Open Borders: A Vindication Persistently in Favor of a Global Right to Mobility
The political world appears to be closing at a frantic pace, and exclusion of non-citizens from physical access to, but also from the benefits of membership in, the nation-state, is established in practices and norms. What is the status of border control in the view of political theory? A classic argument advanced by Joseph Carens (1987) and recently restated (Pécoud & Guchteneire 2007, Carens 2013 among others) holds that most widely accepted political theories would concede no room for restrictions to the freedom of international movement, and thus that basic democratic principles would compel to accept open borders. Carens’ and similar reasoning has attracted widespread support, but also vast and profound criticism. In this paper, I recall some of the main objections to open borders, namely those based on 1) realism, in radical or moderate versions (Whelan 1988; Scanlan & Kent 1988; Woodward 1992; discussed in Cole 2000; to be confronted with Hendrickson 1992) 2) liberal nationalism, mainly concerned with safeguarding the preconditions to welfare and robust democracy, but also with national culture (Walzer 1983; Tamir 1993; Miller 1988, 1993, 1995, 2016) and 3) collective freedom of association, derived from the individual right, with its exclusionary implications (Wellman 2008, partly relying on conceptions expounded in Gutmann 1998; criticized in Fine 2010, and restated in Wellman 2011). Without debating the controversial empirical premises of the realist and the liberal nationalist account, I show synthetically why their critiques fail in rebutting the claim for open borders. I then provide a reversal of the argument from freedom of association and I show the support it would provide to free migration. Consequently, I argue that a right to freedom of international movement is no utopia but, when properly defined and qualified, it is the best normative answer to the urgent question of human mobility.