Interesting post.

Your contention that a polity has the right to exclude potential immigrants who want to cause harm, even if only in the far future at the ballot box comes up a lot in the discussion of (normally) Muslim immigration to the UK (and probably other western countries). To what extent does / should this right actually hold, particularly in the case of 'quietist' authoritarian groups who campaign for illiberal ends within a democratic structure?

Some examples:

Those planning violence - excluding them seems clearly justified.

'Quietist' authoritarians - would appear to be excludable under your arguments? This seems very hard in practice and is certainly not current policy.

Proselytisers / ideas - If it is wrong to exercise the right of free movement to harm other people or deprive them of their rights, is it not wrong to exercise the right of free speech to encourage others to do the same? And if we would compromise on free movement in the above cases, why would we not also compromise on free expression (for citizens, not just potential immigrants)?

It seems hard to arrive at a practical policy that does not entail placing potential immigrants into 'risk buckets' with different restrictions for different groups, however this also seems deeply illiberal.

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Having property claims go back decades is at best debatable. At least in Anglo-American law, we have the principle of adverse possession, under which, if I act for a number of years as if something were my property, it becomes (in some measure) my property: If, for example, I walk across your yard to get to the road, eventually I acquire an easement that permits me to go on walking across your yard in perpetuity. This is probably a good legal principle, if we want to avoid ongoing conflicts.

If we aren't trying to achieve some Platonic ideal of justice under which all wrongs are set right (and, for example, any survivors of the Canaanites have claims against both the Jews and the Arabs), but simply to settle current conflicts and get on with our lives, at some point we need to be ready to stop entertaining old claims.

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Maybe I misunderstood your arguments, but I think some of your arguments seems to me still see moral issues in terms of group rights.

You wrote: “Hence it is not a rights violation to keep a Palestinian Arab known to want to kill Jews, for example one who was part of the October 7th Hamas raid, far from areas inhabited by Jews.”

But WHO is the (natural or legal) person having rights to keep a Palestinian out of Israel if an Israeli citizen is willing to sell or rent his land to that Palestinian? Any unwilling Israeli citizen who is suspicious of the trustworthiness of a Palestinian definitely has the moral right to refuse to sell or rent him any land. So, is it the Israeli government that, like any government that forbids free trade, has the moral right to ban any free trade of lands in Israel between a willing Israeli citizen and a Palestinian willing to immigrate?

It seems that you meant the WHO is the government – an “agent” of a group, whether it’s a democracy or a dictatorship -- as you wrote in the following:

“It follows from this argument that the Israelis have a legitimate right to restrict, to some degree, the settlement in Israel of those presently living in Gaza or the West Bank.” “The same argument that implies that Israelis have some right to restrict immigration of Palestinians to Israel also implies that the Palestinians had some right to restrict immigration of Jews to Palestine.”

This, it seems to me, is an argument through the viewpoint of group rights, perhaps for practical reasons but not as a principle. I can, in practice, approve of it. (Taiwan, the place I live, as a group faces a similar situation w.r.t. China and the government has very strict restrictions over the immigration or even visits by mainlander Chinese, a measure of which I approve given the possible military threats from China.) But I think this is only a practical argument and cannot be in principle reconciled with the Libertarian view of individual rights.

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The West has an idea about how to handle forced land acquisition, for future cases (being against it, forcefully). Nobody seems to have a good plan for dealing with already successful land grabs. Looking at Crimea, I think we've decided that it was justified enough, and too hard to reverse - both practical instead of moral concerns. The Russian controlled vote afterward to justify being annexed by Russia was a fig-leaf that met the accepted standards but really only confirmed what everyone already knew - that the Russians had successfully taken it and would not give it back. Russians appear to be a true majority in Crimea, and with the naval base and other major installations, it was significantly controlled by Russia already.

My best guess is that what actually happens is a combination of "Might makes right" and a term that used to be very common in European diplomacy but would be considered morally wrong now - "fait accompli." That could be translated "something that's already done" and was used to signify when some group/country took an action that changed the political landscape and would be difficult to reverse, especially without sparking a major war. Russia taking Crimea was definitely an example of this. The problem with the fait accompli approach is that the counter is to believably signal that you will use disproportionate force, typically go to total war, if they attempt it. I would say that this was one of the causes of WWI, and was definitely a direct cause of WWII (the Allies clearly signaled to Hitler what would happen if he kept invading countries, drawing the line at Poland).

I think WWII and the US/Western European response to Communist uprisings supported by the USSR is the reason that we don't talk about fait accompli like we used to. We are absolutely signaling that such takeovers are not going to be allowed. But they still totally work. What Israel is doing in the West Bank with settlements is absolutely the same idea. When one side wants something and diplomacy isn't working, it's often quite effective to just do it anyway, when one side has the power to do so. It's quite dangerous though. Russia played with fire again with the more recent invasion, and Israel likely is as well.

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You wrote 'On the other hand, a considerable majority of the Arab population of what is now Israel was forced out by the 1948 war and kept out thereafter. '. Most of those people have subsequently died of old age; 1948 was 75 years ago, and most of them weren't infants. Yes, their heirs deserve compensation for lost property, but you're discussing inherited rights to residency or citizenship. Can you provide an expanded argument for that -- with pros and cons?

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> any more than it is wrong to shoot back at someone shooting at me from behind a hostage

That's an interesting issue, because if the police hit you while aiming for a hostage taker, you may *indeed* feel entitled to compensation from the police. If you die, there's no way to render compensation to you, and as a result I am not sure how else to categorize it than as a wrong, an involuntary one at that.

Hostage situations have a long and well-thought-through theory and practice, since it is such a common thing for criminal operations to do. Here are a couple examples of hostage situations where the police found themselves subject to public censure after accidentally shooting hostages while aiming for the hostage takers:



The first one came up in Dog Day Afternoon, a movie which addresses hostage situations in a serious way. Perhaps it's role is as the moral counterweight to Die Hard.

Here's another hostage situation which ended very badly, this time through a more forgivable failure:


Like you said, none of this is relevant; the parties involved are not thinking according to hostage ethics. The fact that they declared war is very meaningful because terrorism is handled under enhanced criminal law, but war is carried out under the Geneva conventions. The break from hostage situation thinking was very explicit and I am with you in questioning it.

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I disagree that this is a question of individual rights vs 'government' rights, a false dichotomy. In a modern democracy, the government is composed of the citizens, all of them. Government is the crude mechanism we use to manage a country composed of individuals, who have individual rights.

I have a right to exclude a violent intruder from my home. I also have the right to exclude a non-violent intruder, if he is unwelcome. A government has a similar right to exclude non-citizens, as an extension of the individual right to exclude unwelcome intruders, if the citizens agree. The entire nation is, in extension, my home.

Some years back I wrote a lengthy post on this topic, is anyone is interested.


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A quick philosophical question.

Does the immoral value of the massacres between Hamas and Israel stem from the intention or the consequences?

Hamas entered Israel with the intention of killing Jews, and is firing thousands of rockets with the intention of killing Jews. The intentions are abominable, but the consequences are weak. There were "only" 1,300 Jewish deaths in the October 7 attack, and very few deaths from rockets, since they were all neutralized by the Iron Dome.

Israel intends to neutralize the Hamas terrorists, which may be morally acceptable. But to do so, Israel has bombed the Gaza Strip, with gigantic consequences, since there are thousands and thousands of civilian victims.

If immorality comes from consequences, as utilitarian morality assumes, then Hamas is less immoral than Israel.

If immorality comes from intentions, as Kantian morality assumes, then Hamas is more immoral than Israel.

It's curious that the left, which is quicker to defend Hamas, uses utilitarian morality.

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This is a very balanced take on the subject. Rights are a funny issue, where in general the two prong of "recognizes" / "is enforced" comes into play - I think people think of all rights as 'natural rights', or that a right they feel strongly about must be 'natural', but natural right is supposed to imply that nature itself, whether it be physics or the nature of the Earth or men, enforces it, in which case it's important to recognize it, like the natural right-of-way of large, heavy vehicles in considerable motion. Most other rights seem to be declared and enforced above nature, some being customary and so instantly or reflexively enforced by people (i.e. property against theft) while others being more or less just the explicit declarations of political powers, and therefore all the more whimsically enforced. In this case, I think 'group rights' make about as much sense as individual rights in general, although specifically the 'right' of a defeated people to have their land back isn't a natural right (the closest we get to natural is 'uti possidetis' of trad international law.) - in that case, it might be a right granted by some power, such as the US-in-fact (instead of the US-de-jure of the Constitution.) However, this also suggests that bombing Gaza and telling people to evacuate is pretty much a certain campaign of execution, since in Uti Possidetis unless some stipulation gives them that land back, they're not leaving it, on threat of bombs or not, given that originally those who stayed rather than left and survived were the only ones that got anything.

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If I understand the history of land purchases correctly, the British never allowed high-value land sales (by anyone to anyone) because of glaring inconsistencies in (and general messiness of) the Ottoman land registry resulting in rampant fraud (sellers not having proper title, not disclosing long-term tenants, etc.). This actually made the situation worse, because it created a black market for land, with sales contracts not registered anywhere, resulting in even more fraud.

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“If someone decides to play Russian Roulette with the gun pointed at my head instead of his, one chance in six of firing, I still get to knock it out of his hand. On the other hand, anyone who flies an airplane anywhere close to me is imposing a very small probability of crashing through my roof and killing me; that does not give me a right to forbid airplane flights. I do not claim to be able to prove moral claims; both of those are reports of moral intuitions, I suspect widely shared.”

It is not necessary to moralise these claims. One can explain them first and foremost as objective consequences of applying libertarianism. The tacit theory of liberty that libertarianism presupposes, or entails, can be explicitly stated as “the absence of interpersonal initiated constraints on preference satisfaction” (more handily, but less precisely, “the absence of initiated imposed costs”). But put aside the explanation of that theory for a moment.

When perfect liberty is not possible, we have to weigh any clashing constraints. Playing Russian Roulette with someone else’s head is a huge initiated constraint on the victim’s preferences as regards what is done with respect to his head. Not allowing such behaviour is a relatively tiny constraint on the would-be perpetrator. Allowing aeroplane overflights is a tiny constraint on the preference for safety of the people it overflies. Disallowing all aeroplane overflights would be a huge initiated constraint on all of the people who prefer to fly.

But is this not doing an interpersonal comparison between initiated constraints in terms of the disutility they cause? (Interpersonal utility comparisons of any sort being something that economists generally try to avoid if possible, as being unscientific and subjective.) That can, at least largely and in principle, be avoided by doing a type of intrapersonal comparison instead. Throughout your lifetime you will find yourself on different sides of clashes of initiated imposed costs (such as aeroplane overflights). The question that you then ask yourself is: which relevant general rule is likely to least initiate an imposed cost on me over my lifetime? Apart from some lunatics or any empirically misinformed people (although that could occasionally be a majority) the answer is likely to be very close to the same for everyone. (For a more detailed philosophical explanation and defence of this theory, see https://jclester.substack.com/p/eleutheric-conjectural-libertarianism and https://jclester.substack.com/p/avoiding-interpersonal-utility-comparisons.)

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You write 'Hence it is not a rights violation to keep a Palestinian Arab known to want to kill Jews, for example one who was part of the October 7th Hamas raid, far from areas inhabited by Jews.'

Who is going to keep the murderous Arab far away from areas inhabited by Jews? The state of Israel? If so, I think it could be argued that legitimising such actions - any actions - of that state is in itself a violation of individual rights, albeit different ones such as taxation.

Also, what if the Arab lives close to the state border where Jews live close to the Israeli side of the border (such as is the case with Gaza and Jerusalem, where Jews and violent Arabs live in close proximity to each other, only separated by a state border). Is the Israeli state justified in taking extra-territorial action to move the murderous Arab further away from the border?

My own view is that there is neither justification for the existence of the state of Israel (nor of any other state, for that matter), nor justification for pre-emptive action such as having a state move the Arab far away. As for the gun-to-the-head metaphor, I think the threat of merely having an anti-Jewish person living next door to is not quite enough to warrant it as there are too many uncertainties: The Arab may have changed his mind, he may take a liking to the Jews inhabiting his neighbourhood, he may be there to take action against someone in a different location (i.e., not against Jews nearby). Etc, etc. So the situation is not as clear cut as a gun to the head. Obviously, if there is proof that the Arab has taken active part in the Hamas raid, he should be prosecuted accordingly. But that should be based on action actually taken by him, not on any intended action.

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Oct 25, 2023·edited Oct 25, 2023

Your summary of history is correct as far as it goes, but Israel and the neighboring countries have been contested territory for much, much longer than that. The Jews took it from the Caananites in about the 15th century BC. (The date the Jews use is somewhat earlier; my estimate is based on the inference that most of the miracles depicted in "The Ten Commandments" were effects of the Thera volcano, which destroyed the Minoan civilization then.) Basically, the Jews owned what is now Israel and its territories until the Romans invaded them beginning in 36 BC. The Romans and then the Byzantines ruled there until the Muslims conquered Arabia and started pushing north into the empire shortly after their founding in the 7th century. From that point it changed hands many times until the Muslims had pretty much finished ethnically cleansing it of Jews in the 19th century.

Thus those who claim the Muslims were there first are using a lookback period convenient to them, while the Jews simply use a longer period. The same can be said of lots of other disputed areas; eastern Germany/western Poland and the Balkans being two more with centuries of conflict behind them.

I don't think it is productive to try to settle a land dispute as long-lasting as those by simply choosing a convenient lookback period and using it because one is about as supportable as the other. If the contesting tribes can't stand to live near each other, I think it would make more sense for one to pay the other off, like your description of the Coase theorem.

But that requires that the sides be able to trust each other. In Islam's case they don't consider it wrong to cheat unbelievers. Biden seems to operate on the same principle in Ukraine. When you have an opponent like that, you simply have to fight until your opponents are either all dead or reduced enough that you think you can deter them.

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Just spitballing here: What if the MultiNational Force of (and?) Observers, now in charge of keeping the neutral zones on the Sinai Peninsula free from both Federation and Romulan warships, extended their duties over the Gaza Strip? For that matter, the MFO might extend West, as well, encompassing the entire Peninsula. Could colonial and imperial powers imposing peace from outside do any worse than the locals?

Strangely, the Sinai showed up in photos from Earth orbit -- Gemini missions, LandSat, others -- as desert before 1967, increasingly green pastures from 1967 until about 1982, when the desert yellow sands started to dominate the photos, all over again. Climate change, I suppose.

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