Government by Choice: Classical Liberalism and the Moral Status of Immigration Barriers

The Independent Review 15 (4):540-561 (2011)
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Could we plausibly believe in the fundamental tenets of classical liberalism and, at the same time, support the state’s raising of immigration barriers? The thesis of this paper is that if we accept the main tenets of classical liberalism as essentially correct, we should regard immigration barriers as essentially illegitimate. Considered under ideal conditions, immigration barriers constitute an unjustified infringement on individuals’ ownership rights, since it is difficult to identify a purpose that such an infringement could have that would outweigh the disadvantages created by eliminating important competitive pressures on governments. Considered under nonideal conditions, the problem is, roughly, that immigration barriers cannot be seen as the choice of a lesser evil in the face of either an expected extension of the redistributive state or an expected threat on liberal institutions. On the contrary, since they relax the constraints faced by governments, immigration barriers should be seen as a major contributor in creating the conditions for the perpetuation of the sort of political arrangements that classical liberals resist. If individual sovereignty is to be protected, the sovereignty of the state over a particular territory should not include a prerogative to determine who is to inhabit it.



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