Liberalism

Liberalism or Immigration Restrictions, But Not Both

(by Christopher Freiman & Javier Hidalgo)

We recently published an article in the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy titled “Liberalism or Immigration Restrictions, But Not Both.” We argue for a dilemma. You can either accept the core principles of liberalism or you can accept substantial restrictions on immigration (Brennan made a similar point in a post a few months ago.) We’ll spell this argument out over the course of several posts and, in doing so, show that the main objections liberals (classical liberals included) make to open borders are inconsistent with their own principles.

First things first–what does it take to qualify as a “liberal”? We identify three commitments:

  • It’s important for the state to protect specific liberties like freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, occupational choice, bodily integrity, etc.
  • The burden of justification rests with those who restrict liberty rather than those who exercise it. (E.g., You don’t owe the police an explanation for peacefully walking down the street; they owe you a justification for stopping you.)
  • Generally speaking, the only successful justifications for restricting liberty are those that appeal to other liberty-based reasons rather than reasons concerning, e.g., moral virtue, social solidarity, economic growth, etc. For instance, the state may restrict your freedom of occupational choice if your chosen occupation involves blocking people’s access to their places of worship. But the state may not restrict your freedom of occupational choice simply because you could be more productive in a different field.

Our argument for open borders is straightforward. First, freedom of movement is on a par with other textbook liberal freedoms and so the burden of justification rests with those who would restrict freedom of movement just as it rests with those who would restrict freedom of speech or association. Then we show that the standard arguments for restricting freedom of movement are arguments that liberals wouldn’t accept as justification for restricting any other sort of freedom.

So why think that freedom of movement is worthy of the same protection of other liberal freedoms? Well, imagine that you wake up one day and you discover that the police have cordoned off your neighborhood. They won’t let you out and, if you try to escape, they will just forcibly shove you back in. As a result, you can’t get to your job, you can’t attend your church, and you can’t hang out with your friends and family.

Clearly, the government has restricted your basic liberties, like your right to freedom of association and your freedom of occupational choice. This suggests that freedom of movement is a valuable liberty because it is a constitutive component of these other liberties: people need freedom of movement in order to enjoy freedom of association and occupational choice. Liberals, at any rate, think that freedom of association and occupational choice are basic liberties that warrant protection.

Now, that’s not to say that freedom of movement is some absolute right—obviously, it is not. The point is that freedom of movement just is an extension of other basic freedoms.

But, if freedom of movement is valuable, then surely it is valuable across national borders too. Take two cases. In case 1, the US government won’t let you move from New Jersey to Florida. That’s a violation of your freedom of movement. In case 2, the Canadian government won’t let you move from New Jersey to Vancouver. This seems like it’s a violation of your right to free movement for the same reasons.

What does all of this show? Only that, if you think freedom of association and occupational choice are valuable, then you should think that freedom of movement is important too. And there is no reason to think that the value of free movement only applies domestically. Its value extends across borders.

The upshot: restrictions on freedom of movement are restrictions on liberal freedoms. Thus, immigration restrictions stand in serious tension with liberalism. If you want to defend immigration restrictions, you need to be prepared to limit freedoms that liberals prize.

Of course, maybe there are important differences between the freedom to immigrate and other liberal freedoms that justify restrictions on the former but not the latter. We’ll take up that objection in a future post.

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Author: Christopher Freiman
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  • Jameson Graber

    I concur with this argument, but I’m disappointed by it because I think it misses the central objection made by opponents of open borders. It’s the citizenist objection. Take your three criteria for liberalism, and each time you see the word “liberty” or “liberties” just add the phrase “of citizens” right behind it. Then you’ll have the citizenist version of liberalism. It’s still undoubtedly a kind of liberalism, since it’s what you find in pretty much all Western liberal democracies. But that caveat–“of citizens”–is huge, and it completely destroys the foundation you’re trying to build for open borders.

    Also, one can’t object that foreigners have rights, too, so that citizenists are being inconsistent. I don’t think citizenists would argue that foreigners have no rights, just that we don’t need to make laws concerning foreigners on the stringent basis of liberalism the same way we do for citizens.

    So there’s the rub. You have to argue that *citizenist* liberalism is wrong. Why is it that our government should also protect freedom of movement for foreigners? Of course my government should protect my freedom of movement–everyone in the Western world agrees with that (with some caveats). It’s the distinction between citizen and foreigner that makes this argument intractable.

    • Chris Freiman

      Yes, this is a big objection. Stay tuned for a post where we will get into this in more depth. Our reply, in brief, is that even if we have stronger positive duties to compatriots than foreigners, we have equal negative duties. In particular, it is just as wrong to coercively restrict a foreigner as it is to coercively restrict a compatriot, all else equal.

      • Puppet

        I’ve only started reading your paper, so this is a bit off-topic, but…does Rawls really say that freedom of the press may be curtailed in deference to some sort of “citizens’ equal liberty to influence the political process”? That may be the most bogus “liberty” I have ever heard proposed–and I’ve heard plenty.

    • King Goat

      I look forward to Chris’ answer and other’s responses to that. Interestingly, IIRC, the only rights in the US Constitution that are expressly reserved to citizens are the right to vote, to run for federal offices and the P&I clause of the 14th Amendment.

      • Puppet

        Plus the 4A P&I that the 14A drew on (actually I think they call the latter P or I to distinguish)! It’s worth noting that the other two deal with the “handle end” rather than the “pointy end” of government power, and thus aren’t really the sorts of things contemporary liberals normally contemplate when we contemplate liberalism per se. Having fundamental beliefs about proper government policy, there is little room for us to have anything but instrumental beliefs on what form government should take; it should take the form most likely to ensure enduring liberal policy. (Historical liberals were very much a somewhat different matter, but that’s another story.)

    • Theresa Klein

      This is a fair objection, but what of the rights of citizens to hire foreign workers or rent to foreigners? Most anti-immigrationists don’t take the stance that foreigners shouldn’t be allowed to enter the country – they take the stance that they shouldn’t be allowed to work. It’s all about the jobs and the competition with unskilled labor. What they are really arguing is that US Citizens shouldn’t be allowed to hire non-US citizens. That’s not only a restriction on the non-US citizen’s liberty, it’s a restriction on the citizen’s liberty.

      • Jameson Graber

        “Most anti-immigrationists don’t take the stance that foreigners shouldn’t be allowed to enter the country”
        Don’t they, though? It seems that a corollary of the modern welfare state is that immigrants shouldn’t even enter the country without permission, since if they did, they’d take government handouts (at least those who are poor). Unless by “enter the country” you simply mean stay for three months as a tourist, it does seem that people who oppose increased immigration actually want border enforcement and deportation (at least if they’re honest).

        Nevertheless I agree with you. It’s impossible to be a market liberal and a restrictionist, since being a restrictions is effectively being against free trade. Most “liberals” today, though, aren’t really huge fans of free trade. So who knows what the word “liberal” even means?

  • M S

    “Take two cases. In case 1, the US government won’t let you move from New Jersey to Florida. That’s a violation of your freedom of movement. In case 2, the Canadian government won’t let you move from New Jersey to Vancouver. This seems like it’s a violation of your right to free movement for the same reasons.”

    I hope future posts will flesh this out a bit more, as it is not at all obvious to me that these situations involve similar violations of rights. That’s only true if you have the same right to move within a country as you do to move between them. But since that’s the very thing you are trying to prove here, I don’t see how the hypothetical helps you out.

    Even the fact that both cases involves the same governmental acts doesn’t really illuminate anything. If I am jailed for robbery and Bob is jailed for voicing opposition to the government, the government is taking the same action (restricting freedom of movement) in both scenarios. Yet we would presumably agree that rights are being violated in one instance in a way that they are not in the other. Similarly, if the US government prevents a US citizen from voting in a US election, we wouldn’t consider that as equal to the Canadian government preventing a US citizen from voting in a Canadian election.

    Like Jameson, I am also in favor of liberalizing immigration restrictions (although I don’t know whether I would get rid of them altogether); I would just like to see a little more engagement with the hard questions.

    • Chris Freiman

      Yes, this is a fair point. As we note in the post, liberals think that the burden of justification rests with those doing the coercing. So the burden of justification rests with the Canadian government in case 2 just as it rests with the U.S. government in case 1 since both cases involves similar instances of coercion. The question, then, is this: “What reasons can the Canadian government give that are sufficiently compelling to meet its burden?” Some answers might include the need to protect Canadian jobs, the right of Canadians to exercise self-determination over their community, etc. etc. We will take up these answers in future posts but our point for now is that governments owe people a justification for coercively restricting their freedom of movement.

      • “… governments owe people a justification for coercively restricting their freedom of movement.” I’m mainly playing devil’s advocate here, but, again: Why exactly does the government of country A owe the people of country B a justification for restricting their freedom of movement into and within country A? If I own a piece of property I do not (at least in my opinion) owe others an elaborate justification for restricting their ability to move onto my property; it is enough to say that it is my property, and that the right of exclusion is part of the bundle of rights associated with property ownership.

        And how is the case of country A different than when a corporation owns land? Consider Acme Inc, a collective entity in which the management act as representatives for the shareholders. Presumably, as with me and my property, Acme Inc can restrict others from trespassing on its property, and owes them no justification other than “it’s our property”.

        I presume you don’t believe these analogies are exact, and if so I’m inclined to agree with you. But where exactly do they fall down, and why? Is it that the people of country A don’t (collectively) “own” A in the same sense that I own my ~1 acre and Acme Corp owns its property? Or that the government of A cannot act as the agent of the people of A in this matter, as the management of Acme Inc does for its shareholders? Or that the system of international law by which countries deal with each other can’t serve as a structure for a country and its citizens having the equivalent of “property rights”, as the law of the US does for my own property rights? Or something else?

        • King Goat

          It seems odd for libertarians to think of a nation as a corporation with the government as management and citizens as shareholders. Management has considerable power in a corporation and shareholder control over them is usually pretty indirect and de facto ineffective. What makes corporations unproblematic considering this is you’re free to enter or exit them as a shareholder rather easily, but that’s far less true for nations.

          • Just for the record, I’m not a libertarian, I’m more like a friendly skeptic.

        • Puppet

          This analogy can’t really get off the ground because liberalism revolves around (perhaps as fundamentally as it does anything) the rigid distinction between private parties and government, and between ownership and sovereignty. In the absence of such a distinction, as with the elaborate medieval arrangements of authority and privilege that gradually sorted itself into the modern bipartite one, the idea of liberalism cannot begin to make any sense.

          If I own a piece of land in a liberal society, I can do more than keep whoever the hell I want out; I act as a “tyrant” to whomever I do allow on: I can demand that everyone surrender their weapons, wear a “Puppet Rulez” T-shirt, and prostrate themselves silently in my presence. Restricting such private “tyranny,” of course, would make the enveloping sovereign state less liberal, not more. It’s worth noting, too, that the person whose “freedoms” are restricted need not be a “guest” on the property; a cooperative likewise can “govern” itself in as “illiberal” a manner as it desires, as many newcomers to New York are too slow to learn. In short, there’s nothing about the liberal view of property ownership that remotely suggests an analogy to state sovereignty on these terms.

          • “…liberalism revolves around … the rigid distinction between private parties and government…” I see your point here, I think: It’s basically that in the evolution of today’s societies when the idea of liberalism was accepted and codified in terms of separating government (with rule of law, etc.) from private actors (individuals or corporate entities), at that point questions of freedom of movement (of which open borders are a subset) got divorced from traditional notions of (individual or corporate) property ownership.

          • Puppet

            Yes, well in general the rules that a government imposes upon its subjects are to be distinguished from the “rules” that a private party sets either internally (for a multiperson entity) in how it “governs” itself, or for those with whom it interacts via contract, exchange of goods or services, consent to property use, etc., as a condition of said interaction. The latter are all ultimately voluntary, thus “anything goes.” So, in the specific case of “real property,” when a piece of land has both sovereign and owner, it’s clear that the latter may impose whatever rules it wants upon anyone (including, not incidentally, itself) as a condition of being present on the property, because such a presence is simply property “use” voluntarily undertaken. Whereas, even in a world with complete freedom of movement, we still would not say, “Oh, France may impose whatever laws it wants on people who choose to position themselves within its borders, because you could always simply decline to enter France and subject yourself to those rules.” You are not asking France the favor of “using” the “property” of France in that fashion. It’s an entirely different relationship. Contrast this with the days when the peasant, the village council, the lord of the manor, the local noble, the king, the emperor, and the bishop all might have certain rights and privileges over a particular piece of land, none fully corresponding to ownership or sovereignty in the modern sense. There was, in the most profound sense, no public-private distinction in such a world; and such a distinction lies at the core of liberalism.

  • DST

    The problem I have with these libertarian arguments for open borders is that they refuse to distinguish between migration and naturalization. I can see how there *might* be a libertarian objection to migration restrictions based on a hypothesized freedom of international movement. However, freedom of movement doesn’t imply a right to be a citizen of a foreign nation and to acquire all civil rights thereof. In fact, forcing the citizens of a nation to confer citizenship on everyone who manages to smuggle themselves across the border seems to violate the rights of free association of those already holding citizenship.

    • Adriana

      But wouldn’t it also be true that citizenship forces citizens to associate with other citizens? Citizenship itself, then, is coercive, and any arguments premised on protecting citizens from associating with noncitizens are fundamentally resting on an inherently unjust institution.

      In other words, why is citizenship versus noncitizenship the relevant distinction in freedom of association? Citizenship results in forced association just like immigration does. The main difference to me seems to be that immigration, unlike citizenship, is also forced segregation.

      • DST

        Citizenship itself, then, is coercive

        Not necessarily. If, upon becoming a citizen, I agree to the rules of naturalization associated with a state, then I accept the validity of the citizenship of all future citizens who acquired that citizenship according to the rules I agreed to when I myself became a citizen.

        Obviously, no coercion involved.

        • Adriana

          I’m not sure that works. Even if you agree to terms, there may be scenarios that result that make your consent questionable.

          That aside, though, your original assertion still hasn’t been defended. Citizenship forces us to associate. How is it meaningfully different than immigration in that respect? Aren’t you assuming we all want to associate with fellow citizens?

          • DST

            Even if you agree to terms, there may be scenarios that result that make your consent questionable.

            Such as?

            Citizenship forces us to associate.

            As I’ve said before, not if you agree to it. Consensual sex can’t be rape, because I’ve agreed to it. Charitable giving can’t be theft, because I’ve agreed to it. Voluntarily becoming a citizen according to established, known rules can’t be forced association, because I’ve agreed to it.

          • Adriana

            I have a problem with the idea of signing broad, open-ended lifetime contracts with coercive institutions (governments). In that way, they’re just far less meaningful to me than other contracts.

            You’re still ignoring my point, though. One more time: most of us haven’t formally agreed to be citizens or associate with citizens. So, if immigrants are being forced on us, so, too, must many citizens be. Wasn’t the implication of your argument that “us” (citizens) is this cohesive unit, like a club, even though that’s basically not at all what citizenship is like?

          • DST

            I have a problem with the idea of signing broad, open-ended lifetime contracts with coercive institutions (governments).

            How else would you characterize naturalization? Maybe a contract isn’t the best analogy, but it’s close.

            One more time: most of us haven’t formally agreed to be citizens or associate with citizens.

            Ah, that’s the confusion. I never said that the U.S. system of immigration and naturalization is fully consensual or just. I merely said that, in the abstract, systems of citizenship need not be coercive.

            Can we agree that it’s at least theoretically possible for a system of citizenship to be far less coercive than the one the U.S. has?

          • martinbrock

            Naturalization is like agreeing to be either a Methodist or a Baptist in a state outlawing other creeds and a world in which even the choice between Methodist and Baptist seems better than nothing.

          • DST

            Naturalization is like agreeing to be either a Methodist or a Baptist in a state outlawing other creeds and a world in which even the choice between Methodist and Baptist seems better than nothing.

            …if Methodists allowed freedom of religion, claimed a monopoly on the use of force, established a disinterested court system for the adjudication of disputes between citizens, and so on, then yes, naturalization would be *exactly* like agreeing to be a Methodist…

          • martinbrock

            In this analogy, Methodists don’t allow freedom of religion. They rather offer a choice to persons seeking a religion. You can’t be a Methodist and a Baptist simultaneously, so Methodists don’t offer you freedom to be a Baptist.

            Again in the analogy, a state permits its subjects to be either Methodist or Baptist but rules out other options. This state could have a court system labeled “disinterested” permitting a Methodist to resolve a dispute with a Baptist, but the state’s definition of “Methodist” and “Baptist” could rule out either denomination maintaining a bathroom that only persons with a vagina may enter.

          • Adriana

            I would characterize states as coercive and illegitimate, and citizenship is based on this illegitimate presumption that states have the right to control the territory and residency in the territory.

            I am not sure citizenship can ever be consensual under a state, but it doesn’t matter for our purposes.

            My only issue with your argument was the implication that new citizens from foreign ranks are morally different than citizens here. All forced. So really the problem becomes states and citizenship, not immigration.

          • DST

            My only issue with your argument was the implication that new citizens from foreign ranks are morally different than citizens here.

            Not morally different, but standing in a different legal relationship. If I’m a landlord, I have legal obligation to allow my tenants in the building (unless I have cause to evict them), but I don’t have an obligation to allow a vagrant in. I have different legal relationships with those two people, but that doesn’t mean one is morally superior or more valuable than the other.

          • Adriana

            You didn’t make a legal argument originally. You made a moral argument about freedom of association.

          • DST

            I never mentioned morality before you brought it up. I suppose freedom of association could be thought of as a moral concept, but it seems far more likely to be a legal one.

            Granted, I’m not limiting myself to just one, actual legal system, but I am thinking about things in legal terms.

            In either event, citizenship is a legal concept, not a moral one.

          • Adriana

            It’s called freedom of association and the argument within the article presents freedom of association as connected to liberalism. The whole point of this discussion, in fact, is to set aside legal constraints and ask what liberalism requires.

            You weren’t making a strictly legal argument. Sure, you were saying we shouldn’t extend citizenship (legal concept) to certain people, but your basis for that was how new citizens from outside the country are forcing us to associate with them. That’s absolutely a moral claim, not a legal one.

          • Ron H.

            Heh! Do you understand that you can make a moral argument without mentioning morality?

          • DST

            Heh! Do you understand that you can make a moral argument without mentioning morality?

            Yes. You can interpret my argument as being a moral one, but that is not how I meant it. I don’t see the need to invoke morality or ethics while talking about justice and coercion.

          • Ron H.

            The state is not your landlord.

          • DST

            The state is not your landlord.

            I never claimed it was.

            I only used the example of a landlord to show that legal relations are distinguishable from moral obligations, which was a tangent that I got dragged into.

          • Ron H.

            It’s not a very good example. How is your legal relationship to US citizens different from your legal relationship to other citizens?

          • DST

            How is your legal relationship to US citizens different from your legal relationship to other citizens?

            Am I missing something? This seems trivially true, and goes to the very definition of citizenship.

            Depending on the country, a citizen can do things that citizens cannot: vote, hold office, and so on, and must do things not required of non-citizens: such as submitting to jury duty.

            My point on this has only been that distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens in this way does not imply a distinction in the relative moral value of each group.

          • Ron H.

            Am I missing something? This seems trivially true, and goes to the very definition of citizenship.

            Apparently you are. You described the legal relationship between a citizen and the state, but offered nothing that addressed my question.

          • DST

            You described the legal relationship between a citizen and the state, but offered nothing that addressed my question.

            Sure I did. An individual’s legal status with respect to the state alters my opportunities to interact with that person within the law. If someone is in the country illegally, and therefore is restricted in the type of labor that he cannot perform while in the country, my ability to hire him within the law is diminished. As a defendant, I would have standing to challenge a non-citizen being placed on my jury in a way that I wouldn’t have to challenge the seating of a citizen. And so on.

            BTW is a requirement to submit to jury duty coercive?

            I would argue no, so long as you voluntarily avail yourself of the justice system.

            How about registering for the draft?

            Possibly, particularly if registration clearly implies the need to fight foreign wars.

            In another comment you claimed that citizenship wasn’t coercive.

            Only that it wasn’t necessarily coercive. I think I’ve given some examples above how citizenship could be limited such that it isn’t coercive.

          • martinbrock

            Submission to a coercive institution is not a contract. “Contract” definitively rules out coercion.

          • Adriana

            I agree. It’s only a contract under a loose definition.

        • martinbrock

          Citizenship becomes coercive when a single state or states monopolize so much territory that a community based exclusively upon the consensus of persons constituting it is effectively ruled out.

          Dividing the Earth into two states is hardly consistent with free association, because free people are far more diverse. This division creates the sort of “freedom to associate” that we have in the United States, in which one must either be a Democrat or a Republican. If neither party well expresses a subject’s preferences, he’s SOL, and most subjects of the U.S. now feel this way about our “democracy”.

          • DST

            Citizenship becomes coercive with a single state or states monopolize so much territory that a community based exclusively upon the consensus of persons constituting it is effectively ruled out.

            I think that’s a good point, and a great argument for smaller, more manageable and cohesive states.

            This division creates the sort of “freedom to associate” that we have in the United States, in which one must either be a Democrat or a Republican. If neither party well expresses a subject’s preferences, he’s SOL, and most subjects of the U.S. now feel this way about our “democracy”.

            That seems like a bad analogy. Affiliation with one of these parties is not required: there are many independents and members of third parties. And even when you are a member of one party, you aren’t precluded from voting for candidates from other parties, let alone from associating with those from other parties.

          • martinbrock

            Affiliation with one of the two parties is not required, but because these parties effectively monopolize access to the political process (and don’t deny it but instead extol the virtues of a “two party system”), disassociating from both parties simply admits what is true regardless of any admission, that one has no voice in this process but is subject to its imposition regardless.

            But a “multiparty democracy”, in which more parties vie for control of a central authority over hundreds of millions of subjects, is not what I advocate instead. The central authority itself is the problem, not the process for selecting its officers.

    • Theresa Klein

      I agree with this. The problem is that immigration law doesn’t just forbid foreigners from becoming citizens. It forbids them from working. If the law said that you could come here to live and work as long as you wanted, but would never get to vote unless you went through the legal immigration process, there would be far less objection to it. And the ban on working is also a restriction on the freedom of association of citizens – they are forbidden from associating with non-citizens by hiring them.

      • DST

        I agree with you in principle. The problem is that when people have been living in a country for years, have steady jobs, and have had children, then citizens of that country start getting uncomfortable with the idea of them not being citizens, and start pushing for amnesty or other ad hoc naturalization. So in practice, that kind of dichotomy isn’t stable.

        So while in practice I’m sympathetic to BHL ideal of free movement and labor, I don’t think it’s compatible with the concept of a state, even the minimal kind that I favor.

        • Theresa Klein

          If US citizens are comfortable enough with them to say that after living here for years, holding a steady job and having children, they should be citizens, why can’t we modify the law so that is the criteria for citizenship?

          It seems like you are saying that granting people citizenship violates the freedom of association of citizens, but not allowing for the citizens to determine ANY reasonable criteria for citizenship.

          • DST

            I think that people can determine the rules for citizenship, but if those rules are changed without the consent of many of the citizens, then the freedom of association of the dissenters *may* have been violated, because they are now forced to share citizenship with the newly naturalized. This violation is particularly bad when the change in immigration law is done on an ad hoc, unprincipled, and/or illegal basis.

          • Theresa Klein

            I don’t disagree. I just think the law should be updated to reflect current norms as to who ought to be a citizen, and this can be distinct from who is allowed to come here and work.
            Not everyone who comes to work is going to stay forever or qualify for citizenship.

  • I begin with a couple of tangential points. First, the above exhibits the conflation, characteristic of contemporary philosophy, of facts and opinions. You begin by saying that liberals are concerned with liberty (a factual matter), but you then shift immediately to talk about justification (an epistemic matter). Second, the notion of justification is defective. It should be repudiated by epistemologists, along with other junk notions such as subjective probability.

    Stripping away the irrelevant epistemological jargon, your three commitments of the liberal come simply to this: liberty is so important that the only permissible restrictions of liberty are those that are necessary to secure overall liberty. You could rephrase it in terms of maximisation of liberty, except that that suggests a means of quantification which might not be possible.

    There is something important missing from that formulation. A liberal thinks that equal liberty is important too. In general, it is not permissible to increase the liberty of some by curtailing the liberty of others. As Kant put it in his ‘Philosophy of Right,’ an obligation of the state is to secure the maximum liberty compatible with the equal liberty of each person. That needs some careful spelling out, of course.

    With a world divided into a multitude of states (which, I think, is a practical inevitability), is freedom of movement across borders compatible with the maximal liberty of all? I think it would be (or, at least, might be) if the states were ideal states that met their obligations to secure the liberty of their citizens. But there are no ideal states. Democratic states routinely curtail the liberties of their citizens to secure advantages for organised lobbies and to please particular segments of the electorate. Non-democratic states are worse.

    The problem with freedom of movement across national borders is that it permits fairly liberal societies to be occupied by people from very illiberal societies. And because very illiberal societies are usually very poor, the people of those societies have a great material incentive to move to more liberal societies. So, other things being equal, many people will move from illiberal societies to liberal ones. But when they do move, those people do not suddenly change: they bring with them their illiberal views. They also tend to congregate and as a result they form a critical mass of voters in some constituencies. They also form organised lobby groups to pressure politicians to restrict the liberties that they find offensive. As a consequence overall liberty is substantially reduced.

    Since some restrictions on freedom of movement are necessary to safeguard overall liberty the liberal should support them.

    • Pajser

      How the notion of justification is defective?

      • The attempt to justify leads either to a vicious circle or a vicious regress. See, for example, Sextus Empiricus, ‘Outline of Scepticism.’ Contemporary attempts to circumvent the problem by appeal to reflective equilibrium are hopeless. See, for example, Stich’s paper here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225842410_Reflective_Equilibrium_Analytic_Epistemology_and_the_Problem_of_Cognitive_Diversity

        • Pajser

          I use the word “justify” in the meaning “provide proof , such that I believe all premises are true and all reasoning is valid.” It is doable.

          • It is easily doable, but it is nothing like proof. It has no connection to truth. ‘A believes that it is true that p’ does not imply either that it is true that p or that it is false that p. Anyone can start from his beliefs and derive their logical consequences, so everything turns out justified as long as someone believes it (or believes something that implies it). You can define ‘justify’ in that way; but the notion then becomes useless. That is one of Stich’s points.

          • Pajser

            If I see someone stealing my car – after I prevent him, I ask him to justify his act. If it is the best way to save his life, I say “justified!!” and I help him. Most people do not say “justify your claim that life is important.” I and thief reach consensus, and act in coordination. As we act on that it is not useless. We have use for the notion. Maybe some weaker criticism is true … or at least justified :)))

    • King Goat

      “But when they do move, those people do not suddenly change: they bring with them their illiberal views. They also tend to congregate and as a result they form a critical mass of voters in some constituencies. They also form organised lobby groups to pressure politicians to restrict the liberties that they find offensive. As a consequence overall liberty is substantially reduced.”

      This premise is a key one to your argument and an empirical claim, yes? And in testing it, whose experience should be considered either relevant or perhaps dispositive? By this I mean if we in the United States are considering the question, should the fact that open immigration to our country in our past didn’t turn out badly weigh more heavily than possible counterexamples in other, often quite different, nations and polities?

      • Adriana

        I would agree. I think the argument takes for granted that immigrants and their descendants don’t politically assimilate even though there’s good reason to doubt that presumption. More to the point, this view also discounts the role of institutions in safeguarding liberty. If immigrants could vote on Day 1 to repeal the First Amendment, I would also be worried about illiberal immigrants, but as that’s far from the case, it’s harder to see the concern.

        • M S

          Why does assimilation need to be an all or nothing thing? My understanding of immigration in the US is that immigrants do indeed assimilate (at least compared to immigrants in most other countries), but that seems totally consistent with them having an impact on the surrounding culture as well. Why should we assume that as the political views of the immigrant population shift towards that of the general population, there is no corresponding (if smaller) shift of the general population’s political views towards those of the immigrants?

          • Adriana

            I didn’t say it was all our nothing. I just rejected the implicit premise that they bring their bad views with them and never assimilate.

      • DST

        the fact that open immigration to our country in our past didn’t turn out badly

        I’ve heard this claim before, but I’ve never heard it explained sufficiently. What time period are you discussing? In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, there was a huge wave of immigration, and the federal government lurched dramatically toward statism in the following decades: decreased economic freedom, the income tax, involvement in foreign wars, and so on.

        I’m not claiming that I can clearly link increased immigration to the cancerous growth of the state, but it seems disingenuous to claim the opposite given the actual history of the U.S.

        • Adriana

          Well, the New Deal occurred after we shut down borders with quota restrictions.

          Immigration control and labor laws aimed at harming immigrants (and others) are examples of the rise of statism. Maybe it’d be more appropriate to say that reactions to immigrants rather than immigrants themselves hold some of the blame. And likewise today, statism and immigration control are inseparable.

          • DST

            Well, the New Deal occurred after we shut down borders with quota restrictions.

            Read more closelier:

            in the following decades

            I would think there would be some lag time between people hopping off a boat, and them being numerous and organized to have a significant effect on policy.

            In either event, the Square Deal, on which the New Deal was patterned/sold, involved a huge expansion of federal power as well, and started decades earlier. Wilson did his part for the statist cause as well, long before the New Deal.

          • Adriana

            I’m not sure what lag time you mean. We had high rates of immigration in the mid-to-late 19th century. It took 50-75 years for those dastardly immigrants to bring on the growth of the government?

            Given who all supported this enlargement and their fear of immigrants, I’d say that this is hard to pin on immigrants.

      • The world has changed, King Goat. If you start getting, in large numbers, the sort of immigrants we are now getting in Europe, I think you will have a problem.

        • Adriana

          The world has changed, yes. People are wealthier, more educated, and less sickly than our ancestors. There’s also less cultural separation and isolation with TV, movies, and other forms of cultural trade.

        • King Goat

          I’m not sure this answers my question Danny. The US is not adjacent to Turkey, and it has an experience with open borders that turned out rather well. When we’re examining the empirical question that is a crucial premise of your argument should we weight out particular situation and experience more than, well ironically, ‘alien’ situations and experiences?

          • The argument I propounded concerns only immigrants of particular types. Other types of immigrants would not be excluded by it.

      • M S

        What about migration within the US? Does anyone doubt that gentrification or “white flight” have impacts on the local government policies of the affected areas? No impact on New Hampshire from the migration of people from Massachusetts in general or the Free State Project in particular? Was migration unrelated to the change in governance of the East Ramapo School District?

        My own view on the matter is this: (1) What a democratic government does is heavily impacted by the Overton window of the general population it governs; (2) the Overton window of the general population is heavily determined by the opinions of the individuals within; (3) if you introduce new people to a given population, you are likely to affect the Overton window to some degree. Is there any portion of this that you disagree with? If not, then shouldn’t the burden be on the individual claiming that immigration won’t have an impact on the general views of the populace to explain why, in any particular instance, there won’t be some sort of impact?

        To be clear, I think the question of whether an impact is likely is different from whether such an impact would be worth caring about, which is different from whether the government can do something about it, which is different from whether the government should do something about it. My inclination is that the government probably shouldn’t be making decisions based on this issue, but I don’t see how you get to the conclusion that there isn’t anything to worry about at all.

    • Theresa Klein

      Suppose that we simply allowed anyone who wished to come here to work, but would not permit them to vote. Thus we have freedom of movement but without changing the makeup of the voting base.

      Somehow I doubt the anti-immigrationists would accept this. Because it’s not really about the voters bringing illiberal views. It’s about competition for jobs.

      • It’s not just voting. Organised lobbies can influence legislation by making political donations. Also, if there is a large number of people from illiberal societies, they can alter social norms, either by informal social pressure or by boycotting particular types of business or by threats of violence. European media, on the whole, have become more careful about what they say for fear of inciting vioence from Muslim extremists. The fear is not irrational.

        • Theresa Klein

          This might apply to Europe but not America. There is no violent illiberal Mexican religious movement. They are much closer to us culturally than Muslims are to Europeans.

          • That may be so for the moment. But the question being discussed is a theoretical one, about liberalism and immigration, rather than about what affects America.

  • solis

    “Thus, immigration restrictions stand in serious tension with liberalism.”

    The conclusion is false, because the implied hypothesis in this reasoning is that all people are basically the same (aka Bryan Caplan’s “people as widgets” theory), and more importantly, that all people have liberal values and desire to live – and let live – according to liberal values. Unfortunately this is absolutely false.

    Let’s say that you have two countries on planet Chatamaka. One is small, let’s call it S, but very prosperous, safe and peaceful, where people believe in liberal values. The other is big, but a hell-hole, riddled with medieval-like poverty and crime, let’s call it A. In A you can get lynched by a mob – say, beaten to death and burned, to use a recent example from our real world – simply because a preacher shouts to the crowd that you disrespected their major religious figure, even if you didn’t, but hey who has time to check.

    If your demonstration was correct, and S would apply your immigration policy – which is essentially to allow all citizens of A to come and settle – it’s extremely likely that S will soon become like A, and you no longer have liberalism on planet Chatamaka, at all. There are many more illiberal people living in A than the liberal people living in S.

    I hope you agree that any sort of policy that has illiberal outcomes cannot qualify as a liberal policy. Q.E.D. your demonstration is wrong. Immigration restrictions are not an illiberal policy.

    • King Goat

      I’m not sure his argument implies that ‘all people are the same.’ If he were to say ‘there should be freedom of speech, unless there’s a very good justification otherwise (a showing that allowing freedom of speech would undermine other freedoms)’ then that doesn’t imply that, for example, there might not be many people who are easily inflammed by illiberal speech to do illiberal things. It leaves that as an empirical question to be raised at the justification.

      I see the argument as basically asserting 1. there should be a presumption for liberty (or against coercive state action) 2. freedom of movement should not be treated as a ‘second class freedom’

      • solis

        It does not imply it, the article uses this as a base. By “all people are the same” I mean it in the qualified way I specifically mentioned, not in a literal sense.

        • King Goat

          Huh? Wasn’t it you who wrote “the implied hypothesis in this reasoning is that all people are basically the same?”

          • solis

            Yes but you have the read the following words too.

    • martinbrock

      “S” is more like a free, contractual community than a continental state like the United States. Liberal ideals do not require me to permit you to move into my house, and these ideals also permit like-minded persons voluntarily to constitute a community, like a monastery, governed as they prefer and excluding other persons.

      Such a community is consistent with liberal principles, even required by them, but the United States is not such a community, and conflating it with one undermines liberalism rather than defending it. Many Europeans came to Central North American centuries ago precisely to constitute communities of this sort, and If the United States were half as liberal as it pretends to be, it would still be a network of these communities, largely sovereign from one another and deciding independently the requirements of membership in them.

      Such a community might reach the size of a county but could hardly encompass all of central North America, plus Alaska and Hawaii, precisely because such an expansive population does not constitute, and could not constitute, a free association of like-minded persons. The United States is and has always been an imperial organization, not a liberal one, so when we discuss its immigration policies, we aren’t discussing the right of members of a free association to determine the terms of membership in their association.

      • solis

        I’m not sure why you replied this text to me.

        • martinbrock

          I’m addressing your analogy between the immigration policies of a state like the U.S. and the preference of a small group of people exclusively for the company of other, similar people. You construct S as a small group of people easily overwhelmed by people outside of the group. I agree that liberty requires such a group to exclude people from their group, but I do not agree that this right to exclude is usefully analogous to the immigration policies of the United States or a similar state.

          • solis

            I think that you put in nuances (US vs other situations) that weren’t in the article. Either open borders is a universally good idea, or it isn’t a universally good idea.

            It might be a locally good idea, although I personally doubt very much that it would be a good idea for the US. I think that only Pakistan and Bangladesh have about as many people as the US. Open borders might be unexpectedly prolific. Europe has just discovered that 1 million/year who simply ignore the borders is far more than it can handle.

          • martinbrock

            The article refers to the U.S., but it seems to make a broader case for open borders, so I accept your point. Considering the background, I wouldn’t blame Europeans if they tried to resolve their problem with immigrants from Iraq and Syria by giving them plane tickets to the U.S., but that’s another story.

            My point, from a classically liberal perspective, is that the U.S. (and also the E.U.) deciding immigration policy exercises authority on too large a scale. If the U.S. permits a person to enter U.S. territory if and only if some community within the U.S. agrees to accept him, leaving the decision entirely to local communities on a much smaller scale, then this policy is consistent with liberal principles in my way of thinking, but a central authority ruling such an expansive population, refusing to admit immigrants fitting some profile or limiting the number of immigrants for example, is not consistent with liberalism. This sort of immigration policy violates the right of persons within the U.S. freely to associate.

            A free community is like a marriage. If I want to marry a person from Pakistan, the U.S. should admit this person to the U.S., and U.S. citizens essentially do have this right. Similarly, if my community wants more residents, we should be free to invite anyone of our choice to join us here, regardless of national borders.

    • Adriana

      A core tenet of liberalism is that people have equal rights even if they’re not equal in other respects. Another tenet is the right to live without interference so long as an individual isn’t inflicting unjust harm on another. So, immigration restrictions are in tension with liberalism.

      That doesn’t mean there can never be overriding concerns or that there can never be good justifications for restrictions, but there is a tension that needs to be resolved. The key here is realizing intrusion into the lives of people needs to be justified. Control and interference should not be the burdens that individuals have to overcome to enjoy their liberties. Rather, the burden rests on the one who seeks to control and interfere to explain why his reasons are so monumentally important that liberty must take a backseat.

      • solis

        You simply repeated the article’s central thesis. I disagree, and I specifically explained why: open immigration with illiberal, very poor people (as most on this planet unfortunately are) is a straightforward recipe for destroying liberalism, thus illiberal.

        • Adriana

          Then you clearly don’t understand the article. Liberalism is in tension with immigration controls. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any justifications to violate liberty, just that the violator needs to argue why.

          You’ve argued why you think liberty isn’t as important: because immigration increases the likehood of people with bad views coming here who will then take away our rights. It’s the ol’ “we have to take freedom to protect freedom” argument. I think it’s fairly weak and unconvincing, but that’s irrelevant. What’s confusing is why you think there isn’t a tension. There is – you’re just trying to resolve that tension with this argument about the greater good.

          • solis

            Well for sure I understand the title. It clearly states that you can have liberalism OR (in the strict exclusive sense) immigration restrictions.

            What I said is not that liberty is not important, but that the article is fundamentally flawed.

            You cannot have liberalism with no immigration restrictions. Not in this world.

            In fact to preserve liberalism we need heavy immigration restrictions, when we’re in a situation of co-inhabiting a planet with far more people than us who on one hand don’t have liberal values (these didn’t emerge, weren’t imported by the power of example, are not appreciated nor desired, sometimes are even despised as depravity, stupidity and weakness) and on the other hand have plenty of incentive to immigrate from their poor, crime-ridden, despotic countries to the rich, liberal societies, dragging their culture along, oblivious to the fact that prosperity and liberalism are interlinked.

            I think it’s weak and unconvincing to suggest that liberalism, which is quite the exception and not the rule, can magically survive a solid import of non-liberal attitudes.

          • Adriana

            You’re still confused.

            There’s a tension when you infringe on the rights of people to move, live, and work with a violent state apparatus.

            You’re trying to resolve that tension by arguing that the greater good requires us to infringe on some rights to increase the likelihood of safeguarding more rights later.

            That’s at the heart of the article. Immigration laws are fundamentally at odds with liberty because they infringe on free association rights of mainly nonviolent people who aren’t unjustly harming anyone. So, anyone who wants to do that who claims to be a liberal needs to mount a case and try to defend it through liberalism preferably.

            I’ll leave to others to decide how well you did, but you are implicitly acknowledging the illiberality of immigration laws when you argue we need them for liberty. In other words, illiberal means for liberal ends (as you see it).

          • Ron H.

            I think it’s weak and unconvincing to suggest that liberalism, which is
            quite the exception and not the rule, can magically survive a solid
            import of non-liberal attitudes.

            As others have explained, you are missing the point. Freedom of association is a liberal idea, and includes freedom to not associate with those you don’t wish to associate with. In addition you seem to be ignoring the very liberal concept of private property.

            I’ll ask two questions that you may answer for yourself that might help explain the problem with your vision of ”
            a solid import of non-liberal ideas” presumably by very poor and illiberal people from somewhere else in the world.

            1. Would you invite a very poor illiberal stranger from somewhere in the 3rd world to visit you on your private property?

            2. Do you know anyone who would?

            I’m guessing you answered “no” to both of those.

            In a liberal society a person should be able to invite – or not invite – anyone they wish to visit them on their private property, hire – or not hire – anyone they wish from anywhere in the world. And of course they would allow others to do the same.

            In a society with those liberal values, every immigrant would be someone’s welcome guest, or someone who had established a working relationship with someone already living in that society.

            What you are suggesting is that liberal people can’t be trusted to manage their own associations if allowed to do so, but instead must have permission of, and rely on the wiser judgement of other people who represent the repressive and coercive state. This makes you, by definition, an illiberal and intolerant person.

            Martinbrock provided an excellent description of a liberal society and the problem of large scale. Please reread his comment carefully and thoughtfully. You may skip the parts about Trump if you wish.

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  • Theresa Klein

    I agree with the thrust of the article, but the very important aspect you are missing is that immigration restrictions don’t only restrict the freedom of movement of non-citizens. They also restrict the freedom of association of citizens. Immigration law is as more about forbidding US employers from hiring non-citizens than it is about forbidding non-citizens from moving to the US. E-verify is not a requirement on the prospective immigrant. It is a requirement on the US employer.

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