Tag Archives: political authority

A Skeptic’s Movement: Open Borders and Mistrust of Authority

Open Borders is a skeptic’s movement. Advocates claim that one of the world’s most important, and fairly popular, public policies is immoral, inhumane, and inefficient. For some, even the concept of Open Borders is shocking. Aren’t governments supposed to control borders? Won’t Open Borders lead to chaos and disorder?

Open Borders is not the only movement to rely on mistrust of the state. For example, privacy advocates are concerned about the abuse of surveillance by law enforcement agencies. Not only should we be concerned that state officials might use surveillance for personal goals (tracking an ex-girlfriend, for example) but we should also be concerned with more systematic abuse. When state officials gain more access to our bank accounts, phone records, and emails, state repression is more likely.

Similarly, the recent anti-police movement in the United States expresses skepticism of government. These activists argue that police can’t be trusted to use force without supervision and that they should face consequences for their actions. While these activists wouldn’t identify themselves as anti-police, they do criticize the current US policy, which is that police officers are rarely sanctioned for use of force because the law makes it extremely difficult for prosecutors to show that police officers were not concerned about their safety.

An important question to consider about the skeptical movements is how Open Borders relates to mistrust in government as expressed by these other movements. To answer this question, it helps to distinguish between short term mistrust created by specific incidents and deeper distrust emerging from a more sustained criticism of policy.

Mistrust Emerging from Short Term Incidents

Sometimes, people become skeptical of government policy because of a specific incident or cluster of incidents. The reactions to the recent deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and other young Black men in the United State are examples of mistrust driven by incidents. At the time of this writing, there does not appear to be a whole sale criticism of police or the laws that make it easy for police to commit these acts. Yet, a movement has sprung up that seeks punishment for specific police officers or reform in certain places.

Incident-driven skepticism of government can still be useful for movements. They bring attention to an issue, people provide resources, and so forth. An industrious activist can make the connection to broader issues, but this is often hard. Perhaps the most important outcome of these incidents is to challenge local conditions. The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri might lead to change in that city, even if it does not result in national reform of the police.

For Open Borders, I suggest the following. There are incidents that can erode the public’s views on migration restrictions and they can be useful, but do not expect them to transform the movement. Instead, use them as short term opportunities to build a movement. Use them to bring people together who might not otherwise interact. They can also be used to gather the resources needed for more systematic action. When incidents occur, Open Borders advocates may provide the intellectual heft that can be used to bolster and support a sustained reform effort in specific places.

Cultivating Deeper Skepticism about Migration Control

In general, it is not clear to me that the distrust around issues like mass surveillance or police violence can be immediately tranferred to migration because policy evaluation seems to depend a lot how people bundle issues. Currently, people bundle issues according to political party, which political scientists call “polarization.” I do not think it is wise to turn open borders into a Democratic or Republican issue just to curry favor from people in one party who might be skeptical of police violence (Democrats) or mass surveillance (libertarian leaning Republicans). Thus, unless we turn open borders into, say, a Democratic issue, it would be hard to bring all the “skeptics” together.

What do I suggest instead? I might avoid thinking about mistrust altogether and focus on showing how open borders is not consistent with popular values. This is a strategy of creating wide scale cognitive dissonance. There are many ways to do this. Incidents that create negative impressions of closed borders can be used to bring people together. But so can educational efforts, court cases, and other forms of action. This is more valuable because it is an alliance that exists independently of parties and of specific incidents, which have short term impacts.

One popular value is human rights. Nearly all democratic governments will base their laws on some form of basic human rights. In the US, the constitution focuses on the rights of speech and due process. In other nations, people may have citizenship rights. Regardless, Open Borders activists may erode support for migration controls by simply pointing out that human beings have a right to peacefully move across national borders as they would internal borders. Open Borders is a natural extension of the belief that people should be left to do as they please as long as they do not harm others.

Conclusion

We often see events that bring existing policy into question. The NSA revelations did this for our nation’s security agencies. Recent police shooting have triggered a similar process for local police departments. But these have not yielded wide scale reform and the attention given to these issues can be ephemeral. Instead, open borders is a movement that shouldn’t be attached to one specific issue, but instead to arguments that can hold together a wide group of people outside of the party system.

Related reading

See also all our blog posts tagged open borders advocacy.

Rand Paul’s interesting precedent

While I don’t generally buy into the views of Ron or Rand Paul on foreign policy, Rand Paul’s filibuster, which is being credited with giving new momentum to the GOP, sets a promising precedent. Paul’s insistence that the president has no constitutional authority to use drone strikes against Americans on US soil was morally obvious, yet at the same time profoundly subversive, since it implies that there are, after all, limits on state authority, and therefore that the doctrine of sovereignty in the pure Hobbesian sense is fall. Bravo! Interestingly, since the Republicans have a reputation as the hawkish party, strong on national security, Paul’s stand actually went against part of what Republicans identify with, but the political configuration allowed Paul to appear, sort of, as the voice of the GOP against the soulless statism of the Obama administration. Paul’s message was fundamentally the doctrine of human rights or natural rights: it’s wrong to kill innocent people, period.

It probably wouldn’t work right now, but one wonders whether at some point in the future, Republicans could be flip-flopped on the immigration issue with similar ease. If a Republican candidate opportunistically assailed the Obama administration for its draconian deportation policies, that would doubtless alienate some of the base, but the GOP might look like white knights and protectors of the weak, and become more popular in some quarters, and Republicans who aren’t particularly nativist might just embrace it. What’s at stake here is the moral high ground. Seizing it is really a lot of fun, and it can pay off in the oddest and most delightful ways.

Citizenism and open borders

This is a guest post by Michael Huemer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Huemer’s webpage is here. His paper Is There A Right To Immigrate? has been referenced at many places on the Open Borders site, particularly on the starving Marvin page. Huemer’s most recent book, The Problem of Political Authority, argues against political authority and for the proposition that anarcho-capitalism is a superior and feasible alternative to the status quo of nation-states. It received a rave review from fellow anarcho-capitalist and open borders advocate Bryan Caplan.

 

Vipul Naik invited me to contribute a post, and he suggested (among other possible topics) addressing the citizenist argument against open borders. As most readers probably know, this argument claims that the state is justified in closing its borders to foreigners because the state has special duties to promote the interests of its own current citizens, duties that it does not owe toward anyone who is not presently a citizen.

This citizenist argument has three main problems. First, it’s unclear why we should think the government has these special duties. Second, even if the government has special duties to its citizens, the citizenist argument requires arbitrarily privileging some citizens over others. Third, even if we ignore the previous two problems, the citizenist argument doesn’t work because one’s having special duties toward certain people does not make it permissible to violate the rights of other people.

I. Does the State Have a Duty to Benefit Citizens?

To begin with, then, why do citizenists believe that the government has special duties to its current citizens? Some just assert this without argument (see, e.g., Steve Sailer). Others appeal to the social contract theory (see, e.g., Sonic Charmer): maybe the social contract requires the government to serve the interests of its own citizens.

Sonic Charmer also pointed out the most obvious problem with this argument (though it doesn’t stop Sonic from embracing the argument anyway):

[A]ll Smart People think the ‘social contract’ is nonsense and couldn’t possibly imagine anyone with a brain believing in it. The whole idea that the basis and legitimacy of a government comes from anything resembling a ‘social contract’ is totally out of favor, and indeed is considered to have been long ago fully and definitively discredited by (whoever … some professor I think).

I could not have said it better. I know of no living person who works on political authority and thinks that we actually have a valid social contract. And I say that after having just written a book on political authority that contains 359 references.

Very briefly, contracts, in any other context, satisfy at least the following four principles: (i) all parties to a contract must have a reasonable way of opting out (without being forced to give up things of great value that belong to them), (ii) explicit, up front statements of non-agreement should generally be recognized as a way of not accepting a contract, (iii) an action cannot be interpreted as signaling agreement, if the terms of the contract would have been imposed on the agent regardless of whether they performed that action or not, and (iv) contracts generally require both parties to undertake enforceable obligations to each other, and if one party repudiates or simply fails to uphold its obligations under the contract, the other party is no longer bound to hold up their end either. The “social contract” violates all of these principles, and blatantly so. This is discussed at length in my recent book, The Problem of Political Authority, chapter 2. This is why I say that the “social contract” bears no resemblance to real contracts, as understood in any other context. If you took someone to court for an alleged “breach of contract”, no court in the world would recognize a claim of contractual obligation if you had nothing better than the sort of arguments that social contract theorists have relied upon.

But let’s say you don’t care what those annoying egghead intellectuals say. They’re always trying to convince us of ridiculous things, like that the Earth is round and that we came from monkeys. There’s a social contract, arguments to the contrary be damned! Okay, but what does the contract require? Here are two views: Continue reading “Citizenism and open borders” »