Author Archives: kieran oberman

Does Catalonia have a Right to Secede?

Photo: SBA73

Sunday’s images were shocking: polling stations stormed, elderly voters with bloodied faces, fire fighters (of all people) beaten by police. Coverage in the press and widespread sharing on social media ensured a PR disaster for Spain. Catalonia’s separatists have, for the moment at least, gained the world’s attention and a share of its sympathy. But how far should this sympathy extend?

One can condemn the violence and leave it there (as, for instance, Belgium did). But the more fundamental question is whether Catalonia has a right to secession. That is not just a question about Sunday’s poll. Even if one rejects the legitimacy of that poll, one still faces the question of whether another should be held. There is no reason why Catalonia could not hold an orderly referendum of the Quebec and Scotland kind. What has been stopping it so far is Spanish opposition. So, must Spain give way? Continue reading

Immigration and Freedom: Chandran Kukathas on Immigration Control


Protesters in San Francisco International Airport. Photograph: Josh Edelson.

By Alvaro Candia Callejas and Andrew Mousseau

Recently, we had the opportunity to welcome Professor Chandran Kukathas to discuss a chapter from his new book project, Immigration and Freedom with our class Contemporary Political Theory: Engaging with Current Research. In his book, Kukathas gives a new perspective on familiar moral and political problems. He argues that immigration control undermines—and perhaps even threatens—the ‘rule of law’. This causes significant social problems that must be addressed regardless of one’s personal views on immigration. Continue reading

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie: Helder De Schutter on Intralinguistic Justice

By Ankaret EL HAJ

At a time when English is spreading faster than ever, equality between languages has become a particularly pressing issue. Should one language have priority over another? Should we let minority languages die out? These are important questions and are often discussed in the field of interlinguistic justice. Further to this, Dr Helder De Schutter, an accomplished scholar of political philosophy from the Catholic University of Leuven, is working on the separate but connected issue of intralinguistic justice. This topic concerns the relationship between standard languages and dialects. In a paper he presented to our class on Contemporary Political Theory, he argues that while we consider the relative status of standard languages, we also need to consider the interface between the standard languages and the dialects over which they have, as an “internal monster,” gained political priority. Continue reading

Free Money for All: Karl Widerquist’s Argument for Basic Income


In what ways do theories of property and the social contract affect an individual’s freedom? Are members of a reasonably just society morally obliged to contribute to its economic system even in ways they might not want to, and within structures they might not agree with?

These are the questions that stand at the centre of  Karl Widerquist’s exploration of freedom in capitalist societies, laid out in his book Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income – A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No. Continue reading

Global Epidemics and Social Justice

health worker

Health Worker at Ebola Isolation Ward in Kabala, Sierra Leone. UN Photo: Marine Perret

By Markus Fraundorfer

Imagine a virus which kills a person within days causing horrible pain and suffering. Imagine this virus spreads within weeks, or even days, from city to city, from country to country, crossing state boundaries as if they never existed. Imagine this virus travels by aeroplane crossing oceans and continents without the slightest obstacle. Imagine that during its long journeys this virus infects hundreds of thousands of people. And imagine, there is no vaccine or successful treatment available. This is not the storyline of a thrilling novel; it is the storyline of what could have happened in 2014, the year of the most dangerous outbreak of Ebola since the virus was detected in 1976 in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most lethal strain of the Ebola virus, with a mortality rate ranging between 70 and 90 percent, can kill a person within several days. Continue reading

Philanthropy and Development


Photo: Gates Foundation.

By Paul Spray

I come from a particular context. I have worked all my life in international development – for developing country governments, for international NGOs, for the British government Department for International Development, and (albeit only for 18 months) for a philanthropic foundation. I am currently a Board member of Christian Aid.

  1. What’s going on: Philanthropy and development

There has been a rapid increase in the money given by Foundations for international development. In 2011 philanthropic North-South flows from OECD countries were at least US$59 billion, and probably a lot more. That’s already half of governments’ official aid. Continue reading

 Retrieving the Heart of the Market?

Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron delivers a speech at The Conservative Party Big Society conference in central London, Wednesday March 31, 2010. Photo By Andrew Parsons

Photo: Andrew Parsons.

By Emma Dowling

In September 2014, the G8 Social Investment Taskforce (established by the UK presidency of the G8) produced a report entitled The Invisible Heart of Markets, outlining a strategy for G8 member states to develop a social investment market, invoking the metaphor of the market’s ‘invisible hand’ invoked by the 18th century political economist Adam Smith (1776) in The Wealth of Nations. According to dominant readings of Adam Smith’s theory, it is through the pursuit of one’s self-interest that social activity is steered via a market in beneficial ways for the collective good. The quip in the G8 Social Investment Taskforce report then seems to want to suggest that the market not only has an invisible hand that steers it, it also has an invisible heart that beats for the good of society. Continue reading

Five Bad Arguments Against Divestment

Photo: Augustine Ruiz.

Last year, Glasgow University became the first university in Europe to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Since then SOAS and Bedford have followed suit. Who, one wondered, would be next? The obvious answer was Edinburgh. Edinburgh has long prided itself on its ethical credentials. It was the first university in Europe to sign up to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment. In 2014, it set up the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, which swiftly launched a consultation on investment policy. The Just World Institute contributed by issuing a response document and collaborating in a packed out public debate. Finally, in the autumn, the matter moved to another level: the university set up a committee to formally consider the future of its £290 million endowment.   Divestment seemed like a real possibility. Continue reading

Should Scotland vote for what is best for Scotland?


Photo: Scottish Government.

On the face of things, the positions taken by the Yes and No camps in the referendum campaign would seem to be diametrically opposed. Yes argue that an independent Scotland would be better off: it would be richer, stronger, greener and fairer, resembling Norway or Sweden as much as the UK. No argue that an independent Scotland would be worse off: it would be poorer, jobs would head south and it would lose, along with its EU membership, the disproportionately large influence it has internationally by being part of the UK. Yet despite the appearance of opposition there is something that Yes and No have in common, which is that both are offering answers to the same question: what is best for Scotland?

But why think that “what is best for Scotland?” is the relevant question to ask? Here’s a strikingly different approach we could take. We could ask, “What is best for everyone in the world, no matter where they live?” Asking this question would force us to think beyond Scotland’s borders and take into account the interests of all those upon whom the referendum will have an effect. Clearly, the outsiders who will be most affected are those living in the rest of the UK. In the event of a Yes victory, politics within the rest of the UK is set for a shake up. Continue reading

Immigration is a human right

Photo: Motograf

Freedom of movement in Europe is under attack and not just in the UK. Earlier this year, the Swiss voted to introduce quotas for EU immigration, thus invalidating the Swiss-EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement. The Belgium government has sent thousands of letters (2,712 in 2013) to out-of-work EU immigrants, informing them that they have become an “unreasonable burden” on the state’s benefit system and as such must leave or face deportation. The German government is thinking of following suit, with a proposal to deport EU migrants who have not found work within three months.

Much has been written on what is motivating this wave of anti-immigration politics. Here, let us ask a different question: what motivates those who remain pro-immigration? Why should anyone think that freedom of movement in Europe is something worth defending? Continue reading