Joe Salerno has written an excellent essay, describing the perspective of Ludwig von Mises on the inter-related subjects of political borders, immigration, and nation. Further, Salerno offers clarity on Mises’s view of liberalism – and it isn’t classical liberalism as generally described. The entire piece is worth at least two reads; I will here offer only an overview.
My purpose in this short essay is to set forth Mises’s views on immigration as he developed them as an integral part of the classical liberal program he elaborated. I shall not attempt to criticize or evaluate his views.
Salerno is the consummate professional; courteous, scholarly, respectful. As I am, on the other hand, a mosquito…I will handle this topic a little differently; not regarding Mises’s views but the views of some in the audience.
Beginning his piece, Salerno offers that many advocates of free immigration point to Mises as a fellow traveler. But…not so fast:
However, Mises’s views on the free migration of labor across existing political borders were carefully nuanced and informed by political considerations based on his first-hand knowledge of the deep and abiding conflicts between nationalities in the polyglot states of Central and Eastern Europe leading up to World War One and during the subsequent interwar period.
Conflicts between nationalities within the same political boundaries; Mises certainly would know, having lived it. This leads directly to Mises’s view of “liberalism”:
[Liberalism’s] two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked.
For Mises, self-determination was an individual right; for Mises, the freedom offered by liberalism could not be separated from (or perhaps could not survive without) “national unity.” There is no “liberalism” without “national unity” (as Salerno describes it: “national unity based on a common language, culture, and modes of thinking and acting”). If you can remain patient for about 160 words, this seeming contradiction will be explained.
I know some in the audience choke whenever they see me (and now Mises) using the word “nation,” conflating this idea with “state.” Mises is not confused (but it would be silly to think he was):
…the nation has a fundamental and relatively permanent being independent of the transient state (or states) which may govern it at any given time.
Read again what Salerno offers for clarification of “national unity” and how this differs from the concept of “state.” Consider that national unity offers the possibility of a significantly less coercive state. For Mises, political borders that do not evolve with the nation offered a certainty of internal conflict; political borders that do not respect the nation within it offer conflict as well.
Consider also that this came about naturally – inherent in man’s nature. Citing Mises:
The formation of [liberal democratic] states comprising all the members of a national group was the result of the exercise of the right of self determination, not its purpose.
Human beings are not atomistic beings; human beings hold emotional and spiritual bonds with other select human beings. Call these select human beings family, kin, and nation. In other words, humans are…human. Salerno offers Rothbard on this point as well:
Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture.
Salerno goes on to describe Mises view of similarities of colonialism and minorities within a political boundary. In many ways, the treatment by the overlords / majorities of these two groups is similar.
Mises maintains that two or more “nations” cannot peacefully coexist under a unitary democratic government.
And with this, a clue is offered as to why national movements sprung forth at the same time that the state moved toward liberalism and democracy. Mises, I think, would have expected nothing else.
Thus, concludes Mises, even if the member of the minority nation, “according to the letter of the law, be a citizen with full rights . . . in truth he is politically without rights, a second class citizen, a pariah.”
It is easy to be for open borders, unchecked immigration, and the dismissal of culture when one is a part of the political majority. Try being the minority for a while; see how thatfeels.