Libertarian vs. Communitarian?

Since the premature proclamation of the ‘end of history’ following the collapse of the Soviet Union, those believing in the end of the old left and right division that has been central to modern politics have proffered a number of other dividing lines that will define the next political era. Some suggest power struggles between different levels of regional, national and supra-national government; others suggest that diffuse identity politics will replace any clear political division.

This article (requires subscription) by Julian Baggini presents a more persuasive argument that the challenge for the future in to manage the division between people that believe rights are universal and unconditional and those that believe rights are earned through responsibility. This division between Libertarians and Communitarians, he argues, cuts across traditional left and right. Additionally, though, this division reflects a divide that is common in the debate over immigration and borders. Those who argue for open borders do so out of fundamentalist libertarian belief in universal rights; those arguing for closed borders do so on the basis of a belief that rights that come from being within a sovereign state should be derived only from either blood, birth or, more moderately, fulfilling certain obligations.

The reality, of course, is that immigration policy and border control lies somewhere in middle. Theoretically, asylum is a marker of a libertarian approach that offer rights to those considered in need; immigration control and access to welfare and citizenship represents aspects of the communitarian tradition of earning your place. If Baggini is right about the future cleavage of politics, then policy and attitudes on asylum and immigration will offer a clear illustrative example.

ICAR’s rights and responsibilities project is looking at how refugees in the UK percieve the relationship between their own rights and responsiblities and how this affected by different political systems in the country of origin and their experiences of integration in the UK.

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One Response

  1. […] Posted on January 24, 2008 by gmorrell A couple of weeks back, this blog discussed a piece by Julian Baggini on the libertarian and communitarian approaches to rights, which […]

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