Questions about immigration fundamentally challenge those who see themselves in the liberal camp. One hallmark of the liberal state is that it takes individual attitudes in many areas of life as given and rules them out only if they threaten the functionality of the state. When confronted with immigration, a liberal state may choose to develop a systematic approach, and thus come up with a view of what kind of people it wants to include or exclude, or it may choose not to develop such an approach. In the first case the liberal state passes judgment on people in terms of their fitness for membership. Any criterion used for inclusion also reflects a judgment on those who already live in the country, and will bring about change that is beneficial for some citizens and detrimental for others. In the second case the liberal state has to live with the consequences of whatever alternative approach it develops.
Things become yet more complicated if one sees immigration in a global context. Immigration can plausibly be regarded as one way of satisfying duties toward the global poor—duties that many political leaders and citizens, as well as most contemporary philosophers, would acknowledge, at least in some form. Immigration—permanent or temporary—can serve this function partly because it allows some people access to greener pastures, and partly because of the remittances sent back by immigrants to their countries of origin. Once we think of immigration in a global context, we are led to ask more fundamental questions—namely, why it would be acceptable in the first place (especially to those thus excluded) that we draw an imaginary line in the dust or adopt the course of a river and think of that as a border. As Rousseau famously remarks at the opening of Part II of his Second Discourse on Inequality, "The first person who, having fenced off a lot of ground, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society." Is it only because of such simplicity that states are accepted? Such thoughts leave us wondering about the legitimacy of a system of states per se.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
An interesting exchange on the ethics of immigration... The original essay by Mathias Risse appeared in Ethics and International Affairs (Spring 2008), reproduced here at the Carnegie Council's site. Responses to the original paper follow here. Here's a selected, and partial, beginning framework for the discussion: