In Defence of Open Borders

Borders? What Borders?
By Neil Lock

Sean Gabb has called for (in his words) a decent libertarian essay in favour of open borders. I hope this will fit the bill. My view is certainly libertarian; for I favour not so much open borders, as no borders – at least, no political borders, and so no barriers to migration. As to decency, you the reader shall judge.

Borders in a Libertarian World

Can borders exist in a libertarian world? Most definitely, yes. Where does the justification for these borders come from? From property rights. Each individual has the right to set a border around his own property, and to admit only those he chooses to.

At first sight, it might seem that in a libertarian world there would be no general freedom of movement. Individuals might agree to the use of routes (easements) over each other’s property; but each would only allow use of his easements by those who have a contract with him. However, libertarians are practical people – aren’t we? And we don’t like to waste time or effort. So, after a while, many would not bother to check who was using their easements. As long, of course, as they kept to the route, weren’t noisy, and didn’t commit acts of violence or theft.

In this way, I think there would arise a general presumption of freedom of movement along defined routes, even across property owned by others. This freedom might, perhaps, be denied to specific individuals – for example, convicted criminals or former politicians – because of their past actions. And some might choose to guard their property jealously, not permitting anyone to cross it; though they would, of course, always be in danger of tit for tat. Others might choose the opposite tack. Perhaps, even, donating part of their property for public use, such as a park.

So in a libertarian world, land (and water, too) would, I think, become divided into two types of space. There would be private (owned) space, with borders and designated easements. And there would be public (open to all) space, made up of those easements. (There would also be, for a while at least, a third kind of space – un-owned, unclaimed space. But that, too, is open to all, so I will treat it as public space).

Furthermore, I expect there would be, ultimately, only one public space, which would be connected. That is, any point of it would be accessible from any other without leaving the public space.

Borders and Communities

This view of borders is rooted in the property rights of the smallest communal unit – the individual. But it works also for the next larger unit – the partnership or couple. And even for the third level of community, the family or household.

Moving to the fourth level, the marketplace – the people with whom individuals deal in their daily lives – a new type of space appears, between public and private. This is exemplified by a shop, or a pub. Some of the time, the space is private, and has borders. But, during opening hours, it becomes open to all who wish to do business with the proprietor. (Again, perhaps excepting certain banned individuals – common in the case of pubs).

Moving up again, the next level is the society. A society is a group of people who share common goals. A business, for example, is a society with a goal to deliver products or services – and, of course, to make a profit in doing so! A business can own physical property. But the rules on who may access a business’s property, and when, can become complicated.

More interesting in regard to borders is the kind of society whose purpose is to enable people to live together in tranquillity. The management company of a block of flats, for example. These make, often quite complicated, sets of rules, which bind every member in the interests of all members. (Rules such as, don’t take out load-bearing walls!) Such properties have two levels of borders; individual borders around individual owners’ spaces, and borders of the whole, open only to members and those they wish to invite.

Another example is the gated communities, which have become common in several countries. It’s perceived, at least, that the gates reduce unpleasantnesses of life in these communities, by excluding undesirables such as criminals. So, the gated community comes to resemble the walled city-state of old; a society for the protection of its citizens against the barbarians outside.

At this point, I ask a hypothetical question. Suppose you are a member of one of these gated communities, say in England. Now, suppose a Pakistani family buys or rents a property in that community. They have no criminal convictions. They sign that they’re willing to abide by the community’s rules. Are you – or the members as a whole – entitled to exclude them from joining your community?

I very much hope your answer is No.

Anarchist and Minarchist Views

If I were an anarchist, I would simply say that there’s no conceivable benefit to anyone from any kind of borders, beyond the borders of individuals’ or societies’ properties, the borders of gated or un-gated communities, and the easements which together define, and give borders to, the public space. And I would rest my case there.

But I’m not an anarchist. I do, it’s true, despise the political state. I despise it for (at least) its bad laws, its warmongering, its violations of human rights, its taxation, currency debasement and other economic destructiveness, its claims of moral superiority for its operatives, and its lies, spin and propaganda. I despise also the pernicious myth that a state has a personality or will, above and beyond the personalities and wills of the individuals who live in its territory.

However, I do appreciate the value, to civilized human beings, of objective justice. Therefore my minarchist philosophy allows for organizations (I call them justice providers) whose purpose is to deliver objective, individual justice to all.

To me, it’s an open question whether justice providers can be other than territorially based. If justice providers can be non-territorial (and I like to think so), then I see no case for any geographical borders beyond those I’ve previously identified. But if, on the other hand, justice providers must of necessity be territorial, then there may be – perhaps – a case, even in a libertarian world, for borders round their territories or, otherwise said, jurisdictions.

From the point of view of justice provision, a border has two benefits. First, it enables entry to be refused to those with criminal or political records. And second, it can help to clarify which justice provider has the right and responsibility to resolve a particular dispute. But from the point of view of the traveller, the border is a disbenefit, costing both money to maintain, and time at each passage.

And a justice provider must seek to provide justice to all, even to those not currently its subscribers. Thus it mustn’t permit differential treatment of individuals because they come from different jurisdictions. It can’t set a rule such as “let in a German, but not an Indian” (or vice versa). Still less can it set quotas for acceptance from different places. Entry or refusal must depend only of the individual being judged. And it would be wrong, I think, to use any other ground than criminal convictions – or the commission of political atrocities, such as waging aggressive war, violating civil liberties, or making unjust laws or burdensome taxes – to justify refusal of entry.

What of the individual who wishes not only to enter, but to remain? Why, that individual must forthwith become a subscriber to his new justice provider! (He will probably wish to cancel his subscription to the old one, too.) I’m sure justice providers will take credit cards at the borders…

Would there actually be borders in a world of justice providers? I think that to begin with, some justice providers would have borders and others wouldn’t. After they had competed for a while, one option would tend to win out; I’m not sure which.

Borders – A Brief History

So much for jurisdictional borders in a libertarian world. But what of the mishmash of red lines, the political borders which crisscross the planet today?

Recently, I articulated the following challenge. Name three countries whose borders, political status and form of government have all been unchanged for the last 200 years. If nation-states are all they’re cracked up to be, I thought, then surely I ought to be able to find a measly three – out of almost 200 – which demonstrate some stability over the rather short time frame since 1813? But I could not immediately think of any at all; let alone three.

Wikipedia has a most informative article entitled “List of sovereign states by date of formation.”[i] I used this as a starting point to look for answers to my challenge. Now, what constitutes a change in form of government can be unclear – for example, a new constitution may, or may not, imply a change. But I was able to see, clearly, that my challenge was a tough one.

Africa? No hope there. Before the 1880s Africa, with the possible exception of Liberia, had no red lines on the map at all.

South and Central America? Better. Several countries (Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay) were formed before 1813. But each has changed its borders and/or form of government since then. They seem to like their wars in that part of the world.

North America? Sorry. Even the US/Canadian border wasn’t finalized until the 1840s.

Oceania? Not a hope. First off the mark in this area was Australia in 1901.

Asia, south of Russia? Not much doing there, either. Nepal was almost a near-miss, its borders having been set in 1816. But it became a democracy in 2008. Strike one.

Europe and Russia? The exploits of Mr. Hitler and Mr. Stalin, and their aftermaths, make much of this area an unlikely one for success. But there are candidates towards the west. Switzerland’s borders were set in 1815, 198 years ago; but it became a federal republic in 1848. San Marino is a candidate, having existed since the 15th century at least. It’s a close call whether its occupation by the Germans, for less than a month in 1944, changed its political status. I’m feeling generous, so I’ll call that Ball one.

Iceland was united with Denmark until 1944. Spain has a long history of monarchy and republic, but reverted to a monarchy in 1974. Portugal, too, had a revolution in 1974. Andorra gets close, but it moved from a feudal set-up to a democracy in 1993. Strike two.

Leaving only one remaining candidate… cue timpani… the UK! After all, it has been around since 1801 – or, some say, 1707. But no, unfortunately, the UK doesn’t qualify. Partition of Ireland, 1922. Strike three.

I’ve given you this historical merriment for a purpose. That is, to show that the record of nation-states in providing peace, justice and stability to the people who live in them is far worse than merely appalling. It’s fashionable today for the liberty avant-garde – among whom I number myself – to say that the state is out of date. But more accurately, I think, the nation-state has never been in date.

Rationalizing Borders

There are several rationalizations given for the existence of borders. One, indeed, is the suggestion I made above – that borders may be needed at the boundaries of different jurisdictions. But perhaps not. For example, England and Scotland are separate jurisdictions; they don’t even have the same legal system! Yet there are no border posts at Berwick or Carter Bar.

A second rationalization for borders is monarchy. In this view, the border is the boundary of property rights – of a king or queen. So the UK border, for example, is the boundary of the property of an old woman called Lizzie. If Lizzie doesn’t want you in there, you aren’t allowed in there.

Unfortunately, I can’t accept this view. For the theory of monarchy was debunked, more than 300 years ago, by no less a luminary than John Locke. And, as far as I am aware, it hasn’t been re-bunked in the meantime.

A third rationalization is that a nation-state or country is the city-state brought up to date. It is a society of people who are supposed to share (usually un-explicated) goals and culture – the “we’re all in this together” canard. Thus it is entitled to borders, to keep out those who don’t share those goals and that culture.

Now the people in a city-state did, indeed, have a goal in common – the defence of their city. But in a nation-state, whose primary binding force is supposed to be a shared region of birth, there’s no necessary goal or aspiration common to all. Indeed, politics tends to create and increase tensions between different factions – such as the left-right divide. Democracy makes things worse, tending to make the tensions personal between supporters of different factions. Add to the mix large-scale immigration and the super-state projects (EU and UN), and it becomes clear that the glue which binds together people in a nation-state will lose its adhesion with time. The chimera of “national identity,” while hard won, is easily lost.

How far this process has already gone in the UK was brought home to me when Margaret Thatcher died. I was surprised, even shocked, by the vehemence of the anti-Thatcher sentiment among my more left-leaning acquaintances. And I don’t think those on the opposite side are far behind in their condemnation of Blair and Brown – nor, indeed, of Cameron.

Even this attitude, though, is only half way toward a fuller understanding. Slowly, people are starting to see today’s political society for what it is – a system in which a corrupt political class and its crony-capitalist hangers-on solicit just enough support from the lazy and the feckless to enable them to rule, without concern, over everyone else. And, once this insight is reached, national identity and fellow feeling can never be re-gained.

Further, how can the “UK” possibly be justified as a political unit? For, if an Englishman has a country, is his country not England, rather than some arbitrary construction called the “UK?” And if this “UK” was a natural political unit, then how could the partition of Ireland possibly have happened, and how could Scottish independence even be under discussion? (Let’s not even mention absorption into the EU…)

Political states, as they exist today, are illogical. And this is one of many reasons why they are failing. But, just as political states are illogical, so political borders as they exist today are illogical, and will fail in time.

The Border of Civilization

There’s one border, though, which is both natural and logical. That is, the border between civilized human beings and barbarians. It is primarily a mental border rather than a physical one. Which side of it an individual falls depends only on the individual’s behaviour, not on (for example) their race, religion, nationality, social class or gender. It is sometimes characterized as the border between law-abiding citizens and outlaws.

On one side of this border, we have honest people, who strive to earn satisfaction of their needs through wealth creation and trade. Who desire economic prosperity for all who deserve it. Who are peaceful, unless attacked. Who favour objective justice. And who uphold the rights and freedoms of all human beings, including property rights and free movement throughout the public space.

On the other side, we see the lazy and dishonest. Those that satisfy their needs through simply taking away others’ wealth – using what Franz Oppenheimer called the “political means.” Those that hate human prosperity. Those that favour aggressions and wars. Those that pervert justice into fictions like “social justice” or “environmental justice.” And those that scorn rights and freedoms – including those that want to hem people about with arbitrary boundaries.

Now there’s a border worth setting and maintaining, no?

26 thoughts on “In Defence of Open Borders

  1. The idea that North American and Africa had no borders before Europeans arrived is misleading.

    Humans tend to be tribal creatures – and those people who violated the borders between different tribes in North American, Africa (and so on) often tended to get killed. Of course there borders were flexible – and not just because the tribes were sometimes nomadic. They were flexible because of inter tribal war. Modern Hollywood (and the education system) do not tend to mention that, for example, the Dakota took the “sacred Black Hills” from the Crow. Also the reason why the tribes do not like investigation of old graves is that they often contain people who were NOT members of the tribe who now occupy the land – indeed they often contain the skulls of people who the incoming tribe killed in order to occupy the land.

    According to the education system (and the entertainment industry) everything was peace and love till the evil Europeans arrived – but that is not so.

    Borders do not have to be marked by border posts (with or without skulls on the border posts) to be real. Trade is certainly possible – but only with the consent of the tribe one is visiting (having the consent of one individual or family is no good if other members of the tribe kill you).

    However, I like your idea of a border against the “Social Justice” supporters – the lying vermin who even pretend that John Rawls (the leading ANTI libertarian English speaking political philosopher of the late 20th century) was a libertarian thinker.

    Private agreements (written into property title deeds) to keep out undesirables are often stuck down by the government – on racial grounds.

    Although, sadly, even the dream of multi racial communities proved to be a lot more difficult to achieve than the government assumed.

    One may forbid the prevention of a certain population entering an area – but then the existing population may leave (it is called “white flight”) thus leaving the area no more multi racial than it was before. There are no easy solutions to such things (humans tending to be tribal creatures).

    And forced integration (“bussing” and so on) is just as anti libertarian as forced segregation (“Jim Crow” and so on).

    I agree that what should matter is “the content of character” not the “colour of skin” – but one can not build such a society on media lies.

    Such as Mr Zimmerman the “white” man (he is not white – he is part black Hispanic who is a life long Democrat and voted for Barack Obama in 2008). Or the media (and education system) obsession with whites killing blacks – whilst leaving out the fact that the reverse is nine times more likely.

    What matters is the ideas, the beliefs (the principles) that people hold – not their colour or other ethnic markers, but one should not cover hard questions with evasions.

    For example, are the people coming over the border with Mexico like the Hispanics who died at the Alamo on the Texan side (and some did).

    Or are they loyal to the nation of Mexico?

    Are they indeed Social Justice supporters?

    The Pew Research Centre says that at least 75% of them are.

    If that is true (if they are really coming for government benefits – indeed want there to be vastly more government benefits) does not your proposed border against Social Justice supporters apply to them?

    • Dear Paul,

      You are, of course, right that tribal borders preceded national borders. I was referring in my essay to political, and therefore national, borders.

      I am pleased that you like my idea of a border against “social justice” campaigners. Though my intention was rather wider – my border is intended to exclude statists of all stripes.

      As to your last question, yes, those that seek insurance pay-outs they have not paid any premiums for are indeed using the “political means.” But this applies just as much to the English born as to immigrants.


  2. You say you’re a minarchist, but then say you’re in support of ‘justice providers’, while providing no definition of a justice provider and yet what you describe early in the piece certainly sounds like an anarcho-capitalist society.

    Would ‘justice providers’ have the right to tax and to enforce their territorial monopoly? If so, then why should there be multiple justice providers? Surely the best monopoly would be one world government?

    Your reference to a gated community actually helps to make the case FOR restricted immigration, and not for open borders. Hoppe himself argues that immigration must be contractual only, akin to someone entering a restrictive covenant.

    Therefore, there is of course nothing wrong with a Pakistani renting or purchasing property within a gated community. This would be the result of a contract, and would not be an invasion.

    Hoppe’s only problem with immigration is that it is the result of the unilateral decision by the immigrant to ‘invade’ a country, and from then on he can live off the taxpayer. Instead, the immigrant should be sponsored by a resident until he can be naturalised, through acquiring property.

    All-in-all, for most of the essay you certainly sound like an anarcho-capitalist. But, while much of what you wrote could have been written by Hoppe himself, you support ‘no borders’.

    Ideally, anarcho-capitalists support an end to state borders too. But, to suggest that in the free society that people would be ‘lazy’ and stop enforcing border restrictions to their own land, or even that they ought to act in such a way, is strange.

    • Dear Keir,

      Well spotted. I didn’t give you my definition of justice, as I was trying to avoid de-railing the argument with extra complexity. But I obviously wasn’t successful. So here is my definition of justice:

      “Justice is that condition in which each individual is treated, over the long run and in the round, as he or she treats others.”

      I deliberately left it open whether or not justice providers must be territorial, because I don’t know the answer. If it’s Yes, then probably someone residing in a JP’s territory would have to either (a) pay a subscription, or (b) assist justice in some other way, e.g. by serving a number of hours per year as a magistrate. I don’t like to be too specific, since these organizations don’t exist yet, and no-one can predict exactly how they would turn out.

      On the gated community, I like you have no problem with a Pakistani, or any other nationality, joining your gated community. Where I see a problem is that he may be prevented from joining the community by a political border that lies between the community and his current residence. Would you agree that this violates his (and your) right to trade freely?

      With regard to Hans-Hermann Hoppe, I am pleased that you see so many points of agreement between us, since (though I have skimmed a few of his papers, and listened to him speak on 3 occasions) I have not studied his work in detail, and would not consider myself a follower of his. So, both of us must be doing something right!

      On your last point, I didn’t say that libertarians wouldn’t enforce the borders of their easements. In fact, I implied that they would, by saying “As long, of course, as they kept to the route.” What I did say is that they wouldn’t bother to check who was using their easements.


      • Thanks for being sincere enough to respond.

        I genuinely do think that, because you are able to come to some similar conclusions on your own, if you read Hoppe that you would soon realise that what you are actually in favour of is ‘contractual immigration’ whereby immigration is the result of two people contracting, rather than an immigrant deciding on his own to enter new territory that is owned by the taxpayer.

        If the JP was a territorial monopolist and ensured that all within its territory paid a subscription, then you are describing a modern day government. If, however, the JP was not a monopolist and only got funded by contractual transfers of a pre-determined amount of money then that is what is usually called a PDA or, to David Friedman, a Rights Enforcement Agency.

        Something else worth pointing out is that free trade and free immigration are totally different, sometimes antagonistic, things. People like free trade because it is at a distance.

        Generally speaking, it would be unlikely that the Pakistani, in today’s Britain, would be stopped from gaining access to a gated community by the state. First of all, he would simply be ‘let in’ to the country and then the rest of the population would be forced not to discriminate against him. This is what Hoppe calls ‘forced integration’. The phenomenon of forced segregation rarely if ever happens.

        I think any misunderstandings between us are both unfortunate and down to the fact that we haven’t read the same material on the subject. I’ve tried on a few occasions to simplify and popularise Hoppe’s argument: and, for instance. Yet, the best stuff out there is in ‘Democracy: The God that Failed’.

      • Thanks for being sincere enough to respond.

        I would say that, so long as you believe that a JP shouldn’t have the right to tax people or establish a territorial monopoly, then there is hardly any disagreement between us.

        Any disagreement is purely down to the fact that I haven’t been able to articulate Hoppe’s argument fully. I’ve simplified and tried to popularise it a few times: and But the best work on the subject is his ‘Democracy: The God that Failed’.

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  4. The Pakistani family who buys a property inside your gated community is more than likely Moslem. They are not libertarian and in at are committed on a spiritual level to killing all ‘kaffirs’ i.e. non believers in Mohamed. Are you content to allow those committed to liking you, who will protest the opposite until the day they have the power to behead you, into your ‘community’ or Nation? If you are suicidal and don’t care about the British genes, your answer will be yes! I which case I have to say ‘Goodbye’ ….

    • Dear Lynn,

      I take your implied point that there do exist nasty Islamists, that want to impose their particular brand of religion on you and others by force. But there also exist nasty atheists like socialists and communists, nasty fundamentalist Christianists, and nasty greenie Gaia-worshippers, all of whom want to do the same thing.

      In the case of Muslims, I know from experience (for 30 years ago, my work took me to a Muslim country, Indonesia, for almost three months) that Islam doesn’t, of itself, make people bad.

      Where I differ from you, I think, is that I treat individuals as individuals. I try to avoid tarring someone of a particular race, or religion, or nationality with a condemnation that (at best) is based on the behaviour only of the worst individuals sharing those characteristics, and (at worst) may be based on nothing but hype. I will only judge individuals negatively when I observe that their actions do not meet my standards, for example as I expressed them in the final few paragraphs of my essay.


  5. I’m libertarian in the limited government government since but open borders are ludicrous at this point. Maybe it could be so to some point if there more varying levels of libertarianism between various governments but as the others pointed out here, I doubt Pablo the poor Central American Indian mix or Akmed the Muslim even has any concept of Anglo Saxon ideas of property rights and limited government. Somalians and others from part of the world don’t get it either. Of course, we have enough issues with Americans being ignorant of these things and voting accordingly.

    • Dear sth_txs,

      You say that open borders are ludicrous at this point. Maybe so; but if libertarians don’t agitate for open borders, we’ll never get there.

      On your last sentence, I agree; and it isn’t just Americans, either. But please don’t get me started on the subject of voting…


  6. “I do, it’s true, despise the political state. I despise it for (at least) its bad laws, its warmongering, its violations of human rights, its taxation, currency debasement and other economic destructiveness, its claims of moral superiority for its operatives, and its lies, spin and propaganda.”

    “However, I do appreciate the value, to civilized human beings, of objective justice.”

    The state = objective justice! Wow.

    • Dear Carl,

      Yes, this is a difficulty of interpretation that I see often among libertarians. To me, the contrast between the state (which is bad for good people) and a justice provider (which, if it does its job properly, ought to be good for good people) is obvious. But I find it hard to get the point over.

      I hope that what I said about justice in my reply to Keir above will help. Also, I would add that the political state, as it is today, is not a provider of justice, but a veritable fountain of injustice.

      If I correctly understand the point of your comment (and I apologize if I haven’t), it is one which anarchists often direct against minarchists. Having a minarchist justice system is all very well, says the anarchist, but how do you stop it getting corrupt, and becoming as bad as the state?

      For my answer on this point, please re-read the final section of my essay…


  7. Neil – tribal borders are political borders, politics does not need writing,

    I think you would find a border against Social Justice supporters excluded more than you think.

    After all most totalitarian movements have a commitment to Social Justice – not just National Socialism and Fascism (and their parent Marxism) , but Islamism also (Greenism also has a strong commitment to Social Justice.

    By the way – the problem with Islam is not with some individuals. The problem is with the basic doctrines of Islam as laid down in the teachings (and the deeds) of its Founder.

    Christianity can reject evil Christians and continue to exist.

    Can Islam reject Mohammed and continue to exist?

    I remember when film maker in Holland was stuck down – “what would Mohammed have thought?” was one of the protests.

    It was a well meaning protest – much like “what would Jesus have said about what you are doing” directed against Christians who turn to persecution, but it was ignorant.

    Ignorant because Mohammed himself ordered the death of an old blind poet (for the crime of mocking Mohammed in a poem), so followers of Mohammed came to the home of the old blind poet, pretending to be friends, and took his head.

    When a female poet protested against this deed (for it violated various rules of morality of the Arabs) Mohammed’s reply was simple – he had her murdered as well.

    So the answer about what Mohammed would have said (in response to the murder of the film maker) is simple.

    “Well done”.

    Those who call for a Reformation in Islam are misguided – on the contrary it should be as clogged with tradition and custom and ritual, as possible. Those who return to the roots of Islam (to the words and deeds of Mohammed) are the problem.

  8. This is an article by someone who doesn’t realise that a free society has certain social and cultural underpinnings. Morever, it is based on an absurd doctrine of property ownership, whereby it is claimed that a naturally occurring resource – land – can be owned absolutely, rather than such ownership being the result of social conventions, and far from absolute because allodial title is vested in society as a whole. It is English society – poorly represented by the Crown at the moment – that has ultimate title to England. But once again that ultimate title is also a figment of English law, and thus of English conventions. If the Chinese conquer London, they won’t recognise the ultimate ownership of land vested in the English nation as a whole, but by long ownership (under the possession is 9/10 of the law rule) would establish their own rights to allodial ownership of the land, with Chinese landowners gaining title from the Chinese authorities in London.

    Let me say it S L O W L Y. Legal ownership of land, and probably anything else, is the product of a society’s laws and conventions. We don’t have a freestanding ownership of our properties that would survive the conquest of the country by a foreign power. When England conquered Australia and America, etc, it established conventions of freehold title (tenancy in fee simple, held of the Crown) in defiance of the native customs of the pre-existing population.

    To look at “property rights” as separate from the survival of our society and its traditions is to perpetrate an absurdity. One that libertarians who mouth state propaganda on multiculturalism seem more than happy to commit.

    I could scarcely believe Lock’s reply to Lynn (“Where I differ from you, I think, is that I treat individuals as individuals. I try to avoid tarring someone of a particular race, or religion, or nationality with a condemnation that (at best) is based on the behaviour only of the worst individuals sharing those characteristics”) – everything here is exactly what I get off the BBC every day. State propaganda at its worst.

    We are not disconnected individuals who just happen to be here. We are here because our ancestors were the Angles and Saxons who forged the state here. Notions of law and land title and the Crown stem from the historical development of the Kingdom of England from the heptarchy. There is such a thing as society – and libertarians – or intelligent ones, at least – are aiming for a free society, something that is still a society and still a collectivity, although affording as much liberty to its members as possible. There is such a thing as the UK, and there is such a thing as the English nation – although the state as such has been subordinated within an All-Union UK state – and while the state has grown oppressive, it is another thing entirely to say there should be no state at all. No state=no law=no property rights. The English state is the source of freehold property in the first place – and the Common Law and notions derived from it as it relates to land tenure is simply an expression of the culture of the people, Angles and Saxons, who built our state. To allow free immigration is an attack on our nation, something that undermined the viability of our state as a vehicle for the maintenance of our culture, and our ideas of land tenure and much else, in this country, which is ours.

    • “Let me say it S L O W L Y. Legal ownership of land, and probably anything else, is the product of a society’s laws and conventions.”

      Ok, you’ve said it slowly. Now what? When a person’s property is respected, it is being respected by other people. You call these people “society” and claim to be saying something new or different. No-one is disputing that legal ownership of land is the product of laws and conventions – what else could the phrase “legal ownership of land” connote in this context?

      “a free society has certain social and cultural underpinnings”

      Another unremarkable insight which no-one disputes.

      Then you proceed to reify and conflate the concepts of nation, state and society, and claim that “our” land belongs to “us”. Translation: the state owns everything because they can. You leave no room for escape, do you? Not a sliver of light. Funnily enough, hardly anyone in English society – your English society- actually agrees with you. You’re probably regarded as some sort of crank for your quasi-libertarian outlook. It’s bad enough that you cling to this wacky nation/state/society tripartite entity, but you claim that everyone else owes loyalty to it to. Pssst….they don’t. You can never demonstrate such an obligation, you can merely exhort people to band together. There is such a thing as society! There is, there is!

      You haven’t offered analysis in this post as you normally do. Here you just appeal to redundant prejudices. And they hate you! Your state hates you, your society thinks you’re a nutjob, and to this humble libertarian you sound just like any old conservative.

    • Dear David,

      Of course a free society has (or would have, if such existed) social and cultural underpinnings. Let me venture a few. Objective justice. Moral equality (a.k.a. equality before the law). Respect for individual rights and freedoms.

      And yes, ownership of land (and anything else) in a society is a function of how the society is organized. Do you think that a justice provider, in my sense, would not recognize and defend ownership of justly acquired land?

      As to your fear of “conquest of the country by a foreign power,” well, that wouldn’t be a problem if there were no states or “powers,” would it?

      You seem to confuse my individualism with something you call multiculturalism, which I understand is much loved by statists like the BBC. To clarify, let me ask you a multiple-choice question: In a society of 10,000 people, how many cultures do you think there should be? (a) 1. (b) 2. (c) 100. (d) 10,000. (e) None of the above. [Hint: My answer is (d)].

      If you answer (e), I will ask you for your recommended number. And if you answer (a), I will ask you whether you would answer differently if the number of people was 10,000,000,000, or even an order of magnitude more.

      For the rest of what you say, Paul Marks and Carl have already taken up metaphorical cudgels against you, and my plan from here is to sit back – slowly – and watch the fun.


  9. Interesting Mr Webb.

    Under George III certain people close to the Crown (although, most likely,not the King as an individual) were very interested in undermining what you consider the absurd idea of the de facto private ownership of land – and restoring the idea (in fact – not just legal fiction) that land was owned by the King (what you would call “the people” – with your confusion between people and the state). It is one of the great ironies of history that real (as opposed to theoretical) private land ownership was better protected by “Feudal” law (which disputed the theory of private land ownership – whilst maintaining the reality) than by Roman Imperial law (which upheld the theory of private ownership – whilst allowing the Emperor to steal what he liked in practice). And it is this irony that elements close to “the Crown” tried to undermine.

    Not was there this sort of thing just threatened in the American colonies – thus helping to spark off the, essentially conservative, American Revolution of 1776), but in Britain also.

    Even the Duke of Portland was suddenly hit by demands that he prove that land that had been in the possession of his family for centuries was “rightfully” his (with the threat that it would “revert to the Crown” if he could not prove “rightful” ownership).

    Prove you “rightfully own” your underpants Mr Webb – prove it NOW. Show the receipt from the shop. Can not do it? Right you are then lad – STRIP, come on it is that cold……. This sort of thinking turns the traditional Common Law on its head – it is not for the possessor to “prove rightful ownership”, it is for the accuser (the state or a private accuser) to prove their case. And not against some distant forefather (the typical, and widely dishonest [dishonest because there is no real intention to return the land to some individual owner who was supposedly robbed of it], trick of the “libertarian” left), but against the present peaceful possessors of the land.

    Edmund Burke led the opposition in the House of Commons to such antics by the Crown (I repeat it was, most likely, nothing much to do with George III as an individual) – both in an American and a British context. And it is interesting to see that you, Mr David Webb, would have sided with the Crown AGAINST the private landowners – both American and British).

    “Allodial” holding of land is actually pre Feudal (well pre the best known type of feudalism) and is more (not less) hostile to statist collectivism (in the context of land) than later Feudal notions – so “allodial ” is not the word you are looking for. “Islamic” might be a better word for what you are looking for – as in Islamic society (unlike England) there is a strong tradition that the land (some how) belongs to the people collectively – and that a wise ruler “redistributes” land from the use of the rich to the use of the poor.

    Western civilisation was fundamentally opposed to this way of thinking – even as far back as the Edict of Quierzy (877) it was stated as an “old right” that even the King of France could not take a fief of land from one family and give it to another (which they could do if land was “really” collective property – as you, de facto, claim).

    Indeed it was a fundamental principle of “Feudal” law that land could NOT be taken, without consent, even for a “public purpose” (such as building a new road) still less to “perfect an estate” (i.e. with the argument that the land would be “better used” by Mr B. rather than by Mr A.) – it is true that Statute law has overwhelmed such “Feudal” ideas (returning us to a state of affairs closer to that of the Roman Empire), but libertarians do not think this march back to the legal philosophy (in relation to the state) of Imperial Rome is a good thing.

  10. By the way….

    What starts with land does not stop there.

    Let me say “slowly” that if the private ownership of land is simply the result of arbitrary conventions of “society” then so is the private ownership of anything else.

    Civil Society or the State? And why bring up all the Germanic blood and soil stuff about the collective ownership of the land by the “English Nation”? The government of the German “volk” may have claimed such as thing, at least in the 1930s and early 1940s, but the Queen of the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland makes no such claim. And neither does the Common Law – such Common Law men as Cook, Selden and Hale would not go along with such notions on land. There is a vast difference between volk and folk, just as there is between being “volkish” and being “folksy”.

    If your ownership of a “freehold” of land is subject to the whims of the state (let us dispense with this nonsense term “the people”) then so is your ownership of the shirt on your back.

    Perhaps you have a silk shirt – and the poor could be aided (in the best Rawlsian fashion) by the value of your shirt being “distributed” to them (“for the benefit of the least favoured”). Could you not make do with a cotton shirt? After all your ownership of your shirt is simply the product of the arbitrary “conventions of society” – and if you do not own a silk shirt, I am sure I could find some expensive possession of yours that should be sold so that the “least favoured” can have something of value “distributed” to them.

    Charles Wicksteed (to name one “land nationalisation” supporter) found that the people he was associating with did NOT just want to steal land – they wanted to steal his factory as well.

    And it was natural that they should – after all was not the factory built on land? Indeed the park that Mr Wicksteed founded would now be a housing estate if left to the tender loving care of the state (so it was just as well he was converted from the collectivist side of the argument).

    I really do not know where you get your peculiar idea of the fundamental nature of the English Common Law on land Mr Webb.

    You do not get it from Cook, or from Selden (hard to see that Talmud reader falling in love with Volkish ideas) or from Hale.

    Perhaps it would be more honest of you to drop the idea that you are devoted to the English Common Law tradition – and come out openly as a supporter of the “Positivist” conception of law (that the state, sorry “the people”, can do what it likes). I think you will find Thomas Hobbes more in line with your way of thinking than John Selden.

  11. By the way – I forgot to give a source for my point of how “Feudal” law is different from modern law (with modern law being closer to the law of the Roman Empire – i.e. if the state passes a Statute, it can do what it likes).

    “A summary view of the feudal law with the differences of the Scots law from it….” John Dundas (1710).

    Mr Webb may make the point that English law is not Scots law – but, sadly, the idea that Statues trump the basic principles of law seems to have grown up here also. One can trace this terrible doctrine all the way back to Fortescue in the 15th century – In England the law can not be changed UNLESS (and here is the killer) Parliament agrees.

    So the High Court of the King in Parliament is not about trying to FIND law (as a Common Lawyer tries to – always accepting that one may be in error and further legal reasoning may further develop the FINDING of law) it is about MAKING law. Law being just the arbitary whims of the rulers (as long as they include Parliament).

    Fortescue even gives examples of laws he wants changed – he wants the laws changed to encourage exports and discourage imports (yes “law” as policy – and policy based upon mercantilist fallacies).

    A total betrayal of the principles of the Common Law – not trying to FIND law in order to do justice in a particular case, but deciding on an objective of POLICY (in this case to encourage exports and discourage imports) and then changing (twisting) law to help achieve this objective of policy.

    The above is not to say that there is not much good in Fortescue’s “On the difference between an absolute and a limited monarchy” (as “In Praise of the Laws of England” was originally called), but this substitution of policy for law is terrible – as is Fortescue’s idea of Council of Experts (as opposed to the Feudal landholders – the traditional advisers of the King) to advice the King on such policies.

    A Council of Experts ah? To advice the King on mercantilist policies (i.e. on fallacies) – I wonder who would be a member of such a Council? Surely not a man by the name of Sir John Fortescue?

    And what if the “advice” of these “experts” went against the judgement of Parliament (dominated as it was by the landed), are we really talking about a rubber stamp Parliament? Which is what some allege we have now?

  12. I am myself in general in favor of borders, as this is essential to property rights in scarce resources. As Rothbard argues, all rights are property rights–rights to exclusive control of some scarce resources; as Hoppe argues, the essence of property acquisition is the embordering of previously unowned scarce resources. Yet in history, one rationale for more formal establishing and recording of borders was to make it easier to determine who owns what so that they could be taxed. See

    “Under current law, ownership of real (immovable) property is proved by records kept by government offices. Of course, in a private society this function would be handled by private agencies. But not surprisingly, the state coopts this function in order to know who the owner is and what the “market value” is so as to enable it to extract taxes. (For more on how the state coopts key institutions to gain increasing power over its subjects, see Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Banking, Nation States and International Politics: A Sociological Reconstruction of the Present Economic Order, pp. 62-66.) For example, a main purpose of the Domesday Book, an English land survey in 1086, “was to determine who held what and what taxes” were owed. And as noted in the fascinating study by Mayer & Pemberton, A Short History of Land Registration in England and Wales:

    ‘The Romans introduced a form of land registration to England and Wales [, to form] the basis of a land tax called tributum soli.

    ‘Similarly the Anglo-Saxons had a land tax (Danegeld), which would have required details of land ownership. The culmination of this system was the Domesday Book (1086)—an unique and almost complete survey of landowners, at least at manorial level, it is the crowning achievement of the administrative system of Anglo-Saxon England.

    … According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, William the Conqueror “by his foresight … surveyed so carefully that there was not a hide of land in England of which he did not know who held it and how much it was worth”.

    ‘The Domesday Book was just about the last land register in this country for taxation purposes.'”

  13. Yes, An anarchocapitalist should be as disgusted with such things as the government persecution of ranchers (and others) who try and defend their property on what is known as the American-Mexican border country as someone from other political positions.

    Indeed an arachocapitalist should be more disgusted – as they do not believe the state should exit. No state = no prosecutions of property owners trying to defend their property from trespassers and thieves. It also means no government roads (only private roads with private owners), no government services for “undocumented immigrants” (because no government services), and no government “anti discrimination” and “anti hate speech” regulations.

    This sounds good – I could be converted to anarchocapitalism.

  14. Pingback: » Weekly link roundup 13 Open Borders: The Case

  15. Pingback: Borders? What Borders? « Attack the System

  16. The problem I have with this debate is that it’s divorced from the facts on the ground.
    Open borders are a fact of the modern condition, most certainly in the Western World. Let’s take the UK as an example. Not only do the government wilfully fail to make any substantive effort to secure the borders other than for the purposes of revenue collection, they offer positive incentives to economic migrants:
    Modern methods of travel make it relatively easy (compared to even 50 years ago) for economic migrants to travel to favoured destinations and in such large numbers it would take some kind of organised military action involving the use of violence to stop this.
    I, niaively, thought Libertarians already had the answer to this: abolish the welfare state and remove incentives, allow individuals and communities to exercise their natural rights to defence of self an property (forbidden in the UK).
    Instead, we have people here arguing, albeit not explicitly but by logical extension of what they’re calling for in the modern world, for some kind of police state and unlimited governmental powers to secure national borders… for some vaguely specified definition of national borders given the present day realities of the EU and Scottish independance. Go figure.

  17. Pingback: Community? What Community? | The Libertarian Alliance Blog

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