A Response to James Snell on War, Immigration and the Monarchy


by Keir Martland

A Response to James Snell on War, Immigration and the Monarchy

There is no single definition of libertarianism on which all self-proclaimed libertarians could agree just as there is no definitive list of ‘libertarian political positions’. But, surely some things don’t need to be made explicit? Surely, libertarians ought to be anti-war, for instance? Some issues are perhaps inevitably more difficult: it may be the case that there is no one, true libertarian stance on immigration – as Stephan Kinsella might argue – or it could just be a matter of personal preference whether or not one wants a monarchy or a democracy. Nevertheless, there are ways of looking at these two issues – democracy (or monarchy) and immigration – which are sufficiently anti-state.

And I am of the opinion that James Snell of ‘The Libertarian’ has taken statist positions on military intervention, immigration and monarchy. In the course of this essay, I will respond to three of his articles: one in which he defends mass-immigration; one in which he attacks the monarchy; and another in which he supports military intervention in Syria. Before I go any further, I will say that this is not a personal attack and the fact that all three articles which I am attempting to refute are Snell’s isn’t that significant, in my opinion. I picked these three articles to discuss because I simply disagree with each of them and because they can all be linked together easily.

Immigration

Snell’s article on the topic of immigration[1] makes several points and I’ll quickly summarise each of them: the use of the term ‘our’ by British conservative movements only reveals the ‘disgusting entitlement’ of Brits; mass-immigration creates ‘long-term growth’ due to the multiplier effect; the ‘dependency ratio’ will soon reach an unsustainable level and therefore the solution is to allow more foreign workers entry to Britain in order to attempt to reduce this; that there is ‘a need for new taxpayers’; there exists a right for one to live wherever one wishes; and restrictions on immigration are nothing more than tariffs on labour which all free market supporters ought to be against.

Firstly, I will agree with Snell that the use of the term ‘our’ when referring to jobs is nonsensical. One cannot be said to own something that one hasn’t created or contractually acquired and thus nobody, except the employer, ‘owns’ the job until a candidate has been selected and given the job. Yet, to the extent that an immigrant ought not to have been allowed into the country in the first place, then it is proper to say that, just as he should not have been admitted into the country, he must also not be allowed to acquire property within the borders of that country. I’ll expand on this further on in the essay, but you might have guessed by now that my own approach to immigration is property-centric or ‘propertarian’.

Regarding the economic benefits of mass-immigration, it is certainly a priori true that if the workforce expands then, all else remaining equal, production will also increase. If production increases while demand remains constant then the overall price level will decline and the general standard of living of the society will be improved. But this – Austrian – reasoning only applies to a free market. Certain assumptions are made, namely that there are no laws prohibiting the expansion of the workforce, an increase in production, or a cut in prices etc. In short, the assumption is made, that a free market exists. No such free market exists in the United Kingdom and I should think this is evident to all libertarians.

Also, I find the assumption that the only way – compatible with libertarian ethics, that is – to avert the coming dependency ratio crisis is to open the borders and enact a policy of mass-immigration to be somewhat rash and unjustified. Why is it not more feasible and ethical to end compulsory retirement or abolish child labour laws? To be sure, repealing these laws would end aggression against the domestic population in the form of now allowing them to contract and sell their services in whatever just way they choose. It is also justified on libertarian grounds to simply not hand out welfare payments to those who haven’t already paid an equivalent amount of tax. Thus the issue of dependency would no longer be an issue and welfare could from then on become a method of compensating those who have been paying taxes all their working lives.

Is there ‘a need for new taxpayers’? For the state, yes. For libertarians, most certainly not. It is, or should be, the aim of the libertarian to abolish or reduce the size and scope of the state and what better way to achieve this than by ensuring that its tax receipts fall? And, when it comes to immigrants, the problem is that they only begin paying tax once they have entered the country and found themselves a job. What claim have they to the use of public property from the moment they arrive? None at all. As with all native tax-eaters, immigrants haven’t paid for the upkeep of government controlled property, yet, by virtue of being within their new country they must almost inevitably make use of it (it is difficult to imagine an immigrant not making use of the roads, and of course many use the NHS). So, even if we take it as a given that there is some ‘need for new taxpayers’, there is no guarantee that immigrants will be taxpayers at all and we can be confident that they will not have been taxpayers by the time they first make use of public property.

Further to this, is there a right to live wherever you like? First of all, I have no right to live in your house or at your expense if you don’t want me to. Likewise, an immigrant has no right to decide to live in the United Kingdom if in so doing he will make use of public property, which has been robbed from and is paid for by the domestic, taxpaying population. If every relevant taxpayer-owner wholeheartedly consents, then the immigrant can be granted the right to use the roads, live in a council home, receive welfare payments etc. I am not, as it is sometimes said, here trying to justify the concept of public property and thus supporting socialism. What I’m supporting is a way of using public property (which exists, so let us deal with it rationally) that doesn’t violate the rights of any legitimate owners of it.

The immigration issue, as I have written before, is analogous to the dilemma of whether we should or shouldn’t – as libertarians – regulate a government monopoly such as Royal Mail. If we allow the company (which has a state enforced monopoly) to charge whatever prices it wants for stamps or mail delivery then it will certainly make more profits and it will be much freer to do what it wants. However, the libertarian position, while ideally it is to abolish government monopolies, is to regulate and try to prevent any further usurpations of power.

How does this apply to the immigration debate? Well, again, ideally the solution is to remove the state completely by privatising all government property. Until this can be done, we need to try to ensure that use of such property is well-regulated. For example, while a libertarian should ultimately advocate total privatisation of the roads and streets, it is a simple, common-sense regulation to stop people from urinating on them. Likewise, while a libertarian may want state schools to be privatised, in the meantime it is sensible to teach Maths and English in them rather than Voodoo.

The final point of Snell’s to address is that of immigration restrictions being nothing but tariffs. Well, yes, by definition a restriction is a tariff. If he likes, immigration restrictions are tariffs on immigrant labour just as the law against rape is a tariff on sexual intercourse, the law against theft is a tariff on property expropriation, and the law against murder is a tariff on killing people. It is not anti-free market to not be filled with joy when an immigrant and an employer decide to enter into a voluntary transaction. An assumption often made by libertarians is that just because any given exchange may be voluntary that therefore it must be legitimate. Not so. Indeed, what if the property involved in the contract is actually stolen property? But, more fundamental, it is not the influx of foreign labour per se that I am arguing against. I am arguing not against the voluntary, mutually beneficial interaction between the immigrant and his new employer, but against the earlier, unilateral decision made by the immigrant to come to live in the United Kingdom in the first place.

I’m not particularly sure where it is that the disagreement starts and ends between Snell and myself. Whether he believes in private property or the protection of it, I do not know. However, there is a sentence of article which struck me as particularly interesting: “Either we crumble as a nation, or allow workers from overseas access to contribute to an economy run primarily by the “grey pound”.” Here, he abandons his attempt to lay out the rights of man to live wherever he likes and instead assumes that everyone reading must prefer mass-immigration to ‘crumbling as a nation’ (personally, I can’t tell the difference between the two).

I will now, as I did above for Snell, summarise my own arguments in the immigration debate (when I say ‘my own’, I just mean the arguments that I use): free trade and free movement of people aren’t the same thing and we don’t have a free market; states can either forcibly integrate or forcibly segregate people with their immigration policies, the latter is the lesser evil; the state uses mass-immigration to its advantage (why else would it stick to a policy of it?) because so long as Britain is composed of warring peoples, the state can further impose ‘anti-discrimination laws’ and brand innocent people as ‘racists'; public property is not ‘unowned’ as the owners are the people who have been forced to pay for its upkeep or who homesteaded it in the first place; in the hypothetical, anarcho-libertarian, free society, ‘immigration’ would not be a phenomenon that would exist (there would just be my movement onto your property or vice versa).

War[2]

“War is the health of the state” wrote Randolph Bourne. “No one will deny that war is a vast complex of life-destroying and life-crippling forces. If the State’s chief function is war, then it is chiefly concerned with coordinating and developing the powers and techniques which make for destruction. And this means not only the actual and potential destruction of the enemy, but of the nation at home as well. For the … calling away of energy into military pursuits means a crippling of the productive and life-enhancing processes of the national life.”[3]

While published in 1918, Bourne’s analysis of war applies equally well today. I hold that war, whatever its intentions, is aggression against foreigners and the domestic public. I will now examine the key points made by Snell in his libertarian defence of military intervention[4]: that war can be a libertarian struggle and that not intervening is just pacifism; that his proposed intervention would be cheap and therefore nothing to moan about; that we have a duty as libertarians to end oppression all over the world; that democracy and a peaceful transition to it is needed in all countries; that the ends justify the means when it comes to war.

Is isolationism nothing but pacifism? To answer that question I need only point out that the Old Right were isolationists and historically all libertarians have been. There are three dimensions to libertarianism, as I think Walter Block said: personal freedoms; economic freedoms; international freedom (not aggressing against foreigners). If isolationism is pacifism, then so too is not punching someone in the face who merely ‘looks’ like a criminal and so too is not enslaving random people to go about shooting others whom you may not like the look of.

It doesn’t matter if the intervention is cheap. The money used, however little of it, belongs to the taxpaying public and it is a further violation of their rights to spend that money in ways which will not benefit them in some way. But even if the war was costless in monetary terms, it wouldn’t be costless by any other standard. It is a common feature of modern – incidentally ‘democratic’ – warfare that civilians are killed and huge damage to the property of nonaggressors is caused. How is this libertarian and what possible ends could justify these means?

And do we have a duty to end oppression all over the world? No. Why not? Because our means of so doing would be the state: an oppressor. If you truly want to end oppression world-wide then you should seek to abolish your own state. Once this has happened, there will be a world-wide domino effect as nations realise how much more prosperous they can become in the absence of an institution of legitimated aggression. Military intervention, by contrast, only serves to expand the intervening state and to put a new and more ‘stable’ state in charge of the intervened. Libertarian? I think not.

Is democracy needed in all countries? That very much depends whether or not you think democracy is libertarian. Is it a coincidence that only since democracy became commonplace that states have become more tyrannical than ever? Firstly, can you prove that we live in a democratic state? Can you prove that elections are not rigged? Second, if democracy isn’t mob rule, then what is it? Third, as can be seen from the week in which Britain had no properly appointed government in 2010 and the year in which Belgium had no party in government, the civil service keeps the government in business even when democracy fails. Finally, in a monarchy or dictatorship, people aren’t afraid to rebel and protest against and even kill their rulers – we’ve done it in Britain before now. But, in the paradise of a democracy, the rulers have legitimacy enough to burn and so nobody lifts a finger to depose them.

The means of war are always the state, the military, and tax receipts while the goal can vary: it could be to remove a ‘dictator’ or to put a new one in place. But, aggression is always the means. Snell says that the ends justify these means. Of course, it is nothing but wordplay to say that the ends justify the means – if the ends don’t, then what does? – but what are the ends in Snell’s scenario? A ‘stable’ and ‘peaceful’ Syria. It should be noted that peace and stability could be achieved in many ways; we could bomb Syria and thus there would be no need to address the problem again. And, how is this solution any worse than Snell’s by his own standards? Its means are the same – the state, a bomb, tax money – and its goal is to end the conflict in Syria and achieve a situation of peace and stability. Alternatively, we could lead by example and dismantle our own oppressive state and watch as all the nations of the world followed suit by dismantling theirs in the hope of achieving the unprecedented levels of prosperity that we had.

On an unrelated note, I’d be interested to know if Snell is against government ownership of nuclear weapons. It was Murray Rothbard who changed my mind and turned me against them and if Snell isn’t against nuclear weapons then I hope he will take the time to read something I have written on the subject[5].

Monarchy[6]

Snell’s first argument against the monarchy[7] is that they cost more than they claim to cost. Of course, he is right to be angry at this, but what about the state itself? Surely the state’s annual expenditures will be even higher than the £700bn or so that it claims to be spending each year? I find this complaint about the monarchy to be rather unnecessary, all else considered.

Later in his article, he actually hits the nail on the head by writing “shouldn’t we be able to demand a bit of work to justify our investment without the gushing tributes”. Precisely, we should not have a Queen who does not protect our rights. The Queen has been neglecting her constitutional duties for too long.[8] But Snell turns this into an argument for ridding ourselves of the monarchy itself, which I think is mistaken.

Another problem that Snell seems to have with the monarchy is that they represent a ‘monopoly of wealth’. To me, this seems like a left-anarchist argument. One ought to consider the fact that elites have arisen naturally in history and will once again if and when the state is abolished. Snell is conflating political power with social/economic power, and the latter is perfectly justifiable on libertarian grounds – sadly the Queen has the former as well, but has not been using it to stop the rising tide of statism during her reign.

Is there another libertarian reason to not loathe the institution of a monarchy? Yes. Historically, and hopefully once again in the future, the monarch would properly exercise his constitutional rights to veto any act of parliament. The monarch was self-interested, but this worked to the benefit of his subjects because he considered all of the country to be his property. Thus he would try never to allow anything to negatively affect property values within the border of his country: this meant that he was happy to punish criminals and to try to attract only the best immigrants and shun the worst ones. Yes, he had a lot of power, but this was limited partly by parliament itself but also by the threat of being deposed by an angry public. The public would always view the monarch as illegitimate and so, if he put a foot wrong, riots, rebellions and revolutions would ensue. Since democratically elected parliaments have assumed more and more power, the public have become also more and more passive rather than active in their opposition to tyranny because people have allowed themselves to be brainwashed into believing that our democratically elected representatives are perfectly legitimate.

Snell’s article was only pointing out what we all already know: that the monarchy is full of taxpayer funded idiots who do nothing. But, enough of his attack on Buckingham Palace, where in his article was the attack on the Palace of Westminster? There are 650 idiots in the House of Commons and they are actively trying to enslave us all. While the Queen hasn’t stopped the descent of Britain into a police state, she hasn’t actively promoted it either. And for all the moans about the tremendous costs of the Royal Family, £200m is insignificant when compared to the £700bn per year spent by the state.

 


[1] James Snell, ‘Immigration is Vital for Our Economy, Don’t Listen to UKIP’, The Libertarian, http://the-libertarian.co.uk/immigration-is-vital-for-our-economy-dont-listen-to-ukip/ retrieved 16th July 2013

[2] This section of the essay need not be as long as the preceding one, because libertarians tend to intuitively be anti-war.

[3] Randolph Bourne, ‘War is the Health of the State – The State’

http://www.antiwar.com/bourne.php retrieved 16th July 2013

[4] James Snell, ‘Libertarian Intervention in Syria’, The Libertarian  http://the-libertarian.co.uk/libertarian-intervention-in-syria/ retrieved 16th July 2013

[5] Keir Martland, ‘Rethinking Our Position on Nuclear Weapons’, Conservative Companion http://conservativecompanion.co.uk/2013/03/09/column-keir-martland-rethinking-our-position-on-nuclear-weapons/ retrieved 16th July 2013

[6] This section of the essay will also not be terribly long, as I am not trying to defend HM the current Queen.

[7] James Snell, ‘Some Thoughts on the Royals’, The Libertarian http://the-libertarian.co.uk/some-thoughts-on-the-royals/ retrieved 16th July 2013

[8] Dr. Sean Gabb, ‘Monarchy, Nation-States, And The Failed Reign of “Elizabeth The Useless”’, VDARE  http://www.vdare.com/articles/monarchy-nation-states-and-the-failed-reign-of-elizabeth-the-useless retrieved 16th July

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7 responses to “A Response to James Snell on War, Immigration and the Monarchy

  1. The monarchy is not funded by the taxpayer. The Civil List is derived from income from Crown Estates ceded to Parliament. As such, the monarchy is funded by its own assets.

  2. Hasn’t their funding been reformed recently, though? Even so, I doubt the civil list covers everything. Charles, in particular, will get ‘grants-in-aid’ etc. Still, the point of that section was to defend the institution of a monarchy while most certainly not defending what our monarchy has become.

  3. If we are confining discussion on the monarchy to Britain, then as Andrew WS has pointed out, the Royal Family are significant landowners by inheritance. They could no more be dispossessed of that land fairly than could any other landowner by hereditary right.

    The Civil List no longer exists as a result of the Sovereign Grant Act 2011. The Queen now receives 15% of the income from the Crown Estate, one of the largest property portfolios in the UK. Other members of the Royal Family, such as the Duke of York, are paid an annuity by the Queen. The Prince of Wales is primarily funded from the Duchy of Cornwall.

    All those concerned pay tax on the proportion of income received that is not accounted for by official duties.

  4. “If we are confining discussion on the monarchy to Britain, then as Andrew WS has pointed out, the Royal Family are significant landowners by inheritance. They could no more be dispossessed of that land fairly than could any other landowner by hereditary right.”

    Er….? Tell that to the Jacobites? Do you think the Hanoverians “inherited” the Crown Lands?

  5. On war.

    There seems to be failure to grasp the basic fact that states are not innocent parties – they have no special rights. The nonaggression principle is about private property owners (even if the only property they own is their own body) not some hostile government. If you see one man (or a gang) smashing someone’s head in, it is not an “anti libertarian intervention” to try and stop them doing it.

    For example, the armed opposition Nazi Germany in 1939 or the invasion of South Korea in 1950 is not something that a libertarian should be against – quite the contrary.

    “Armed Doctrines” (to use the term that Edmund Burke used) that seek world conquest, sometimes have to be opposed in an organised military way.

    That does NOT mean that “neo con” “wars for democracy” are a good idea (on the contrary – “nation building” in Afghanistan and Iraq was doomed from the start).

    But it does mean that neither Britain or the United States exist on some other planet – if a hostile power (including a hostile “armed doctrine”) dominates the world around them they themselves are doomed. If you wait for a direct attack – you have waited too long (all allies will have fallen by then – and their resources turned against you).

    Betraying the Czechs in 1938 did not “prevent war”.

    On the contrary – it gave the Nazis control of the arms factories that made their tanks vastly more effective.

    Thus when the, inevitable, war came – the Nazis were stronger.

    On Immigration.

    Surely there is a policy on which libertarians could agree?

    End all government services (including health and education) for immigrants And end all “anti discrimination” regulations (which, like the laws of the dying Roman Empire, treat private business enterprise as if they were “public” bodies – hence “public accommodations” and “common carriers”). Allow real “freedom of association” (which must logically include the freedom NOT to associate).

    Without “public services” and “anti discrimination” rules for immigrants – would not mass immigration come to an end?

    Certainly some people would still arrive (as they did in the Victorian period) – but not huge numbers of people.

    Also uphold private property rights – in the United States people who own property on the border are actually dragged into court, for defending their property against invaders.

    This is clearly demented – yet this persecution of property owners does happen.

    • There is a very important difference between an individual (or a group of individuals) intervening in a fight and the state intervening in a conflict.

      In the former case, such intervention is at the individual’s own risk, whereas when a state intervenes it is largely at the general population’s risk.

      Moreover, in the former case no coercion need be involved (if you fancy fighting in Syria it is your life and your money after all!), whereas in the latter case, no matter how justifiable the intervention may be, it will necessarily involve the threat of force both to raise money and make people to join the fight.

      It might be argued that with all-volunteer armed forces, no coercion is involved, but let us not forget that military law involves weighty penalties for anyone who refuses to participate in a particular war.

      To address the specific point raised with regard to Germany in 1939, things are perhaps not quite as clear cut as you suggest.

      Putting aside the property rights violations that this intervention inevitably involved – remember that conscription was introduced in the UK before the fighting had even begun – it is worth bearing in mind that it converted a local conflict into a world war and also more or less ended any prospect of Jewish emigration from German controlled territory.

      And after around 400,000 British Empire deaths, Polish independence still had not been restored – and the Empire itself was a spent force, never to recover.

      It is also interesting to note that in your comments on immigration you say that property rights should be upheld. However, this appears to contradict your earlier views on war, as private property rights are always one of the first casualties of military intervention.

  6. Peter the difference is one of effectiveness.

    If you think that private individuals could have defeated the Nazi war machine (and its allies the Empire of Japan and Fascist Italy – the place the war started, Poland, does not mean it would not have inevitably started anyway even if Britain had agreed to the Nazis taking Poland, the war would simply have broken out somewhere else), or the Communist invasion of Korea (of even Napoleon or Louis XIV) well then I do not agree with you.

    However, I am open to being convinced by concrete evidence and military (military – not political or philosophical) argument.

    For example, the private armed forces of John Reeves (the Association for the Defence of Liberty and Property – founded in response to the French Revolution) were, at one time, actually larger than the regular British army. Although how effective his forces would have been (had Britain been invaded – or was subject to a large scale armed revolt organised by outside influence and internal traitors) was never put to the test.

    Historians do not like to examine such matters (one of the rare books on the above example is “The Loyalists”) for a mixture of ideological reasons.

    However, I am reminded of the old saying “if such things as the RNLI did not exist, people would say they were impossible”.

    Although the existence of such things as a private lifeboat service (and, at one time, private charitable lighthouses) does not prove that voluntary effort could (for example) provide an effective private nuclear forces – I remain open to being convinced.

    Adam Smith words “defence is more important than opulence” (written as part of his mocking of the militia has an alternative to the regular army) may not be the last word on this subject.

    Some anarcho capitalists (although NOT the Rothbardians – who are very much trapped in the clouds of theory) try and produce valid military arguments for their position.