It is common to think that state enforcement is a restriction on freedom that is morally permitted or justified because of the unfortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves. Human frailty and material scarcity combine to make the compromise of freedom involved in the existence of an exclusive state enforcer necessary for other freedoms or other goods. In the words of James Madison, ‘if men were angels, no government would be necessary’ (Federalist No. 51). However, a number of philosophers (notably Kant, but also contemporary writers such as Arthur Ripstein, Japa Pallikkathayil and Philip Pettit) have thought, in opposition to this tradition, that the very idea of freedom entails the necessity of state enforcement. However morally good human beings are, on this view, the ideal of freedom we ought to be concerned to realise is such that it cannot be attained without state enforcement. That is, it follows a priori from the idea of freedom that a state with exclusive enforcement power is necessary for individual liberty. In this paper, I argue that what I take to be the most plausible such argument is unsuccessful. This is the neo-republican view that freedom as non-domination is necessarily enhanced by the existence of a state. In fact, I argue, whatever domination is necessarily unavoidable in a stateless society is also unavoidable in a state society. If state enforcement can be morally justified at all, I believe, this will be in response to the contingent misfortunes that we face in the world as it actually is. Available here.
A common objection to a theory in political philosophy is that it is not feasible to realise what it requires. It is not clear, though, how exactly we should adjudicate such claims or when they warrant the rejection of a theory. This paper seeks to understand what we mean when we say that some proposal or outcome is or is not feasible. It argues that no single binary definition can be given. There is a whole range of possible specifications of the term ‘feasible’, each of which selects a range of facts of the world to hold fixed. No single one of these possible specifications, though, is obviously privileged as giving the appropriate understanding of ‘feasibility’ tout court. The upshot of my account of feasibility, then, is that, in order to reject a moral theory, it will not be sufficient simply to say that it is not feasible. Available here.
'Immigration restrictions, territory, and feasibility' (under review)
About one in every thirty people in the world is an international migrant, that is, living in a territory other than the one they were born in, and this proportion is rising. When people cross state boundaries, they typically come up against the enforcement power of states. Walls, surveillance and militarised border guards are all regularly employed to prevent unauthorised access to states’ territories. If a state decides not to allow you entry, they will usually make it difficult, and dangerous, for you to get in. And if you do succeed in entering a state’s territory without authorisation, you may find yourself imprisoned and forcibly removed. States claim (and are widely taken to have) discretionary rights to determine who may or may not cross the boundaries of their territory. De facto, most states possess the capacity to enforce their immigration policies, but what could give states the moral right to act in this proprietary way over particular territories?
The recent global prominence and urgency of such questions have been accompanied by rapidly increasing philosophical attention. Nevertheless, I think there is an important underexplored element of this debate. In this paper, I argue that if we take seriously two key desiderata for any account of states’ right to exclude, it starts to appear indispensable to ask questions about feasibility. The most plausible way of meeting these desiderata (if they can be met at all) appeals to the infeasibility of achieving some important value without the state’s exclusive border control. Draft here
'Settler colonialism and border controls' (under review)
There is a significant wing of the rapidly growing philosophical literature on immigration that calls for the opening of national borders. Such a denial of the right to exclude might seem troublingly to make it more difficult to explain the distinctive wrong of the kind of colonialism to which settlement was central. Indeed, Margaret Moore, in a recent paper, has argued that this wrong of settler colonialism is the violation of exclusionary territorial rights held by indigenous peoples. In this paper, I argue that we can explain the wrong of settler colonialism without any need for exclusionary rights over territories. I develop an account of cultural stability rights that suffices on its own to explain this wrong, but that does not entail a right to control entry to a territory. Draft here
'Hobbes: A voluntarist about the permissibility of state enforcement?' (2018) Ethics, Politics and Society 1: 203-29
I take up the question of what argument, if any, Hobbes has for state legitimacy, which term I stipulatively use to mean the general, exclusive permission to enforce compliance with their directives or laws that states are standardly taken to have. I argue that, contrary to what one might imagine, the ground of state legitimacy for Hobbes is not to be found in the social contract or the authorisation of the state’s subjects, but rather in the sovereign’s simply not being subject to the kind of laws that rule out enforcement for subjects. The sovereign’s right to enforce is based in exactly the same sort of right that all have when not subject to any higher sovereign power. Though this must be nuanced (the sovereign does not literally retain its right to all things from the state of nature, since no sovereign existed in the state of nature), the permissibility of enforcement for Hobbes is to be found simply in the lack of anything that might make it impermissible. Read here
States and the Limits of Feasibility: Enforcement, Morality and Possibility
Abstract: States make us do things; they enforce our acting in certain ways. What is more, this seems to be an essential element of statehood. My thesis explores arguments for the kind of general and exclusive moral permission to enforce that states claim, and in particular the role that feasibility considerations play in them. I argue that premises about the infeasibility of alternatives to a state’s enforcement are essential to the success of any such argument. States’ permission to enforce can be justified, if at all, in response to the unfortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves. I develop a general multivocal account of the concept of feasibility, according to which the concept can be made precise in many different ways, no single one of which is obviously privileged as uniquely relevant to moral theory. Given the importance of feasibility to arguments for states’ general and exclusive permission to enforce, this account has the consequence of casting doubt on the assumption that such a permission can be taken for granted. Arguments for this permission may succeed when we make their feasibility premises precise in some ways, but not others. Understanding this, I argue, helps illuminate how we ought to think about and treat the state enforcement we face in the real world.
Read summary here