Library Header Image
LSE Theses Online London School of Economics web site

Refugee policy and the limits of liberal universalism.

Boswell, Christina (2001) Refugee policy and the limits of liberal universalism. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Download (12MB) | Preview


This thesis aims to construct a conceptual framework for characterising the relationship between duties to refugees and duties to fellow nationals. The need for such a framework is generated by the current impasse on the policy debate about the nature and scope of refugee rights. The thesis examines a range of liberal political theories to see if they can provide an adequate account, evaluating them on three criteria: normative desirability; practical feasibility; and internal coherence. The discussion criticises liberal theories on two levels. Firstly, it shows how liberal universalist theories raise a problem of moral motivation: they impose overly stringent ethical demands, and risk being counter-productive. Attempts to incorporate some notion of the significance of national ties or to justify a national social contract simply produce an incoherent amalgam of universalist and particularist premises. Secondly, the thesis argues that these problems reflect a more profound weakness in liberal theories of moral agency and motivation. Liberal theory relies on an assumed dichotomy between a personal and an impartial perspective. The moral agent is assumed to abstract from her personal characteristics to adopt an "ethical" view-point. This notion of impartiality is descriptively implausible, and produces a highly problematic rationalist theory of motivation. The thesis argues instead for an account that sees the agent as motivated by her personal disposition and community values to respect refugee rights. On this account there is no necessary conflict between particularism and duties to non-nationals. I develop this non-rationalist account by providing (1) a philosophical theory of motivation; substantiated by (2) a theory of the psychology of moral development. The thesis shows how this non-rationalist account is consistent with a substantive commitment to universal duties. Moreover, it fulfils the two additional criteria of internal coherence and feasibility, thus providing a superior conception of the relationship between duties to compatriots and to refugees.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Political Science, International Relations, Sociology, Public and Social Welfare
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses

Actions (login required)

Record administration - authorised staff only Record administration - authorised staff only


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics