Tag Archives: Robert Higgs

Open borders versus no borders: my take

The Open Borders site has a page on the distinction between open borders and no borders. The main proponent of “no borders” that I know of is Robert Higgs, who explicitly says:

I will say, in case anybody cares, that despite permitting my name to appear on the letter, it does not represent my own views accurately. I am not for (or against) open (or closed) borders; I am against borders and the organized criminal gangs who draw them in the dirt and then threaten with violence anyone who crosses the line. Of course, my ideal world is not about the erupt.

In various blog posts, my co-blogger John Lee has tangentially alluded to open borders as a moderate position compared to the radical idea of no borders. Probably unlike John and possibly also unlike my other co-blogger Nathan (see the note at the end), I self-identify as a philosophical anarchist, though I’m agnostic about the feasibility of anarchism.

Quick summary of the distinction: a philosophical anarchist is somebody who rejects the idea of the legitimacy of the nation-state. A political anarchist advocates for anarchism as a superior alternative to the nation-state. One can be a philosophical anarchist — in the sense of not viewing the state as morally legitimate — while still not being a political anarchist in the sense of believing that anarchism is necessarily an alternative worth expending effort to work towards or an alternative that will necessarily produce superior outcomes.

Note also that political anarchism comes in two flavors: “anarcho-capitalism” and “anarcho-socialism.” For the purpose of this blog post, I’ll stick to anarcho-capitalism, which is the philosophical stance of open borders advocates such as Bryan Caplan (see here) and Michael Huemer (see his book The Problem of Political Authority).

My personal take: I’m far from sure about the potential for anarchist orders that will perform a lot better than nation-states holding the quality of people roughly constant. I think it’s plausible, but I’d like to see a lot more evidence of anarchism in action at a small scale before I can sign on to political anarchism. Incidentally, Michael Huemer’s book The Problem of Political Authority (see also Bryan Caplan’s book review) offers an excellent case for the long-term potential of anarchism and a description of how the world could feasibly move towards anarchism. I think it’s a great case, and the main reason I’m not convinced is that it’s too far ahead for me to even trust my intuition as to how it might work out. It’s for roughly the same reason as the reason I approach claims about the technological singularity and its aftermath with skepticism.

But, where I differ from John is in the implicit stance that seems to be reflected in his writing that open borders is the moderate, sane position compared to anarchism, which is a crazy, straw-man position. Even if I don’t sign on to anarchism yet (for lack of evidence about it and for the very long time period that would be needed to bring it to fruition) I don’t think it’s an idea that deserves to be scoffed at or thrown out of the room. If for no other reason, because many forms of political organization (such as representative democracy with universal adult franchise) have passed from heresy and scoff-worthy curiosity to entrenched dogma.

Rhetorically, putting open borders as a “middle” position between the status quo on the one hand and “no borders” anarchism (of the sort espoused by people like Robert Higgs) on the other, will appeal to people on account of the Overton window phenomenon. Continue reading “Open borders versus no borders: my take” »