Open Borders after Orlando

Image: Police cars in Minneapolis, 2015. Photo by Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0

Can open societies remain open, even with mass immigration?

Sunday night’s shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by a young ISIS sympathizer highlights a growing tension in the West. Can open societies have open borders? Is mass immigration a threat to liberty? The fashionable answer has been no—indeed, many liberals argue that a truly open society includes a rich exchange of cultures, sustained by mass immigration, while many libertarians suggest that a truly open society won’t restrict the free flow of labor and people over its borders. Yet both the liberal view and the libertarian view have been running into trouble.

The Orlando shooting is a particular challenge to liberals. A vision of society in which individuals are liberated from identity-based hindrances must now reckon with a shooter who, because of who he is (a radical Islamist), killed people because of who they are (gays). And this is not an isolated incident. European Jews have been attacked because they are Jews in places like a kosher market in France or a Jewish museum in Belgium. European women have been harassed, denigrated and sexually assaulted in public because they are women.

Innocent citizens in places like France and Spain have been murdered in the streets or on trains because they are French or Spanish and the attackers were unhappy with French and Spanish foreign policies. A British soldier was beheaded in broad daylight in his own country because he was a British soldier. American military personnel manning a recruiting station in Chattanooga were killed because they were American military personnel. And in every case, the attacker’s motive stemmed from who he was, too: an Islamic extremist. And the presence of a meaningful number of Islamic extremists in non-Islamic countries can only be a product of sustained, large-scale immigration.

But the libertarian vision of society is also in question. The threat of public violence is, of course, a direct danger to liberty. If people cannot exercise their freedom of association by going to a nightclub or their freedom of religion by going to a synagogue or a store that sells kosher food because a mass murderer might kill them, their freedoms are diminished irrespective of the state’s guarantees. (And, of course, the dead have no freedom at all.)