National Partiality, Immigration, and the Problem of Double-Jeopardy


Frick, Johann. “National Partiality, Immigration, and the Problem of Double-Jeopardy”. Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Volume 6. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. 151-182. Print.


The foundational conviction of contemporary liberal thought is that all persons possess equal moral worth and are entitled to equal concern and respect by others. At the same time, nation states, as the primary organs of our collective self-governance, frequently pursue policies that are strikingly partial towards the interests of compatriots over those of foreigners. A common strategy for justifying this national partiality is to view it as grounded in associative obligations that we incur by standing in special relationships with our fellow citizens. For instance, according to familiar arguments from ‘fair play’, voluntarily partaking in and benefiting from cooperative relationships with our fellow citizens gives us reciprocal obligations to maintain these social institutions and care for needy compatriots. By contrast, we do not have corresponding associative obligations towards foreigners. I maintain that such arguments from associative obligations face an important stumbling block. I argue for the following “Boundary Principle”, according to which we cannot appeal to special relationships amongst members of a group to justify an attitude of partiality towards them unless the boundaries of this group, and the fact that they exclude other persons from membership, can also be justified. If this is right, arguments from associative obligations, by themselves, are necessarily incomplete. Most modern states severely limit the scope of economic migration, and thereby prevent many would-be contributors to the collective enterprises of affluent societies from entering into those special relationships with us that would give rise to associative obligations on our part. Not only are would-be immigrants excluded from the benefits that participation in the cooperative schemes of affluent nation-states would itself confer; in addition, the fact that they do not stand in such cooperative relationships with us is then appealed to in order to justify the fact that we assign significantly less weight to their interests in the formulation of state policy. The upshot of my discussion is not that a defense of national partiality in terms of associative obligations cannot succeed. It is rather that a successful defense of national partiality in these terms is more closely tied to the question whether principled restrictions can be placed on immigration than most political philosophers have hitherto assumed.

Last updated on 08/02/2020