AntiWar.Com is arguably the libertarian movement’s single most valuable contribution to political debate around the world. I am proud to be a donor to and occasional copywriter for the site.
And Justin Raimondo’s unapologetically libertarian columns for the site are among its most obvious assets. Justin is consistently hard-hitting, well-informed, and willing to take on sacred cows with little hesitation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his books about the life and thought of Murray Rothbard and, even though I’m a leftist, the anti-imperialist heritage of American conservatism. I’m a big fan of Justin and his work.
But I wish he hadn’t taken the position he did in his recent column, “South of the Border,” available here. (Raimondo’s AntiWar.Com colleagues respond here.) Addressing the problem of drug-related violence along the US-Mexico border, he fails to discuss the obvious and crucial role of drug prohibition in creating and exacerbating this violence. And he treats the state as a legitimate entity with responsibilities and rightful claims to authority. He writes: “Okay, you might ask, so what’s your solution to the problem, Mr. Smarty-pants? A logical question, with an inescapably logical answer: stop trying to protect Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan and start protecting our own border with Mexico. Make the border airtight. In short, start using the resources of the federal government to carry out its one-and-only legitimate function: securing and protecting our borders.”
I’m not convinced.
1. In accounting for border violence, Raimondo fails to focus on the central factor—the criminalization of the drug trade. This matters, of course, because criminalization creates and sustains oligopolistic privileges for drug dealers—and for their political cronies in both Mexico and the United States. Those privileges drive up prices dramatically and so boost incentives for people to use violence to obtain drug profits. In addition, by locating the drug industry outside the law, criminalization makes it impossible for people involved in the industry to resolve intra-industry disputes using the legal system and disposes them to resort to violence to do so instead. Further, because the legal system and associated cultural norms frame participants in the industry as criminals, they will be more inclined to behave as criminals are expected to behave: while there is no necessary connection between selling drugs on the one hand and violently attacking persons or property on the other, if both are treated as criminal in nature—and, indeed, if engaging in the drug trade is treated as among the most vile of crimes—it is hardly surprising if violence by participants in the trade is viewed as normal not only outside but also inside the trade.
It is not a lack of immigration controls that accounts for violence along the border. It is, instead, the existence and operation of violent organizations whose existence and predisposition to violence are inexplicable without the activity of the state.
Replying to a critic, Raimondo says that mafia violence persisted after the end of Prohibition, implying that it is unreasonable to think that drug legalization would end border violence. However, the end of Prohibition was not accompanied by an end to cartelizing laws and regulations that enabled organized crime to profit from involvement in industries other than alcohol production and distribution, including gambling, prostitution, and the creation and sale of non-alcoholic dugs, so the American experience with Prohibition can only provide limited insights into what would happen in the absence of the regulations responsible for birthing and nourishing the drug trade in northern Mexico.
2. It is certainly true that organizations involved in the drug trade might seek to engage in other sorts of crime were drugs legalized. But Raimondo fails to emphasize that the fact that drug cartels are violent tells us nothing about whether ordinary people should be treated as likely participants in violence. The need to protect peaceful people from cartel-related violence does not justify the actual or threatened use of force against people who are behaving non-violently.
3. The failure to discriminate between protecting the peaceful from criminal violence and regulating the behavior of those who are themselves peaceful reflects a more deep-seated problem with Raimondo’s column: it treats the state, an organ of institutionalized violence, as legitimate and its claims to govern the territory it claims as reasonable. There are no justifications for doing either. And it is especially odd to find Raimondo, a founder of the Libertarian Radical Caucus, reasoning this way. An entity that violently asserts and maintains a monopoly over the use of force and the determination of legal rights is not entitled to exist and has no necessary responsibilities.
4. There is an integral connection between opposition to war and opposition to the power of the state. So there is something odd about serving as editorial director of AntiWar.Com while favoring state violence. I oppose the statist violence of war because of a deeper opposition to aggression—purposefully attacking their minds and bodies, or infringing on their property when I would resent their doing the same to me. But the force employed to prevent unauthorized immigrants from entering the United States is aggressive, provided their entry takes place on state property, which is properly treated as unowned or as generally accessible, or on the private property of people who are willing to receive them. And this is doubly so of such force used to prevent them from remaining or working here once they have arrived. In such cases, force is unjustly used to impede voluntary, consensual relationships between contracting partners. Opposing the unjust use of force in war is inconsistent with favoring its use to attack peaceful people seeking work or fleeing violence.
The drug trade, not peaceful migration, lies behind border violence. And state action is largely responsible for the violent quality of the drug trade. The state has no right to exist and no legitimate function. And opposition to state violence in war leads naturally to opposition to state violence more generally, including state violence used to repel or eject peaceful migrants or to penalize them for seeking work or others for providing them with work. Raimondo’s call for “airtight” border controls is both unnecessary and unjust.