Monday, January 6, 2020

Michael Blake's "Justice, Migration, and Mercy"

Michael Blake is Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance at the University of Washington. He writes on issues of liberal justice and state borders, with a particular focus on aspects of global distributive justice and international migration.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Justice, Migration, and Mercy, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a discussion of the distinction between positive and negative rights, and how that distinction might be necessary for any moral understanding of the ethics of migration. Negative rights are those that focus primarily on what other people aren’t allowed to do; if I have the negative right to an attorney, you can’t coercively stop me from hiring one. Positive rights go beyond this, by requiring other people to provide the means as well as the freedom; if I have the positive right to an attorney, I have the right to have an attorney appointed for me, if I otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to pay for that attorney. This page points out that we might have to start talking more about this sort of distinction as regards refugee and asylum law. After all, the formal freedom to cross a border isn’t of much use to me, if I don’t have any practical means by which to pack up and move to a new country.

The page 99 test works here – especially if we read that test in a negative light, as helping you identify the books you don’t want to read. If you don’t like the sort of moral distinction-drawing I do on page 99, then my book will likely bore or irritate you. (It is, of course, entirely possible that you love this sort of moral distinction-drawing, and still think I’m doing it poorly.) A great deal of what I do in this book is to try to figure out how we apply these large theoretical notions like justice, rights, mercy, and so on, in the very distinctive context of migration policy. Philosophers and political theorists are used to speaking about justice within a political community; we disagree a great deal about what justice might demand, but we’ve at least got a good philosophical tradition to draw on, and a fair amount of agreement as to who counts and what that counting entails. In migration, I think we’re still finding our way in how to bring our philosophical ideas to bear on the very specific case of people who aren’t yet part of a particular society, but want to become so. The book tries to defend a particular vision of how we might do that – and, in particular, defends a particular vision of why (and when) states are permitted to refuse would-be migrants from coming in. It also tries to increase the moral vocabulary philosophers use to discuss migration, by noting that policies can avoid injustice while still being morally objectionable. A person who merely refrained from violating the rights of others, after all, would still be a pretty shabby sort of person; we couldn’t call them unjust, but we’d like to say they aren’t behaving as a good person ought to behave. I argue that something similar holds true for states, especially as regards their treatment of non-members – and, along the way, I end up making a great many moral distinctions, so page 99 isn’t an unfair representation of the book as a whole.
Learn more about Justice, Migration, and Mercy at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue