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Let’s Stick with Traditional American Values!


Upon reading Hans-Herman Hoppe’s article “On Free Immigration and Forced Integration,” I couldn’t help but wonder whether he first reached the conclusion that he wanted to reach and then constructed a set of arguments to support that conclusion.

Hoppe begins his article by correctly pointing out that from a theoretical standpoint, open immigration does, in fact, increase people’s standard of living. He also correctly observes that those who use the welfare state as an excuse for controlling immigration (as his associate Llewellyn Rockwell does) are “wrongheaded.”

Nevertheless, Hoppe ends up concluding that open borders for the United States should be rejected in favor of a government-controlled and government-regulated immigration policy.

Let’s examine the chain of reasoning that leads Hoppe to this conclusion.

Hoppe first suggests that simply because a government is instituted, especially a government that has the power to tax and to build roads, the government has the power to control the entry of foreigners. Here are his exact words:

“Moreover, with the establishment of a government and state borders, immigration takes on an entirely new meaning. Immigration becomes immigration by foreigners across state borders, and the decision as to whether or not a person should be admitted no longer rests with private property owners or associations of such owners but with the government as the ultimate sovereign of all domestic residents and the ultimate super-owner of all their properties.”

Hoppe’s basic assumption, however, is wrong. Simply because a government exists, it does not follow that such a government has to have the power to control the entry of people into its jurisdiction. Hoppe is apparently thinking of the old idea of sovereignty that guides the European world. That is, Europeans commonly believe that the powers of government arise from the very nature of government and its sovereignty.

But sovereignty — and all the powers that arise from sovereignty — was not the original basis that upon which the U.S. government was founded. The U.S. government was called into existence through the Constitution, a document that expressly enumerated the powers that the national government would have. Thus, the powers of our national government did not originate from some vague European notion of sovereignty but rather they arose from the express of enumeration of powers in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

In other words, if a power is enumerated in the Constitution or it is necessary and proper to the implementation of the enumerated powers, then the government could exercise it. If not, then the power could not be exercised. The Constitution, not old European notions of sovereignty, was designed to be the source of our national government’s powers. (It’s true as time went on that the U.S. government assumed powers far beyond those enumerated, and sometimes under the notion of “sovereignty.” But the illegitimate usurpation of power is an issue separate and apart from the original nature and design of the Constitution.)

Thus, the national government could levy taxes and build post roads because Article 1, Section 8 gave it power to do so. But since Article 1, Section 8 did not give it the power to restrict the free movements of people into the United States, it cannot lawfully exercise such power. Again, the national government’s powers come from the Constitution. (Of course, as all of us know, the U.S. government, especially in the 20th century, has exercised powers not permitted by the Constitution, but that’s a different issue.)

Moreover, there is no inherent reason that the U.S. government has to have the power to post gendarmes at the border, ready to shoot or repatriate anyone who tries to enter the United States illegally. The U.S. government has sovereignty within its borders with respect to certain criminal offenses, civil matters, taxation, and so forth. But this doesn’t necessarily translate into a governmental power to control who enters the jurisdiction. Anyone who enters the jurisdiction is subject to the laws of the jurisdiction.

Hoppe is right to suggest that public ownership of roads presents a problem with respect to immigration (especially roads that connect to bridges that connect to another country). His analysis of the problem, however, is faulty.

Hoppe correctly points out that in a society in which there is no government and in which all property is privately owned (including roads, rivers, airports, and harbors), there is no issue of freedom of immigration. The issue is simply whether private owners of property will permit others to enter onto their property.

Hoppe then leaps to a next step-one in which government taxes people and owns the roads, rivers, airports, and harbors. The leap causes him to ignore an important logical step in his own analysis — a situation in which government exists but in which all property is privately owned.

For example, suppose all property, including roads, is privately owned and the owners institute government to protect them from domestic marauders (murderers, thieves, etc.) and invaders and to establish a judiciary to resolve disputes between the owners. Let’s also assume that the owners constitutionally prohibit the government from levying any taxes higher than a 1 percent tariff on imported goods. Let’s also suppose that the constitution that called the government into existence expressly forbids the government from controlling the free movements of people into its jurisdiction.

Now, how does the immigration issue arise in this context? Doesn’t the matter continue to be one of private owners’ deciding who is going to enter onto their property? The fact is that under this scenario, the issue of immigration still does not arise despite the fact that government does in fact exist.

Now, let’s proceed to the situation to which Hoppe leaped. Let’s assume that the government has been given the power to own roads, rivers, airports, and harbors. Hoppe suggests that there is a problem with immigration because the government now has the power to let in unrestricted numbers of foreigners who very well might have been excluded if those areas had been privately owned. He suggests that if these publicly owned properties had been owned by a king, there would be a greater likelihood that only competent and superior people would be admitted into the country. With a democratic form of government, Hoppe suggests, the outcome is likely to be the opposite. Hoppe writes:

“As far as immigration is concerned, a king will want to prevent the emigration of productive subjects, in particular of his best and most productive subjects, because losing them would lower the value of the kingdom…. On the other hand, a king will want to expel his non-productive and destructive subjects (criminals, bums, beggars, gypsies, vagabonds, etc.), for their removal from his territory would increase the value of his realm….”

“[For] a democratic ruler it makes little, if any, difference whether productive or unproductive people, geniuses or bums leave the country. They have all one equal vote. In fact, democratic rulers might well be more concerned about the loss of a bum than that of a productive genius…. [A] democratic ruler, quite unlike a king, undertakes little to actively expel those people whose presence within the country constitutes a negative externality (human trash, which drives individual property values down).”

Hoppe’s logic, thus, goes like this: In the absence of government and in a society in which property is privately owned, there is no issue of immigration. But once government is formed, immigration policy must become an issue not only because government is sovereign but also because government owns the roads and other means by which people can enter the country. Therefore, Hoppe says, since there has to be an official immigration policy, it might as well be one in which government officials permit only superior people to enter, which, in Hoppe’s words, would entail “a systematic pro-European bias.” He continues:

“A relatively correct immigration policy … implies that all immigrants must demonstrate through tests not only (English) language proficiency, but all-around superior (above-average) intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values — with the predictable result of a systematic pro-European bias.”

Before we address Hoppe’s “relatively correct immigration policy,” let’s first examine the fallacies in his underlying assumptions.

Isn’t the question of roads, airports, rivers, etc. a problem of public ownership of property rather than a problem of immigration? If so, shouldn’t it be separated out and addressed on its own merits and demerits? In the beginning of his article, Hoppe was careful to separate out the issues of welfare and immigration: “To be sure, the welfare state should be destroyed, root and branch. However, in any case the problems of immigration and welfare are analytically distinct problems, and they must be treated accordingly.”

Ah, then why not the same treatment with respect to public ownership of roads (and rivers, airports, and harbors)? Why not indeed? Why shouldn’t such public ownership be destroyed as well, root and branch? Aren’t immigration and public ownership of property analytically distinct problems that should be treated accordingly? Why does Hoppe use public ownership of property as a springboard for his “relatively correct immigration policy”?

Furthermore, Hoppe seems to assume that if roads were privately owned, we wouldn’t have a problem with the immigration of non-European people such as Latin Americans. That assumption would seem to be baseless, especially in light of the current situation in the United States. Today, tens of thousands of poor Latin American immigrants, most of whom would undoubtedly not meet Hoppe’s criteria for acceptability, come into the United States and find privately owned places in which to live and private businesses in which to work. In other words, after entering the United States, say, on public roads, they don’t end up living on those roads. They are assimilated into the private sector both in housing and in business.

Why is there any reason to believe that the owners of private roads would act any differently than the owners of houses and businesses? Why should we assume that people who owned the roads, rivers, and harbors would think as Hoppe rather than as the people who are today renting housing to undocumented Latin American workers and giving them jobs?

Hoppe also confuses and mixes up the concepts of public ownership of property, integration laws, private property, and immigration. He writes: “Furthermore, if the government admits a person while there is not even one domestic resident who wants to have this person on his property, the result is forced integration (also non-existent under private property anarchism).”

However, if the government permits foreigners to cross a government owned international bridge and travel north on a government-owned road, it doesn’t follow that the government is authorizing such people to trespass onto anyone’s private property. If there is a law requiring private property owners to permit the foreigners to enter onto their property or requiring businesses to hire foreigners, then that’s a problem with integration laws, not with immigration laws. If no integration laws exist, then Hoppe is not being forced to integrate with anyone; if he objects to sharing public facilities with foreigners, he has the simple solution of avoiding the use of public facilities — and continuing call to for their privatization.

Hoppe also fails to address a glaring flaw in his own analysis — a situation in which immigrants are crossing the border not on publicly owned property but rather on privately owned property and with the consent of the owner. Let’s consider an example.

Let’s assume that two brothers own adjoining ranches that they inherited from their grandparents. One brother is an American, and his ranch is located on the New Mexico side of the border. The other brother is Mexican, and his adjoining ranch is located on the Mexican side of the border. The two brothers have no fences between their properties. There is, of course, no river and no public road dividing the two ranches. There is only an imaginary line called “the border” running through an enormous expanse of land.

The American brother invites the Mexican brother onto his property. Uh, oh! What would Hoppe do? Would he permit an armed U.S. government gendarme to trespass onto the American brother’s land to prevent the Mexican brother from crossing the imaginary line that divides the two brothers’ ranches? Or would he hold that this situation would entail, in his words, “the freedom of independent private property owners to admit or exclude others from their own property”?

Hoppe’s own analysis leaves him on the horns of an enormous dilemma. On the one hand, he writes, “Now, if the government excludes a person while even one domestic resident wants to admit this very person onto his property, the result is forced exclusion.” Yet if Hoppe concedes the right of foreigners to freely cross borders to enter onto private property with the consent of the owner, wouldn’t that threaten the viability of his “relatively correct immigration policy” by which the government is keeping out immigrants who are trying to enter the country via the government-owned roads?

Would Hoppe maintain his “relatively correct immigration policy” by prohibiting the Mexican brother from crossing over or threaten his “relatively correct immigration policy” by protecting private-property rights? Unfortunately, Hoppe’s article fails to provide an answer.

Hoppe also believes that it would be preferable to remove the power to control immigration and place it in the hands of the states and even localities. Does this mean that each state would (and should) have the power to keep out people from other states? That each city in California could keep out other people from California? After all, there’s little doubt that Texans, for example, given the power to do so, would immediately enact immigration controls on the border — that is, the northern border, especially in order to keep out all those weird New Yorkers who are notorious for polluting Texas culture with such ideas as rent control and gun control. Unfortunately, Hoppe doesn’t address this issue in his article.

It’s hard to see how Hoppe can avoid an unpleasant final result of his “relatively correct immigration policy”: the end of America’s democratic system and the implementation of a totalitarian government. After all, Hoppe himself admits that democratic governments cannot be trusted to do the “right” thing when it comes to immigration and that this is an inherent defect. Thus, Hoppe’s goal to receive only “superior” immigrants, by his own admission, becomes simply a “hope” under a democratic government. If there’s no reason to believe that a democracy will ever do the “right” thing when it comes to immigration, then the question is, how long will Hoppe and his cohorts continue to hope before they finally take “dramatic steps” to achieve their goal?

Now let’s examine Hoppe’s “relatively correct immigration policy.” It’s not difficult to detect its fundamental flaws: First, it relies on governmental central planning to determine the “correct” type of immigrant. Second, Hoppe’s interpretation of what constitutes a correct type of immigrant is itself flawed.

It is absolutely amazing that despite the failures of central planning all over the world, there are still people who place their faith in it. Hoppe says, “The best one may hope for is that democratic rulers follow a policy of utmost discrimination: of strict discrimination in favor of the human qualities of skill, character, and cultural compatibility.”

But even assuming that these are proper criteria, how are government officials supposed to apply them in advance? How many penniless immigrants who would have been turned away at the border by Hoppe’s central planners have turned out be major success stories? Even Hoppe’s vaunted test to determine “(English) language proficiency [and] all-around superior (above-average) intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values” is no guarantee of results. For one thing, must every person be proficient in English and if so, how does that measure a person’s intelligence or character? Today, there are thousands of people along the southern border of the United States who cannot speak English. Does that mean they are not intelligent or that they lack character? (Conversely, there are lots of people who speak English who are unethical and dumb.)

Or does proficiency in any language count, including Swahili and Spanish? (It’s not clear why Hoppe put the word “English” in parentheses.) Suppose the finest French chef in the world wants to immigrate to the United States but doesn’t speak a word of English. Would Hoppe’s immigration policy let him in? What if the finest chef in Haiti wants to immigrate but he also speaks only French? Would Hoppe let him in?

Is Hoppe’s test going to be multiple-choice or essay? How do we know that a given person is answering the questions on values truthfully? What about a child who might grow up to be a Thomas Edison? How does Hoppe’s test make its determination years in advance?

The fact is that there is no way a central planner can make such determinations, at least not accurately. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out, competition is a discovery device. It enables us to discover who are the best entrepreneurs, inventors, mathematicians, musicians, and so forth. And the only way to discover who they are is “after the fact” of immigration, through the competitive process.

Consider the famous athlete Jesse Owens. As a descendant of black African slaves, Owens would never have been able to pass a German immigration test if Owens had wished to move to Germany. He simply would not have been able to meet the criteria for a “superior” German citizen, and there is no possibility that a German central planner would have approved Owens’s application to immigrate to Germany. Yet, when it came down to athletic ability, the 1936 Olympics confirmed that Owens — a black man — was very much the superior of his white Aryan counterparts.

Consider another example. Hoppe says that the immigration test he advocates to ensure the immigration of superior people would have a pro-European bias. What does that mean? It means that Hoppe’s immigration test would admit the likes of Swedes, Germans, Frenchmen, and Englishmen. In other words, people who historically have had a strong cultural commitment to Social Security, national health care, gun control, regulation, and other aspects of the nanny state. And it would probably have a prejudice against Latin Americans and thereby end up excluding people who historically have had a strong work ethic and a deep commitment to free enterprise, family values, and religious principles.

Hoppe’s approach to immigration is obviously a throwback to the old European notion of governmental sovereignty. It is the opposite of the principles of a constitutional republic on which our nation was founded. And Hoppe’s reliance on the “wisdom” of governmental central planning to ensure that “superior” people predominate in America is a rejection of America’s historical legacy of open immigration and the reliance on freedom and competition to determine a “natural” aristocracy.

Let’s reject Hans-Herman Hoppe’s plan for America. Let’s reject the European philosophy that our Founding Fathers rejected. Let’s instead re-light the beacon on the Statue of Liberty, open our borders, and once again embrace the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Let’s recapture the principles of freedom enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.