Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Monday, April 03, 2006


A hearty Bravo! to Charles Johnson for his post on the immigration debate. See it at Rad Geek People's Daily, here. A sampling:
Neither you nor the government has any right to force people off of property onto which they have been invited, even if you think that their presence is a looming danger to the future of liberty in America, unless they have actually done or threatened real violence to somebody else. Vices are not crimes, and only crimes can justly be resisted by force....

What legitimate reason has the United States government to care whether or not Latin@s assimilate or don’t assimilate? What legitimate reason have we got to make the decision whether or not to use force to stop immigrants (or to exile them from their current homes) on the basis of whether or not they are willing to assimilate to the surrounding culture? Maybe they will and maybe they won’t; but whatever the virtues or vices of declining to assimilate, it’s not a hanging crime, and neither you nor anybody else has the person to destroy a person’s livelihood, clap them into irons, and force them back out of the country over it....

[Timothy] Sandefur would have The People decide whether or not to allow others in, but in a way that systematically denies individual people the right to decide whether or not to allow others in to their own property. Of course, there is no natural right to enter another person’s land against the will of that person (that’s just trespassing). But I take it we’re not talking about trespassing law here. We’re talking about an immigrant who’s made arrangements for a place to stay with a willing landlord — through the hospitality of people she knows, or by paying rent for the space, or by buying it for herself from the previous owner. Who is, therefore, welcomed by the owners of the property. The only people deciding not to allow her in are, ex hypothesi, people other than the owners, third parties — nativist voters, opportunistic legislators, La Migra, or whoever else — who think that force of numbers or the writ of The Law gives them some kind of right to impose their decisions on other people’s property.
Part of what Johnson is responding to is the "pro-immigration" argument that immigrants will inevitably assimilate. Johnson's riposte: That's irrelevant, because even if they don't, as long as they violate no other person's rights, the government has no valid reason to interfere with them.


Jude Blanchette said...

But isn't the argument that unassimilated immigrants pose a greater risk to the lives and property of the assimilated, à la last year’s French Riots?

Sheldon Richman said...

That is the argument. But Johnson is saying that a vague risk is not grounds for government action. It is perfectly conceivable for an unassimiliated community to pose no risk whatsoever to its neighbors. If a threat develops, that is the time to act.

Larry Ruane said...

Sandefur's arguments are collectivist, and I completely agree with Charles Johnson's criticisms of Sandefur. But what do you think of the position of Professor Hoppe, who is as far from a collectivist as can be imagined?


I think you, Johnson and Hoppe would probably agree on the ultimate goal -- zero (if you're an anarchist like Hoppe and myself, otherwise as little as possible) "public" property and welfare, and immigration based entirely on private property rights (as explained by Johnson). But there seems to be disagreement about the proper order of the steps (eliminating the welfare state, eliminating statist border controls) toward a libertarian society.

Hoppe says that as long as the state takes on a function that should be performed privately (i.e. any function at all), it should at least try to imitate a private agency as much as possible, even though there will be distortions due to lack of competition and voluntary exchange. In this case, the government should act somewhat like a private homeowner's association, or even a gated community. He says that otherwise, it's forced integration.

I'm conflicted on this issue, but I do have a great deal of respect for Prof. Hoppe. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on Hoppe's viewpoint. Thanks!

Sheldon Richman said...

Larry, about Hoppe, it has always struck me as odd that an anarchist would want the state to act as if it owned the country, including all the private property. If someone employs an "undocumented" Mexican, clearly the employer wants him on his property. Should the state have the power to forbid that? I don't see how an anarchist could answer yes. Where's the forced integration?

This leads to a general point that is often lost. If we save the welfare state (and the state system in general) from all strains, how will we ever get rid of it? It makes no sense to say we can have free immigration only after the welfare state is scrapped, because in that case it will never be scrapped.

Finally, libertarians should point out that all the institutions that are burdened by immigration are government institutions: schools, hospitals, etc. I have never heard Wal-Mart or Blockbuster Video complain that it can't handle all the new business because of immigration. The answer is obvious: Privatize!

Larry Ruane said...

That makes sense. The more I think about it, the more it seems that the concept I mentioned of ordering the steps to liberty is invalid. We should oppose any and all statism. So you're right -- the state should not use force to prevent voluntary interactions (such as hiring an immigrant or renting an apartment to an immigrant), and the state should not provide welfare to immigrants (or anyone else).

But still, what about public land? Much as we regret its existence, should the state place any restrictions on who physically uses "its" land? We think the state should not "own" the roads, but given that it does, shouldn't it promulgate and enforce traffic laws? Or would you say that it's better if it did not, because that will put more strain on the institution of public roads, and hasten their privatization?

Some of the land on the US side of the border is public and some is private. Should an immigrant first obtain the permission of the state before crossing onto public land, just as (I'm sure you'd agree) he needs permission from the private owner before crossing onto that owner's land?

Sheldon Richman said...

Pending the privatization of government-controlled lands, the regulations, such as traffic laws, should be at a minimum, designed merely to keep the peace. If you go beyond this, it can lead to trouble. Imagine if the government said that anyone may drive on its roads--as long as he or she abstains from criticizing the government. Better to privatize soon.

Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...


I don't think it's true that Hoppe is "as far from a collectivist as can be imagined." His positions on immigration and ethnicity being exhibit A for that charge.

It's true that in a free society people will have the right to create intentional communities where they can do stupid things like require new residents to sign on to contracts curtailing immigration on the basis of ethnicity. It's also true that in a free society people will have the right to close privately-owned roads, town squares, and other thoroughfares to immigrants on the basis of ethnicity if they want to. However, a couple of points need to be made. Although politically people have the right to engage in this kind of nonviolent segregation, it is frankly stupid, and the premises that it operates from are nothing less than pure tribalism. In a free society people will be free to indulge in nonviolent tribalism of whatever sort they like, but there's no reason why that kind of bigotry deserves anything but the contempt of rational people.

Further, Hoppe's policy prescriptions don't even qualify as peaceful in the first place. Even if it were true that, under a "natural order," residents of San Diego would make a community covenant obligating residents to sharply limit immigration from Tijuana, in the actual world there is no such covenant and no resident of San Diego has ever agreed to, or been asked to agree to, those terms. Invading their property, or public property in which they arguably have a stake in the rightful ownership (e.g. roads near their house, town squares, etc.), on the excuse that you're enforcing the terms of this counterfactual covenant that they never agreed to, is as obvious an invasion of people's rights as you can think of.

Finally, economically speaking Hoppe's proposals are absurd. Continent-spanning government's can't approximate the outcome of free control over private property. In a free society people wouldn't own continent-spanning swaths of land, and socialist calculation of the outcomes for a dispersed network of land-owners is impossible, for the usual Misesian and Hayekian reasons. At this point Hoppeans typically appeal to poll numbers on attitudes towards some form of immigration or another to justify the idea that if land were free of government control, immigration would be more tightly restricted; the sight of Hoppeans, of all people, suddenly rushing to defend a centralized, democratic plebiscite as a way of calculating hypothetical market outcomes is one of the most grimly funny things in the current libertarian movement.

Just as a side note, I don't reject the concept of public property per se. I think there is rightful public property; I just deny that "public property" means "government property." Cf. Roderick Long's essay A Plea for Public Property. This has some bearing on immigration: private owners of roads (for example) can exclude whomever they want for whatever reason they please, but there may be cases where roads, paths, etc. are rightfully public property, and where (because of the sort of public ownership in question) there's nobody who really has the right to bar immigrants from using the road, as long as they are using it safely and their use is not excluding others from using it. Of course, whether things would actually pan out this way, or whether people would choose to keep road ownership strictly private, in the hands of single proprietors or contractually defined firms, is something that we'll need an actual free society to discover.

Larry Ruane said...

Thanks to both Sheldon and Rad Geek for those comments; they have greatly influenced my thinking.

Given the current welfare state, would you oppose citizenship, including and especially voting rights, for at least some immigrants (approximately those that are called illegal immigrants today)?

(I assume you oppose giving welfare state goodies to immigrants, because immigrants are a subset of everyone!)