Hans-Hermann Hoppe is known for his skepticism of open borders. He thinks that open borders are inconsistent with libertarian principals. Therefore, real libertarians have to oppose this policy, at least as long as the state exists. I think Hoppe is mistaken on the issue. His arguments seem deeply confused and I am going to show why. As he claims to be a libertarian and the state is basically illiberal, then in order to make a supporting statement of a very intrusive state policy like immigration, his argumentation just has to be very messy. There is no real case for the support of this policy. To show exactly how this works, let us look at two of his articles on immigration.
Recently, LewRockwell.com re-published two of such articles. The first was entitles “Free Immigration is Forced Integration” and the second “Immigration and Libertarianism”. Let us start with the first, “Free Immigration is Forced Integration”.
In this articles Hoppe tries to make essentially one argument. The argument is that “free” immigration violates the property rights of the locals and can therefore not be libertarian. To get to this conclusion, Hoppe needs to distract the reader with a number of argumentative tricks to make it look like, his conclusion follows from his premises.
Let us go through the article systematically. The article is divided into 7 parts. He starts by summarizing what he describes as “the classical argument for free immigration”. I am not sure if there is such a thing as “the classical argument”. There are definitely a number of different arguments in favour of open borders. Hoppe, in a side note even concedes this in the second part of the article. But he makes it incorrectly look like this is another route to dispute the open border claim by calling it a “first shortcoming” of the free immigration argument. No, what Hoppe calls “the classic argument” for free immigration, is merely the economic argument for it. But fair enough, it is an important argument and Hoppe, as far as I can tell summarizes it correctly. He also explicitly agrees with the idea that free immigration does not cause economic problems. He understands correctly that this would be an argument against free markets in general.
In the second part of the article, he then goes on to say that trying to criticise open borders by pointing out negative effects of the welfare state is also not persuasive. These are problems of the welfare state and not of open borders in and of itself. I think this is correct. If the welfare state or for that matter any other state policy leads to negative effects of freeing up markets, then libertarians should attack these policies and not the freeing up of markets. So far, Hoppe seems to make the case in favour of open borders. One thing that is important to note until this point is, how he uses the word ‘free’. The word ‘free’ is used in the libertarian sense of “free from constrains”.
Now, from the third part of the article, Hoppe starts making the libertarian case against free immigration. His argument is that in an anarcho-capitalist society, everything worth owning is already owned. Therefore, there cannot be freedom of immigration. So the property prevents the freedom. Wait a minute, what? Why is property in contradiction with freedom? This is a strange argument coming from the founder of The Property and Freedom Society. But maybe they serve free alcohol there? But seriously, isn’t the whole point of libertarianism that property and liberty are closely linked with each other? How can Hoppe make the argument that since we have property, there cannot be freedom. That sounds very confused to me. It should be clear that Hoppe at this point has started to use the word freedom in a non libertarian way, as in ‘free of charge’. He argues that we have property, therefore immigration cannot be free of costs. In this sense of the word however, libertarianism is also in contradiction with free markets. A free market would be a market in which everyone can help themselves to everything they like, free of charge. That clearly is not libertarian. That is more a socialist way of using the word freedom. Libertarians explicitly stress that their idea of freedom is to be free from proactive impositions from others. Even more remarkable is that Hoppe just a few sentences earlier has used the word in exactly this libertarian meaning. And now he just changes the meaning of “free” without even telling the reader about it. One wonders why? Is he not smart enough to realise that he is using the word with the different meaning, or is he speculating that his audience won’t be? I don’t know the answer, but I know that at least one of the two needs to be true.
So let me make clear, what a libertarian like myself means when talking about “free immigration”, or for that matter immigration. Immigration is a collectivist term. It means the movement of people over some form of collectivist borders. These can be cultural borders or state borders. As such it is not always completely clear when to call the long term reallocation of a person to another location immigration and when he is just moving house. Simply moving house from Charles Street a few miles down the road to Summer Lane is usually not called immigration.
In today’s statist world, immigration is usually understood to mean the long term reallocation of a person from one side of a state border to another. Free immigration therefore means that people who would like to make such a move are free from not interpersonal liberty maximising compatible restrains. The biggest of such restrains right now is state immigration controls. These come in the form of state issued passport controls at state borders and visa licensing systems that allow the state to control who is on its territory for how long and what reason.
I am not trying to argue about words. If Hoppe has a problem sticking to a consistent meaning of a word let us just argue about the meaning itself. Can we agree that the state is violating people’s liberty with these types of policies or not? And can we therefore agree that these policies have to go unconditionally or not? Unfortunately, Hoppe seems to really believe that state immigration controls, to some degree are not in violation of liberty. However, as I argue above, the attack on open borders via redefining the word ‘free’ can hardly be taken seriously. So what other arguments does Hoppe have?
Although, not so fast. At first he seems to continue the article, explicitly rejecting state immigration controls as unnatural in part four. However, immediately after he has done so, he starts to develop a new way of arguing that current immigration is violating the liberty of people. Hoppe says that since we have a state, that state then employs policies like building roads that are not market results. This distorted market will also have a distorting effect on immigration. And this is what he calls forced integration, because we now have more roads than we would otherwise have and therefore the locals have to put up with more immigrants than they would normally get.
This is a really odd argument in many ways. To start with, he seems to contradict himself. In part two of the article, he argued that trying to argue against immigration with the welfare state would not be convincing, as this is a problem of the welfare state, which will have to go. But now he is applying the logic that he himself rejected earlier, to do just that. If immigration leads to problems with other state policies than libertarians need to argue against these policies instead of making themselves advocates of more statism.
But his argument is also not economically correct. Yes, the state is distorting the economy. But it is hard to tell what the exact market result would have been. How does Hoppe know, that we now have more streets then we would otherwise have? If we could figure that out without the market, then we would have a pretty good argument in favour of central planning. Maybe the opposite is the case. Maybe now, we have less roads than we would otherwise have. In that case the same argument would lead to the opposite conclusion of forced exclusion. As a scholar of Austrian economics, he should know that?
Next he argues that in today’s world the government and not the market is fully in charge of admitting people. That however, seems simply wrong. Behind the state borders, especially domestic property is still mostly owned privately. So despite the fact that we have state borders, the control over who comes into the country is still to a large degree in the hands of the market of that country. Without anyone renting out or selling a property to the immigrant, the immigrant still has a problem. But there does not seem to be a shortage of people doing that and I cannot see why there would be a shortage without border controls. Quite to the contrary, with the freeing up of markets it is reasonable to assume that accommodation could become cheaper as productivity increases.
Hoppe however argues that immigration controls lead to forced integration and forced exclusion. I can see how immigration controls are forceful exclusions. If a property owner on the inside of the fence would like to invite someone, the government can prevent this. That is why it is not libertarian. I find it harder to see a case of forceful integration. If the government lets someone through the state border, the people inside the fence can still say no to the person. And if everyone does, then the person would have simply nowhere to go, even in today’s worlds. In order for this to be forced integration, it would need to be the case that someone is invited by the government and the government gives that person an accommodation. This does not seem to happen very often. If it does however, it is indeed not libertarian. But then again, instead of establishing general border controls and a visa system, the way to deal with that would be to abolish these state programs too. In fact, in this case, border controls and visas are clearly of no importance, as this obviously happens with or without these policies in place as well. So Hoppe is simply wrong if he concludes that it is the immigration controls itself that lead to forced integration.
Up to this point in the articles Hoppe has failed completely to establish an argument in favour of libertarian state border controls. However, in the remaining three parts, his arguments actually get a lot worse. While up until now, he at least tried to make it look like he was making a consistent argument, he completely loses this in what is coming. It is a mixture of wild speculation and false conclusions that is not concerned with principles or consistencies. Let us have a look at it.
In part five he argues that if we had an absolute monarch that owned the whole country, then we would get similar results to free market immigration. It is beyond me how he comes to this bizarre conclusion. I guess, his line of thoughts goes something like this: Libertarianism is about property. If we had a single ruler, then the country could be seen as property. Therefore, this would produce similar results to free markets.
Just like in the case of the word ‘free’, Hoppe has probably confused himself with words. He calls both property and therefore it becomes the same thing. He does not seem to realise that a King owning a country has absolutely nothing to do with property as being advocated by liberty loving libertarians. But to be fair, a lot of libertarians do not understand the link between liberty and property. They therefore cannot distinguish between liberty maximising and non liberty maximising property. They simply think liberty is property. And Hoppe’s argument is probably a result of that confusion.
However, at the very least, he should realise that it is very dangerous to even just approximate a head of state to a private property owner. This is an argument often broad forward by statists who want to justify things like taxation and regulations. They will argue that really no one owns anything, everything is owned by the state and therefore the state can tell you what to do with it or even take it away from you.
He continues this strange argument into part six, where he approximates a democratic government as the owner of the country. But since this owner is not a single person anymore, but a changing committee, it will produce very different immigration rules than a king, so he argues. Fair enough, but what does that have to do with libertarianism? The state simply should go out of the way. The problems of immigration that Hoppe correctly or incorrectly describes in this part are not problems coming from open borders, but from other state policies. And as he himself argued in part two, that is not a good argument against open borders.
He also takes this ownership analogy way too far, as if the democratic state would directly allocate people into properties. The reality however is, that this rarely happens. Most of the residential properties in the US as well as all the other western countries are owned privately. The state in such an environment going out of the way is just a policy of liberty.
Finally, in part seven, he comes to a conclusion. This is not a logical conclusion. His argumentation so far was all over the place. He uses words in different meanings as it suits him in every given sentence. He wildly speculates about results of all kinds of systems and presents the conclusions of his speculation as market results if he likes them. And he simply is not very bothered with contradicting himself. In one word, his argumentation is a big mess. And so he concludes not what has followed, but what he wanted to conclude all along; that as long as the state exists (and to his credit, he stresses that the state will have to go), libertarians need to support certain state immigration policies, those, which Hoppe thinks are close to market results. This is nonsense and I cannot see that he has even come close so far to an argument that would justify such a conclusion on libertarian principles.
A similar mess is the argumentation in the second article, “Immigration and Libertariansm”. Here he repeats a lot of the arguments that we have already seen. However, he makes some new ones. But first he start by attacking “left-libertarians”. He suggests that those are not real libertarians. I can see some people who might be called left libertarians that really are not, like Noam Chomsky. However, Hoppe never explains who exactly he means by that. But from the article, it seems that if you believe that the state should get out of the way of immigration unconditionally, then you are a left libertarian as opposed to just a libertarian. A silly attempt of an ad hominem attack.
His new arguments are first, that one could see the state as a trustee of all its citizens (he seems obsessed with constructing arguments that present the government as legitimate property owners. He never talks about liberty, property is clearly all he knows). On the basis of this argument he then goes on to outline what he thinks a sensible immigration policy would be. By that he means, what he would like to see. It is not at all clear why his proposals have to be the results of a trustee.
Seeing the state as a trustee of its citizens is of course absolute nonsense from a libertarian point of view. Again, this is exactly the kind of nonsense that statists are trying to sell us. The state is not a voluntary and therefore legitimate organisation that can legitimately make decisions on behave of its citizens.
Hoppe actually concedes that seeing the state as a trustee is not a good way of looking at it. But his reason for that is really strange. He does not reject the idea because it violates people’s liberty, no. He think this is a bad analogy because we don’t see the immigration policies that he thinks we should see, that is those policies that Hoppe predicts as market results.
In reality, since the state cannot be seen as a trustee, any policy that comes out of the state restricting the free movement of people on the basis of private property has to be seen as illegitimate, no matter what these policies are. And Hoppe never comes up with an example of the state actually violating the property of domestic people by letting “foreigners” through the state gates. Sure there are plenty of other policies in place that do violate private property rights. But those are separate policies from immigration controls.
Policies like the welfare state, which he goes on to blame for some negative effects on immigration. The welfare state might or might not produce these effects, the case is actually a lot less clear than he might think. But in any case, Libertarians are not advocating welfare, just open borders. And again, Hoppe himself rejected the argument of conflating the two in his other article, so why does he bring it up here?
At one point he actually not only concludes that immigration is bad for the welfare state, but that “a financial crisis of unparalleled magnitude would result”. This is really beneath Hoppe. There is not a shred of evidence that immigration is causing economic problems. If it did, it would be an argument against free markets in general. And as we have seen above, Hoppe knows this very well.
It is a bit difficult to make a clear conclusion from all of this. Why is Hoppe coming up with such a mess of an argumentation? Is he too stupid to realize what he is doing? He might be, but it is not the impression that I have of Hoppe. I think he knows what he is doing and he is doing it deliberately. It looks to me like that he knows that there is not a case for libertarian state border controls. But he really does not like the outcome of this particular free market policy. So he is deliberately creating a messy argumentation. That way he can suggest to the anti immigration crowd that they are ok rejecting immigration on libertarian grounds. And that crowd seems more than happy to ignore the mess and pick up the ball. On the other hand, if a critic comes along trying to suggest that he is not a libertarian, he will point to the sentences in which he says that he does not like the state and wants to get rid of it. But that does not change the fact that these sentences are in contradiction with lots of other things he writes. He is clearly trying to avoid that critics can easily pin him down. It is easy to pin someone down who has a good argument but is making little mistakes. Then a critic can point to the specific mistakes. But if someone’s arguments are all over the place, criticism becomes more difficult as it is difficult to find a starting point. It is also harder to totally dismantle the mess. And so he can create the illusion that, although he might have made a mistake or two, there still is a case for libertarian state border controls. This is nonsense, as I have shown.
I don’t like what Hoppe is doing. He makes libertarianism look disingenuous. Libertarianism looks like statist conservatism, an ideology which, like all statist ideologies is only in favour of some freedom, but also has its favourite state programs. We do not have to trick people into Libertarianism. If we cannot argue honestly, this movement will fail.