Why political borders are not like private property lines

Some people want to “lock down” our national border for the same reason we lock our doors at night. The metaphor doesn’t work. You own your home. You don’t own the nation. The politicians don’t own it either. So a border is not a door, or a wall, or even a fence. It serves no protective function. Quite the opposite.

A border simply indicates that one group of gangsters rules on one side, and another group rules on the other side.

The two gangs limit their operating costs by agreeing to not interfere with each other (this is usually called “sovereignty”). In other words, the border is the line at which each gang agrees to respect each other’s territory, in much the same way that a street gang or mafia divides their prey.

It’s further helpful if you think of “citizen” as another word for cattle. On this side of the line, only our gang can milk (tax) us and herd (regulate) us. And the gang from the other side of the line can only milk and herd its citizens/cattle. War results when one gang crosses a border to poach on the milking and herding rights of another gang. Seen in this way, borders are really about protecting the gangs that rule us. This means…

Borders come at the expense of property.

Mr. Cordial and Ms. Nativist each own property on the border. Mr. Cordial likes to invite foreigners across his line. Ms. Nativist doesn’t. Both are well within their rights.

But then Ms. Nativist reaches out to a third neighbor, Mr. Busybody. Nativist and Busybody take a vote. They pass a “law” dictating that Mr. Cordial can no longer have foreigners on his property. Nativist and Busybody will use violence against Cordial if he refuses to submit. In other words…

They’ve determined that they have the right to control property they don’t actually own. It’s like eminent domain, except without the compensation. Let’s be frank: Mr. Cordial’s neighbors have managed to steal from him. They’ve decided that their political border is more important than Cordial’s front door lock. In a land where we’re guaranteed rights of liberty and pursuit of happiness, that’s a big deal.

Here’s the point…

  • The nationalist attempt to equate borders with property lines ignores a crucial distinction: Borders are the conquesred turf of gangsters, the lines within which no other gang may interfere with their extortions. Your property line is the result of a peaceful trade, where guests are often welcomed.
  • Blurring these two things creates a farce: Borders are more often used to violate property rights than to protect them.

You lock a door for protection; politicians maintain borders for dividing the sheep and fleecing them. And political borders can be bad for actual property rights.

Related Reading…
I Want Lew Rockwell to Be Libertarian on Immigration
– Public property is NOT merely an extension of private property, which can, in turn, be used to restrict alien movement.

Perry Willis

About the Author

Perry Willis

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Perry Willis is the co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and Downsize DC. He was the National Director of the Libertarian National Committee on two occasions, and ran two Libertarian Party presidential campaigns. He has an extensive background in marketing and fundraising, and has ghost written direct mail appeals for numerous luminaries, including Karl Hess, Ron Paul, Charlton Heston and Harry Browne.

Jim Babka

About the Author

Jim Babka

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Jim Babka is co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and President of DownsizeDC.org, Inc. He’s an author and former talk show host.
Previously, he was the President of RealCampaignReform.org, Inc., defending free press rights all the way to the Supreme Court. He and Susie are the proud, home-schooling parents of three teenagers. He enjoys theology, UFC, target practice, and Tai Chi.

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Show Comments 14


  1. Thanks for a clear and simple explanation of the difference. I’ve been trying to express those very thoughts myself but couldn’t quite make the connection to individual property rights.

  2. Excellent article. A hot button topic, nicely explained. I will link this when my friends start ranting about borders.

    1. Agree. I too will pass this missive along the track. Indeed, if there were just two people on a vast island, neither has any authority to force the other to obey, which of course means neither has the right to establish borders or prevent transit between the two so called nations created via those artificial borders.

  3. Brilliant. It’s also worth noting that the founders did not grant the federal government control over immigration in the Constitution, only naturalization.

    1. I tend to agree with Lysander Spooner who wrote No Treason No. 6, The Constitution of No Authority. More recently, The No State Project by Marc Stevens poses the question: What factual evidence do you (judge, prosecutor, bureaucrat, or anyone) have that the constitution and law apply to me just because I am physically present in some state such as commie/socialist, moonbeam, DemonKrait controlled corruptifornia? It does not exist and never has and never could, else we would all be just stinkin’ slaves on the plantation state with its borders and which is run by masters/politicians and their overseers/enforcers/judges. Oh, but we live in “the land of the free.” How diabolically ironic is that? Judges take their oaths to abide by the constitution but have no factual evidence that it applies. It seems judges forswear their oaths. With no factual evidence that the constitution applies, then judges lack jurisdiction when so challenged. So, judges commit frauds when they refuse to dismiss tickets when so challenged. Indeed, we live as stinkin’ slaves and it is a disgrace and it is shameful disrespect to those who cast off the shackles of English tyranny. Oh, and of course the colonists could not and did not turn ’round and immediately impose a tyranny of their own as that would have been anathema to their moral foundations. The constitution was merely a guide but was not intended to enslave the masses. Or was it?

      1. It was intended to enslave sad to say. Of the 12 States who sent Delegates to the Philly Convention to suggest amendments to the Articles of Confederation, each and every Delegate was expressly directed by the State Legislature who appointed them that no amendments shall be binding upon the united States (that is each State) unless ratified by the Congress (under the Articles of Confederation) and each State Legislature. The current U,S, Constitution was NOT ratified by the Congress under the Articles, nor by each State Legislature, but by State Conventions. And only 3/4th’s of them and not unanimously as the Articles direct. Hence State Sovereignty was eroded from day one. When the changes must be unanimous the States retain Sovereignty.

  4. Also worth noting: The voluntary transaction I make to acquire land today, may be with the heirs of the gangster who seized that land by force from someone else. The degree to which we intentionally conceal that past violent history, is the degree to which we begin to depend upon gangsterism to run our lives for us.

    A simple illustration: Some Dutch people who had the technology to forge iron, paid $20 worth of cheap jewelry for land to build New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. The sellers didn’t particularly want the land and sold it. The sellers had wooden plows, and the rocky soil wore their farm tools out so quickly that farming the land seemed worthless. The Dutch, who had iron plows and forges with which to straighten them when they bent, were able to farm the rocky soil, and established the trading outpost as a place their ships could take on food for the return voyage to Europe. That land has a written history of voluntary ownership.

    In contrast, Andrew Jackson ordered the Army to invade what’s now Georgia and Florida, attacked the Cherokee and Seminole nations who farmed the land, forced them to walk to what’s now Oklahoma, then re-sold the stolen land to people who paid cash for it. Jackson then used the cash to pay off bond debts, and temporarily the US carried no debts on it’s books because of this war booty. The Supreme Court ruled Mr Jackson’s actions illegal and ordered him to release the captured natives from bondage. Mr Jackson said of the Court, “Let them enforce it”. Since Congress was unwilling to impeach Andrew Jackson for this vicious crime, he got clean away with it.

    The extent to which we embrace concepts like Manifest Destiny, is the extent to which we put on moral blinders and conceal from ourselves ugly truths, like the fact that the guy pictured on the twenty-dollar Federal Reserve Note is a war criminal. Many of us voluntarily err on the side of charity, once we understand that there are people who were badly mistreated in the past and whose offspring have had to overcome the effects of such mistreatment.

  5. Whereas civil gov’t is established to protect the People’s natural rights to their own life liberty and property, and that when it attempts to do more than this it actually violates natural law and in particular someones life liberty and property. Our forebears, Adam & Eve were granted dominion over the Earth, and every animal as a steward of GOD’s creation. Each will give an account to Him on our stewardship of His property. For every piece of property comes from the Earth. Said forebears could travel anywhere on Earth they chose. If People allow themselves to be limited in travel based upon fictional entities called civil gov’t; What is to keep from extending this limitation of travel to all civil gov’t? Such as State lines, County Lines, or cities & towns. I cannot trespass onto private property but I am free to travel on public property. If a China-man can stand in public property in Tienanmen Square, then I, an American have the same right and am accountable and answerable to no man or imaginary civil gov’t.

  6. Please take this as a good faith effort to engage with you about this topic. What I perceive after having read Rockwell’s speech, Babka’s response, and the current post is a case of talking past one another. I see Babka as mostly attacking a strawman; Rockwell does not claim “that national borders are just extensions of private property rights.” What he said was that what we refer to as “public property” is not owned by the government, nor is it properly thought of as unowned and ripe for homesteading. He was making the point that the taxpayers who paid for the “public property” have the most legitimate claim to shares of ownership in it, and that, given the current state of recognition of private property rights, it is not clear that open borders is what libertarians must embrace.

    One thing I find interesting is the tendency for open borders advocates to use abstractions, such as the case of Mr. Cordial and Ms. Nativist, as if they live in a society where property rights are more or less well enforced and there are no ways that foreigners invited by Mr. Cordial impose externalities upon Ms. Nativist. Mr. Babka essentially ignores the substantive points made by Mr. Rockwell, such as that the foreigners can sue Ms. Nativist if she doesn’t hire them, doesn’t rent them a room, doesn’t give them a loan, doesn’t want to participate in their wedding, etc. Also ignored are the political externalities that mass democracy creates. One may think these points are irrelevant or small prices to pay for the gains enjoyed by immigrants and the people with whom they interact, but you must actually address them, especially if your newsletter says that you’ve “heard it all before” and have already addressed every argument.

    1. Jim may have his own comments. Here are mine…

      The fact that we are all robbed to pay for the roads does not imply that a majority (or energetic minority) of those so robbed can decide for everyone who can and cannot use said roads.

      Libertarians in particular should be immune from such majoritarian thinking which essentially argues that the majority view counts 100% and the minority view 0%.

      So long as even one American wants to associate with any visiting or resident alien the public roads should be available to facilitate that association.

      Should our culture at some point decide to dispense with robbery to fund roads then a true property rights situation would arise, exactly like that described by Jim in his example of the two property owners, Mr. Cordial and Ms. Nativist. In such a situation Mr. Cordial would decide to allow Mexicans to use his road, and Ms. Nativist would prohibit it. Both would be within their rights.

      Far from being abstract, Jim’s example of Mr. Cordial and Ms. Nativist lends a needed degree of clarifying concreteness.

      Your comment ends with a laundry list of concerns that all have to do with bad things The State may do if there are more Mexicans among us. It should be obvious that those problems should be solved by curtailing the powers of The State rather than adding to those powers by pimping for people prohibition (i.e., unconstitutional immigration controls). The fact that anti-immigration advocates do not focus their efforts toward combating State power, and instead try to enhance state power, speaks volumes about what there true motivations probably are.

  7. Open borders without immigration control & proper vetting nullify the Zero Aggression principles. Allowing illegals from any country to enter the United States without background checks is essentially a premeditated form of allowing potential aggression – through criminal acts – against innocent citizens. Immigration control & vetting are defensive postures to safeguard citizens against “initiated force” that could come from a person whose “individual conscience” – devoid of any moral safeguards – allows them to take your property & even kill you. These {illegal} people are in our US streets right now as drug cartel members & even the notorious M-13 gang members, just to name some examples. Zero Aggression principles can work in re-education & rehabilitation programs to change certain aggressive behaviors but to STOP a potential for violence does require very assertive & even aggressive action. And a “border wall” would at least “slow down” the potential for “criminal violence” to enter our country & is obviously a defensive measure.

    1. We need aggression to make zero aggression possible. Got it. Makes no sense. It appears to me that you didn’t actually read the article.

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