Security and Emancipation by Ken Booth — A Summary

Booth, Ken. 1991. “Security and Emancipation.” Review of International Studies 17 (4). Cambridge University Press: 313–26.

The fun lies in reading the paper. It is not often that the dour topic of Security receives such entertaining treatment.

Word Problems and World Problems

The words we use to talk about International Politics — itself a “misleading label” — are becoming worn. But words are all we have. We need sharp words and sharp concepts to deal with sharp subjects. “We cannot expect to deal successfully with world problems if we cannot sort out our word problems.”

The Interregnum

Long standing patterns are declining and giving way to a more complicated global order where there is a simultaneous development of both local and global identities which overlap each other. Statist categories are breaking down.

How do we describe the current stage of world affairs [the period after the “fall” of the USSR; this paper was written in 1991] We need to name things correctly. Perhaps this is an interregnum. How we go beyond this interregnum will depend on our “images and vision”. In order to make a new future, old “images” will have to be discarded.

A Turning Point for Inter-State War

A “350-year span of history dominated by … military competition” is coming to an end. Military questions are no longer the main agenda of international politics. What new security game shall be played from now on?

Security in Our Times

The new security game can be characterised as a “utopian realism”. This perspective is, unlike the traditional realist perspective, holistic in character and non-statist in approach. Such a perspective is necessary because of the grave limitations of traditional thought about security. Its narrow military focus is highly problematic. Simply consider, to name but one example, the security dilemma. Also, it is apparent that issue areas like economic collapse, scarcity, overpopulation, environmental degradation etc. which lie outside the scope of traditional security thinking must be included in the new security agenda.

What we are seeing today is the recession of war among “communities that are wealthy and have a significant level of social justice”, loosely democratic societies. Unlike the centuries that preceded it, there has been no war among the “44 richest countries since 1945”. This points to a correlation between democracy and warlessness. Order, then, might lie in ensuring at least minimal levels of political and social justice.

Emancipation vs Power and Order

Order and power come at somebody’s expense. Hence, they are unstable. For this reason, emancipation must take precedence.

“‘Security’ means the absence of threats. Emancipation is the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those constraints, together with poverty, poor education, political oppression and so on. Security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin. Emancipation, not power or order, produces true security. Emancipation, theoretically, is security.”

People should be treated as ends and states as means. Individual humans, not states, are the ultimate referent. States are “unreliable, illogical and too diverse in their character” to be uses as the primary referents. Unreliable because some states are in the business of security while others (those of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam) are not. Illogical because states are only means and not the ends of security. Also, the historical variety of states makes a theory of state misplaced.

Consider the confrontation between the women of Greenham Common and Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. While the former saw nuclearization as a threat to their security and protested the building of the Greenham missile base, the latter saw the Soviet Union as a threat and the missiles as the guarantors of security. The utopian realism of the former can be contrasted with the neo-realism of the latter. The Greenham women were right. It is not that denuclearization will be easy or guaranteed. But it is rational to act as though it is.

The Case for Emancipation

The struggle for emancipation is concurrent with the spirit our times. It is necessary to go beyond the important but limited insights of neo-realism. Politics is open-ended and based in ethics. The preoccupation with technological variables must be superseded by an engagement with moral philosophy. Critical theory helps in achieving this movement from the neo-realist framework to critical philosophy.

This requires a rethinking of traditional ideas about liberty. Emancipation implies liberty but of an egalitarian character. “[L]iberty without economic status is propaganda.” Emancipation also requires the integration of reciprocal rights — the idea that ‘I am not truly free until everyone is free’. This will result in the breaking down of the barriers between the domestic and the foreign. The distinction between the two although convenient is an “unhelpful dichotomy”.

Teaching and Practice: What is to be Done?

Freedom eradicates violence. There is an inverse correlation between the political rights and civil liberties in nations, and both internal violence and war. “Emancipation, empirically, is security.”

Traditional thinking about security in so far as it is characterised by superpower nuclearism is a “non-returnable timebound curiosity”. In its stead, a new breed of students trained in defence, of course, but also in human rights, environmental issues, economic development, and comparative politics.

In practice, emancipation enables community building upon the debris of the barriers between “us” and “them”. With it as the “utopian” goal, the processes practiced and implemented towards attaining it, in a very real sense, become significant achievements themselves. In other words, the means become the ends. The aim is not so much on distant utopian goals but on reformist steps and processes. Such processes have already been underway not just in governments but also in non-state actors. The outlook is encouraging.

Critical theory falls short when it comes to policy recommendations. But so does realism. In any case, it should not be expected to guide action in all circumstances.

Conclusion as Prologue

“The implementation of an emancipatory strategy through process utopian steps is, to a greater or lesser extent, in the hands of all those who want it to be — the embryonic global civil society. In a world of global communications few should feel entirely helpless. Even in small and private decisions it is possible to make choices which help rather than hinder the building of a world community. Some developments depend on governments, but some do not. …[I]n pursuing emancipation, the bases of real security are being established.



The Proverbs of Administration by Herbert Simon — A Summary

Simon, Herbert A. 1946. “The Proverbs of Administration.” Public Administration Review 6 (1). [American Society for Public Administration, Wiley]: 53–67.

Such a badass title!

Proverbs are useful for persuasion especially when used retrospectively. One can always find a proverb to prove one’s point — or the opposite point for that matter. But when they are used in scientific theories, they are less useful and more harmful. Given their very nature they can both prove or disprove anything. If Newton had announced that all matter both attract and repulse each other, he would not have contributed anything useful. But sadly, most of the propositions of administrative theory today possess that property of proverbs. The paper will substantiate this sweeping criticism.

Some Accepted Administrative Principles

Among the common accepted “principles” of administration are:


Administrative efficiency is increased by a specialization of the task among the group.

But does any increase in specialisation lead to increase in efficiency?

Consider two plans of nursing the first of which requires nurses to specialise by place — nurses are assigned to districts and do all the work in that district — and the second of which requires nurses to specialise by function — nurses are assigned to specific functions, TB nursing for example, which they perform in multiple districts.

The proverb of specialisation is useless in helping decide which of these alternatives should be chosen. As it turns out, specialisation is not a condition of efficiency but is the inevitable result of all group activity for the simple reason that a person cannot be doing two different things at the same time.

Unity of Command

Administrative efficiency is increased by arranging the members of the group in a determinate hierarchy of authority.

This proverb requires that a subordinate should not have multiple superiors from whom he receives orders. This is clear enough.

However, if unity of command is observed strictly, there will be inefficiency in situations that require multiple forms of specialised expertise. For example, should the accountant in a school department who is subordinate to an educator never listen to the orders of the finance department regarding the technical aspects of his work? Of course, some irresponsibility and confusion will ensue if unity of command is not followed. What is needed is a principle that helps weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both courses of action.

Span of Control

Administrative efficiency is increased by limiting the span of control, at any point in the hierarchy to a small number.

But administrative efficiency is also enhanced by keeping at a minimum the number of organizational levels through which a matter must pass before it is acted upon. This equally plausible proverb contradicts the other proverb.

In large organisations, restricting the span of control inevitably creates excessive red tape as more levels are added to the organisational structure. But increasing the span of control beyond a certain point will weaken the authority of the supervisor. Where then lies the appropriate span of control lie? The proverbs are useless again in providing an answer to this critical question.

Organization by Purpose, Process, Clientele, Place

Administrative efficiency is increased by grouping the workers, for purposes of control, according to (a) purpose, (b) process, (c) clientele, or (d) place.

As is clear from the discussion on specialisation, these purposes of control are contradictory and the achievement of the first kind of specialisation can come only at the cost of the other three. It is also naïve to see the kinds of specialisation as separable. On examination, it will be found that the difference between “process” and “purpose” is only one of degree. Purposes are generally arranged in a hierarchy and the purpose of one process may be the process for another higher purpose and so on. Consider a typist who moves his fingers in order to type; types in order to reproduce a letter; reproduces a letter in order that an inquiry may be answered. “Clientele” and “place” are part of purpose, not apart from it. Any complete statement of purpose will have to specify “place” which integrates “clientele” with it. The purpose of a fire department, for instance, would have to include the area (the place) served by it which would necessarily include the people living in the area (the clientele).

It is therefore not legitimate to speak of a “purpose” organization, a “process” organization, a “clientele” organization, or an “area” organization. The same unit may be any of these depending on the nature of the larger organisational unit where it is located. It is correct only to say a certain bureau is a process bureau within a certain department. Even when the ambiguities with the usage of the terms are clarified, the “principles” of administration, needless to say, give no guide as to determining which of the competing bases of specialisation is applicable.

The Impasse of Administrative Theory

The problem with the “principles” is that they are treated as such when they are actually only criteria for describing and diagnosing administrative situations. Closet space is an important criteria for the design of a house but a design made on the principle of having maximum closet space will be quite unbalanced.

In administration, it is necessary that “all the relevant diagnostic criteria be identified; that each administrative situation be analysed in terms of the entire set of criteria; and that research be instituted to determine how weights can be assigned to the several criteria when they are, as they usually will be, mutually incompatible”.

The Description of Administrative Situations

Just as the concepts of “acceleration” and “weight” were developed before a law of gravitation could be intelligibly formulated, administrative theory needs to develop operational concepts — that is, terms whose meanings correspond to empirically observable facts or situations — before it can recommend sweeping principles.

Most descriptions of organisations in administrative theory fall short of scientific standards by confining themselves to “allocation of functions and the formal structure of authority”. A description of the functions — generally, that a bureau performs this function while another performs that function — provides little to no information about the manner in which the organisations work.

“Administrative description suffers currently from superficiality, oversimplification, lack of realism.” Until it undertakes the tiresome task of studying actual allocation of decision-making functions, there is little hope for rapid progress towards identifying and verifying valid administrative principles.

A purely formal description of administrative organisation might be impossible for the simple reason that real-world content plays a greater role in the application of administrative principles than formal precepts.

The Diagnosis of Administrative Situation

Propositions of administrative theory are concerned with the “principle of efficiency” — that is, the greatest accomplishment of administrative objectives for a given level of expenditure or the minimum expenditure of resources for achieving a given objective.

But the “principle” of efficiency should be considered not as such but only as a definition because it does not tell how the accomplishments are to be achieved but only that maximisation is the aim of administrative activity.

How to attain the level of efficiency or maximise the attainment of administrative objectives? Consider a single member of the organisation and see what the qualitative and quantitative limits to his output are. He may be limited by skills, habits, and reflexes that are not in his consciousness — for instance, manual dexterity, strength or reaction time. He may further be limited in his decisions by his values and his conceptions of what the purpose of the organisation is — his greater loyalty to the bureau may compel him to make decisions that are inimical to the larger organisation. He may also be limited by the extent of his knowledge of things relevant to his job. The first is a limit on his ability to perform and the other two are limits on his ability to make rational decisions. There may be other limits too but the point is that administrative theory must consider such limits as are present and come up with valid and non-contradictory principles. Only the first, thanks to the Scientific Management of Frederick Taylor, has been satisfactorily examined.

The limits of rationality are variable and may be influenced by consciousness of that very limitation. Rationality makes sense only when seen in terms of the larger objectives of the organisation and not the specific objectives of the individual administrator. Also, administrative theory is concerned with the non-rational limits to rationality. The greater the rationality, the lesser the importance of the exact form of organisation.

Assigning Weights to the Criteria

First, an operational (see under The Description of Administrative Situations) vocabulary for describing administrative organisations must be developed. Second, the limits of rationality in making decisions must be studied to understand the criteria that have to be weighed in evaluating an administrative organization.

It is not enough to identify the criteria (that the span of control must be decreased). But it is more important to weigh its benefits with the possible adverse effects it might bring about (how adversely will reducing the span of control affect the culture of contact between higher and lower ranks of the hierarchy?). This can only be possible through empirical research and experimentation.

How may this research proceed? First, administrative objectives must be concretely defined. Second, sufficient experimental control must be exercised to isolate the problem are from disturbing factors. These two requirements have rarely been fulfilled in so called “administrative experiments”.

“Perhaps the program outlined here will appear an ambitious or even a quixotic one. There should certainly be no illusions, in undertaking it, as to the length and deviousness of the path. It is hard to see, however, what alternative remains open. …

It may be objected that administration cannot aspire to be a “science”; that by the nature of its subject it cannot be more than an “art”. … [But] even an “art” cannot be founded on proverbs.”





Whose Imagined Community? by Partha Chatterjee — A Summary


Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. “Whose Imagined Community?” In The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, 1sted., 3–13. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

The miscarriage of nationalism in the postcolonial states during the 1970s — by distressing ethnic politics as well as corrupt, fractious, and often brutal regimes — has tarnished the legacy of nationalism. Nationalism is now seen as a “problem” and has consequently been made a subject of general debate.

This recent genealogy of the idea explains why nationalism is now viewed as a dark, elemental, unpredictable force of primordial nature threatening the orderly calm of civilized life.

In this time, colonial historians have been debating “what had become of the idea and who was responsible for it.” It is from these debates that emerged Benedict Anderson’s subtle and original observation that “nations were not the determinate products of given sociological conditions such as language or race or religion [but that] they had been, in Europe and everywhere else in the world, imagined into existence”.

This “imagined community” took concrete shape through, amongst others, the institutions of “print-capitalism”, that nexus of the technology of the printing press and the economy of the capitalist market “which made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others, in profoundly new ways” (Anderson 2006: 36). The historical experience of nationalism in the West had then supplied “modular” forms from which nationalist elites in Asia and Africa had chosen the ones they liked.

“[But] if nationalisms in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined community from certain “modular” forms already made available to them by Europe and the Americas, what do they have left to imagine?” This objection is made because the nationalist imagination in Asia and Africa are premised on a difference from and not on an identity with the western models of nationalism.

For this assertion to make sense, the standard nationalist theory of nationalism as which sees it solely as a political movement — beginning with the establishment of the Indian National Congress in 1885 after on a decade of “preparation” which in turn was built upon the reform movements of the previous five decades — must be dismantled. This standard theory of nationalist history necessarily converges with Anderson’s formulations.

Anticolonial nationalism creates its own domain of sovereignty in the spiritual sphere of colonial society before it begins its political battle in the material domain. In the material domain — the domain of the “outside” — of the economy, statecraft, science and technology, the West is superior and must be emulated. But in the spiritual domain — the “inner” domain — which marks cultural identity, colonial distinctness must be preserved.

The implications are many. For one, nationalism claims sovereignty in the spiritual domain. So, while the initial phase of the social reform period in India witnessed appeals to colonial authority to effect change, in the later phase, there was strong resistance to interventions by the colonial state. This later phase is the period of nationalism. This does not imply that the spiritual domain is left unchanged. It is, in fact, here that nationalism launches its “most powerful, creative, and historically significant project: to fashion a “modern” national culture that is nevertheless not Western. If the nation is an imagined community, then this is where it is brought into being (emphasis added).”

Some areas of the spiritual domain nationalism transforms will be examined with illustrations from Bengal.

Consider language. While the impact of print-capitalism is unheralded, it does not imply a simple transposition of European patterns or standards to the development of the “national” language in the colonies. It is the colonial state that introduced the English language and commissions printed books in Bengali. Closely on the heels of such development, the bilingual elite through an “institutional network of printing presses, publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, and literary societies” tried to provide its mother tongue with the requisites of a language for a “modern” culture.

While modern European languages and literature shaped the critical discourse, their conventions were considered inappropriate to judge Bengali literary productions. For example, in drama, it was not the conventions of Shakespeare but those from Sanksrit drama that would succeed on the Calcutta stage. Mainstream public theatre inspired by Western conventions is clearly distinguished from “folk theatre”. As another example, consider novels. Bengali novelists preferred the “direct recording of living speech” to the “disciplined forms of authorial prose” in an attempt to find an “artistic truthfulness” which made it “necessary to escape, as often as possible, the rigidities of [modern] prose”.

The assertion of difference was most dramatic in the realm of the family. The criticism of the Indian traditions and the reliance on the agency of colonial masters in the early reform period gave way to a rejection of outside intervention in the nationalists. Only the nation, it came to be argued, could have the right to intervene in such an essential aspect of cultural identity as the family.

In the material domain, nationalism begins by “inserting itself into a new public sphere constituted by the processes and forms of the modern”. It had to overcome the subordination arising out of the strategy of the “rule of colonial difference” — the preservation of the alienness of the ruling group which was pursued by the colonial state. Ironically, nationalism had to, in this domain, insist on abolishing this rule of colonial difference. Overtime, the domain became more extensive and morphed into the postcolonial state which, in India at least, was built on the idea of the modern liberal-democratic state.

But while the nationalist elite presided over a field constituted by the distinction between the spiritual and the material, the postcolonial state presides over the field constituted by the distinction between the private and the public. The modern liberal-democratic postcolonial state, in accordance with liberal ideology, seeks to protect the inviolability of private selves which means it has to remain indifferent to the concrete differences between private selves marked by race, language, religion, class, caste, and so forth, differences towards which the nationalist elite could not remain indifferent.

“The result is that autonomous forms of imagination of the community were, and continue to be, overwhelmed and swamped by the history of the postcolonial state. Here lies the root of our postcolonial misery: not in our inability to think out new forms of the modern community but in our surrender to the old forms of the modern state.”


Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised edition. London: Verso.

International Migration, Border Controls and Human Rights by Antoine Pécoud and Paul de Guchteneire — A Summary

Pécoud, Antoine, and Paul de Guchteneire. 2006. “International Migration, Border Controls and Human Rights: Assessing the Relevance of a Right to Mobility.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 21 (1). Routledge: 69–86.

This is actually not a summary. Barring the small additions to improve grammatical flow which have been put in square brackets, the rest are extracts.


Is it possible to envisage a right to mobility?

Trends in Contemporary Border Controls

International migration has become one of the central issues of our time.[1] As a consequence, international migration is now high on the agenda of the international community and of many countries.

A largely shared feature of contemporary migration policies is their restrictive nature. Migration is commonly understood, in security terms, as a “problem” and many countries feel the need to protect against this “threat.”

[As such,] the borders between Western countries and their less-rich neighbours have become fortified. External controls at the border are accompanied by internal controls meant to identify undocumented migrants after entry. Another way of controlling migration lies in co-operation between countries.[2]

Controlling migration is costly.[3] [But] although it is difficult to measure their deterrence effect on potential migrants, the persistence of undocumented migration illustrates how even sophisticated forms of controls do not really stop people. [This is because] migration is now structurally embedded in the economies and societies of most countries whether in the form of remittances, cheap labour, or domestic services. Moreover, migratory movements, once started, become self-sustaining.[4] Controlling immigration is particularly difficult for liberal democracies [as they are constrained by] market forces and the philosophy of human rights. In practice, this means that civil society, human rights groups, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) can contest government measures and sometimes have them opposed by courts.

Border Controls and Human Rights

Contemporary border policies are accompanied by several challenges to human rights.

First, the measures meant to stop irregular migration have direct consequences on the asylum principle.[5] The confusion between asylum-seekers and economic migrants[6] leads not only to endless and unmanageable procedures to “prove” the existence of persecution, but also to human rights abuses and suffering for both “genuine” and “fake” refugees.

The second human rights challenge involves trafficking and human smuggling. The more difficult it is to enter a country, the more necessary the reliance on smugglers and the more profitable the business. This [not only] fuels human rights violations [but also amplifies calls for] strict border control policies.

The third challenge relates to the human cost of migration controls for the migrants themselves. The most tragic and obvious illustration of this cost lies in the number of people who die on their way to receiving countries.

Borders have thus become the site of major ethical challenges, and four observations can be made about them.

First, a tension between security and human rights preoccupations pervades the response to these phenomena. Migration has increasingly been understood as a security threat. This leaves little space for human rights. Indeed, the most frequent concern seems to be the difficulty of conciliating the trade-based openness of borders with their security-based closure, a debate in which people’s rights and dignity hardly play a role.

Second, these different phenomena attract various levels of attention and are treated in a differentiated and isolated manner. Human trafficking has been clearly acknowledged as a human rights’ violation and combating it has become a priority for many governments. Asylum also draws substantial attention but is treated in a largely national manner. By contrast, “deaths at the border” are largely ignored; even though they regularly make headlines in the media and draw the attention of a few NGOs. The connections between restrictive asylum policies, human smuggling, and migrants’ vulnerability are not recognized.

Third, addressing the relationships between border controls, migration policies, and human rights is difficult because of the moral complexity at stake and the ambiguous set of causalities between governments, policies, and human agency. Who, for example, is responsible for the death of migrants?

Fourth, the question is not simply what is happening at borders. Current migration and border policies may ultimately represent a threat, not only for migrants, but also for the human rights and democratic principles that lie at the core of Western states. Tough border control measures may not be compatible with the harmonious functioning of democracies. The values that guide societies cannot stop at their borders.

Toward a Right to Mobility

With governments unable to match their proclaimed ambition of controlling their borders, restrictive policies are not credible. A right to mobility may usefully reinforce an ethical and rights-based approach to migration and border controls. Having the right to leave one’s country is meaningless as long as one cannot enter another country. Emigration and immigration inextricably complement each other.

A right to mobility would counterbalance the uneven access to mobility[7] among peoples and nations. Restrictions on mobility are difficult to reconcile with the liberal egalitarian perspective according to which people should have equal opportunities. The issue of mobility opportunities is particularly relevant in an era of globalization, at the heart of which lies issues of circulation and international border crossing.

[Besides,] elaborating a right to mobility is not about adding one more right to a long list of rights; rather, it is about fostering respect for existing human rights. In a world of economic globalization and gross socioeconomic inequalities, the human right to free choice of employment (Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and to an adequate standard of living (Article 25) are hard to achieve in the absence of migration opportunities.

World Justice

Critics of neo-liberalism argue that if people flows were deregulated and exclusively market driven, the absence of state intervention would not lead to more equality but to the exact opposite. The only fair policy is development aid, foreign investment and trade.

[But] so far, they have not proved able to reduce the gap between rich and poor countries and, therefore, it may be time to try something else. [In fact,] migration might not only be the most efficient way of reducing inequalities between countries but also, and contrary to widespread perceptions, the most acceptable solution. Development also encourages migration rather than substitutes for it.[8]

Social Cohesion

Migration is often described as a threat to social cohesion. The arrival of newcomers destabilizes receiving societies and jeopardizes the sense of belonging and common identity that lies at the core of community life. [This argument] should be discussed with a particular focus on the institutions and mechanisms that ground social cohesion (welfare states, citizenship, and democracy)

 Mobility is a major challenge to the welfare state. [Their] logics are contradictory: a right to mobility is about openness and circulation, whereas welfare systems are based on closure. [But] the correlation between increased migration and the deterioration of welfare schemes is not straightforward. Moreover, far from being the main challenge to welfare states, migration is only one factor among many.

Along with welfare, citizenship, and democratic participation constitute key features of social cohesion. [There is a need to] unpack citizenship and distribute its different components (political, civil, social, family and cultural rights, notably) in a differentiated way. Migrants would initially receive a first set of rights (civil rights and fundamental social rights), and only later would they receive, in a step-by-step manner, full welfare entitlements or political rights. By avoiding the binary logic of inclusion/exclusion, this approach ensures that migrants are not “rightless” (as undocumented migrants tend to be) while enabling high mobility and addressing the reluctance of nationals and long-term residents to share their privileges with newcomers.

From a cultural perspective, migrants are often believed to integrate imperfectly, thus threatening the socio-cultural foundations of destination countries, creating tensions with the native population, and fostering racism and xenophobia. [The argument therefore goes:] if states do not control migration, people will do it themselves through more-or-less violent rejections of foreigners. [But] fundamentally, border controls indirectly feed racism by reinforcing the idea that foreigners and foreign-looking people are undesirable. [Also], control policies absorb funds and energy to the detriment of integration.

In short, social cohesion is about far more than migration; the role of migrants should not be ignored but neither should it be overwhelmingly emphasized to the detriment of other major challenges to social cohesion.

Economic Wealth

A frequent argument in favour of unrestricted mobility is of an economic nature. Free movement is advocated on the grounds that restrictions on the mobility of people are counterproductive. Free migration would [actually] reduce inequalities at the world level, hence, diminishing the necessity to migrate.

However, comparing flows of people to flows of capital, information, or commodities neglects the social complexity of migration. (see above)

Security and the Governance of Migration and Borders

A third way between open and closed borders could be a system of multilateral governance of migration flows whereby states would coordinate their migration policies for their mutual benefit, just as they do with flows of capital, commodities, and goods.

[However,] security arguments mitigate against such interstate co-operation. Today, faced with terrorism-related threats, states respond with a “rebordering” process. Internationalization of most national economies implies heavy cross-border movements of people, vehicles, and shipments. To truly control these flows would be so costly and time-consuming that it would harm economic growth.

The need to go beyond strictly national policies cannot be contested, [but] the issue is the nature of these goals: states can and should co-operate, but with what aims in mind? Migration can be “managed” in a very repressive way and it is easy to imagine a situation in which interstate co-operation would merely perpetuate current restrictive policies.

Tight control policies, whether nationally or multilaterally implemented, create situations of illegality and mistrust that make co-operative border management even more difficult.

[Also,] border controls do not really stop people but rather incite them to go underground [providing] smugglers and traffickers with enhanced business opportunities. Tight migration policies generate undocumented migration, smuggling, and trafficking, which then prompt calls for more control. In the meantime, the values of control policies impact social relations and people’s attitudes, not only creating a perceived need for increased control but also undermining the cross-border human ties that would make interstate co-operation possible. In this context, a right to mobility may be a way to break this vicious circle by helping to shed a critical perspective on the notion of “management” or “governance” in fields such as migration or security.


A right to mobility is ethically defensible and usefully complements the human right to emigration. It can serve as a stimulus, not only to elaborate fairer migration policies, but also to question the moral, cultural, and political foundations of contemporary practices. A right to mobility may appear as a naïve utopia. However, it is equally utopian and naïve to believe that minor arrangements of contemporary policies will provide sustainable answers to the challenges raised by international migration.


[1] In 2005, the number of migrants worldwide was estimated at 185 to 192 million, representing approximately 3 percent of the world population.

[2] Sending states frequently resent the way in which their illegally migrating citizens are treated by destination countries, but they are nevertheless incited (and financially supported) to contribute to migration controls by stopping their outflow of undocumented migrants or reaccepting those who have been expelled. Transit countries are also asked to better control their borders.

[3] According to an International Organization for Migration (IOM) report, the twenty-five richest countries spend 25 to 30 billion dollars per year on the enforcement of immigration laws.

[4] Through migration, countries are connected via networks that span the globe and facilitate more migration. Lobby groups, such as employers, can also impose domestic constraints on governments to allow migration for labour-market reasons.

[5] The asylum principle upholds the idea that all human beings are entitled to seek protection from persecution.

[6] Economic migrants posing as asylum seekers.

[7] Citizens from developed countries may travel and settle down almost anywhere in the world, while their fellow human beings from less-developed countries depend upon the uncertain issuance of visas and residence permits to migrate. Trained workers are sought and enjoy a greater level of mobility than their unskilled compatriots.

[8] The development process leads to economic restructuring, which forces people to find new jobs and creates incentives to move, from rural to urban regions or abroad.


Negative and Positive Freedom by Gerald C MacCallum, Jr. — A Summary

MacCallum, Gerald C. 1967. “Negative and Positive Freedom.” The Philosophical Review 76 (3). Duke University Press: 312–34.


Disputes about freedom have been about what it constitutes, how its attainment relates to the attainment of other “social benefits” like “economic and military security, technological efficiency”, where it may be ranked among such benefits, and what consequences policies may have on the attainment of freedom.

Once one admits that freedom is not the only benefit a society may secure its members, disputes about reconciling it with other benefits or values may arise. We may legitimately ask whether reconciliation is possible; and if possible, whether it is desirable. However, in practice, these questions are often obscured by disputes about the implications of policy  on these values.

It has also been common for “partisans” of all kinds to claim for themselves special affinity to freedom in light of the policies or forms of organisation that they advocate, while reserving the opposite treatment to their rivals. This is why freedom has come to be associated with so wide an array of social and individual benefits as to utterly obscure its meaning. This has suited the “purposes of the polemicist”.

The distinction between negative and positive liberty must be seen against this backdrop of confusion, and being influenced by it, the distinction itself is confused because it fails to fully understand  the conditions under which the use of the concept of freedom is intelligible.


Freedom is always freedom of something (an agent or agents), from something, to do, not do, become, or not become something; it is a triadic relation which can be expressed as: “x is (is not) free from y to do (not do, become, not become) z,” where x ranges over agents, y ranges over such “preventing conditions” as constraints, restrictions, interferences, and barriers, and z ranges over actions or conditions of character or circumstance. Not all of the three terms need be explicitly stated because the missing term can often be inferred from the context.

It must not be construed that the claim that freedom is a triadic relation is about what we say. Rather, it is about conditions under which what we say may be intelligible. In other words, simply saying something is free or not free does warrant the application of this claim. To put it even more concretely, the claim does not apply to the statements such as “The sky is now free of clouds” or “His record is free of blemish”. The two statements are not intelligible as claims about freedom. The first does not deal with agents at all and in the second, it is not clear whether the statement is about the freedom of the agent or of something/someone else.

Let us look at some troublesome cases where not all the terms of the triadic relationship are clear.

(a) Cases where agents are not mentioned: Consider expressions of the form “free x” where x does not clearly refer to an agent — “free will” — or where x clearly does not refer to an agent — “free beer”. These cases, even if the agents not explicitly mentioned, nevertheless are concerned about agents and are intelligible only if they are understood as such. “Free will” for example is obviously concerned with the freedom of persons or selves. While not as obvious, “free beer” still refers to beer that “people are free from the ordinary restrictions of the market place to drink without paying for it.”

(b) Cases where it is not clear what corresponds to the second term: Consider the expression “freedom of choice”. The preventing conditions are usually clear from the context. In political matters, they are usually legal. In Mill, they were social pressures.

(c) Cases where it is not clear what corresponds to the third term: Consider the expression “freedom from hunger”. It could simply mean being rid of hunger. This doesn’t conform to the triadic schema. However, it could also mean that to be free from hunger is to be free to do the things one can’t do when hungry. Even more satisfactorily, it could mean “a world in which people would be free from barriers constituted by various specifiable agricultural, economic, and political conditions to get enough food to prevent hunger”. This last view of “freedom from hunger” both makes perfect historical sense and conforms to the triadic schema of freedom.

The conventional characterisation of the difference between negative and positive freedom as “freedom from” and “freedom to” does not distinguish between two genuinely different kinds of freedom. Rather, it serves to emphasise one or the other of two features or variables that are present in every kind of freedom.


The next problem is how, or if, the differing answers to the question “When are persons free?” survive the agreement that freedom is a triadic relation. For example, differing views on what is the “true” identity or desire of an agent or on what counts as a constraint or on the range of things agents might be free (or not free) to do (or become) might offer dramatically different accounts of when persons are free. Given the variables involved, accounts of freedom can diverge in many ways. It is therefore crucial to get the range of the variables quite clear.

The distinction between negative and positive freedom has made this difficult by encouraging the wrong questions. It is often asked which one of the two is correct, or desirable. Instead, what should be asked is what the range of the variables are. In other words, “[i]t would be far better to insist that the same concept of freedom is operating throughout, and that the differences, rather than being about what freedom is, are for example about what persons are, and about what can count as an obstacle to or interference with the freedom of persons so conceived”.

This insistence is necessary. Consider the differences between negative and positive freedom. Once the distinction between them as “freedom from” and “freedom to” is debunked (see above), the differences appear to be the following.

  1. Writers adhering to the concept of “negative” freedom hold that only the presence of something can render a person unfree; writers adhering to the concept of “positive” freedom hold that the absence of something may also render a person unfree.
  2. The former hold that a person is free to do x just in case nothing due to arrangements made by other persons stops him from doing x; the latter adopt no such restriction.
  3. The former hold that the agents whose freedom is in question (for example, “persons,” “men”) are, in effect, identifiable as Anglo-American law would identify “natural” (as opposed to “artificial”) persons; the latter sometimes hold quite different views as to how these agents are to be identified (see below).

These differences break down or, at least, become less dramatic when probed. With respect to the first, would proponents of “negative” liberty be disallowed from saying that a chained man is unfree because he lacks a key (absence of something), and not only because he is chained (presence of something)? Or would proponents of “positive” liberty be disallowed from saying that an untrained person failed to get a job because of existing economic or educational systems (presence of something) which led to the person being deprived of training (absence of something)? The answer to both is: no. They can, and do, give those answers. The point of difference, then, is not as dramatic as it is made out to be.

Also, the organisation of thinkers into two camps is ill-considered.[1] Locke’s views on liberty as those actions that man “himself wills it” (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Bk. 11, ch. xxi, sec. 15) or his view that law should not just “abolish or restrain, but … preserve and enlarge freedom” (Second Treatise of Government, sec. 57) should make him a serious candidate for inclusion in the “positive” camp but instead, he is made the poster boy of the “negative” camp.

Who is the proper agent whose freedom is in question? What is the proper range of obstacles or constraints? And what is the proper range of what that agent may be free (or not free) to be (or become)? For the adherents of negative freedom, the proper agent is a “person” understood in the most ordinary sense of the word. The proper range of obstacles is populated by just what we would ordinarily call “obstacles” which are arrangements made by human beings. The proper range of what an agent may be free (or not free) to be (or become) are what he “wants” to do or be, and what he wants to do or be can be “determined by what he says he wants to do, or by what he manifestly tries to do, or even does do.”

For adherents of “positive” liberty, the answers to the three questions are anything but ordinary. The proper agent is not the ordinary person but the “real”, or “moral”, or “rational” person who is often hidden within the ordinary person. The agent could also incorporate “the institutions and members, the histories and futures of the communities” of which he is an extricable part. This contraction of the meaning of the proper agent is the result of a worry that what we ordinarily want may not be what we “really want” in so far as they may be detrimental to our own interests. It’s expansion, on the other hand, stems from the idea that what we “really are” may be determined in part by our association with our families, communities, and so forth.

Given the radical departure in understanding who the proper agent is, what counts as an obstacle to that agent, unsurprisingly, is very different from that of “negative” freedom. While adherents of “negative” freedom see as obstacles only those arrangements which are the “made by human beings”, their “opponents” might not consider this qualification as relevant. In other words, the presence of obstacles, whether placed by humans or otherwise, is quite inessential. What is important for them is whether human arrangements can remove them.

As regards the third variable, proponents of “positive” liberty “emphasise conditions of character rather than actions”. The range of character conditions and actions are necessarily bound up with the idea of who an agent is and what obstacles are, of which there are, as already seen, many.

All of these divergences can be managed only if they are seen as disagreements on the range of variables that are part of the same idea of freedom as a triadic relationship.


This approach has been neglected because philosophers have made the mistake of asking unadorned questions like “When are men free?” or, alternatively, “When are men really free?”. These questions take it for granted that persons can be simply free or not free.

“One might suppose that, strictly speaking, a person could be free simpliciter only if there were no interference from which he was not free, and nothing that he was not free to do or become.” Given that societies invariably exercise some form of coercion and given the disputes regarding the proper range of the variables of the triadic relation, it should be obvious that persons in cannot be free or unfree simpliciter.

Perhaps, “in certain (conceivable) societies there is no activity in which men in that society are not free to engage, and no possible restriction or barrier from which they are not free.”

The burden of such an argument is to demonstrate that what is ordinarily considered as an interference or a barrier is actually not so, and that everything a person is ordinarily considered not free to do or become is actually irrelevant to freedom. However, other pitfalls remain. Often, questions regarding the legitimacy of interference are reduced to questions concerning genuineness as interference. Also, questions concerning the desirability are reduced to questions about possibility.

 ‘Perhaps, however, the claim that certain men are free simpliciter is merely elliptical for the claim that they are free in every important respect, or in most important respects, or “on the whole.”’ This, however, does not remove the need of asking, in “the most important aspects”, for example, what they are free from and what they are free to become. And straightforward answers to these questions will enable evaluation of whether men are free as claimed.


“Freedom is always and necessarily from restraint; thus, in so far as the adherents of positive freedom speak of persons being made free by means of restraint, they cannot be talking about freedom.” Let us examine the implications of this argument made by friends of “negative” freedom by investigating how we can we can make sense of the alleged claim of adherents of “positive” liberty that, for example, Smith is (or can be) made free by restraining (constraining, coercing) him.

The first interpretation is that “restraining Smith by means a [say, a regulation] from doing b [that prevents his crossing the streets wherever he likes] produces a situation in which he is now able to do c [but allows him to have a right of way over automobile traffic at pedestrian crossings] because restraint d [while abolishing the automobiles having general right of way over pedestrians] is lifted. He is thereby, by means of restraint a, made free from d to do c, although he can no longer do b.”

This interpretation is straightforward. It presents problems only if it is assumed that persons are free or not free simpliciter and also that the claim in question is that Smith can be  made free simpliciter. If these assumptions are made, the following interpretation might be appropriate. Smith is not being “restrained” but being helped to do what he really wants to do or what he would do if he were reasonable (moral, prudent). The “constraint” put on him actually lifts a genuine constraint (ignorance, passion) that was upon him.

This is not at all straightforward. However, it can be disentangled by insisting on the specifications of the triadic relationship being advanced. What, for instance, is Smith being made free from? Perhaps he is made free from the constraint produced by the arbitrary uncontrolled actions of other residents, or perhaps it is the “constraint” arising from his own ignorance or passion, or perhaps it’s both. If it’s the former, the specification is straightforward. If it’s the latter, further argument will be needed for it is difficult to find the range of passion or ignorance that might limit freedom.

Who, for another, is the “true” Smith? The answer will be met if the third specification of the triadic relationship, what Smith is made free to do, is examined. Apparently, he is made free to do as he wishes, really wishes, or would wish if he were reasonable. But there is obviously something he is not free to do. That is the whole point of restraining Smith. But what is he not free to do? The problem with this question is realised when we realise that what usually appears as a “restraint” is not a restraint at all.

These comments do not seek to analyse in depth the claim made by “friends” of negative liberty. Rather, they are being made to examine and draw attention to the variety of interpretations that the analysis of freedom as a triadic relationship throws up. And these are interpretations that the “friends” of negative liberty do not consider or anticipate.


“In the end, then, discussions of the freedom of agents can be fully intelligible and rationally assessed only after the specification of each term of this triadic relation has been made or at least understood. The principal claim made here has been that insistence upon this single “concept” of freedom puts us in a position to see the interesting and important ranges of issues separating the philosophers who write about freedom in such different ways, and the ideologies that treat freedom so differently.”


[1] “Identified [by Isaiah Berlin in Two Concepts of Liberty]… as adherents of “negative” freedom, one finds Occam, Erasmus, Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, Constant, J. S. Mill, Tocqueville, Jefferson, Burke, Paine. Among adherents of “positive” freedom one finds Plato, Epictetus, St. Ambrose, Montesquieu, Spinoza, Kant, Herder, Rousseau, Hegel, Fichte, Marx, Bukharin, Comte, Carlyle, T. H. Green, Bradley, Bosanquet.”