The border debate so far has been marked by a lack of clarity. Part of this lack of clarity stems from a failure to define one’s terms, to carefully explain exactly what one means by a border. So that is where I will start.

A border means an edge of something, such as the border of a carpet, or the border of a flower bed. It can also be a line separating one space from another, sometimes marked by a physical barrier. In a house, for example, a door marks the border between my bedroom and the hallway, between the bathroom and the hallway. Often the borders between rooms in a building or between the building and the outside space are marked by doors – physical barriers that must be opened to move from one space to another.And property lines are also borders.

These are fairly commonplace and common sense, but what we are talking about here today is a specific kind of border – the geo-political border. Geo-political borders are not, as some claim, an imaginary line in the sand. They are very real and very specific. Geo-political boundaries are lines of demarcation that mark the perimeter of a territory administered by a particular government. These governments create laws, enforce those laws, and levy taxes to support their doing so. These lines are not arbitrary nor imaginary. Borders have been created over periods of many, many years. And in today’s world, with modern surveying capabilities, these lines are very specific indeed.

Whether we, as libertarians, want these borders to exist or not is irrelevant. They exist. They are a fact of our world for better or for worse. To speak of a border is to speak of a line marking the perimeter of a geo-political space, a line separating one geo-political space from another.

So what is an open border and what is a closed border? An open border is one in which, although there are clear lines of demarcation separating one geo-political space from another, no legal impediment exists to prevent people from freely moving from one place to another.

What about closed borders? A closed border is one in which there are legal impediments to traveling from one jurisdiction to another.

All borders are open to various degrees. The most restrictive borders are undoubtedly the ones surrounding totalitarian countries like North Korea. North Korea is an armed fortress. But even North Korea will occasionally admit visitors. And presumably, if an addled South Korean should decide he prefers to live in North Korea, the North Korean government would admit him as a permanent resident.

The North Korean border’s main function is not so much to keep foreigners out but to keep its own people in. To prevent a wholesale defection. During the Cold War, the Soviets built the Berlin Wall to keep its own people in. Many people died tangled in barbed wire, blown up by land mines, or shot to smithereens by border guards.

So all borders admit of some openness, however narrow that doorway may be. In some cases, as noted with North Korea, that openness may be just a sliver.

So the debate is not about whether borders should be open or closed, but to what degree they should be open and to what degree movement of people ought to be restricted.

Modern libertarianism is a child of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement characterized by several things. Those are – in metaphysics – realism or naturalism: the world exists and our job is to try and understand it; in epistemology – reason and logic – our minds are capable of studying and understanding reality which is ultimately knowable;  in ethics – individualism – the individual human being has an intrinsic value in and of himself, not as part of some group or collective; and in politics limited government and liberal capitalism.

The key features of Enlightenment philosophy politically are its individualism and capitalism. There is a strong emphasis on individual rights. Concepts such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and legal rights such as the right to a fair trial if accused of a crime, and so on have been absorbed into our culture.

The modern libertarian movement came into being in the late 1960s, inspired largely by the growing Objectivist movement of Ayn Rand. Her novel, Atlas Shrugged, set the political world on fire. She tackled some of the weaknesses of Enlightenment philosophy – notably by providing an ethical framework for capitalism – rational self-interest or egoism, but also with significant work in epistemology.

Central to Rand’s philosophy and the nascent libertarian movement was its emphasis on individualism. More specifically, she clarified the nature of political power and redefined the proper use of force. Force, she argued, can be applied under three different circumstances. Force can be initiated against another – it can be an act of aggression. She condemned this in no uncertain terms as profoundly immoral. But force can also be used in self-defense against an aggressor, and in retaliation against someone who has committed an aggression. These latter two are proper uses of force. In fact, she averred, they are the only proper uses of force.

This clear statement on the proper use of force evolved into modern libertarianism’s non-aggression principle. Initiation of the use of force is to be condemned under all circumstances.

In the context of the non-aggression principle, the question of borders becomes – should governments impede the free movement of people. The libertarian answer is clearly no. To do so would require the initiation of force.

Borders are restricted to the extent that barriers are put up and people wanting to cross those barriers must satisfy an agent of the government that they should be allowed to pass. To the extent that such barriers and restrictions are removed, the border is an open border. A completely 100% open border would have no border station, no border guards, and no government agent sticking his nose into your business.

Now here’s a riddle – how many of today’s geo-political territories are 100% open border? What is the ratio of 100% open border territories to restricted borders? If you answered that there are NO 100% open borders in the world at all, that every border has some restriction, you would, in fact, be wrong. 100% open borders are the norm. They outnumber restricted borders by a factor of, not 10 to 1, not 100 to 1, not even 1000 to 1, but millions to one.

Consider this… in my last few years of work I travelled daily from my home in Abbotsford, British Columbia to my job in Burnaby, British Columbia. Every day I crossed not one, not two, not three, but four geo-political boundaries. When I drove from Vancouver to Montreal in the 70s I crossed five provincial boundaries and umpteen county and city boundaries. Not a single one of those boundaries had a sentry or other government official wanting to check my papers. The only exception was the national parks. The Trans-Canada Highway runs through a couple of national parks in B.C.. If you were planning to stay in the park overnight, you had to get a permit. But nobody would be refused one. The only question asked was, “Will you be staying in the park overnight?” If not, on you went. If so, you could be charged a fee.

In the United States, if you drive from Los Angeles to New York, you cross ten state borders and who knows how many county lines or city limits. The United States has fifty states – geo-political regions with their own government, laws, police forces, etc. Not one – not a single one – of those states has agents in booths at the borders with neighbouring states being a nosy parker.

The world has approximately three million towns and cities. Except in totalitarian countries, none require you to pass muster with a government agent in order to pass. Some totalitarian countries do require internal travel documents.

Now some will argue that they are talking about borders between countries. But what is the difference? Here in Canada we have a province, Quebec, which is and has long been worried about loosing its French culture to the overwhelming English-speaking majority of the country, and indeed, the continent. Some Quebec politicians are separatists – they want to become a separate country with all that that entails, including, presumably putting up nosy parker booths at its borders with Ontario and New Brunswick. Is that a good idea?

Interestingly, I have seen some of the closed border types on Facebook seriously suggesting that Alberta should keep out those durned Ontarians who move there seeking work in the oil patch. They’re socialist scum and are diluting the free enterprise spirit of the province. Hell, they probably caused the election of that darned socialist Rachel Notley. But seriously – would border guards and restricted access to Alberta be a good idea?

Would border stations at every township and bailiwick in Canada or the United States be a good idea? Should the citizens of the Bronx have to pass muster with the city fathers of Queens to enter that rarified atmosphere?

If not, what difference would it make if we just eliminated the border stations between Canada and the United States? Or between the United States and Mexico?  Why shouldn’t an American be able to just hop in the car and drive to Canada – for a visit, to find work, or whatever? If Canada removed its border stations at the Canada-US border and just allowed totally free access, would Canada be any worse off? If a Mexican could just hop on a plane and fly to Toronto or Vancouver and disembark for a visit, to work, or whatever, would Canada be any worse off?

I mentioned Berlin earlier and how the Soviets built a wall to keep their people in. Ronald Reagan famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I echo his sentiments in reverse, “Mr. Trump, don’t build that wall!”

Postscript: I brought up the fact of state and county and city borders for a very specific reason – because the strongest argument for restricted immigration is undoubtedly that proposed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe and echoed by Christopher Chase Rachels in a debate with Larken Rose. And their argument is based on property rights, and more specifically on the ideas of the right of secession and the right to form covenant communities – a banding together of people with common ideals and goals, to restrict access to their community. In Hoppe’s wet dream, we would, in fact, have a continent of thousands of little bailiwicks, each with its own sentry barring admission to the community. Is that something that we, as libertarians, want? Will that, somehow, enhance our freedom?