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Immigration and Libertarianism

by Chauncey Tinker – 15 Feb 2018

Ayn Rand By StefanoRR - disegno opera propria, da fotografia degli anni '40/'50, Public Domain, Link

The word libertarian is generally used to describe people who believe in small government, which is generally regarded as a right wing position, although there are some people who are on the left who also describe themselves as libertarians (in short, it’s complicated). Libertarianism is not to be confused with liberalism.

I have engaged in a number of debates with people who described themselves as libertarians, and I could not help but notice a pattern in the conversations. These libertarians who I have debated with all had an extremely laissez faire attitude to borders and immigration, in fact they were as extreme in their views as many on the left who call themselves open borders activists. Also they were quite dogmatic in their view and in some cases became quite rude, even aggressive, when I expressed my own view that the current migrant crisis is doing great harm to Europe. In one case I was even called a fascist for opposing open borders by one libertarian who was clearly becoming quite angry and who then cut the conversation short. I began to think that these libertarians are as ideologically driven as many on the far left.

All these libertarians seemed to place little value or importance on culture and appeared to view the world more in ideological economic terms. They were themselves atheists in most cases, a fact which suggests perhaps that they don’t have a deep understanding of religious convictions. The idea that migrants coming to Europe today might have a different culture from ours, and that this could in some way affect our way of life was anathema to them – they did not simply fail to register the idea as a possibility, they were actually hostile to the suggestion.

I did begin to suspect that in some cases these particular libertarians thought the migrant crisis could precipitate the collapse of the Western welfare state, if this is really what lies behind their thinking then I think this is an extremely dangerous idea. I think the outcome of such a collapse would not be at all guaranteed to bring about the end of the welfare state in any case, an equally probable outcome would be the replacement of our current Western democratic model with left wing or “centrist” dictatorships.

Nobody who has watched in any depth the behaviour of European governments in recent years could have failed to notice the trend towards increasing authoritarianism and censorship. The same libertarians complain fiercely against such attacks on freedom of speech (the liberty to speak freely is of course another very important part of the libertarian ideology). However on the whole they seem to have completely failed to consider the possibility that there might be a connection between the arrival of huge numbers of migrants from cultures that are extremely intolerant of free speech, particularly with regard to religion, and the increasing authoritarianism among European governments. Of course the connection may not exactly be a direct one so far, but the presence of many Muslims in particular has given the European governments an excuse not just to increasingly censor speech (in the name of maintaining public order), but also to increase state surveillance.

Some libertarians do oppose open borders, but they seem to only take this position because we currently have a welfare state – the ideological reasoning behind this is “you can have open borders or a welfare state, you can’t have both.” The implication appears to be that if only we were to get rid of the welfare state, then border security wouldn’t matter at all. The central problem with this idea is that since we live in a democracy, newcomers are going to acquire voting rights at some point. If the immigrants who come are poor and low skilled it is more likely that they will vote to the left. The absence of a welfare state would not guarantee that our society would not attract such immigrants, particularly when their countries of origin are poor and unstable.

If we study the immigration policy statement of the Libertarian Party in the UK, we see this statement:

Our immigration policy will be points based whilst the State provided Welfare System exists.

The core tenet is that there should be free movement of peoples. Anybody arriving in the country should have no expectation of being supported by the State, subsidized housing or any benefits of any kind.

This certainly seems a more logical approach than ushering in vast numbers of poor people who will tend to become dependent on government generosity while we still have a welfare state, but it still ignores the huge dinosaur in the room of backward cultural attitudes and frankly probably significantly lower average intelligence among new arrivals. My key point is, that our border security policy is not just about economics, it is also about protecting our culture and way of life.

Here are some examples of high profile UK politicians who seem to be influenced by libertarian thinking, although they are less extreme than what we might call “true” libertarians:


Although her free market ideas can be seen as connected with libertarianism, Mrs Thatcher famously made a comment about being “swamped” by immigration in 1978. From the Spectator:

How Maggie’s ‘swamped’ comment crushed the National Front

However during her time in office immigration continued and net immigration even increased in the later years. From the London School of Economics:

Why immigration policy since 1962 has such a poor record of achievement


According to the future Prime Minister, ‘we must hold out the clear prospect of an end to immigration’. But despite new legislation, Conservative governments during the 1980s and 1990s drifted ever further from realising this goal.

It could perhaps have been partly because the economic situation had improved that more people were attracted to the UK. However it was also a time of more flux, with people both leaving and arriving. Net immigration remained low compared to the 1990s and 2000s however, and of course it really exploded during Tony Blair’s time in office.



While not technically perhaps a true “libertarian”, Conservative MP Daniel Hannan is known as a euro-sceptic but what is less often mentioned is that he has expressed relatively relaxed views on the subject of immigration. Consider this article from the Financial Times in which he claims that immigration was only a secondary concern among Brexit voters, and that therefore it would be a mistake to prioritize introducing strict border controls over financial prosperity:

A compromise on immigration will profit Brexit Britain

See also from the Daily Telegraph:

Did Britain really vote Brexit to cut immigration?

and this from Breitbart:

Dan Hannan Defends Soros and Big Money, Pro Mass Migration Billionaires

According to the Independent, Mr. Hannan urged US voters to vote for the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Wikipedia lists Daniel Hannan as a libertarian along with former and present Conservatives David Davis (Brexit minister), Douglas Carswell, Alan Duncan, all of whom have expressed relaxed attitudes towards immigration. Boris Johnson is also known to be pretty relaxed about immigration although he isn’t listed here:

Libertarianism in the United Kingdom


UKIP was in its early days described as a libertarian party that was influenced by libertarian ideals of free trade, but in later years it has come to be seen as an anti-immigration party. It was founded by Alan Sked, a British academic and politician who was later horrified by the direction the party took, describing Nigel Farage as a racist according to this article from the Guardian:

Ukip founder Alan Sked: ‘The party has become a Frankenstein’s monster’

See also (requires registration):

The Case for Brexit

Even some members of UKIP more recently have expressed little concern about immigration, seeing Brexit as an opportunity to welcome people from outside the EU.


Mr. O’Neill has called himself an “atheistic libertarian“, although he began writing apparently at a magazine called “Living Marxism” which was the journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Apparently this journal was “resurrected” as spiked. He appears to be an open borders advocate but he is also an advocate for freedom of speech. Brendan O’Neill voted for London Mayor Sadiq Khan who is a Labour party politician (Mr. O’Neill later said he regretted that, the penny eventually dropped that Mr. Khan wasn’t quite as liberal-minded as he had believed).


Unfortunately I did not seem to have dented the beliefs of those libertarians I debated with in the slightest with my arguments. No amount of evidence of migrant violence or lesser anti-social behaviour seemed to sway them in their rigid adherence to their ideological position. Perhaps I should have focused more on the cultural impact of the current waves of mass immigration from mostly Muslim majority countries, but I doubt somehow that I would have had any more success with this approach.

I also suspect that very few of these people who call themselves libertarians have experienced the sort of social dysfunction that I alluded to in the last post:

Immigration and the Common People

, or to put it another way I suspect that they tend to be wealthy and probably usually live in the sort of areas least affected by mass immigration. In conclusion then, it is overly simplistic to simply talk about the left when we are discussing the opposition to border security controls. There are considerable numbers of influential politicians on the right who are equally blase about protecting our borders, including a number of eurosceptics.


In this article at Libertarian Home I took issue with the suggestion that I was somehow helping the Islamic state:

Why Islam Haters are a Problem

Some quotes from our debate (see the comments section now closed):

Nico Metten: Either they are refugees, or they are economic migrants. If they are the latter, then that is even better, because those are no problem at all. Real refugees, who leave their homes unplanned to flee violence, can be a real burden on society. Economic migrants on the other hand are a benefit for everyone.

And it is exactly this collective punishment in the form of violently closed borders that is really causing a lot of victims

Ayn Rand is a very important figure in today’s libertarian movement. Her view on immigration:

Ayn Rand on Immigration

How could I advocate restricting immigration when I wouldn’t be alive today if our borders had been closed?

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