Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 413, April 15, 2007

"And so it goes. . . ."


Immigration and Integrity
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

The late, great Roger Price (look him up—he invented "Mad Libs" and "Droodles") once observed that some individuals are like those who believe that the Earth is round, but who desperately want to gather up all of those who believe the Earth is flat—and shove them off the edge.

To observe that kind yourself, you need look no further than the writings of some people who call themselves libertarians, but who nevertheless wish to control others in ways that are obviously not libertarian.

In a sense, they've shoved themselves off the edge.

Before we begin, there's something I want understood clearly: principles mean nothing—in fact, they mean less than nothing—when adhering to them is easy. Adhering to them when it's hard is what principles are all about, and the determination to do so is called integrity.

Recent exchanges here in the virtual pages of The Libertarian Enterprise have made it necessary for me to engage, once again, on a topic that I would really rather let others handle whenever possible. There's nothing I hate like repeating myself, so pay atttention this time.

The topic is "illegal" immigration. I dislike dealing with it primarily because the very necessity to do so challenges my otherwise optimistic view of my fellow human beings. The rational position on this issue should be obvious—open and shut—to anyone calling him- or herself a libertarian, and the fact that it isn't depresses me.

Consider: in the universe of morality, there are only two sorts of entity, people and property. By "people", I mean individual sapient beings. Each of them is the owner—the sole proprietor—of his or her own life. That's the basic, elementary, fundamental principle of libertarianism.

Beyond those inherent in each of its individual members, no group, as such, can properly be said to have rights. Individual rights are, well, individual. They are not additive. (Attempting to make them so has resulted in more tragedy throughout history than practically any other idea.) Two people do not have more rights than one person, nor do the rights of more than one person supersede the rights of a single individual.

As an example, it doesn't matter at all how many people desire, campaign, or vote for me to be disarmed, I still have an unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to obtain, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any weapon—rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything—any time, any place, without asking anyone's permission. While it's true that individual rights can be physically suppressed—as they are almost everywhere today—they cannot be abolished.

With me so far?

Another right inherent in our existence as individual sapients is the freedom to go wherever we will, whenever we will. While bounded by the right of other individuals to be secure and unmolested in their own private property, it is the absolute and unquestionable right of every person to travel where he or she wishes, within that ethical limit.

It's important to note, in this connection, that private property boundaries have absolutely nothing in common with the imaginary lines on pieces of paper we call "borders", which are drawn by the liars, thieves, and child-molestors we call "politicians". The former is an expression of individual rights; the latter of collectivism—of socialism, fascism, or democracy—which doesn't recognize individual rights.

The liberty to travel freely can become vitally important in a world full of politicians and governments that mistakenly believe they own us. People in East Germany, and especially in East Berlin often went to exhausting and dangerous lengths to exercise that right, as have people in Cuba, both groups attempting to escape Communist tyranny. It's sobering to see the way those of us in the so-called "free world" have changed over the years: we used to cheer people who escaped from the DDR. Now we lock Cuban refugees up in concentration camps.

In any event, the fact that the individual right to move freely about the surface of the planet (and beyond) may be limited by the property rights of others (onto whose property immigrants and refugees might trespass while doing their immigrating or refugeeing) should never be confused with the individual right to step over a line on a map.

That conservatives habitually do so is annoying, but hardly a surprise. That conservatives-in-libertarian-clothing do so is frustrating and disgusting. That genuine libertarians—those who consistently adhere to the dual principles of self-ownership and zero aggression—might do so, as well, is unthinkable because it is a contradiction.

Principles mean nothing—in fact, they mean less than nothing—when adhering to them is easy. Adhering to them when it's hard is what principles are all about, and the determination to do so is called integrity.

At this point in our proceedings, I urge you to follow the links given below and read the following essays, both of which have been variously suggested to me as the final "libertarian" answer to those among us who want the borders open from those among us who want them closed:

"Since When Is 'Private Property' Not Self-Explanatory?"
by Karen De Coster

"The Fallacy of Open Immigration"
by Stephen Cox

Back already?

Rooted, as they assert themselves to be, in considerations of private property rights and immigration-as-tresspass, one obvious trouble with these arguments (aside from the fact that they're being made "for us" by individuals who are conservatives, not libertarians) is that they fail to deal adequately with the phenomenon of "public property".

The real question real libertarians should be asking themselves about "illegal" immigration is: against precisely whom is it trespass? I don't know how much real estate along the border is theoretically in private hands and how much of it is in "public" hands. I do know that about a third of the land in this country is claimed by one government or another, and that this situation becomes worse the further west you go.

Granted, then, that immigration onto or through private land is trespass, and, therefore, anathema to libertarians, who else are we talking about, here? The U.S. Department of the Interior? The federal Bureau of Land Management? The National Park Service? The Department of Defense? The state governments of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California? How about various county and city governments along the border?

Not one of those entities—not one—holds that your right to your own property is in any way absolute. Why in flaming perdition, then, should libertarians defend them in any related respect? Groups, as I trust you will remember, have no rights, and that includes the right to property. The Constitution actually spells out how much real estate the federal government may legally hold, and what for, and it's only a microscopic fraction of what it's holding right now, illegally. In a moral sense, then, it's impossible to trespass against government property, because government has no right to property in the first place.

Which means that, given the existence of public streets, roads, sidewalks, and highways, so-called "illegals" have a clear moral and geographical corridor across the border and into the very heart of the United States. If you don't like it, don't take it out on people who simply want a better life for themselves and their children. Be a real libertarian: help repudiate the fallacious idea of public property, and work toward a time when every square inch of America is private property.

I do it every day. What's your excuse?

The French Academy (no, this is not a digression) amuses everybody from time to time, whenever it charges off on another of its ludicrous windmill-jousting crusades in an attempt to keep the French language "pure" by expunging all words of foreign origin. Like holding back the tide (Google King Canute—that's a pretty funny story in itself), it simply can't be done: if your language doesn't have the word it needs for some new concept, object, or activity, and there happens to be a perfectly good word for it in a nearby language, you're gonna "borrow" it.

I wonder what the officially-approved French word for "iPod" is.

In the same way, human beings cover the globe in their wanderings and they always have. It's unavoidably inherent in the very nature of hordes and history. Present-day Italians, for example, have little, if any, genetic relationship with ancient Romans, and the same is true for Greeks. The original classical populations of those places were replaced by people who came flooding in from somewhere else. The Indians (there ain't no such thing as a "native American") couldn't keep Europeans out, any more than Folsom Man could keep the Indians out.

If what's happening at the southern border of the United States is indeed the mass folk migration that its opponents claim it to be, then trying to stop it is utterly hopeless, and another strategy should be pursued, instead—one that would help all of us, as well as all of them.

"And what might that strategy be?" I pretend to hear you ask.

At one time, I used to defend the concept of national borders as "bulkheads of freedom". Like a sinking ship, the world was filling up, one compartment—by which I meant country—at a time, with tyranny.

In those days, Mexico was considerably less free than the United States, so (sorry about that) was Canada, and it was those borders, that kept authoritarianism outside. But now, when the United States government can "disappear" you, hold you in a secret prison, and even torture you—and when it's easier to buy a gun in Bucharest than it is in Peoria, the argument no longer holds up. Authoritarianism is here—100% home-brewed—and borders sure as hell didn't keep it out.

Some observers wring their hands and whimper about an influx of millions of immigrants destroying traditional American values and our unique way of life. Setting aside the question of just what American values consist of (and the fact that most of the influx is perfectly ordinary Roman Catholic), I maintain the opposite: an influx of millions of immigrants may be the one thing we have left that can save us.

It's often said (mostly by conservative Republicans) that liberal Democrats resist closing the border because they want the votes they believe open borders will secure for them. Conservative Republicans may even be right about this. Some liberal Democrats have gone so far as to advocate voting rights for so-called "illegal" or "undocumented" aliens. (Some of them also want convicts and the mentally retarded to vote, too.) The fact that liberal Democrats believe that the ignorant, the stupid, or the broken—which is how they view their clientele—are likelier to vote for them than for anybody else is shockingly self-revealing.

But wait. Whether they know it or not, the people who come here from other countries are fleeing the effects of socialism and fascism. They may think they're simply here for better-paying jobs, but the fact is that a culture's ruling philosophy has a huge effect on things like the availability of work or one's take-home pay in terms of real wealth. Mexico was the first nation-state to fall to Marxism (look it up) and its economy has been as flat as a slab in the morgue ever since.

The up-side is that the new people who come here are interested in improving their lot in life. The down-side is that they're accustomed to having a government that claims to take care of them and give them things. They don't know—because their government-run schools never taught them—that this is what destroyed the economy they're fleeing from. All they know is that the Democrats are promising to take care of them and give them things, and that the Republicans are either saying "No!" or following behind meekly, making their own lame-assed promises.

As libertarians, our job, quite obviously, is not to imitate the Democrats. But it is not to imitate the Republicans, either. Our job is to find a way that doesn't threaten individual rights and human dignity. Our job is to turn the tables on both major parties, if we can.

Time after time, I've challenged opponents of open immigration to stop playing King Canute, and help, instead, to make the changes that they know perfectly well need to be made. Time after time, I've gotten nothing but skulking silence as an answer. So, for the umpteenth time, I will lay out here what needs to be done about the "problem" of immigration.

The first step: create an institution. a foundation the purpose of which would be to write down those things that we wish immigrants—and those of us who were born here, for that matter—would learn, the ideas that made America different from any other civilization in history.

The second step: translate those ideas into the languages of those who come here, legally or illegally. The first language to tackle, of course, is Spanish, but there are others, notably Vietnamese and Arabic.

The third step: render those translated ideas into whatever media—print, audio, video—work best to convey them to the desired recipients.

The fourth step: get them to the people who need to see them, via books, magazines, newspapers, posters, radio, television, and the Internet.

The fifth step: follow through with classes (actual and virtual), interviews, and constant effort to modify and refresh the material as needed.

Hard work, I pretend to hear you say? A long haul? No worse than the effort being expended now in a vain attempt to stop immigration. What we get, at the end of the day, are millions of new libertarians who can carry out the changes to this country that its "natives" were unwilling or unable to make. As with all monumental human undertakings—as the Bolsheviks demonstrated—all it takes is a lousy three percent.

A few additional thoughts:

These two articles have a lot of shortcomings, primarily because they start with a foregone conclusion and attempt to "reason" back toward it from the known facts. If logic, when it's strained like this, could get a hernia, these two pieces would have it swaddled in trusses.

Anticipating what your opponent will say—for example, that you're a bigot—is a cute rhetorical trick you'll see turned several times in Cox's item, but it's no substitute for proving you're not a bigot.

De Coster seems more intent on attacking Steve Kubby than handling the matter of immigration, parroting nasty, puckered Rothbardisms no genuine libertarian ought to repeat about somebody else's personal and political priorities. Admittedly, I was never terribly interested in marijuana, medical or otherwise, myself; she appears to believe she has a kind of calling to tell others how they may use their freedom, reading them out of the movement if they insist on making their own choices.

Cox is more interesting in a sick sort of way, clearly willing—even eager—to throw away civil liberties, the Bill of Rights, Zero Aggression, everything that would otherwise make him an authentic libertarian (while denouncing those who remain principled as zealots), in order to close the border and keep it closed. Over the course of his article, he's consumed by the costs of social services and welfare programs that won't even exist in a libertarian society, and incensed that "illegals" don't pay their "fair share". He's like a stagecoach passenger who, during a holdup, helps the highwayman go through everybody's pockets to make sure they're robbed as thoroughly as he is.

Even more pathological, he's apparently bought into the whole phony Homeland Security riff, seeing terrorists under every bed the way his old grandma saw communists, and demanding "better" drivers' licenses and other statist forms of identification, tracking, and control.

As I've often seen before with writers on the other side of this issue, both of these specimens would have readers believe that illegal immigrants are nothing more than lazy parasites who nevertheless steal jobs from decent, Imaginary Playmate-fearing Americans, a nameless, faceless horde of dirty, disease-ridden criminals and welfare sponges who contaminate the social environment and lower property values everywhere they go. In short, they say exactly the same things about them that were said about my Polish and Irish ancestors when they came here.

And probably yours, too.

One of them (I forget which) yammers about closed borders not being like the Berlin Wall because they're meant to keep foreigners out, not subjects—oops, I mean citizens—in. Trouble is, once you cross that border, say on vacation, you've gotta get back in, and that's when you discover you've agreed to another Berlin Wall, after all. You can't avoid the impression that either of them might have stood in West Germany machinegunning refugees as they escaped from the east.

What they manage to demonstrate best is that the great Robert LeFevre was right: if you believe in or advocate government of any size whatever—however limited you may wish it or believe it to be—you're not really a libertarian, but just some weird kind of Republican.

To give you just a tiny hint of what insanity the idea of closed borders is, I invite you to take a little tour of one of the edges of this country—Google or Mapquest will let you do it a mile at a time—from Lubec, Maine, last U.S. town on the eastern seaboard before you have to start speaking Canadian, all the way down the Atlantic shore to the tip of Florida (don't forget the Keys), and up around the Gulf Coast, to Boca Chica, Texas, where America ends and Mexico begins.

The fact is that if global terrorism of the kind the government wants us all to be constantly terrified about actually existed, there isn't a single city on this continent that wouldn't be in flames this minute.

You could station a sentinel along every mile, and "illegals" would still pour through. Add to that the Pacific coast, the border with Canada, and the imaginary line all these antis focus on, between Mexico and the United States, and eventually it will dawn on you that the only way to keep America secure is by (A) abolishing the welfare state, (B) enforcing the Second Amendment, and (C) running a strictly non-interventionist foreign policy. Every one of those measures is sensible and easy, but they're career-enders for politicians and their hangers-on.

Those who demand laws requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets often cite the public expense involved in treating head injuries. But is it the motorcycle rider's fault that his fellow citizens have been stupid enough to saddle themselves with a socialistic medical system? Then why should he be forced to pay for anybody's stupidity but his own?

Similarly, those who demand that the borders be closed blather about the burden they imagine illegal immigrants to be on taxpayers. I'm not altogether convinced of this, myself—a great many of their statistics carry the distinct odor of having been extracted from one of their bodily orifices or another—but even if I were, whose fault is it, individuals who are new to this country, or those who have permitted a welfare state to be constructed all around them where they stood?

In any case, none of that has anything to do with the fundamental human right to move from place to place. That trumps everything else in this argument, and the only "reply" opponents of open borders can make is to dismiss those of us who point it out as "doctrinaire" or "dogmatic". We are, in fact, principled, and that annoys them to no end.

Will open borders cause problems? Certainly they will. There's no human activity that isn't attended by problems of one kind or another. Will opening the borders cause more problems than trying to close them? Absolutely not. Border controls of the kind that De Coster and Cox seem to demand are totally inconsistent with maintaining a free country. Of course if the last thing you want is a free country, then border controls are the perfect place to begin. And there are always plenty of "useful idiots" like these two to help you make it happen.

Principles mean nothing—in fact, they mean less than nothing—when adhering to them is easy. Adhering to them when it's hard is what principles are all about, and the determination to do so is called integrity.

A quality that neither of these essays exhibits.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at

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