131 Citizenship in Western democracies is the modern equivalent of feudal

131 citizenship in western democracies is the modern

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Citizenship in Western democracies is the modern equivalent of feudal privilege—an inherited status that greatly enhances one’s life chances. Like feudal birthright privileges, restrictive citizenship is hard to justify when one thinks about it closely. To be born a citizen of an affluent state in Europe or North America is like being born into the nobility (even though most of us belong to the lesser nobility). To be born a citizen of a poor country in Asia or Africa is (for most) like being born into the peasantry in the Middle Ages (even if there are a few rich peasants). In this context, limiting entry to the rich states is a way of protecting a birthright privilege. Reformers in the late Middle Ages objected to the way feudalism restricted freedom, including the freedom of individuals to move from one place to another in search of a better life—a constraint that was crucial to the maintenance of the feudal system. But modern practices of citizenship and state control over borders tie people to the land of their birth almost as effectively. If the feudal practices were wrong, what justifies the modern ones? My starting point is an assumption of human moral equality, a commitment to the equal moral worth of all human beings. This does not entail the sort of cosmopolitanism that requires every agent to consider the interests of all human beings before acting or that insists that every policy or institution be assessed directly in terms of its effects on all human beings. It does, however, entail a commitment to justification through reason-giving and reflection that does not simply presuppose the validity of conventional moral views or the legitimacy of existing arrangements or our entitlement to what we have. Freedom of movement is both an important liberty in itself and a prerequisite for other freedoms. So, we should start with a presumption for free migration. Restrictions on migration, like any use of force, need to be defended. Nevertheless, freedom of movement is only one important human interest, and it may conflict with others. There is no 132
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reason to assume that all important human freedoms are fully compatible with one another or with other basic human interests. Restrictions on particular freedoms may sometimes be justified because they will promote liberty overall or because they will promote other important human concerns, but we cannot justify restrictions on the freedom of others simply by saying that the restrictions are good for us. We have to show that they somehow take everyone’s legitimate claims into account, that we are not violating our fundamental commitment to equal moral worth. A commitment to equal moral worth may not require us to treat people identically in every way, but it does require us to respect basic human freedoms. People should be free to pursue their own projects and to make their own choices about how they live their lives so long as this does not interfere with the legitimate claims of other individuals to do likewise. To
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