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The Case for Open Borders as Presented by Joseph Carens

If you think countries should have open borders, then Joseph Carens, a prominent political theorist, is on your side.

According to Carens, in the state of nature before society began setting political boundaries for separate countries, everybody has equal moral worth and value. Restrictive citizenship bounded by countries is practically the same as feudal birthright privileges. As such, Carens even goes as far as saying that political borders (i.e. countries, nations) are incompatible with the equal status of individuals!

The most fool-proof way to defend your argument is against people of all different perspectives and theories. This is exactly what Carens does. He shows that utilitarian, Nozickian, and Rawlsian views ALL lead to the same conclusion: countries should all have largely open borders.

I will provide a brief overview of the three views:

Under a utilitarian view, Carens argues that open borders allow the free movement of capital and labor, and less economic control will optimize overall economic gains. Because a utilitarian cares primarily about maximizing utility, countries should have open borders because the millions of poor and oppressed would have much greater marginal benefit from migration relative to costs incurred from migration.

Under the Nozickian view, Carens argues that a minimal, uninvolved state has no right or power to exclude migrants. A minimal state is only concerned with protecting negative rights and private property—none of which involve controlling immigration.

Under the Rawlsian view, Carens argues that human beings are morally equal globally so societies should maintain open borders to respect the freedom of each individual. Under the global original position, Carens states that the same lexically-ordered principles of justness as fairness would be chosen because migration across borders is a basic liberty that is often essential to one’s plans in life. To make up for the unfair randomness of the natural lottery of birth, the equality of opportunity and difference principle should apply globally, justifying open borders.

So, what do you think? Do you think President Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban is unjustified or justified? Should we tear down the US-Mexico wall?

Continue exploring other compelling theories and we will explore these complicated policies in action!


Works Cited

  1. Carens, Joseph H. "Aliens and citizens: the case for open borders." The review of politics, vol. 49, no. 2, 1987, 251-273.

Last Fact Checked on May 30th, 2021.
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