Carl Watner

The Exit Option




A lucid and reasoned plea for no borders and the exit option, everywhere and for everyone.




The ideal of an open world, one without political borders or passports, was once described by Ernest Bevin, British Foreign Secretary, in 1946:

"A diplomat asked me in London one day what the aim of my foreign policy was, and I said, ‘To go down to Victoria Station, get a railway ticket, and go where the hell I liked without a passport or anything else’.''

Voluntaryists can certainly concur with his sentiment. The more collectivized and controlled a society is, the more political restrictions hamper freedom of movement and the right to travel. In this paper, we shall discuss the concepts of citizenship, passports and international travel as they relate to the free and the not-so-free society.

History teaches that the last resort of the individual against tyranny is the ability to escape from the tyrant. The Jews fled Egypt and the Pharaohs when things got too hot for them in Biblical days. The Separatists left Holland and England for the New World during the 17th Century. Large numbers of Jews and intellectual dissidents left Nazi Germany as they saw signs that World War II would break out. The very existence of the Berlin Wall demonstrates the threat that the communists fear from those who desire to escape.

Monetary exchange controls and restraints on the export of capital act in the same way as travel restrictions on the individual. Both the right to travel and the right to move one’s money or capital around the world are forms of property rights.
As Charles Fried wrote in an article on the borders of freedom, « since most people do not have a unique and transportable talent, money represents the concrete expression of their effort, talent and good luck. To hold a man's money in while letting his person out seems liberal principally to the intellectual who imagines that he carries his fortune in his head. For most people, however, what they have earned is in some sense the precipitate of who they are and have been. »

The exit option, as Fried labelled it, is the last resort of those who reject collective authority. No one leaves their place of birth and home without great amounts of forethought.
To leave expresses exasperation and dissatisfaction with one's community and the way it is governed. It is the next to last gesture of a free man; the last being, as Seneca noted, the exit option of suicide.

Would a stateless world exist without travel restrictions? The only voluntaryist history we have to draw upon is the experience of the American colonists and pioneers in migrating and settling this country. Until 1856, there was no federal legislation governing the granting of passports, and until World War I no passport was required for entrance into or for residence in the United States (a temporary exception was made during the Civil War whereby all Americans and foreigners had to present a passport on entering the country). Although the World War I regulations requiring passports were not in effect during the1920s and 30s, the visa requirements of many other nations made the possession of a passport a practical necessity for American travelers. Since 1941, the federal government has required every American citizen who leaves the United States to have a valid passport (with certain exceptions as to destination).

Until World War I, passports issued to American travelers were primarily certificates of citizenship and a guarantee that diplomatic agents abroad would extend protection to its bearer.
Early passports were often issued by the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C., but also by consuls, governors of the states, other local authorities (the mayor of New Orleans issued passports as late as 1899), and even by notaries. It was not uncommon for peddlers in the larger cities in the United States to issue passports or "certificates of legitimation," that passed as passports to the unwary.

Given the experience of a nearly passport-less society for two and one half centuries (1650-1900), there seems little reason to believe there would be any legitimate market demand for routine international identification papers in a world without States.
After all, even today, we don't need a passport to cross local state borders or take up residence in a new state. If the system works domestically, it could work internationally.
If there were a demand for internationally recognized identification papers, private agencies or service bureaus, operating as adjuncts to insurance companies or defense services, would undoubtedly spring up to furnish them. They would probably issue certificates, something akin to the statist passport of today — a document featuring the photograph of the bearer, as well as his name and address. Such a certificate might have its authenticity guaranteed by the signature of one of the officers of the issuing agency, much as signatures are guaranteed today in commercial transactions and on contracts, by a signature guarantor at a bank.

The one thing that private passport agencies could not do would be to use their documents to restrict travel privileges, which is how nation-states have used the compulsory passport during most of the last four hundred years. Passports were instituted in France prior to the Revolution in order to control the movement of certain classes of people, like vagrants, to whom they were issued in order to enable them to return to their country of origin. They were also issued to French artisans who wished to leave the country. Those who conceivably could carry off trade secrets were denied them.

In the German states, special passports were required for those citizens who were capable of military service (in order to prevent desertion and enlistment in foreign armies), for those leaving quarantined areas during epidemics, and for Jews traveling throughout the country. Soon after the Revolution in France (1792), a strict system of passport control was instituted, even though the Constitution of 1791declared complete freedom of transit as one of the natural rights of man. The menace of political emigration, of desertion from the army, and flight abroad led the National Assembly to prohibit all persons without passports from traveling in France, and entering or departing the country. Subsequent laws of 1793 and 1795 confirmed these prohibitions and soon all the countries of Europe, with the exception of England, Sweden, and Norway, adopted the French system.

It was in this manner, that the passport, which originally was a « discretionary document granted at the request of travelers in order to insure their protection, or at most, a document required only of certain classes of people, was transformed into a compulsory official paper limiting individual freedom and imposed upon all solely in the interest of the State. »

Behind the idea of the passport and citizenship is the concept of allegiance. According to the State, each and every citizen has obligations: to obey the law, to pay taxes, and to serve militarily as required by law.
The roots of American citizenship may be traced back to English feudal law. The ancient English tradition — "Once an Englishman, always an Englishman! "—was known as the doctrine of perpetual or indelible allegiance. As it prevailed in the 17th and early 18th centuries, this ideology was in many ways one of the most powerful and totalitarian expressions of the nation-state in the West. As far as the individual Englishmen was concerned, he was considered to owe allegiance from the moment of his birth.

In England, a person could not renounce his citizenship except by permission from the king in Parliament. It was the basis of all rights and duties and extended to the person in question the privilege of owning real property. Property ownership was not an inherent right as evidenced by the fact that aliens residing in England could not own land, and what land they did acquire or use was held only at the sufferance of the king.

In the United States, the development of citizenship and allegiance largely followed English law, though disputes arose as to whether British subjects could discharge their allegiance by becoming American citizens. This was one of the causes of the War of 1812. British seamen, due to the rigors of the Royal navy, increasingly sought the protection of the American flag by taking out naturalization papers in the United States. Although Britain never claimed the right to impress native-born Americans or to search American-flagged vessels, there were numerous instances of British captains forcibly kidnapping « deserters » off American ships. From 1809 to 1811, between 750 and 1000 men each year were captured by the Royal navy. Some of these men held dual citizenship, having been born British and then undergone U.S. naturalization. The issue was not ultimately resolved until the British naturalization Act of 1870, by which British subjects were able to renounce their citizenship, apart from an act of Parliament.

Are voluntaryists citizens of the United States of America? What are the requirements and obligations of citizenship? The last act of an alien before acquiring United States citizenship is the recitation of the following oath:

I hereby declare on oath that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen, that I will support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the U.S.A. against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms in behalf of the U.S. when required by law; or that I will perform non-combatant service in the armed forces of the U.S. when required by law; or that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; So help me God!

Could you, in good conscience, accept these demands?



Short Bibliography

Keith Clark, "Passports and Travel, " SOL III Magazine (Volume II, no. 6), 1972, pp. 8-20.

Alan Dowty, CLOSED BORDERS: The Contemporary Assault on Freedom of Movement,
new Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

Charles Fried, "Exit, " THE NEW REPUBLIC, October 31, 1983, pp.10-12.

Andor Klay, DARING DIPLOMACY, Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1957.

"Passport," Volume XII, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1934, pp.13-16.


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