In some of the (many) arguments about socialism in which I’ve engaged, its defenders point at the successes of communes and kibbutzes as “proof” that socialism can work and as a refutation to my assertion that it is always doomed to fail. There are various ways to rebut this defense, but one in particular stands out, both for its pointedness and as a broader principle: the freedom to leave. Communes and other small-scale joint-ownership schemes (sometimes) succeed because they are based on voluntary participation. It should go without saying that, if you’re there of your own free will, you also have the right to leave.

The history of national-level socialism and its variants, on the other hand, is the history of walls, barbed wire, and machine gun turrets to prevent people from leaving. And, of course, of coercion. Not every socialistic system erects concertina wire to keep people in, but everyone relies on coercion of the minority and rights-violations at the point of a gun. This is the joke of “democratic socialism,” which is simply a re-branded form of the majority taking rights and property away from the minority.

The freedom to leave goes, as I noted, much broader than as a simple condemnation of socialism. Any political system, any cultural system, any ideology, and indeed, any religion, creed, following, or banding-together must include it if it is to be considered compatible with human liberty and dignity.

Alas, too many fail the test.

I was reminded of this as I read, this morning, that a tentative deal had been struck between the UK and the EU regarding the “Brexit.” It is to be expected that unraveling a complicated and deeply tangled knot would be complex and time-consuming, but that complexity should not include what appears to be petulance and the desire to punish. We see parallels in this behavior in America, where renouncing citizenship is punished with an exit tax.

We also see it in some religions, sects, and cults, where reactions to apostasy range from shunning to death, and where shunning goes beyond mere back-turning by members to demands upon an apostate’s family that he or she be rejected and/or expelled. That’s not liberty, either. It’s so clearly and definitively not-liberty that even the United Nations, an organization with a decrepit and twisted understanding of the concept, nevertheless gets it right.

In America, where we have 50 states and myriad cities within those states, we do enjoy the freedom to leave one for the other. We might choose to do so for economic purposes, for political purposes, for lifestyle purposes, for family purposes, or simply for a change of scenery. If we don’t like the direction our home city or state is taking, we can move to a different one. If we do like the direction another city or state is taking, we can move to it. This is liberty, and it’s also a market force that motivates governments to do things to attract the migratorily-inclined. Of course, what often happens instead is that some of those governments get pissy when people leave because of the policies they enacted, and look to find ways to hinder those migrations. There’s only so much a state or city can do, on its own, to hinder emigration, but if it can get the federal government to reduce the disparities between states, it can reduce or neutralize some of the things that drive people to other states. This is where America’s socialist wannabes show their true colors. Rather than saying “we’ll elevate the places where we have a lot of support to the goals and aspirations we have, and let those who don’t want to come along leave,” they seek to impose their ideas on everyone. They seek to negate the freedom to leave, by acting at the national level, rather than at the state or local level.

The freedom to leave is a compelling litmus test for the degree of liberty offered by any idea or plan. If it’s not there, the idea or plan should be treated, at the very minimum, with skepticism and distrust.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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