16th Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Schenk

Nicholas Schenk, University of Leicester

Statelessness and just membership: End-state and historical theories of justice in response to the moral arbitrariness of the global birth lottery


I consider the case of non-citizen stateless persons to be paradigmatic of the tragedy of the current system for organising political communities by nation-states, which means non-members are excluded from political communities, and cannot hope to obtain the myriad of benefits membership of a political community entails. Ayelet Shachar argues that where you are born is subject to a global birth lottery. Because the distribution of membership of political communities is both 1) morally arbitrary and 2) has a significant bearing on life opportunities and well-being, Shachar maintains this generates duties of global distributive justice. For Shachar, these duties ought to be discharged through partial redistribution of wealth from rich to poor countries. She suggests this ought to be in the form of institutional duties to address inequalities in relation to birthright lottery disparities of undue privileges and burdens. Contra Shachar, however, I argue that a theory of global economic distributive justice constitutes a necessary but not sufficient normative response to the moral arbitrariness of the birth lottery. Shachar provides the correct moral diagnosis of the problem, but provides an inadequate normative solution. Although Shachar recognises the moral arbitrariness of the acquisition of political membership, I argue that the conclusion that follows requires a more morally demanding reply than she accepts. The core premise of her argument is that citizenship is analogous to inherited property. I consider that the implications of this claim are that historical principles of justice are relevant to be applied to this injustice. Yet historical principles cannot address the problem of statelessness. Moreover, the historical principles of justice implicated in Shachar’s argument contradict with her conclusion, which is based on an end-state theory of just membership. I posit an adequate theory of just membership demands more radical and comprehensive normative prescription than Shachar advocates.