Immigration Controls: Why the Self‐Determination Argument Is Self‐Defeating

Journal of Social Philosophy 47 (3):309-331 (2016)
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In philosophical debates about immigration, one of the most prominent arguments asserts that a state’s citizenry has a right to unilaterally control its territorial borders by virtue of its right to self-determination. This is the self-determination argument. The present article demonstrates that this argument is internally undermined by the Coercion Principle, according to which all persons subjected to coercive political power are entitled to an equal say in exercising that power. First, whichever way the self-determination argument identifies the relevant self-determining self, it is bound to rely on the Coercion Principle. Specifying the self politically involves appealing to the Coercion Principle, as it is a core principle of democratic theory. Alternatively, specifying a pre-political self fails to circumvent this problem, as a similar issue arises further down the argumentative line, when inferring the right to unilaterally control borders from the right to self-determination. Finally, since border controls coerce would-be immigrants, this reliance on the Coercion Principle renders the self-determination argument self-defeating.



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Maxime C. Lepoutre
University of Reading

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