Open borders is sometimes attacked as a threat to “the right of a nation to exist.” I seem to remember this phrase from various arguments, but I don’t recall any linkable example off the top of my head, however, a critic of Bryan Caplan quoted in Vipul’s recent post says something close to it: “You have to be a special kind of genius to fail to understand basic points like: nation-states exist, and have borders, and have a fundamental interest in controlling those borders, meaning, ideally, via law enforcement.” Of course, an interest is not the same thing as a right– I may have an interest in taking your car, but not a right to do so– so this commenter isn’t articulating the notion of a “right of a nation to exist” which I wish here to critique. However, he seems to implicitly assume this. After all, if it is not presumed that nations have a right to control their borders, to assert that they have an interest in doing so is irrelevant.
Now, I would assert that rights belong only to individuals, or at least that they belong most fundamentally to individuals, and the rights of collective entities such as nations are derived from individual rights. I won’t attempt to prove that in this post. Rather, I will point out some problems with the notion of “the right of a nation to exist.”
Suppose that 99% of the residents of Germany express an intention to emigrate to friendly countries, say Britain, France, and the USA, which agree to accept them as immigrants. Suppose further that the 1% of the German population which will be left behind is too small to sustain national life. To sustain basic services and cultivate the land, they will have to let in English-speaking immigrants, and the German language will soon become nearly useless and probably extinct in a couple of generations. Does this decision by individual Germans violate the right of the German nation to exist? Could Germany justly prohibit the emigration of these people, in order to secure the continuance of its national life? Continue reading ““The Right of a Nation to Exist”” »