The debate over immigration agitates and disfigures politics in the U.S., Europe and other countries. The success of anti-immigrant parties and politicians reflects more than anxiety about jobs and terrorism. It also reflects the failure of mainstream parties and politicians to take these worries seriously and to address the hard ethical questions underlying the immigration debate.
What might a richer, more philosophically engaged immigration debate look like? With the help of the BBC and a group of participants from over 30 countries, I recently tried to answer this question. Using a new, high-tech studio created by the Harvard Business School, we convened a video-linked global discussion of immigration and the moral status of national borders.
Do countries have a greater moral duty to admit refugees fleeing war and persecution than immigrants fleeing dire poverty? If goods and capital should be able to move freely across borders, why not people? Is it morally legitimate for rich countries to restrict immigration to preserve their standard of living? What about to preserve it distinctive national identity?
These are among the questions I discussed with people from around the world, whose voices and images were beamed up on a visually arresting global wall of monitors. In addition to the 60 people visible in the studio, hundreds more watched live online, and sent in written comments.
We didn't resolve the immigration question, but we did manage to identify some of the big philosophical questions that animate the debate. And, despite a few technical glitches, we caught a glimpse of what the future of global public discourse could be.
Have a look and see what you think.
Michael Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard, and is the author of "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets." This month, the BBC launched his new program "The Global Philosopher."
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