Dances With Elephants

Recently I have commented quite a bit on libertarianism and culture – prompted by the singularly identifiable event of the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage.  This journey has led me to Hoppe and his views on this intersection of libertarianism and culture. Recently, the conversation has turned specifically to Hoppe’s views on immigration.

I was offered the following by Anon August 8, 2015 at 5:30 AM at August 10, 2015 at 7:00 AM:

I’m restating Block. You really should read his stuff to get it from the horse’s mouth. He obliterates Hoppe’s argument. He answers your objections.

So I went looking for Block’s articles on this topic.

I first will thank the anonymous commenter for pointing me this way.  It is one of the benefits of documenting my intellectual journey in a public forum; I often receive such good feedback. Defending the Undefend... Walter Block Best Price: $1.99 Buy New $10.80 (as of 07:55 EST - Details)

I will add, however, that I find it difficult to imagine that anyone “obliterates Hoppe’s argument” on anything libertarian.  I say this not because I personally find disagreement with Block on this topic (on many points I agree, on some minor points I disagree, on the major issue at hand I conclude the issue might very well be insoluble via the thinnest of thin libertarian theory alone – and certainly not via the method Block recommends); I do this because in this debate, perhaps the most capable, knowledgeable, well-read and thoughtful libertarian theorists sit on opposite sides.

On one side is Block; on the other you will find Hoppe and (per Block) Kinsella.  One or the other of these gentlemen is going to obliterate the others on a question of libertarian theory?  I don’t think so.

What makes it even more impossible to award one side or the other the title of “Champion Obliterator” is Rothbard.  According to Block, Rothbard changed his views from one side to the other over the course of his life (moving from what is today Block’s position toward what is today Hoppe’s position).  So, I guess Rothbard sits on both sides…perhaps he obliterated himself?

This is not the stuff of obliteration.

The fundamental issue is that this is a dialogue inherently intertwined with the state’s involvement in “owning” and defending property.  It isn’t clear that there is a purely libertarian-based argument to untangle this, other than abolish the state and remove from it all property and all decisions regarding property.  But the debate isn’t waiting for this hoped-for day of salvation.  So we are left with a debate regarding the second-best option.

Hoppe, Kinsella and Rothbard II on Immigration: A Critique

Walter Block

What Must Be Done Hoppe, Hans-Hermann Best Price: null Buy New $3.75 (as of 08:40 EST - Details) The thesis of the present paper is that the claims of Hoppe (1998, 2001), Kinsella (2005) and Rothbard (1998) on immigration are erroneous. In their view, the government of the U.S. is at present justified in restricting immigration to the country, on libertarian grounds.  There is no need to even discuss what libertarian theory is, since “there is not a dimes’ worth of difference” on this score between the three of us on this matter.

In case you didn’t hear me the first time: four individuals, each of whom is rightly considered extremely thorough in their understanding of libertarian theory and further (despite my disagreements with each on certain topics), each is always unquestionably sincere in his attempts to apply libertarian theory to the everyday problems of the real world.  Yet they sit on different sides of this discussion.

Block presents Crusoe on an island.  When Friday arrives, can Crusoe legitimately bar him from cultivating unused land on the other side of the island?  Crusoe claims the entire island as his own – he just hasn’t got to doing much with all of it yet.  Block believes this is not a legitimate claim on Crusoe’s part.  Block uses this to demonstrate the “unowned” nature of much of the so-called government owned land.  No one is using it – the Rocky Mountains and the vast deserts, for example.

This raises a point that I have always stumbled over.  I have never contemplated it to any great extent, so consider here that I am shooting from the hip (“What’s new?” I hear some of you say in the audience).

When the British first colonized the Americas, from their little footholds on the Atlantic (previously owned?) they claimed the territory with no (or an undefined) border in the west; coast to coast…or whatever there was over those mountains (I am greatly simplifying this, I know).

What does “own” (defined as control, use, and disposition) mean in such a world, this world we occupy?

The several million (or however many) inhabitants of the northern portion of the North American continent were of little or no consequence to the British and their land claims (BTW, did those few people really exercise ownership of an entire three-thousand-mile-wide continent?).  Conversely, the British were of no consequence to most of those inhabitants. The Economics and Ethi... Hoppe, Hans-Hermann Best Price: $42.48 Buy New $564.15 (as of 07:55 EST - Details)

My point is the claims of one side meant nothing to the claims of the other – as long as the two parties didn’t come in contact.  The British might “claim” whatever was over those mountains, but until the two sides actually came into contact in a meaningful way, the issue of “own” was kind of irrelevant.

Yet “own” means something – eventually they come into contact.  This leads me to consider the possibility: “own” means what one can defend.   I don’t say that this fits neatly in libertarian theory; I don’t say it is just; I don’t say that if an individual can present a valid claim to previously stolen goods (land ownership) that he is not entitled to it.

How about another example?  Today, many wealthy Americans own millions of acres of land – much of it left in its natural state.  It is difficult to for me disagree with the notion that the landowner of one million acres of virgin forest is justified in removing squatters – even if the landowner is doing nothing with the land besides leaving the trees to grow.

Is each individual entitled to only the amount of land he can cultivate with his bare hands?  With a mule and a plough?  A tractor?  Who is to say the proper limit?  Does he “own” it only when he ploughs it?  what if he just likes to look at it?

Even if the land is nothing but virgin forest, is he not entitled to keep others out if he is so able – in other words: how much land can he defend?

In the civilized world, we “defend” the ownership interest in our property via lawyers, recordings of title and the like.  In the uncivilized world (for the case relevant to the debate between the libertarian elephants, meaning the world of the state)?  How might the state defend its land claims?  Well, if lawyers don’t work, I am certain the United States government, all state governments, and all local governments can violently defend the Rocky Mountains and the vast deserts from trespass.  They have bigger guns than you do. The Ethics of Liberty Rothbard, Murray N. Best Price: $9.63 Buy New $19.00 (as of 02:25 EST - Details)

“Oh, bionic, you are now calling for state action.  What kind of libertarian are you?”  One that is attempting to address what seems to be an insoluble problem, a problem (immigration) not separable from state involvement.  Be patient, I will expand on this.

I suppose, given my logic above, I could conclude that Block’s immigrant squatter on the top of the Rocky Mountains now “owns” the land under his feet – at least until the owner (taxpayer, government – it really doesn’t matter at the moment) defends it and removes him.  Which the state will, via the US military (or some similar agency).

But you see the circle this leads to?  It is just for me to defend my property, it is just for me to assign an agent to this task, I am severely limited in who I might assign (I have no say in the matter), so I am conflicted in exercising what is inarguably my right.

Hence I come back to the underlying difficulty of this entire topic: this is a dialogue inherently intertwined with the state’s involvement in “owning” property.

“But the state can’t own property,” you say.  I say your theory sounds nice, very sweet, innocent in fact.  In practice?  HAHAHA comes to mind.

I will address, shortly, how it might be possible to turn that theory into practice – Block has a plan.  Maybe it can work, or maybe not.

Now, as to what kind of libertarian I am: although funded via coercion, there are state activities that would be considered legitimate if privately funded.  Instead of rewriting my thoughts, I will offer my reply to Todd August 10, 2015 at 12:14 PM, who wondered exactly this question: because of the forced nature of financing, no state function can be legitimate.  What kind of libertarian are you, bionic? For a New Liberty: The... Rothbard, Murray N. Best Price: $20.50 Buy New $66.60 (as of 07:15 EST - Details)

Todd, we walk down a path from where we are today to the libertarian utopia. Along this path will be interim steps. Are the interim steps illegitimate if they are taken with a view of the ultimate objective? Is this not a libertarian path?

We don’t get to start as virgins. We are all soiled, swimming in mud. We debate things like “can a libertarian use a sidewalk?”

Libertarian theory is one thing; reaching something close to a libertarian ideal is quite another; maintaining a libertarian tradition once achieved is even another.

What is the ultimate objective? For the one community where I would choose to live out of the ten thousand different communities that I hope are to come, my ultimate objective is to achieve a condition where all functions are funded voluntarily; where private property is respected absolutely; where the non-aggression principle is respected.

There is a rub – culturally I would add other conditions to my community. With my neighbors, we agree in a very libertarian manner to these not-libertarian-based conditions. Is this libertarian? I say yes.

In any case, we don’t get to start where we would like; we only get to start where we are. The subject of immigration doesn’t even exist in a world without a state; libertarian theory and practice need not butt heads.

To your critique: it is undeniable that some of the functions currently done by the state will also be desired by voluntarily-paying customers in numbers sufficient to create a market. Many of these are quite consistent with libertarian theory and the NAP – private arbitration instead of state courts, private security services instead of city police, etc.

It is in reference to these functions that I use the label “legitimate.” Against the State: An ... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details)

For example, in a libertarian world, some people would voluntarily fund the salaries of individuals who are today professors employed by state-funded universities!

In all seriousness, when the only reasonable course of action for a just (via the NAP) act is through a state actor (yes, I know…taxes), let’s just say that eliminating this isn’t high on my list of concerns – on the list of reasons to end the state, these would be in the “One day, when I get to it” category.  The list of unjust actions by and through government actors is both very long and far more damaging.

I will take it a step further – a measure of your “thinness,” if you will:

  • If you walk on sidewalks, you have gained one pound.
  • If you drive on public roads and highways, you have gained three pounds.
  • If you fly, you have gained five pounds.
  • If you call the fire department because your house is burning, you have gained four pounds.
  • If you use the court system, you have gained six pounds.
  • If you visit a National Park, you have gained three pounds.
  • If you use Federal Reserve notes (or Euros or Swissies or Yen), you have just gained twenty pounds.

The FRNs have the most calories and simple carbs; central banking is the ultimate tool of control – and you are contributing to this control of your fellow man (yes, every single purist reading this post).

I could list 100 more items – each perfectly just if funded voluntarily, yet jaded by the method of funding and the lack of reasonable alternatives. Check Amazon for Pricing.

You see, being thin when it comes to libertarian theory is easy – even mandatory in my book.  Putting “thin” into practice?  You can’t even live in a shed at 10,000 feet and accomplish this – well, for sure if you are also reading this post you can’t (I don’t have to worry about the non-readers disproving me).

Oh, where to draw the thin-libertarian line….

But I digress.  Block disagrees with Kinsella’s argument that the state has a right to establish rules for property it owns.  The example being offered is that of a community pool.  Block offers the proper way to put libertarian-theory purity into libertarian-inducing practice.

Block says, don’t follow their rules; instead, he says “tear down the wall” (well, he doesn’t really say that, but it flowed very nicely, don’t you think?):

The radical alternative is that the “rules” of the pool should be fashioned so as to eliminate these enterprises from governmental control. For example, everyone, anyone, should be “allowed” to walk off with the water in the pool, even the very bricks of which it is composed.

(See, he kind of did say that Pink Floyd thing.)

OK, Block; I will dip my toe in the water.

My point is that the radical scenario I am positing seems to me more compatible with the libertarian ethos than the more conservative one depicted by our author. Swords Into Plowshares... Paul, Ron Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $15.99 (as of 11:36 EST - Details)

It might be more compatible, but it is a dangerous game with a very unsatisfactory outcome.  Once property destruction takes hold, does Block believe the participants (because once property destruction starts, the participants will likely not be limited to NAP-respecting libertarian purists) will listen kindly to a meek [insert age, hairline, nationality/religion here] professor about his libertarian theory?  Will they stop their destruction merely at the community pool, or only state owned buildings?

Will Block physically stop them?  Talk about trying to defend the undefendable! (I will send flowers.)

Remember, Block isn’t suggesting what to do in a world made up of a large portion of libertarians.  He is writing of today’s world.  So, no, they won’t stop there.  And then, when all the destruction and looting (yes, there will be looting) comes to your street and your house and your store – no problem; Professor Block will offer you a smiling face: “welcome to the libertarian world.”

Of course you libertarian purists will be smiling, perhaps serving lemonade while basking in the glow of your purity.  But what about your neighbors?  Do you think your non-libertarian-purist neighbors will resist the urge to call in the state in order to bring this glorious liberation to an end?  And will the state then say, “No, you don’t understand – Professor Block said it was OK.  We will not increase in any way the draconian police state as a result of this crisis”?

The state will allow a crisis go to waste?  Maybe a reverse ratchet effect?  That would be a first, wouldn’t it?

Are you sure Block’s second best solution will be more conducive to a libertarian nirvana?  Really?

Not me; in fact I am sure it won’t be.  I think the most compatible is to advocate turning title of the pool over to those who funded it.  In the meantime, proper fiduciary care of the pool wouldn’t be a bad idea as a second best Kindle Paperwhite, 6&r... Check Amazon for Pricing. option.  I am certain it is a better second-best option, given the certain (yes, I am comfortable using that word) consequences to the depravation of liberty via Block’s option.

It seems to me decidedly unlibertarian to advocate these sorts of “reasonable” rules. A more libertarian stance would be to welcome actual chaos on all property statists steal from victims. The likelihood is that pure bedlam and pandemonium on all such terrain would deter the thieves from their evil deeds.

Out of the chaos brought on by social conflict will emerge libertarian order?  I greatly admire and respect Dr. Block, but I cannot resist.  On what planet?

This “out of chaos libertarian order” view is also the view of left-libertarian anarchists, about whom I have written fairly often recently (and no, I do NOT include Block as a member of this philosophical-basket-case crowd).  The only thing that differentiates this left-libertarian view from the views of Antonio Gramsci is that left-libertarians claim respect for property rights…they don’t really, but they say they do.

But once property rights are disrespected – no matter the theoretical soundness of the professor’s idea – will the masses listen to libertarian reason about where to draw the line?  Once property rights are disrespected, you are left with pure Gramsci.  I am not arguing libertarian theory; I am suggesting that Block’s suggested path from here to there will move society away from, and not toward, a libertarian world.

Interim steps are fine, as long as they move us toward liberty.  I think some guy named Murray wrote something like that once.  So why choose a path certain to steer the car in the wrong direction?

Human nature and history are on my side – liberty has rarely, if ever, sprung forth from such bedlam.  Instead, the people demand a savior to stop the bedlam – using any and all liberty-destructing tools available.

I know I have referred to it before, I will again.  The European Middle Ages offers one of the better examples of something coming close to a libertarian theory of law.  It did not come out of violence – no one took the Colosseum down stone by stone.  It was based on the sacred oath – a man’s word was his bond – with God as party to the deal (and if there was disagreement about the words, the person with the oldest document won).

Rome died its own slow death – it died more from apathy of the people and Rome’s expansion of empire than it did from any invading army.  Roman citizens fled their so-called civilization and voluntarily became slaves to the barbarians.

Look more recently at the former Soviet Union.  It too died from a slow withering-away – not because the people stormed the Kremlin.  Certainly, what replaced it was not libertarian; yet, anyone with knowledge of life behind the Wall (Pink Floyd again) would agree that there is more freedom today than during Stalin’s time.

However, I have a concern I regard as even more important; libertarian theory. Perhaps it is possible for utilitarian or consequentialist libertarians to reconcile their principles with regulated borders, but this is not possible, I contend, for deontological ones such as myself.

But it is possible.  If I have a right to control the borders to my property, I along with my neighbors have the right to delegate this to an agent, acting on our behalf.  This is as perfectly libertarian as it gets.

The only issue is that today’s provider is the monopoly state; I have only one way to put my sound libertarian right into practice.  Only one.  It is also true that those libertarians who wish to allow any and every biped from all corners of planet earth onto their property also have only one way to put their desire into practice.  Only one.

Libertarian theory supports both.  Libertarian theory offers no answer.

Of course, we have no way of knowing how many people would choose this service given that the agent today is the monopoly-state.  We do know that where property owners have freedom to discriminate, they do so.  There is a market for discrimination-supportive services – today.  In any case, if one is arguing solely on the libertarian theory of the matter (and not the practical application), my statement is at least equally as valid as is Block’s.

“Oh, but bionic, by definition as you are leaning on the state, yours is less libertarian.”

Perhaps you are right – but we are left with second-best alternatives in this discussion. So you see, I won’t go away so easily.

Let’s try a little experiment.  We can examine the views of Mr. Federal Reserve Note (FRN) libertarian and Mr. Protect My Border (PMB) libertarian.

PMB: You know, I hate the state.  But in the case of border control they do provide a service that I value.

FRN: You know, I hate the state.  But in the case of medium of exchange they do provide a service that I value.

PMB: I would give anything to have an alternative to state-provided border control.

FRN: I would give anything to have an alternative to a state-provided medium of exchange.

PMB: Wait a minute; I have no alternative, but you do.

FRN: No I don’t.

PMB: Barter.  Metals not stamped by the government mint.  Bumpers for chickens.

FRN: Never mind.

Good old Mr. FRN has more alternatives than Mr. PMB, yet it is Mr. PMB taking all of this abuse.

So, I will tell you what.  The only way I will consider further counter arguments: Please, hand over to me all of your FRNs in your wallet and digits in your bank account.  Of course, you don’t drive on the government roads, so I will take your car also – and I will not have one ounce of libertarian-purity-remorse when I use the government’s DMV to register the car in my name.

Oh yeah, no walking on sidewalks – I will take your shoes, thank you very much.

As they say, put your money where your mouth is.  Until a commenter in support of open borders takes me up on this, you will be referred to as Mr. Big Hat No Cattle (BHNC) – wow, when did I become the Mogambo Guru?

Today the state is the agent regarding this aspect of defense of property.  We all agree: the state is, always and everywhere, the enemy.

Yet, I wonder if a libertarian frequent-flier would be in favor of suddenly dismantling the FAA while he is in flight in a thunderstorm while flying over one of the busier airports of the country – say Atlanta or Dallas (both about equidistant from New Orleans, I will guess; and both home to some of the worst thunderstorms known to man).  You know, unplug the computers, shut off the radios, you get the idea.

In theory it is a good idea.  In practice?  I am not so sure.

Thank goodness, Block rides to the rescue.  Even Block offers that certain functions of the state need not be stripped tomorrow, due to the likelihood for chaos (in this example, roads; in my example, Block making a flight connection through one of two nearby hubs).  From On Immigration: Reply to Hoppe, By Anthony Gregory and Walter Block:

One day’s notice would be simply far too little. But, suppose that the government made this announcement one year ago, and allowed a libertarian tribunal to figure out which private companies (owned by mulcted taxpayers) should take over which roads.

So perhaps libertarians might consider working on dismantling the state before deciding to throw the world into chaos by dismantling the community swimming pool.  Besides, why give William F. Buckley, Jr. more cannon fodder?

Returning to immigration: I think this issue is not resolvable via strictly thin libertarian theory in a world where the state owns property.  At least not resolvable via libertarian purity.

The result will be chaos, not liberty.

I know I jumped into this fight beginning what seems like a year ago – with the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage.  I made the point then that the issues I raised were more cultural than libertarian.

Libertarian purity in practice is not the only acceptable standard for a libertarian given that we live in this world – no one is a virgin, no not one.  It is not even achievable in theory given the many questions upon which libertarian theorists with unimpeachable devotion to the theory disagree.  Hoppe, Kinsella and Block disagree on this topic.  Rothbard the elder apparently even disagreed with Rothbard the younger.  Yet, somehow, libertarians are supposed to have complete conviction on the answer to this question in today’s state-run environment?

Even without this disagreement amongst elephants, libertarian theory is in any case not enough to answer every question in life.  I know for certain that I do not want the chaos of wanton destruction of community swimming pools.  I know where that culture leads.

It might be debatable as to the second best option regarding immigration in a world where the state owns property; I know Block doesn’t find it.  It is not debatable that culture matters generally, and that certain cultural norms are more conducive to maintaining a libertarian social order than others.

I don’t want Block’s wished-for chaos – a one-way train to totalitarian-town.

I continue in my agreement with Hoppe.

Well, what do now?

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.