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Harry Binswanger on National Sovereignty

To be good America must open its borders to the world – that is the theme of an essay Mr. Binswanger has just published, the latest in a series on the same subject. And I have to review it. The pain of setting the needle of my intellect in the groove of his sophistries may lead me to drink.

... Clever, I guess, but obsolete. Vinyl  records are passé.

OK Froggy.  The pain of focusing the laser of my intellect on the pits of his—

... CD’s are on the way out. Look ahead and think WAV and MP3 files.

The pain of— oh forget it. Froggy you have sabotaged my introduction. Whose little frog are you anyway?

... I belong to no one but myself, I am a sovereign being!

I bought you for a buck ninety-eight plus tax and didn’t know what I was getting.  Anyway, I’m glad you bring up sovereignty, whatever that is, because Mr. Binswanger makes it the centerpiece of his new essay, titled with the question: “What is national sovereignty?” [1]  In an earlier essay [2]  he had argued for open borders, concluding that:

“The only proper governmental ‘managing’ of our borders ... is keeping in good repair the ‘Welcome to America’ signs.”
and in his latest he tries to prove it again, this time by giving us a nebulous sovereignty in return for his taking everything else.

He begins by saying that a nation’s existence depends on its having borders.

... All nations have borders.  Check.

Froggy, that remark was unnecessary. Then he asks an odd question:  In order for a nation to maintain its sovereignty must it defend its borders?  His exact words are:  “... doesn’t its maintaining its sovereignty imply the need to enforce or defend those borders?”

... No border defense, no sovereignty.  Check.

Froggy, Mr. Binswanger was asking a question not making a statement, now please be quiet.  In contrapositive form:  If a country opened its borders would it lose its sovereignty?

But, he then asks, what is sovereignty? Now he knows all along he will define sovereignty so it has nothing to do with borders open or closed, and that will make the answer to his original question “No” – a nation can be sovereign yet still have open borders.

And since he would have us believe that sovereignty so defined is all there is to worry about, we needn’t worry about open borders, QED.  That’s where he wants us to go and he gets us there by playing fast and loose with definitions and ignoring the real world.

In detail his argument runs as follows:

1.  A country’s border defines the geographic area within which its government can enforce the country’s laws.

— a definition which fails to get at the essence of a country or its border. If by some catastrophe a country’s government became disabled the country and its people would still exist (unless completely overrun by an invader) and so would the country’s border even if it became temporarily difficult to defend.

2.  “ ‘Sovereignty’ refers to the government’s monopoly on force.”

This differs from what you find in the dictionary (Sovereignty: freedom from external control, autonomy).  It also differs from Ayn Rand’s use of the word in The Virtue of Selfishness:

“A free nation – a nation that recognizes, respects and protects the individual rights of its citizens – has a right to its territorial integrity, its social system and its form of government. ...
“Such a nation has a right to its sovereignty (derived from the rights of its citizens) and a right to demand that its sovereignty be respected by all other nations.”
Not to mention respected by the individuals within them. By sovereignty she seems to mean something akin to a free nation’s “territorial integrity, its social system and its form of government.”

In Mr. Binswanger’s entire essay  “ ‘Sovereignty’ refers to the government’s monopoly on force”  is the only definition he gives of sovereignty. I merely quote it, I cannot explain it. (If government is what has a monopoly on force it would seem all nations possess sovereignty just by having a government, and maintaining sovereignty wouldn’t make much sense.)

Mr. Binswanger does let us know one thing that sovereignty is not:  “Sovereignty is not ownership.” (He underlines the sentence.)  It’s not Philadelphia Cream Cheese either, and if Mr. Binswanger wandered over the known universe telling us what sovereignty is not we might figure out what it  is  from what’s left over. At any rate we have this: The government’s monopoly on force is not ownership. Thus, since the essence of government is its monopoly on the use of force, he deduces:

3.  “The government does not own the country.” (He underlines this sentence too.)

This is hardly news to his opponents.  No Immigration Patriot believes the government does or should own all the property within its jurisdiction; for example no one at Vdare.com, probably the most well known and certainly the best Immigration Patriot website.

You can see what Mr. Binswanger is driving at though. He thinks the government could legitimately restrict foreigners from coming across the border only if it owned all the property within it.

4.  Mr. Binswanger then claims, ex cathedra, that
“ ‘enforcing our border’ ... means not letting neighboring governments start to use their force within our borders. Enforcing the border is enforcing the government’s monopoly over force – it is not the initiation of force to obstruct or stop the free movement of individuals across that border.”
A paraphrase might clarify the thought behind the turgid prose:
Enforcing our border means not letting other governments use force within it. It means enforcing our government’s monopoly over force. It does not mean interfering with the free movement of individuals across the border.

Thus ends Mr. Binswanger’s argument.  His conclusion amounts to this:

A foreign individual, in contrast to a foreign government’s army, has a right to cross your country’s border at will.
How this follows from 1, 2, and 3 is left to your imagination. He just states it dogmatically from on high.

He then emphasizes his statement that sovereignty, as he defines it, has nothing to do with borders:

“... American sovereignty has to do with the reach of American law, not with any policy regarding immigration.”
“Immigration policy ... has no effect on sovereignty. The two are unrelated. Enforcing the border is a government-to-government issue. Our government must not let foreign police or military operate within our borders. Immigration is a government to individual issue: can the state use force against a person trying to drive on a public road that runs across the border?”
The question is rhetorical; obviously his answer is “No,” and whether there is a public road or not.

Note how he narrowed his focus from countries in general to America in particular. If he is true to the Ayn Rand Institute none of this applies to Israel. (In public he refuses to discuss Israel’s immigration policy.)

Mr. Binswanger isn’t through.  “What about the claim that a government needs to ‘protect’ or ‘defend’ our border?”  It looks like he put those two simple words in quotes intending to belittle the sentiment behind them. Anyway he thinks he has our number:

“The people talking about keeping our sovereignty, enforcing our borders, defending our borders seem to actually mean: our government should use initiated force to obstruct or block the movement of people who want to work here, do business here, and live in peace here.”
Actually we would obstruct or block more than the peaceful hardworking people of his imagining, and more than those who recently helped vote Ocasio-Cortez into office, an explicitly self-proclaimed socialist. More even than all Third World uglies. Every single foreigner’s would be movement into America ought to be restricted.

Among Mr. Binswanger’s list of virtues – peaceful, hardworking, etc. – is a curious omission: voting capitalist. Perhaps he knew that he had to omit it. Third World immigrants by an large vote for statism, even if they came here to avoid the consequences of statism at home. [3]  Since his goal is to promote unrestricted immigration he had to leave out the virtue of capitalism – a small price to pay for an Obleftivist.

Then Mr. Binswanger, climbing atop his moral high horse, calls his opponents in this debate illogical, unjust, and un-American.  Tribalist too, and everyone knows that wanting to avoid the Other is a sin.

He claims that the propaganda put out by Immigration Patriots (doubtless a term he would object to) “paints immigrants as uncivilized, disease-ridden, and harboring a high percentage of thugs and criminals.” Mr. Binswanger has no sense of statistics, it’s all or nothing with him. At least he realizes that today immigrant usually means Third World immigrant.  Many of them are some of the bad things he mentions, and a higher percentage of them than among American whites. This is a valid propaganda point to direct toward people who might shy away from what is really the central principle of immigration, preference racism and preference culturalism.

Mr. Binswanger then equates the immigrants of today with those of the early part of the 20th century. [4]  He must think his readers are too stupid to notice the difference between the immigrants of yesteryear and the immigrants of today, or too browbeaten by altruism to admit they see it (noticing the difference might be construed as racist and we can’t have that).

Citing a CATO podcast by immigration enthusiast Alexander Nowrasteh, Mr. Binswanger claims that the proportion of criminals among immigrants is lower than among Americans. The Most Wanted webpages of police departments across the U.S. suggest otherwise but even if true it would be because of the non-white Americans within the category Americans. There is no question that Third World immigrants have a significantly higher proportion of criminals than do whites.

Mr. Binswanger goes on to say:  “Philosophically, though, it doesn’t matter.”  On that we agree, for different reasons. We look at immigration from the non-criminal end and say even non-criminal migrants should be restricted. He looks at immigration from the criminal end and says there should be no restriction at all.  I am not making this up:

“Suppose the crime rate for immigrants were triple that of native Americans. Since justice is not collective, that fact would not justify any interference with the flow of immigrants across our borders.”
And since there is nothing sacred about the number three, Mr. Binswanger would have us believe that if the factor of criminality were four or ten it would not justify interference. Or a hundred, a thousand – infinity, that is even if all the migrants were criminals. But reductio ad absurdum cannot phase Mr. Binswanger because no  reductio  is necessary.

He concludes with what he might think is a clever analogy:

“Would you ... [have] the police go to a poor neighborhood, where the crime rate is triple the average, and eject or imprison everyone?”
Nothing better illustrates the sophistry of the Obleftivists. To them there is no difference between a country and a neighborhood because both are areas. They see America through the cold eyes of a surveyor. Forget people, forget history and culture, forget customs and traditions, forget atmosphere and lifestyle, to them a country is just an unsentimental delimited location.

Mr. Binswanger’s analogy is even further inapplicable. Immigration patriots don’t propose to invade Guatemala or wherever and round up its criminals. They do believe it best for us to keep Guatemalans out of America, whether they are criminals or not.

It’s easy to see why Mr. Binswanger had to swap the usual definition of soverienty – freedom from external control, autonomy – with his invented one.  If foreigners can come in across the border at will then they are in control, not us.


Ed Powell of  ObjectiveDissent.com  doesn’t necessarily agree with everything in the above article but he did send in this thoughtful comment:

The local Objectivist group was discussing Rand’s essay “Collectivized Rights” (in The Virtue of Selfishness) this morning and we had a 45-minute discussion of the very passage you cite, “A free nation ... has a right to its territorial integrity, its social system and its form of government.” What does Rand mean by “social system?” It cannot be synonymous with “government” or she would use the term “government.” It must mean something beyond government, something like what we might call “deep culture,” the cultural norms that guide human interactions short of government action. (Rand is not consistent on this though. In “Collectivized Ethics,” she defines society as “an organized political system.” Elsewhere in “Collectivized ‘Rights'” she defines society as “a group of men.”)

We need borders and a foreign policy (of which immigration policy is a part) precisely because the rest of the world is not just worse than America in a lot of respects, but also, different. If we imported 200 million rights-respecting Chinese to America, we’d become China 2.0. For some people that country may or may not be a decent place to live but it would not be America, which would be culturally and politically eradicated. My point about the right to a "social system” is that it is a right to a British-American social system including not just the government but also all the other things that go with it. We already have a Mexico, why must we acquiesce in making the U.S.  Mexico 2.0 ?  Or Honduras 2.0,  or any 2.0 ?

1  Dated 6 November 2018.

2  “Collectivist Arizona Immigration Law is Anti-Capitalist” Capitalism Magazine 28 April 2012, objecting to Arizona senate bill 1070 (an attempt to curb illegal immigration into that state), then under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

And in another article, “Open Immigration” pinned to his website, the version found January 2015, Mr. Binswanger explained how half the entire population of the world could come to America and we would be better off. (As I say, with this guy you don’t need the  reductio  in  reductio ad absurdum.)  Not long after writing that essay he moved from New York City to a sparsely populated guard-gated community outside Naples, Florida. See his entry in  Who’s Who on this website.

3  Leonard Peikoff once agreed, then quickly recanted. See  Leonard Peikoff on Yaron Brook and Immigration on this website.

4  The Immigration Act of 1924 greatly restricted immigration, both as to numbers and country of origin. (The immigrants of the preceding decades were not the unalloyed blessing Mr. Binswanger makes out.) It lasted until the Hart-Celler Act rescinded it about forty years later, opening the floodgates.