Three Arguments for Open Borders: Part II – Libertarianism

Will Rand Paul be calling for open borders? Not likely; but perhaps, as a libertarian, he should.

Rand Paul

Few of us have ever stopped to consider whether a country is justified in limiting who can enter its borders. However, it actually may be the case that justice demands open borders.

Libertarianism, a popular political movement at the moment, exemplified by much of the Republican party, actually implies that border control as we understand it is a massive violation of our rights. This is the second part of a series of blogs based on Joseph Carens’s “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders.”

The foundation of libertarianism is that the state does not have any rights which an individual does not have in a situation without government. For instance, imagining a time without government, I have no right to take your property and distribute it as I see fit, so the state does not have such a right either – which is why libertarians fight against welfare programs. To redistribute property, on the libertarian account, is a violation of rights.

On the other hand, I do have a right to protect my own property, so when we have a libertarian state, it too has a right, indeed a duty, to protect my property.

One right that I do not have in a world without government is the right to prevent you from associating with who you want to. If I were to, for instance, prevent you from doing business with Sam, when you want to do business with Sam, I am violating both your and Sam’s right of freedom of association. We have a right to have voluntary transactions with whomever we please, and the libertarian state must respect this.

The situation is no different if Sam is a Mexican citizen. If I want to hire Sam, or perhaps sell Sam some goods, neither you, nor the government, has any right to stop me. To do so would be a violation of my freedom of association. As long as Sam is not a criminal, and does not trespass on another’s property, then I have a right to do business with Sam.

Now, it is true that I can exclude whomever I want from my own land, and you can do the same – we have property rights over our own land. But Sam is not trespassing on any individuals property. We also cannot claim that Sam is violating some sort of collective property right because the libertarian state is fundamentally committed to rejecting the idea of communal property.

Once we see this, we can see that to prevent voluntary transactions between any two people is a massive violation of rights on the libertarian conception of justice. Thus, libertarianism is committed to the idea of open borders because this is the only way to protect our right to associate with whomever we please.

Of course, if every member of a state decided they didn’t want to do business with citizens of other countries, we could then justify closed borders, but as long as there are people that want to do business with citizens of other countries, the government has no right at all to stop it.

Now, this wouldn’t justify completely open borders. There would still need to be some minimal checks in order to, for instance, protect people’s property from criminals coming into the country, and defend against terrorism. But, since the vast majority of those crossing the border are not criminals, but are simply seeking work, to stop them is a violation of libertarian rights.

So it seems that libertarianism too recommends, even requires, open borders. Now, we have an argument from two theories of justice – the greatest good for the greatest number, and libertarianism – for open borders. In the next part of the series, I will present the argument for open borders from the perspective of impartial justice and rights.