The Right to Leave versus a Duty to Remain: Health-Care Workers and the ‘Brain Drain’

  • Phillip Cole


Global migration is a recent topic for political philosophy but one that is receiving increasing attention. Traditionally, philosophy has conceived of political communities as hermetically sealed spaces, with no outside, such that all questions of ethics and justice are, in effect, negotiated between fellow citizens. My book, Philosophies of Exclusion: Liberal Political Theory and Immigration, was the first monograph devoted to the ethics of immigration controls, but growing political controversies have led to increased theoretical attention to this aspect of migration. However, the focus of this attention has been upon the problems caused by those who wish to enter the political community from the outside and the limits upon the state’s ethical obligation to admit them, in other words, to questions of immigration policy and practice. The question of emigration has been largely missing from these debates, and I argue that political theory has to embrace the right to leave. At the practical level, while immigration may be the key political question for developed states, emigration poses far more serious, and perhaps far more real, challenges for nations in the developing world. If political philosophy is going to reflect and inform the experiences of the wider world, it needs to address the movement of people leaving their home country.


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© Phillip Cole 2010

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  • Phillip Cole

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