When I read miserable, belligerently statist exercizes in punitive nationalism like this article (content warning: violent xenophobia, ill-informed conservative legalism, ethnic slurs all over comments threads) at a conservatarian website that calls itself the
Personal Liberty Digest, I have to wonder what the words
personal liberty mean to them, and what it is about
ever more statist policies spawned by globalists and liberals [sic] that they actually object to. Apparently not much, since whatever
personal liberty might have meant goes right into the garbage as soon as some political official says there oughta be a law, or some border cop says
Ihre Papiere, bitte. And whatever it is in
statist policies that they object to, it doesn’t, apparently, include the creation and maintenance of a massive police state required to corral millions of people, denying them the most basic freedoms of individual movement, demanding papers and national identification as a permission slip for working, or just for existing within those borders, and then — if any of the people fenced out by political force should try to evade these purely political restrictions, and assert their ability to peacefully live, work, and move onto property whose owners have opened their doors and welcomed them to come onto — sending border cops to hunt them down, break into their homes and workplaces with guns drawn, disappear them into hellhole
detention centers, put them through a special due-process free deportation system, and then force them out of their homes and jobs, all for the sake of nothing more than a government-demanded legal status. And when those who try to exercise their personal liberty to move, live and work are attacked and punished by the state, the overwhelming response is to spit in their face and sneer at them for breaking the law.
When I read page after page of conservative commenters, many of whom speak in praise of
small government shouting
Illegal is illegal! and comparing undocumented immigrants to trespassers and toss out sarcastic quips about how
we wouldn’t want them to feel bad about themselves for breaking the law, then I wouldn’t dare speculate about what
we would or wouldn’t want, but — speaking only for myself — I can only say that of course I don’t want anybody to feel bad for breaking border laws. Nobody should feel bad about that because there is nothing wrong with immigrants, either documented or undocumented, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with breaking unjust or tyrannical laws. Such laws ought to be broken; they deserve no notice at all, except to ridicule them, and to trample them underfoot. Of course, perhaps you don’t agree that government border laws are unjust or tyrannical; but if not, you ought to give up pretending to care about
personal liberty or
statism at all, and just take some pride in the bullying, authoritarian big-government nationalism that you evidently enjoy so much.
When I read commenters angrily insisting that
They invaded our country [sic] by the millions without a shot fired… then I have to wonder what
invasion even means to these people.
Without a shot fired! Of course, this just means,
without force, and hence,
without invading. The country is where you are from, homie; it’s not “your” country in the sense of being your personal or exclusive property. Personal liberty means that you get to decide who comes onto your personal property, not that you get to command other people about where else they can go or where else is off limits; immigrants move from one place to another, and in the homes or the apartments they move into, in the places where they work, in the businesses they buy from, the landlord or the boss or the owner has explicitly chosen to open their doors and welcome them onto their property.
When people move from one place to another without using violence, without trespassing on others’ land, and go to places where they’ve been invited to stay by mutual agreement with the property owner, that’s not an
invasion in any meaningful sense of the word, any more than I
invaded Michigan after I graduated from college, or any more than I
invade the Waffle House when I go there to get some hash browns.
And when I read commenters trotting out the last-ditch talking point that undocumented immigrants ought to be punished and stigmatized because they
ILLEGALLY entered as opposed to the thousands who are STILL waiting in line to do it LEGALLY!!!!!!!”, I don’t know what to make of the proposal that if thousands of people are jerked around over the course of more than a decade by cruel, capricious, obviously broken and massively unfair immigration requirements, then everybody else should be jerked around by the same cruel, capricious, obviously broken and massively unfair immigration quotas, no matter what, forever. You know, just to be fair. In reality, telling people to wait in the queue is, for the overwhelming majority of people in the world, telling them to wait forever, because it is literally impossible for most people in the world to successfully gain residency status in the USA.
Ben Bullard, the author of the original post, describes himself in his bio by saying that
Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for him. Apparently the way that the two are reconciled is to toss out the concept of individual sovereignty in favor of a properly politic notion of national sovereignty, writing — as far as I can tell completely without irony — that
Immigration — legal or not — is an enormously difficult phenomenon to attempt to control. But if there’s national will to address it as a problem that threatens the foundations of a society, then a Nation has every right to do so. I don’t know what creeps me out more — the capitalization of
a Nation and the frankly collectivist attempt to speak of a unified subject with
rights to command and exclude others; or the unvarnished fascist appeal to solve a systemic political problem by the application of
I do know that neither of these has anything at all to do with respecting the personal liberty of individuals.
You can believe in individual liberty, and freedom from arbitrary political restriction; or you can be a nationalist and a bordercrat. You cannot do both together. Choose.
- Thomas L. Knapp at C4SS 2013-07-26: A Quick Note on
- GT 2009-06-19: Libertarians Against Property Rights and Freedom of Association, Unabridged Edition (Rad Geek vs. Vin Supyrinowicz)
- GT 2006-03-31: Libertarians Against Property Rights (Jason Kuznicki vs. Timothy Sandefur)
-  It isn’t particularly relevant to what I actually aim to discuss today, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that the entire article by Ben Bullard, and the comments that reads have thrown up in response to it, are the worst sorts of belligerently ill-informed ignorance and Right-wing border-baiting. Based on a Telegraph reporter’s bellyaching about a leaflet distributed by a UN refugee commissioner in Malta, asking reporters to avoid the term
illegalwhen describing the specific conditions and activities of north African asylum-seekers and victims of human trafficking in Malta. But Bullard would rather bait his border-policing readers’ sensitivities about being asked to use phrases like
undocumented immigrantsinstead of dehumanizing and politically-charged words like
alienswhen they talk about immigration politics — especially the political targeting of working-class immigrants from Mexico and Central America — to the United States; and so he portrays this very specific and limited request from one office concerning reporting on the specific situation in Malta as some kind of diktat handed down by
weought to talk about immigration, and immigrants, in general, and then easily segues into a really pretty appalling bit of commentary on
the tide of humanity unleashed by the movements of desperate or displaced people.Of course, virtually every single commenter on the post has something to say about Mexican immigration to the U.S., and virtually none have anything to say about the humanitarian situation in north Africa or in Malta. ↩
-  As if the entire territory of the U.S. were the property of the government that rules it; as if the homes, workplaces, and businesses that undocumented immigrants live in, work in, and patronize didn’t belong to the owners who specifically opened their doors and invited them to come in. ↩