Tuesday, October 27

What is a “Libertarian-Conservative”? Part 2

by Jacob G. Hornberger

In my blog post yesterday, I referred to a New York Times op-ed by Steven Calabresi, who refers to himself as a hyphenated conservative, specifically a “libertarian-conservative.” A big problem, as I pointed out, is that neither Calabresi nor the Times defines what a “libertarian-conservative” is.

I pointed out how the big influx of disenchanted conservatives into the libertarian movement has adversely affected the movement, especially by inducing libertarians to adopt the reform-oriented mindset of conservatives. That’s why so many libertarians have abandoned any hope of a genuinely free society and have made peace with the notion that the welfare-welfare state is here to stay as a permanent feature of American life.

Thus the libertarian philosophy has lost its radical brand — one of genuine liberty — and become, in large part, just a libertarian-conservative mush consisting of reform proposals for the welfare-welfare state, all wrapped up in nice “free-market” lingo.

There is another aspect of this phenomenon that needs addressing: the libertarian non-aggression principle. This is the core principle of libertarianism. In the early days of the modern-day libertarian movement, every libertarian was thoroughly familiar and totally committed to the non-aggression principle.

Not anymore, at least not among the reform-oriented libertarians. Oh sure, they will give lip service to the non-aggression principle, but in terms of its actual application, the non-non-aggression principle has essentially become irrelevant.

Let me give you an example, one involving a major area of controversy within the libertarian movement — immigration.

In 2017 The Hill published an op-ed by Calabresi in which he advocated “a diversified portfolio of things we tax,” stating “This is how we can afford to … build the wall on the Mexican border.”

Calabresi, of course, is stating the standard conservative position on immigration — that the federal government should wield the authority to control the movements of people across international borders.

Of course, this is the standard liberal, or progressive, position as well. In fact, when President Obama was president, he was known as the “Deporter in Chief” owing to the large number of deportations that his immigration agents carried out.

From the very beginning, the libertarian position has been the exact opposite. People have the natural, God-given right to cross borders freely without government interference. Coming to mind is an essay entitled “The Freedom to Move,” by Oscar W. Cooley and Paul Poirot published by The Foundation for Economic Education many years ago. Poirot was the longtime editor of The Freeman, the flagship publication of FEE.

At the core of the libertarian position is the libertarian non-aggression principle, the core principle of libertarianism. When people are peacefully crossing borders, they are engaging in a purely peaceful act. For example, every day countless people from Maryland cross the border to enter Virginia. In doing so, they are not violating anyone’s rights. The same principle applies when someone from Mexico crosses the international bridge at Laredo and enters the United States.

Thus, the enforcement of immigration controls necessarily involve the initiation of force against others. The immigration enforcement agents forcibly interdict the person crossing and forcibly take him into custody. The government then prosecutes and incarcerates the person or simply deports him, all with the initiation of force.

Of course, conservatives couldn’t care less about the libertarian non-aggression principle. That’s because conservative see nothing wrong with the state initiating force against people.

But libertarians are different. Every libertarian knows that the non-aggression principle is the core principle of libertarianism.

Over the years, the influx of conservatives into the libertarian movement has induced many libertarians to abandon the libertarian concept of open borders, at least with respect to international borders. This is one of the areas where conservatives have done great damage to libertarianism and the libertarian brand.

Today, many people think that libertarianism consists of two opposite positions on immigration. Just take your pick, they say. Either one is consistent with libertarianism, their argument goes.

That, of course, is nonsense. The libertarian philosophy is a consistent philosophy. There cannot be two opposite positions on immigration any more than there can be two opposite positions on drug laws.

One of the things that libertarians who have adopted the conservative (and progressive) position on immigration controls will always, without fail, do is ignore the consequences of immigration-enforcement measures, such as the Trump wall to which “libertarian-conservative” Calabresi refers. The reason they do that is because immigration enforcement measures necessarily involve the initiation of force against peaceful people.

Such immigration enforcement measures, of course, involve not just Trump’s wall, which depends on using eminent domain to forcibly take people’s property away from them, but also such things as domestic highway checkpoints, warrantless trespasses onto people’s farms and ranches, arresting and prosecuting people for transporting, hiring, or aiding undocumented immigrants, violent raids on American businesses, boarding of Greyhound buses to check people’s papers, and other totalitarian-like immigration enforcement measures.

Today, many libertarians, owing largely to the adverse influence that conservatives have had on the libertarian movement, are loathe to call for the complete dismantling of America’s immigration-control structure and adopt a system of completely open borders, the same system that Americans have adopted with respect to domestic borders. Such libertarians now settle for reforming America’s immigration control system, usually by trying to get the government to simply let in more immigrants, which is course is not freedom at all.

One of the saddest aspects of this phenomenon is how many libertarians have fallen for the conservative argument that by adopting the conservative (and progressive) position advocating immigration controls, libertarians will have a better chance of gaining the approval and acceptance of the mainstream media and mainstream Americans.

It’s just another example of what conservatives have done to the libertarian philosophy and the libertarian movement — and to the libertarian quest for a genuinely free society, one that necessarily involves the removal, not the reform, of all infringements on liberty, including immigration controls.

Posted with permission from the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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