THE ADVOCATE 41
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
Many authors have expounded their theory of the morality of immigration.
Below, I set out some of those theories.
The Case for the Conventional View
Thomas Nagel reasoned that just as individuals have the right to lead their
own lives free of the constant demand to promote the greater good, states
too can legitimately favour their own populations, but not at any cost to the
rest of the world.15 In a sense, Nagel was arguing that just as individuals may
give more weight to their own preferences than to those of other people, so
may states give more weight to their own interests than to those of other
Nagel’s reasoning has been criticized on the basis that there is an ontological
difference between people and states—they are different kinds of
things.16 People have their own individual identities, their own agency and
their own ideas about what can make their own individual lives fulfilling.
The same cannot be said for states. They are merely aggregations of individuals.
States lack individuality and agency except in some metaphorical
sense. Thus, Nagel’s analogy between individuals and states is suspect.
A second argument for nationalism is based on the concept of a social
contract. If the residents of a country agree to give priority to each other’s
interests, rather than those of foreigners, then the general obligation to
keep promises seems to establish that the interests of residents should be
given priority. However, the main objection to a social contract justification
for nationalism is that most people have never made such a promise. That
they have not done so explicitly is obvious. That they have not done so tacitly
is likely. Additionally, any foreigner can agree to the social contract of
the citizens of any nation and thereby become part of that nation. Therefore,
social contract theory does not establish nationalistic priority. In
Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia, the Supreme Court of Canada
reached the same conclusion in finding that British Columbia was prohibited
from barring access to the legal profession on the basis of citizenship.17
The Case for Open Borders
One of the leading ethical theorists in the field of immigration is Joseph
Carens, a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University
of Toronto. He is an advocate of open borders. He argues that restricting
immigration is ultimately a way of protecting privilege.
In Carens’s early work, he argued for open borders by drawing on utilitarianism,
libertarianism and liberal egalitarianism.18 All of these theories
share the assumption of the equal moral worth of all human beings. He
argues that if this premise is taken seriously, there is no basis for distin-