Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Closed Borders, Closed Minds?

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Closed Borders, Closed Minds?

Article excerpt

The admission or denial of entry to foreign nationals is fraught with moral dilemmas, finds Paul Scheffer.

Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is There a Right to Exclude?

By Christopher Heath Wellman and Phillip Cole

Oxford University Press 336pp, Pounds 60.00 and Pounds 15.99

ISBN 9780199731732 and 31725

Published 20 October 2011

It's not often that the leaders of the major European countries agree. They managed to do so last spring, when David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel announced in unison that multiculturalism had failed. Strikingly, none of the three was at all clear about the place migrants have in their societies. This omission is not innocent, since in many countries there is a tendency to deny that they have become nations of immigrants. It's no accident that debates about integration problems are under way everywhere, yet nowhere do we see the implementation of a coherent immigration policy.

Against that background, the publication of this book by the philosophers Christopher Heath Wellman and Phillip Cole is timely. They succeed in exploring the moral dilemmas surrounding immigration in an accessible way. The book consists of two essays: Wellman makes the case for the right to exclude, Cole for a human right to cross national borders. Their study shows vividly how a profound difference of opinion can be clarified by reasoned dialogue, which makes it a lesson in philosophy as democracy.

Wellman bases his argument on three premises: legitimate states have a right to self-determination; freedom of association is an essential part of that self-determination; and, finally, freedom of association implies a freedom not to associate with others. Inclusion and exclusion are essential to every nation state: "Since a country's immigration policy determines who has the opportunity to join the current citizens in shaping the country's future, this policy matters enormously to any citizen who cares what course her political community takes."

To clarify his stance, Wellman makes much use of analogies: clubs and associations rely on the possibility of excluding people from membership. Why should that not apply to a national community? It's precisely this comparison that Cole rejects. Although exclusion from a club may be hurtful, people can develop perfectly well outside it. …

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