being disarmed by its government prior to being accosted by aforementioned criminals.

    I further assert my right to protect my life, my family and my property from any aggressing individual, irrespective of country of origin for that individual, and irrespective of weapon of choice, provided said weapon does not infringe upon anyone else’s rights (excepting the perpetrator/aggressor).

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