Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

. Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An interesting thesis from Arash Abizadeh at McGill University. Here's the abstract:

Critics of state sovereignty have typically challenged the state’s right to close its borders to foreigners by appeal to the liberal egalitarian discourse of human rights. According to the liberty argument, freedom of movement is a basic human right; according to the equality or justice argument, open borders are necessary to reduce global poverty and inequality, both matters of global justice. I argue that human rights considerations do indeed mandate borders considerably more open than is the norm today but that, no matter how radical in its critique of state sovereignty, human rights discourse fails to address a crucial feature of this ideology. It is not enough to engage in a substantive moral argument about what the state’s moral duties are. One must also address the procedural political question of who has the legitimate authority to decide what rights and duties to act on in cases of disagreement. In addition to human rights discourse, I argue, border activists must also draw on the challenge posed to the doctrine of state sovereignty by the democratic theory of popular sovereignty. According to democratic theory, the people subject to the state’s coercive exercise of political power, and not the state itself, is ultimately the sovereign arbiter of political questions. And because foreigners are subject to the state’s border laws, democratic theory requires granting them a participatory say in setting those laws.

Via Wilkinson, who adds:

I notice some of my interlocutors are strongly attracted to the idea that the democratic preferences of a state’s voting citizenry is decisive. I’d probably make the argument in a somewhat different way, but I suspect that Abizadeh is right that the standard liberal-democratic story about the conditions for the legitimate exercise of state coercion requires that foreigners be allowed to weigh in on policies that subject them to state force. I’m far from sure what I think about this as a practical matter, but I think he’s on to something important. I suspect that if he’s right, many border-sealers would be happy enough to reject the standard liberal-democratic story and retreat to a “We get to make these rules however we like because it’s our club, damn it!” sort of position. But that’s hard to recognize as much more than a reflex in defense of tribal privilege.

The beginnings of a new norm? I doubt it. But it's an interesting thought experiment, especially for those of us who think that the concept of state sovereignty is more valuable as a pragmatic principle than a moral principle.


Liberté, égalité, fraternité




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