16th Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Santi Amantini

Laura Santi Amantini, FINO – University of Genoa.

Populist Anti-Immigrant Sentiments Taken Seriously: A Realistic Approach


This paper addresses the issue of populist anti-immigrant sentiments from the perspective of liberal ethics of migration. The first section offers a brief overview of the rise of right-wing populist movements, whose rhetoric appeals to unreasonable anti-immigrant sentiments and simultaneously contributes to fuel them, exceeding what is admissible within the boundaries a reasonable disagreement. The second section is aimed to show that, although anti-immigrant sentiments have not gained the attention of political theorists working on the ethics of migration, there are important reasons to consider the issue. This section argues that, besides posing a risk for the stability of liberal institutions, the fact that a growing number of citizens share anti-immigrant sentiments results in feasibility and legitimacy constraints to the implementation of liberal inclusive immigration policies. It also argues that liberal political theorists should wonder how to engage in a dialogue with citizens holding unreasonable anti-immigrant sentiments and how to reduce such hostile sentiments. The third section is a methodological one: building on Carens’s distinction between realistic and idealistic approaches to the ethics of migration, this section argues that a realistic approach is needed to include anti-immigrant sentiments within the scope of the debate and to offer guidance to policymakers. The final section suggests two possible directions for political action: promoting interaction at the local level and providing information on controversial issues related to immigration. It argues that, in both cases, focusing on the local context is crucial and that local administrations should engage in a bidirectional dialogue with people having anti-immigrant sentiments, in order to take them seriously and avoid paternalistic approaches, which can fuel anti-elitism and provoke backlash reactions.