The Idea of Open Borders: For and Against

  • K Mekonnen


The issue of immigration has gained tremendous attention in recent literature on political theory. It evokes debates among different traditions in political theorizing- liberal egalitarianism, libertarianism and communitarianism to mention the main theoretical camps. What position one is likely to take concerning immigration depends upon one's general view about the nature of the state, what membership to a political community constitutes and about the legitimacy of state borders. This paper examines the discord of opinions that has marked recent discourses on immigration. After a careful examination of the positions taken by main contributors to the debate, namely Joseph Carens, Brian Barry, Hillel Steiner, Michael Walzer and Onora O'Neill, this paper employs the principle of moderation which Aristotle has advocated back in antiquity. Carens’ position is here taken as a point of departure, from where each point of view is weighed against without taking his position for granted. By way of comparative analysis the weaknesses, or at any rate the failure, of Carens’ extreme position can be unravelled. Extreme positions, argument for open borders (as Carens advocates) and a claim for absolute sovereignty, are doomed to fail: they are both theoretically flawed as well as not feasible in the world we live in. Given the conception of the political in the form of state, as it is currently in order, a plausible immigration policy ought not undermine the legitimacy of state borders- without which no political community could be conceived of, without at the same time giving absolute value to sovereignty.

Keywords: state borders, immigration, egalitarianism, libertarianism, communitarianism


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2520-582X
print ISSN: 1810-4487