Carens, Joseph. H. 1987. “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders,” in Review of Politics 49(2). 251-273

Carens provides a no-borders argument by employing libertarian, Rawlsian, and utilitarian theories. In the first paragraph I will assess the libertarian and utilitarian theories, before going on in the second to explain the Rawlsian argument and in the third to assess Walzer’s communitarian critique.

Carens observes the Nozickean libertarian argument to show how it can be used as a no-borders theory. Property cannot, according to this theory, be collectively owned. The state can ensure the liberty of all citizens by restricting intervention and enforcing a minimal rule. It can do this within the boundaries in which it operates, but Carens suggests that this does not necessarily mean that they do not apply to anyone. Because property cannot be owned by collectives, non-citizens of a nation have equal stakes in the allocation of property. The third, utilitarian argument Carens attempts to employ is the least attractive. According to the discussion he offers of utilitarianism, we should have restricted or unrestricted immigration insofar as it maximises utility. He suggests that this scale of utility need not be restricted to within states. Rather, worldwide utility may be maximised. This does not seem persuasive, mainly because of the disagreements among utilitarians which he highlights. What, he asks, should count as utility? He shows how some may count racial prejudice or sadism, others simply monetary data. The problem with any account is that we may reach an optimum situation in terms of utility which includes either restricted or unrestricted movement. It seems strange how he attempts to employ the utilitarian no-borders argument and tries to show it as one that supports his view. It seems to create more problems than it solves.

The second argument Carens employs is an adaptation of Rawlsianism. The original position, he insists, should work on a global scale. Just as people under the veil of ignorance would be unaware of their race/sex and so on, people in a global original position would also be unaware of their place of birth. This seems like an extension of the first Rawlsian original position, rather tan an adaptation of the second, global original position advanced in the Law of Peoples. He says this view is `compatible with a respect for all human beings as moral persons’. He goes on to suggest that the same principles people would agree upon in the first original position would pertain at a global level. Immigration, then, would be unrestricted insofar as it does not threaten `public order.’ In the original position, people would choose a system in which their liberty is restricted in order to ensure that their liberty is upheld.

Walzer argues that the state’s status as a self-determining body gives us reason to believe that they have a right to permit or exclude outsiders. Aside from the problems Carens sees with this view, I believe that there are further problems with Carens’ views. He seems to disregard the fact that public order may be maintained under a system where immigrants are exploited. Even though he insists, rightly, that all human beings are moral persons, surely they may lose this status, or maybe it will only just be fulfilled if unrestricted immigration leads to people working for extremely low wages for indigenous inhabitants of their new nation. Public order may be maintained, in other words, not through a restriction on numbers of immigrants, but rather through a restriction on distribution of wages to them once they arrive.

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Caney, Simon. 2005. “Cosmopolitan Justice, Responsibility, and Climate Change,” in Leiden Journal of International Law 18 (4). 747-775.

If we are to endorse the polluter pays principle (PPP), we must know who the polluter is. Caney shows that a number of theorists attribute `polluter status’ to countries, or nations rather than individuals. He agrees that other options for the attribution of polluter status can be `collapsed’ into the state. He asks us to consider who pays for the pollution created by an actor who is no longer alive. In this case, he shows, some have argued that the PPP should be replaced with the BPP (Beneficiary Pays Principle). He highlights two possible problems with this principle, but I thought another needs to be illustrated. It doesn’t seem plausible to call somebody who benefits from the unfair advantage of a damaging act a beneficiary. Yes, one can benefit from stealing or robbing, but they will not be a true beneficiary, because, if they are caught, they will indeed be required to pay the cost. Similarly, somebody who benefits from somebody else’s taking of unfair advantage will still have to pay the physical costs of this pollution. The discussion surrounding the BPP seems to ignore, as far as I can tell, the fact that one may benefit in a financial sense but not in a physical one.

Caney highlights some problems with the PPP, before going on to suggest what he calls a `hybrid’ approach, whereby the most advantaged are required to pay for the pollution caused by past generations. This seems to me to be a correct way of acquiring payment for pollution, but it seems that Caney should have added a further, progressive requirement to his approach. In virtue of our common humanity, it should be the case that everybody pay a progressive amount into the `pot’ for payment into correcting climate change caused by past generations. It is unlikely that many people will insist they still have a special tie to one of their ancestors who took a predominant role in the industrial revolution. For this reason, it would make sense to make even those who do not benefit from the results of the industrial revolution to pay some towards its correction of its pollutants. I don’t think that familial or national ancestry should have an effect on who should be made to pay for past polluting.

To make this point clearer, it seems adequate to consider two countries, either side of the world. They are both equally developed. One, however, has caused a lot more pollution than the other. Should the citizens of the higher polluting country be made to pay more for the work of their ancestors? I don’t think so, simply because they were not in any way involved in the instigation of the act which caused the pollution. Caney illustrates this point clearly with reference to those inhabitants of the less-polluting nation: `It is true that they may not have caused the problem but this does not mean that they have no duty to help solve this problem.’ Even if the problem was caused by the ancestors of those in another nation, this does not mean that I should not be required to compensate. They were, after all, humans – and so am I.

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Moral Ransom Payments

There are two sets of problems involved in the recent kidknapping of two British tourists by Somali pirates. The first surround the methods in which their release could be secured, and the second, much less discussed surround where the burden of payment or risk falls once a solution to the first set has been settled upon.  Any action that is taken to secure the release of the Chandlers will certainly involve some significant monetary payment or personal risk. In this short blog, I will argue that this burden (which, for the sake of length restriction, I will call the release burden) should not be assumed by any singular actor or body.

Intuition would lead most of us to the assumption that the release burden imposed by those involved should fall upon a person or persons some how closely associated with the Chandlers. Perhaps the Chandlers should pay the ransom themselves. But what if they cannot afford it? Their family? And if they can’t? The British government seems to be the obvious answer. It has a duty to protect its citizens from harm, and a substantial payment to Somali pirates will do seemingly little financial or military harm.

I think, however, that we should reconsider this intuition if we are indeed to act morally. I do not think that it is possible to argue, from a moral point of view, that the burden of release should fall only upon those involved, their relatives, or their fellow nationals for the following two reasons:

Firstly, the mistaken decision made by the Chandlers to sail through dangerous waters was not influenced by any group or individual. If they were told, misleadingly, that the route they planned to take was safe, then perhaps we would be justified in making the claim that those who misled them should incurr the release burden. It seems, however, that the only people involved in the mistaken decision were the Chandlers themselves, and the relationship between the act and those close to them is simply arbitrary.  A comparison can be drawn here with the plight of the families of the Chinese cockle pickers who were tragically killed at Morecambe Bay in 2004. I cannot see how it can be argued that these families should have the burden of payment to the gangsters imposed upon them for the decisions  of their sons and daughters to travel to England that many of them disagreed with. Either way, if the decision indeed was a mistake, then those involved in taking it should not be forced to incur the burden of payment or release. As G A Cohen and other egalitarians have argued, it makes sense that support should be offered to those who did not choose their unfortunate plight.

Secondly, I cannot see why our willingness to help those in need should depend upon the willingness or ability of others to do so. It should rather depend upon our genuine concern for those concerned. If this, and only this, is taken in to consideration, an international cooperative solution will be met. A complete moral actor, I believe, would not interpret the release burden as a burden at all, but rather as an automatic call for cooperation to get the victims to safety.

Perhaps in the future we will see international cooperation in the release of hostages. If this were to happen, I believe that those unfortunate enough to be kidnapped would feel a great more secure in the knowledge that their fate is not being shunted between actors whose unwillingness to contribute results from their lack of familial or national connection. If decisions are uninfluenced and mistaken, then surely everybody in the world has a moral duty to offer sanctuary, irrespective of their connections to those who made them.

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The Importance of the Popular Vote in the Lib-Con Coalition

I think I should start this post by mentioning that by no means do I understand it’s topic to be original. I am almost certain that what you are about to read will have been said, possibly on numerous occasions, in the press. With all honesty,  however, I must say that I have yet to read any of them, so, on my part at least, it is an original thought. This post may, then, provide to be an excellent example of how little news I have read, rather than watched, in recent days.

On the first Question Time since the 2010 election, it became quite clear, if their audience provided a good gauge of public opinion, that a large number of Liberal Democrat supporters have become somewhat disillusioned not only by the decision of Nick Clegg to enter a coalition with the Conservatives, but also by that of his and his party’s reluctance to push for greater influence within it. Such reluctance, they argue, is a demonstration of both weakness and an unwillingness to adhere to party principles. The Liberal Democrats shouldn’t, they insist, back down on policies which make them distinct.

Although it certainly is the case that Lib Dem pride and policy has been severely damaged by their successions, I don’t think that the above lines of argument hold much ground when numbers are crunched and we actually observe what the outcome of the coalition negotiations actually mean in terms of electoral success.

The Lib Dem’s received 23% of the popular vote, which, as a result of the First Past the Post (FTPT) electoral system, translated in to  9% of, or 57, seats in the Commons. Of course, there are numerous arguments against such a system, which, for obvious reasons, the Lib Dems are so often the first to articulate. I think, however, that their dissatisfaction with FTPT has been to a large degree reconciled by the actual make-up of the Lib-Con coalition, and hence, given their disillusioned (perhaps ex-) supporters significantly less reason to hold such sentiments. The cabinet is now made up of 5 Liberal Democrat, and 18 Conservative ministers. Lib Dems, then, account for 22% of its make-up, one percentile short of what it gained in the popular vote.

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France’s very own Veil of Ignorance

Debates in multiculturalism, like those ignited by controversy in France surrounding the Islamic veil, focus on the right of the state to intervene in the daily lives of minorities. It is argued that the incompatibility of the practices of Muslim women with the values underpinning French society can provide a justification for the restriction of their use. Rather than focusing on the question of whether the French government is justified in restricting practices which are incompatible with its values, however, I believe that debate should focus firstly upon on the question of whether those practices and values are in fact incompatible. This question, I believe, should precede those of whether a restriction on the veil is justified.

It is often argued that the Islamic veil is a symbol of women’s oppression. The BBC showed how Bernard Accoyer, who today presented a report backing the restriction to the French National Assembly, said that the “…divisive approach [of the veil] is a denial of the equality between men and women and a rejection of co-existence side-by-side, without which our republic is nothing.”

As I have said, whether or not such an inequality-generating, oppressive and divisive symbol should justify restrictions is a debate which should follow one surrounding this central premise. If this premise is incorrect, and the purpose of the veil has been misunderstood in much of the western media and societies, its restriction cannot in any way be justified, and the debate should end here.

It is often presumed that Muslim women are forced in to wearing the veil, and hence, are victims of male suppression. They should be liberated from the shackles of religiosity, it is argued, and given the right to wear what ever they want, out of the strict eyes of controlling men. They should be free to wear mini-skirts, and parade, flaunt, and burn their semi-naked bodies in the gaze of jeering, chauvinistic men. I cannot but argue that they should indeed be free to do this if they wish to do so, and that forcing anybody away from something that does not harm others is unacceptable. For those want to protect their dignity, and those who devote themselves to their religion and family, however, there should be ways in which they can minimise such treatment.

Rather than interpreting an acceptance of the veil as providing controlling males with the right and weapons to suppress women, I think that it should (and probably is by a vast majority of Muslims, including women) be interpreted as a way of providing women with the means of protection from both implicit and explicit sexual harassment. Although I cannot in any way agree that forcing women to wear the veil is in any way acceptable, their choice to do so should perhaps be interpreted not as a submission to male tyranny, but rather as an empowering way of fighting against sexual harassment. There should, then, be more consideration given to the question of whether this interpretation is in conflict with the values of the Fifth Republic. Given any proper thought, it is hard to see how the French government could conclude that it does.

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The Failure of Remorse-based Punishment

This week, the news in my home county has been dominated by the South Yorkshire school boys whose actions have led to them being dubbed, somewhat inappropriately, the “devil boys.” Disturbing as their actions were, I will argue here that the justification provided for their punishment  was misplaced. I will do this by considering whether an unwillingness or inability to display remorse can provide grounds for justification. Such an unwillingness or inability, I will argue, does not in fact do so, as it invariably suggests that the actor in question lacks the ability to choose between two courses of action based upon their wrongness.

It was reported that the court based its decision to punish the 11 and 12-year old Edlington brothers somewhat more harshly than may be considered the norm upon the fact that they showed little, if any, remorse. They did not feel guilt for their actions, nor did they acknowledge that their actions were wrong. According to the Guardian, the judge said that ‘…they…showed a “chilling detachment” and lack of remorse.’ Whether this means that either they did not know that their actions were wrong, or they did so but chose to perform them regardless is open to interpretation. If the former, which I think is the more likely of the two, we must consider what the implications of basing the decision upon this fact may mean. If it is the case that the brothers did not know that their actions were wrong, and hence, failed to show remorse as a result, the punishment they will endure will seemingly be misplaced. For if an actor has the choice between two acts, one he or she believes is right and the other wrong, choosing and performing the wrong one will inevitably result in a display of remorse. The actor will feel and express guilt for what they have done, and accept that they chose to pursue the morally wrong course of action. If the actor, however, fails to see that the two courses of action they have a choice between are as polarised as common human morality would judge, he or she cannot be held responsible of making the ‘incorrect’ or ‘wrong’ choice, and hence, cannot be expected to show remorse either.

The ability or inability of the defendant to display remorse, then, does not seem to provide a sound basis for the justification of his or her punishment. If the devil boys were in fact as devilish as the press would like to believe, and made a well informed, fully conscious, unclouded moral decision to do what they knew was wrong, then perhaps it would. But as press reports of the boys background come to light, it seems that expecting such a display was in a number of ways futile. When we consider basing the justification for an actors punishment upon remorse, we must first consider whether they are indeed able to do so. If, for any number of reasons, they lack the ability to make a moral decision between two or more courses of action, then they will surely also lack the ability to display remorse. If we are indeed to base justifications for punishment upon this factor, I believe that when properly considered it would in fact prove to result in a less, rather than more (as has been the case here) severe sentence.

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Nick Griffin’s Lucky Escape

Amid protests and controversy spanning weeks, Nick Griffin finally appeared on BBC’s Question Time last night to face what turned out to be a disappointing tirade of misplaced argument.

According to the Guardian, fever pitch was reached as Griffin entered the BBC’s studios prior to the recording. UAF protesters fought with police outside as he was met with boo’s inside as he took his seat. Despite fierce opposition to his appearance on the show, it is likely that most members of the UAF were excited by the prospect of watching their arch-nemisis being torn apart at the hands of Dimbleby and the panel. 

Yet of the 8 million people who tuned in, or more than twice the previous record viewing figures for the show, I should think that a large proportion felt let down by the inability of the panel to pinpoint the real problems with BNP ‘thought’. The show was a mixture of shouts, finger points, boo’s and whoops as angry panelists and audience members alike bombarded Griffin with questions about what his real views really were. Rather than being forced to defend himself against a dismantling of the utterly dubious reasoning behind the BNP’s manifesto, Griffin was required to do little more than argue about what he had and hadn’t said or done.

Holocaust denial, partying for Hitler’s birthday and speaking alongside the KKK were among the reasons put forward for why we should believe what we all already knew: that he is racist. All Griffin had to do was present himself as moderately as he could. Despite some concluding remarks along the lines of: ‘…he has been exposed for what he really is,’  he managed to present himself, worryingly, as more moderate than he ever has done in the past. Problems with the fundamental beliefs of the BNP were seldom brought forward. These are beliefs that could have been dismantled to the extent where Griffin would be unable to respond. Unfortunately, they weren’t.

Rather than an informed discussion surrounding why the BNP were wrong,  the one on last night’s Question Time surrounded whether Nick Griffin said the things he has. And when he did say, or admit that he had said things that most people consider wrong, there was a lack of opposition to say why.

There was little mention of the benefits of cultural diversity and immigration, and no attempt made to explain the reasons why people make what are often terrifying journeys across the globe to escape hardship far beyond levels experienced in Britain. Indeed, at one point Jack Straw was made to defend himself against accusations that the Labour government has done too little to tighten border controls. He responded with an attempted discussion of the Australian points-based system, a selective, eugenics-inspired policy to enable only the best-off and most successful to enter Britain. Unfortunately this wasn’t discussed in any depth either. It seemed as though Straw, Sayeeda Warsi and Chris Huhne were trying to capture the vote of BNP supporters not by illustrating the fundamental problems with its thought, but rather by portraying themselves as sympathetic to it. Despite bringing up the scapegoat mentality of his party, the panelists did little to offer an alternative or say why it is wrong.

The more we try to hammer home the fact that the views of the BNP are wrong without saying why, the more Griffin is going to continue increasing in popularity. He was called ‘disgusting’ and ‘repulsive.’ One audience member called him ‘Dick Griffin.’ It is clear that the majority of people think that he is these things because his views are misguided and dubious. Last night, however, little time was taken to explain why. If coherent arguments were put forward to do this (of which there is an abundance of), Griffin and the BNP would have come out of their BBC ordeal a great deal more bruised than they actually did.

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