Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Juni 2004

3.1. Exil und Migration | Exile and Migration | Exil et migration
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Fawzi Boubia (Caen)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Migratory Cosmopolitanism: Three Proposals

Raffaele Marchetti (LSE, London & La Sapienza, Rome)


This paper aims to present a re-interpretation of the issue of citizenship and migration according to a consequential cosmopolitan paradigm. From such a perspective, three principal proposals emerge concerning a new model of multi-layered citizenship, the identification of a supranational regulatory framework of migration as a global public good, and the institutional co-ordinates to implement such a system.


An interpretation of cosmopolitan citizenship in terms of freedom of movement forms the core of this paper. In focusing on the capacity of political agents to influence, from their respective positions, those public decisions whose consequences extend beyond national borders, mainstream arguments on global citizenship are primarily concerned with the scope of accountability. This paper conversely aims to study the other, less discussed, aspect of global citizenship, which entails the extent to which political agents are free to move and join different societies. Accordingly, it takes as a principal object of concern the capacity of individuals to modify their personal choice possibility through changing place of residency, and thus, to pursue control over the political system and, a fortiori, over their own future. Once the principle of control over one's life is endorsed, the issue of original residency becomes less significant to both aspects of global citizenship, and the treatment of migrants consequently acquires a central role as a test of the legitimisation of the political system.

Within the wider project of the outline of a political model appropriate for international moral problems, the normative response of this paper to the specific issue of international migration consists in enlarging political analysis from the individual and national domain toward the world level. The work advances the fundamental claim that only a manifold cosmopolitan theory can manage the complexity of such a global phenomenon and combine particularistic claims of the states with universalistic aspirations. Consequently, it defends a particular form of moral consequential cosmopolitanism (CC) and illustrates how the political implications of this generate new institutional arrangements of global governance for the specific case of migration and citizenship.

In contrast to existing international law and national policies, from the present perspective migrants are recognised as cosmopolitan stake-holders, entitled to rights which extend to different spheres of political action. According to the long-term emancipation project of consequential cosmopolitanism, the right to free passage is in fact considered a progressive entitlement of non-discrimination, able to maximise individual choice possibility and, consequently, world welfare condition. For this to be established the identification of migratory regulation as an intermediate global public good is suggested, and the institution of an international organisation specifically focused on migration management recommended. The subsequent form of cosmopolitan governance of migration would, then, be effective, legitimate, and accountable, states would lose their absolute privilege of admission, and a more equitable method of allocation of entrance permissions and international responsibility would be implemented, which would be able to eliminate some of the injustices intrinsic to the present nation-led system.


I Current policies

Migration is commonly included in the list of global issues. And yet it is usually managed solely by mere national or regional policies. This mismatch conceals a fundamental normative contradiction between universal human claims and communitarian entitlements upheld by mainstream political philosophy and both national and international law. Of this forced clash the most self-evident case is possibly Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 concerning the right to leave (but not to enter) any country.

Current migration policies tend to close borders and enlarge citizenship. While the first aspect of citizenship, identity, is ever more national, the second component, concerning individual rights, is increasingly transnational. A universal model of membership anchored in a de-territorialized notion of the rights of the individual is slowly eroding the authority of national citizenship through a process characterised by decentralisation and unintentionality (Soysal, 1994). Despite this circumstance, international customary law still contains migration principles that confer absolute discretion to the sovereign state with regard to the admission of legal immigrants. Provided no relevant conventions or humanitarian instruments are applicable, the refusal of admission to an alien is, as a matter of fact, never an illicit act (Goodwin-Gill, 1978; Nascimbene, 1984).

One way of interpreting the issue of immigration, namely, as a historical development of the original dominium theory (through citizenship), consists in progressively drawing limits to state sovereignty by means of superior international laws. These usually consider aliens negatively, as non-citizens and non-subjects, making the state the only agent entitled to confer such status privilege (Nascimbene, 1984, § II). By contrast, the approach that this paper proposes, is cosmopolitan from the beginning. Migrants are not non-citizens, but they are rather to be considered as stake-holders, who are entitled to a certain degree to rights extending to different spheres of political action at the local, state and world levels. In accordance with a new concept of universal membership based on a global notion of individual rights, this paper develops an argument for a consistent political regime (extending necessarily beyond the state domain), able to implement an effective, accountable, and legitimate migration regulatory system through a cosmopolitan scheme of democracy. Before presenting this specific argument, though, it is necessary to sketch the general theory of international ethics that underpins this paper: consequential cosmopolitanism.


II Consequential Cosmopolitanism

Consequential cosmopolitanism represents a conception of a normative assessment of international affairs, whose underlying theme is the focus on freedom of choice and subsequently on individual welfare within the political organisation of society (Marchetti, 2004). According to this idea, a three-layered focus on guarantees forms the political objective of the consequential cosmopolitan theory. On the individual level, the protection of a set of minimal universal interests insofar as they provide the individual with the socio-political capabilities to freely choose his or her own personal life. On the state level, the protection of a set of collective interests is needed, inasmuch as it provides national capabilities for free self-determination. And finally, on the global level, the protection of a set of international means is required to manage global phenomena. The legitimacy of these guarantees, as well as of any other intermediate principle, has to be assessed comprehensively with reference to their long-term impartial performance and, subsequently, to their potential to conduce to the maximisation of the world welfare condition.

At the global level, consequential cosmopolitanism identifies the global concern as the value most conducive to the maximisation of the world's welfare. This entails an enlargement of the traditional sphere of care and moral consideration, since the subject here is humanity at large, and consequently demands that we consistently align our individual and state claims with the universal requirements of mankind. Hence, a scheme of cosmopolitan democracy and humanitarian universal rules are needed, which represent elements necessary for the establishment of a comprehensive and consistent political system through integration with the rules of those of the previous levels. In order for this system to be accountable, however, a new interpretation of public agency is also required.

A proper conception of world agency has to acknowledge the need to enlarge the current view of the political agency. Traditional politics operate on a conception of responsibility and vulnerability, usually pertaining to the state domain, which is too narrow to deal properly with the ethical problems exacerbated by the global dimension of political life. In these terms, world citizenship represents a crucial step toward overcoming the established system of agency and implementing a cosmopolitan model. The resulting new model of citizenship, instead of deleting all the other social ties, engenders rather a more consistent political way of addressing the phenomena which affect one's life, and a more effective way of aligning one's personal with one's political identity (Linklater, 1998; Hutchings & Dannreuther, 1999; Dower & Williams, 2002). A concept of stakeholder citizenship underpins this change, according to which individuals and collective agents are entitled to a multi-level citizenship, and consequently a political voice in the decision-making process at all socio-economic levels (Held & Hirst, 2002; Sassen, 2002). This new interpretation of political agency is particularly significant in those cases where traditional state-centric conceptions of citizenship show an increasing inappropriateness, both moral and political, when challenged by global transformations. The case of migration is possibly the most relevant of these.


III Consequential cosmopolitan citizenship

The starting point of the consequential cosmopolitanism argument on the movement of people is the recognition of the right to free passage and membership as a cardinal and universal entitlement of individuals. It is only through such privilege that individuals can implement their capacity to command their political system and the course of their life. As much as at the domestic level, the right to movement throughout national territory has proved to be a crucial element in the self-realisation of one's personal goals, an equivalent international right would also arguably be most beneficial both to the welfare of the individual (in terms of opportunities and political control of one's own life) and consequently to the world's welfare.

According to consequential cosmopolitanism, migration is considered principally to be a global moral issue, insofar as it is recognised as one of those social phenomena that refer primarily to the third level of political action: the world level. If one postulates that the fundamental principle of ethics requires impartiality when judging moral issues, the assumption of non-discrimination should thus also be acknowledged when discussing international ethics (Singer, 1988; Goodin, 1992). If this is accepted and interpreted through the paradigm of consequential cosmopolitanism, then the ultimate principle of the maximisation of the world welfare condition implies the equal status of both migrants and receivers in terms of the possibility of individual choice. And, consequently, the shift from the state-centric paradigm of regularity-legality-citizenship to a political principle of residency becomes the turning point of the renewed cosmopolitan paradigm and the unique chance of social and political development for the theory and practice of democracy. This new multi-level and multinational citizenship with a different scope of responsibility thus entails the enjoyment of civil, social and political rights in more than one country and complete parity of rights between local people and migrants (Goodin, 1996, 357-62; Carter, 2001, 109).

Since an open-border policy is not viable in the near future, the subsequent problem becomes, then, how to distribute equally a scarce good and avoid the dramatic situation of the sacrifice of the few(1). Today admission is usually decided by pure luck. Some migrants succeed in entering, both legally and illegally, a country, while many others (possibly with more ethical entitlements) are excluded by this jungle system, where physical force and social power very often decide the outcome beyond any moral constraints. The universal right to migration, i.e. the right to movement, which forms the fundamental idea underpinning this new interpretation of membership, represents the radical ethical alternative to the arbitrariness of the present mechanism.

Since the distribution of the relevant good, i.e. admission, must be implemented as equally as possible, the only viable solution consists in the recognition of citizenship as a good infinitely dividable. The constraints, which I call the circumstances of migratory justice, result from the fact that many want to enjoy this good, i.e. the right to be a member, and yet it is not infinite at the national level. Although the second order, global citizenship is, in fact, characterised by all-inclusiveness, the first order, state membership, still remains inevitably subject to some constraints. This situation is further aggravated by the "all-win, all-lose" game: if migrants are repelled at national borders they lose everything, while somebody else can indeed win the lottery (by chance or illicit means). The sacrifice of a few migrants (actually many lives) could then be considered as the unjust cost to be paid in order to sustain the entire system of the remaining would-be migrants who remain at home, of the legal migrants who have already been accepted, and of local population. The political alternative to these circumstances would be to divide the prize in an impartial way, i.e. littler prizes but equally distributed. Universality is only possible through the division of the good in infinite parts, temporally distributed. Consequently, temporally limited permissions of free movement become the good of this new migratory policy, which would be widely available and complemented by limited extensions concerning the right of establishment and definitive change of primary citizenship(2).

Having outlined this new interpretation of the notion of migration and citizenship, it is necessary to concentrate on its political consequences. So far it has only been shown that citizenship should be re-conceptualised in terms of global justice and consequently anchored to universal principles of justice. This first move must be now consistently followed by the identification of the political means, which would maximise the individual's choice possibilities and, consequently, of the condition of the world's welfare. The following section is dedicated to show how both a fair allocation of entrance permissions and an impartial distribution of burdens among international agents might function through appropriate political procedures.


IV Migratory regulation as an intermediate global public good

The outcomes of a global migratory regulation would meet the criteria of non-rivalry, non-excludability, and quasi-universality, which conventionally identify intermediate global public goods, principally intended as an international institutional framework that contributes to the provision of the ultimate global public goods. The argument to prove this identification originates from two empirical assumptions and one normative claim. While the first assumption holds that inclusiveness of a good depends on public policy choices as well as on the modification of the good in itself, the second maintains that the regulation of national migration is usually considered a national public good, but it suffers, nevertheless, from lack of effective implementation because of serious problems of compliance between bilateral and multilateral international agreements. The normative claim consists instead in the recognition of contemporary migration as a global issue affecting primarily the agent of humanity as publicum. These three elements are the fundaments on which the following parts of the arguments are built.

Assuming that a regulation for global migration were implemented, the situation would exist in which:

I. The participation of a country A in the system would not impede the access of any other country X into it, since the regulatory framework would not suffer any detrimental effect from an increase in the number of agents involved. The good, then, would not be a rival of consumption.

II. It would not be politically and economically feasible to limit the admission of any country to this regime, since any exclusion would make the international environment more hostile in terms of strategic decisions and would, consequently, increase the social costs of all the agents. The good, then, would be non-excludable.

III. The outcomes would be very widely spread both in terms of countries, people, and generations. More than one group of countries would be involved, different social groups would be affected, and the benefits would extend to both current and future generations. The good, then, would be quasi-universal.

An international regulation of global flows of migration would serve as an impartial mediator to allocate burdens and to distribute benefits. Within this scheme, it would be in the interest of all partners to include the greatest number of participant, thus increasing the possibility of implementing effective policies. It is, in fact, evident that part of the current political problems in managing national migration is caused by the behaviour of rogue countries.

On the basis of the above assumptions, the traditional understanding of the migratory phenomenon as a mere domestic political issue, concerning ultimately solely a problem of admission, is disputed, and a rationale for an international framework to manage global migration is, instead, presented. Accordingly, the state is no longer the sole agency that determines according to its own principle of justice whether to admit an alien or not. If this were so, it would simply be a matter of designing a political mechanism to increase national efficiency. But this case is different and concerns more importantly issues of the assignment of moral responsibility, i.e. to make every agent accountable in each political sphere. Since the agency concerned with the movement of people refers primarily to the global level of political action, then the principles of justice applicable in this case have to be consistently calibrated as world responsibilities through the appropriate institutional correlation.


V Cosmopolitan governance of migration

Based on the above assumptions, the recognition of the necessity of creating a legal-political structure able to manage and implement this good is consequently acknowledged. The regulatory framework envisaged by this paper for this aim consists in a set of institutional tools modelled on a number of existing international organisations, and composed of two main parts: an international convention and an international agency.

An international convention should be organized in order to recognise migration as a global phenomenon and to identify a code of conduct to be implemented through a two-tier mechanism at the domestic and global levels. An example to have in mind is the UN Geneva Refugee Convention and its Protocol (entered into force in 1954 and 1967, respectively), which provides a similar framework for the specific case of refugees. And as a complement to this, an international agency (possibly under the umbrella of the United Nations) should also be created, in order to provide the appropriate place for negotiations and the appropriate force for implementing the decisions concerning migratory fluxes. This new agency should be characterised by high public awareness, highly placed delegates, and high inclusiveness, in order to satisfy the moral requirement of CC. An example to bear in mind in this case is the World Trade Organisation WTO, rather than the UN agency for refugees UNHCR (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002). The latter, in fact, aims more at assisting refugees than at identifying and preventively eradicating the sources of the problem. The WTO, by contrast, is a plain regulatory body with a mission statement and sufficient power to elaborate and implement supranational rules, guaranteed by the threat of effective sanctions.

This new system of global governance of migration would enhance the legitimacy, efficacy and accountability of the decisions taken at the supranational level, decreasing at the same time the worldwide social criticism against the current situation. All the involved agents would have the possibility of expressing their points of view and of influencing the decision process through appropriate political mechanisms. The creation of this new supranational agency, created in collaboration with several other institutional agencies such as governmental and non-governmental organisations, represents, therefore, a crucial step toward institutionalising a framework of the global governance of migration.


VI Conclusions

To the original point of contention represented by the moral unaccountability of state migratory policies, this paper has suggested a cosmopolitan answer. The arbitrariness of admission criteria and the loss of any potential increase in the condition of the world's welfare have been criticised through the adoption of a radical change in political perspective, which has reinterpreted migration and citizenship as global moral issues. The core of this cosmopolitan argument resides in a particular interpretation of the idea of a universal right to free passage, which takes into account the "circumstances of migratory justice". In arguing for such a view, the two key steps are recognition of the necessity of fairly allocating membership and of international responsibility for regulating migration. The political recommendation resides in the proposal of new admission criteria and in the implementation of a new system of international co-operation. The latter, in particular, entails the adoption of a convention on migrants and the establishment of a supranational co-operative agency to manage migratory fluxes.

Only such a multi-level political system can insure that an individual's choice can receive an impartial hearing, insofar as a multi-level citizenship entails differing degrees of responsibility and relative power at all levels of political decision, including the global sphere, where international spill-over effects increasingly affect humanity as publicum. Arguably, these are, for the time being, the appropriate political arrangements required by a consequential cosmopolitan theory of global justice in the case of citizenship and migration. However, were the circumstances in the future to differ, then political norms should be revised accordingly. Flexibility and reformism need to be combined with awareness that moral law can only require a partial revision of social reality and that it is only reasonable to assume that international institutions will be fairer than national ones.

© Raffaele Marchetti (LSE, London & La Sapienza, Rome)


(1) The most radical objection according to which the fundamental privilege of the rich people, to whom this paper demands only to share a part of their welfare, is not scrutinised from a moral point of view has to be answer with a political statement, both normative and pragmatic. On the one hand, it is not conceivable a complete open-border policy to be implemented here and now. This would not be accepted by the powerful national and international agents and would, consequently, have very high social costs in terms of enduring instability. On the other hand, the communitarian stance is partially right in claiming the importance of social identity. Were borders tout court open, this identity would be endangered of being suddenly submerged, and possibly the entire state structure would be under risk with huge potential costs in terms of world welfare maximisation. It is still possible, nevertheless, that in the long run the group identity changes (and the state structure, subsequently, modifies), even as a consequence of aliens admission, but this would be a different case of social evolution through slow political identity renovation. Hence, the strategy of a reformism by degrees seems to be most appropriate to implement a universal right to limited immigration for the moment being, and to unlimited migration for the future.

(2) It is important to notice here that this system is not envisaged just for migrant-workers, insofar as the right of residency is offered regardless of the personal motives. In this way, migrants' preferences are preserved and the idea of national interests refused. Nevertheless, migrant-workers will, of course, exist and the labour market subsequently be adapted. Moreover, the problem of collective ties and identity is re-considered through a cosmopolitan filter too. The possibility of multiple allegiances is developed together with multiple citizenship. Sharing of both social and political sentiments between the original place and the place of migration is deemed to be a likely effect of the system.


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3.1. Exil und Migration | Exile and Migration | Exil et migration

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Raffaele Marchetti (LSE, London & La Sapienza, Rome): Migratory Cosmopolitanism: Three Proposals. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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