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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 23, 2007

International Law and Justice

Alex Sager
Pages 69-86
DOI: 10.5840/socphiltoday20072318

Culture and Immigration
A Case for Exclusion?

A number of prominent political philosophers, including Will Kymlicka and Joseph Carens, have suggested that one reason for limiting immigration is to protect culture, particularly what Kymlicka calls “societal culture”: “a territorially-concentrated culture, centered on a shared language which is used in a wide range of societal institutions, in both public and private life (schools, media, law, economy, government, etc.).” I situate this claim in the context of liberal nation-building and suggest that the arguments for the protection of culture are often vague, confused or tend to conflict with liberal commitments. When clear, they gain their plausibility from other concerns (e.g., self-defense), not cultural protection. Finally, given plausible empirical assumptions, the dangers to societal culture are considerably exaggerated and provide little reason for preventing immigration. I then briefl y consider the case of general culture and whether there are some grounds to limit immigration to protect it, using the example of Iceland and aboriginal cultures to situate my arguments. Once again, I conclude that the appeal to culture to limit immigration is weak and philosophers searching for arguments against open borders should turn elsewhere.