Dear Mr. Brimelow: When your book about immigration originally came out, I did not pay much attention to the ensuing debate. The immigration issue just didn't seem that important. As, basically, a libertarian, I thought the free movement of labor ought to be up there with the free movement of capital.
However, this election and the rather sordid spectacle of Democrats preaching about the mystical "Will Of The People" spurred me to go back and read Madison's Federalist Paper No. 10, in which he warned about the dangers of the tyranny of the majority. Then shortly thereafter I happened across a link to a Steve Sailer article and hence to his web site and then to VDARE. Well, I came to your articles about immigration with the right mindset this time: Migratory laborers are not just a set of economic actors in a perfect free market. Those laborers become political actors where they move to as well.
The problem with the libertarian argument is that the libertarians ignore the need for a citizenry that is sufficiently trained and cultured to respect and understand the rights of others. The libertarians argue that laborers should be able to move anywhere and offer their services. That sounds nice in theory. But then how will each area that the laborers move to be governed? If you create a system of law and liberty in a country, and then everyone comes and votes in a welfare state, what have you gained?
The number of people in the US who understand the Lockean conception of liberty is too few. Well, immigrants from most parts of the world are diluting those numbers even further.
Here is where you need to direct your thrusts. You need to get someone like Jacob Sullum at Reason Magazine to engage on the topic of how governments should be chosen, and then to address the issue of how a group of people who embrace the idea of limited government based on law can hope to protect it if large numbers of people ignorant or hostile to this idea can move in and vote. You need to turn some of the libertarians. You've turned my thinking so I can attest that this is possible to do.
Here's a hypothetical for consideration: Imagine that a change to immigration law is enacted that allows totally free immigration to the US. In a few years it is possible that a few hundred million Muslims could immigrate. This does not seem impossible by any means as the amount of poverty in Muslim lands is considerable and hence the incentive to move to a place with higher salaries is strong. The first to immigrate can get jobs that will allow them to save the money for the fare of still others to come. Then suppose after several years here all the Muslim immigrants get citizenship and vote for candidates that will institute Sharia Law. Then the government they elect decides to pack the Supreme Court with Mullahs and said Supreme Court decides that any speech that is blasphemous should be punishable by death (see Salman Rushdie's problem). It would be naive to argue that Muslim conceptions of the proper functions of government are compatible with the Lockean view.
Similar hypotheticals can easily be imagined that would involve the mass immigration of other poor peoples whose number would come to exceed the number of current residents of the US. So, to take another example, the US could suddenly find itself with such a large mainland Chinese population that elected officials who would vote to force Taiwan to surrender to the mainland and simultaneously transfer large amounts of weapons technology to the Chinese government.
One needs to push a principle to its logical conclusion to test it. The thinkers of the English and Scottish Enlightenment were empirical in their approach to political philosophy. Any libertarian who claims to be an heir to this tradition needs to demonstrate how a particular libertarian principle can be treated as an absolute that can work when put into practice.
When a particular principle (unlimited free immigration) can be argued to be capable of causing irreparable damage to the cause of liberty, then the onus is on the advocates of immigration to show that their proposed policy will not cause more damage than benefit.
The biggest problem with immigration that needs to be addressed is not economic. It is political. How can a country stay free when it accepts a large number of immigrants who come to it for economic reasons - while those immigrants do not understand or accept the political principles that allow a system of liberty to be practiced?
Peter Brimelow replies: This nice letter is further evidence that people quite often do change their minds on immigration, once exposed to facts and logic. I don't think this will include anyone at Reason Magazine however! – even my esteemed former National Review colleague Jacob Sullum. Doesn't matter, though, because there's an alternative paleolibertarian tradition, grouped around http://www.lewrockwell.com/ and the Von Mises Institute, that actually does take account of the cultural metamarket.
February 07, 2001