Cast your mind back to 2006. It wasn’t a good year for the Republicans; not with George W and his muddled and seemingly endless war. This was the time when a New Republic article came out – one that is still referenced today – concerning the supposed new political fusion called Liberaltarians. There were, of course, several responses to this. Lost in the mix was John Derbyshire’s take. This was before his expulsion from Nation Review for saying, to put it kindly, less than politically correct things about African-Americans. But I won’t dwell on that, but will instead cover his idea of Libertarianism in One Country which, as to be expected, involves immigration restriction.
First some snippets to put this in context:
A liberal, in the current sense of the term, is a person who favors a massive welfare state, expansive and intrusive government, high taxation, preferential allocation of social goods to designated “victim” groups, and deference to international bureaucracies in matters of foreign policy.
It is not difficult to see why such a person would favor lax policies towards both legal and illegal immigration. Immigration, legal or otherwise, concerns the crossing of borders, and a liberal regards borders, along with all other manifestations of the nation-state, with distaste. “International” trumps “national” in every context. The preferences a citizen might have for his own countrymen over foreigners, for his own language over other tongues, for his own traditions and folkways over imported ones, are all, in the minds of a modern liberal, manifestations of ugly, primitive, and outdated notions — nativism, xenophobia, racism. The liberal proudly declares himself a citizen of the world, and looks with scorn and contempt on those narrow souls who limit their citizenly affections to just one nation.
This is some pretty strong proto-alt-right stuff. Viewed eleven years on it prophesied, though to what degree is uncertain, of the rise of Trumpism. There are several issues that I have with this description of liberalism, but let’s move on to the meat of his problem with libertarians.
The affection of liberals for mass immigration, both legal and illegal, is thus very easy to understand. Why, though, do libertarians favor it? And why do I think they are nuts to do so?
So far as the first of those questions is concerned, I confess myself baffled. I think that what is going on here is just a sort of ideological overshoot. Suspicion of state power is of course at the center of classical libertarianism. If the state is making and enforcing decisions about who may settle in territories under the state’s jurisdiction, that is certainly a manifestation of state power, and therefore comes under libertarian suspicion. Just why libertarians consider it an obnoxious manifestation — well, that’s where my bafflement begins. (That some exercises of state power are necessary and un-obnoxious is conceded by nearly all libertarians.)
After some quotes from Charles Murray, Derbyshire continues:
As to why I think libertarians are nuts to favor mass uncontrolled immigration from the third world: I think they are nuts because their enthusiasm on this matter is suicidal to their cause. Their ideological passion is blinding them to a rather obvious fact: that libertarianism is a peculiarly American doctrine, with very little appeal to the huddled masses of the third world. If libertarianism implies mass third-world immigration, then it is self-destroying. Libertarianism is simply not attractive either to illiterate peasants from mercantilist Latin American states, or to East Asians with traditions of imperial-bureaucratic paternalism, or to the products of Middle Eastern Muslim theocracies.
And here lies, at least to my eyes, the battle of Open Borders within the (American) libertarian community. What is the effect of culture on an individual? Is there something about American Dynamism that is unique in our historical place? Or, to put it another way, are the concepts of freedom, liberty, and, most importantly of all, individualism truly universal? This outlook, one started by the Reformation, created in the firestorm of 18th century European philosophy, and finally crystallized in the American Revolution may be unique in history. Or maybe not. I’ll let the commentators hash that one out since I know I don’t have an answer.
Now Mr. Derbyshire goes a bit off the rails. I wouldn’t let Stalin run a lemonade stand because he would do more than squeeze the lemons.
The people who made Russia’s Communist revolution in 1917 believed that they were merely striking a spark that would ignite a worldwide fire. They regarded Russia as a deeply unpromising place in which to “build socialism,” her tiny urban proletariat and multitudinous medieval peasantry poor material from which to fashion New Soviet Man. Their hope was that the modern industrial nations of the world would take inspiration from them — that the proletarians of those nations would rise up against their capitalist masters and inaugurate a new age of world history, coming to the aid of the Russian pioneers.
When it was plain that none of this was going to happen, the party ideologues got to work revising the revolutionary dogmas. One of them — it was actually Joseph Stalin — came up with a new slogan: “Socialism in One Country!”
Derbyshire’s final point:
I think that libertarians should take a leaf from Stalin’s book. They should acknowledge that the USA is, of all nations, the one whose political traditions offer the most hospitable soil for libertarianism. Foreigners, including foreigners possessed of the urge to come and settle in modern, welfare-state America, are much less well-disposed towards libertarianism.
If less than one in seven American voters is inclined to libertarianism, then there is much missionary work to be done among present-day American citizens. To think that this missionary effort will be made any easier by a steady stream of arrivals from foreign parts, most of which have never known rational, consensual government, is highly unrealistic, to the point of delusion.
That is why I say that libertarians who favor mass immigration are nuts. If there is any hope at all for libertarianism, it rests in the libertarianism of my title: libertarianism in one country.
What say you? Is libertarianism a unique strain of political thought that resides most strongly in American tradition? Or is it universal – something that transcends across time and culture? If one was to magically transport to Xia Dynasty in China, or to the height of the Roman Empire, would the citizens there understand individualism and freedom in the ways that we do? Or, to put it in more modern terms, would a person with a tribal background, let’ say from the depths of Borneo, understand the basics of the philosophy? (Am I beginning to sound like a certain judge?)