By Dan Phillips
I don’t know who the first person was to make the observation that is the title of this essay, but a quick Google search reveals that libertarian podcaster Christopher Cantwell seems to be the person most responsible for popularizing it or the alternate version “Libertarianism is not a suicide pact.” I find myself using it often in my frequent battles with open borders L/libertarians because their inability to look beyond their tidy little theory is so maddening that I resort to a rhetorical bludgeon in an effort to pound some sense into them.
Yes, according to the purest expression of libertarianism, there would be no national borders because there would be no nation states, and there would be unlimited free movement of peoples. I get that, so I don’t need a lecture on libertarian philosophy every time we discuss immigration. I don’t have a problem with idealism per se. I’m guilty of it myself at times. The problem is that there is idealism and then there is ideological La La Land that exists only in the minds of hard core ideologues.
Even if you concede that the libertarian Utopia of global free movement of peoples is desirable, which I don’t, an argument such as this that is framed in terms of clearly unattainable ideals that ignore reality makes the person who is making it look silly. First of all, the nation state isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Second, this formulation ignores clearly observable human nature. Many of the same libertarians who would scold a Marxist spouting “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” for not understanding human nature and economic incentives, will then turn around and declare that any human on the planet should be able to move anywhere else on the planet he wants to as long as he has the private property and means to do so. This is the kind of Autistic economic reductionism that characterizes too many libertarians. The idea that human beings are all just freely interchangeable economic units ignores so many obvious externalities that it leaves me scratching my head. Are they really this clueless, or is there something else going on here?
I don’t think all my libertarian sparring partners are dull. In fact, people who adopt ideologies tend to be smarter than average. People of lower intelligence aren’t as likely to be drawn to and concerned about theoretical justifications. So I do think there is more going on here to explain why otherwise seemingly intelligent people would openly spout a world view so at odds with reality. What might those things be?
For some, there is comfort in embracing the purest expression of a tidy ideology that has all the answers before the questions are asked. Then you don’t have to dirty your hands in the messy real world of actual politics. You can just stand on the sideline and finger wag at others about how things ought to be. Honestly, I think there is a role for this sort of ideological bomb throwing in the intellectual process. I’ve played this role myself in the form of a constitutionalist rather than a libertarian per se, but the person playing this role has to understand what he is doing and not have pretensions otherwise. He is attempting to influence the pre-policy intellectual argument. He is not making an argument about real world politics.
However, there are many libertarians who are not absolute libertarian purists, people who support Gary Johnson for example, who also make the libertarian open borders argument, so a desire for ideological purity is not the only motivation at work here. I have become increasingly convinced through my interactions with libertarians that a lot of their open borders boosterism is actually a form of PC grandstanding. “Hey, look at me. I’m for open borders and think anyone should be able to come here. Therefore, I am without taint of wrongthink.”
Immigration is inherently a topic that brushes against wrongthink because those externalities I mentioned above, the things that make human beings more than just autonomous economic units, include ethnicity, religion, race, culture, country of origin, etc. So any argument for immigration restriction that takes into account how those externalities might affect the current social, cultural, religious and political milieu of the country is subject to the charge of wrongthink. This illustrates the problem with the reigning Cultural Marxist paradigm from which the charge of wrongthink arises. It makes smart people stupid because it requires them to pretend that obvious common sense observations are false. Hmmm… you know if France allows in a sizable population of North African Muslims, that might not work out so well.
You can tell that libertarian open borders advocacy is an effort to stake out the PC high ground by the direction the debate inevitably takes. Open borders libertarians are often indistinguishable from liberal Social Justice Warriors in this manner. “So, you just don’t like brown people,” is a way of saying “I’m fine with brown people because I’m a pristine rightthinker unlike you grubby wrongthinkers who want to restrict immigration.” The PC showboat will often ask a question or frame the argument in a way that essentially amounts to “I dare you to express your wrongthink explicitly.” “So, you just want the US to remain white don’t you?” The libertarians I joust with know precisely what they are doing. It can’t be a coincidence that they so often frame their arguments in such a way as to bait their opponent into openly expressing wrongthink.
Oblige them with the wronkthing they seek and watch what happens. “See, I told you he was a wronkthinker,” without any effort to formulate an actual thoughtful rebuttal. In their minds, they consider getting the immigration restrictionist to utter wrongthink a win. Once the immigration restrcitionist utters wrongthink, they no longer have to bother with actually thinking about messy reality in order to rebut him. They can just call him names.
This may be an effective debating tactic in our currently PC oppressed milieu, but it’s not intellectually serious and the serious libertarians who observe this dynamic from the sidelines without objection deserve to have their intellectual integrity challenged as well. There is nothing within even the most plumb line libertarian ideology that requires belief in the absurd notion of PC blank slate equalism that underlies the modern Cultural Marxist mindset. Even if you reject nation states and national borders, there is no libertarian requirement to believe that all types of societies are equally conducive to human freedom. Therefore, it is common sense that the number and type of immigrants a country brings in could alter the dynamic for how conducive that country is to libertarian ideals of freedom one way or the other. This is not seriously deniable. The two premises that inform PC libertarianism (which I’m convinced many of them don’t actually believe themselves) are not just wrong, they are obnoxiously wrong, and PC grandstanding libertarians don’t just give mental assent to these obviously incorrect constructs, they actively enforce them. This should be an embarrassment to serious libertarians.
Libertarians scratch their heads and wonder why so many former Ron Paul supporters now support Donald Trump. They wonder why libertarianism seems to be a gateway for so many Millennials into the so-called Alt-Right. Perhaps it’s because Donald Trump and the Alt-Right, whatever their faults may be, don’t require their supporters to embrace self-evidently foolish PC nonsense. An ideology that dooms itself to its own irrelevance is worse than worthless in the long term no matter how many rightthink points it may score its virtue signaling adherents in the moment. Intellectually serious libertarians who hope to leave a country that is still amenable to their ideas to their posterity need to take these Social Justice Warriors in libertarian guise to task. No sound ideology requires its own annihilation in the name of a foolish consistency or PC feels.