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Book Review

Book review of Kukathas, Chandran. 2021. Immigration and Freedom. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 365 pp


Erdem Dikici

Senior Lecturer, School of Health and Social Wellbeing, UWE Bristol and Research Affiliate at the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, University of Bristol, GB
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Immigration and Freedom is a though-provoking monograph effectively bringing a new argument to the immigration debate, focusing on the consequences of immigration enforcement on the whole society.

How to Cite: Dikici, E., 2022. Book review of Kukathas, Chandran. 2021. Immigration and Freedom. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 365 pp. Nordic Journal of Migration Research, 12(4), pp.496–499. DOI:
  Published on 07 Dec 2022
 Accepted on 28 Sep 2022            Submitted on 16 May 2022

Immigration has been arguably one of the most controversial and central topics of the last three decades. There is an abundance of academic studies exploring different aspects and implications of immigration on a global scale. Yet, there has been limited scrutiny of the significance of immigration control and its consequences. It is indeed rare to find any comprehensive study investigating the ways in which immigration controls influence both would-be immigrants and natives. Chandran Kukathas’s Immigration and Freedom, in this respect, is an informed and compelling monograph, offering a freedom-based philosophical inquiry of immigration and immigration control with a specific focus on how the latter challenges the free society through policing and monitoring not just immigrants but also the wider society and its institutions.

Although this is primarily a philosophical inquiry, the book relies on sociological, anthropological, and legal studies regarding immigration enforcement, and confronts theoretical approaches that support immigration controls via citing economic, cultural, and political reasons. Kukathas also pays special attention to the agency of modern nation-states and their administrative systems and mechanisms concerning restrictions on immigration. The book is divided into two parts: while the first part (Chapters 1–4) establishes its main thesis, the second part (Chapters 5–7) examines whether economic, cultural, and political arguments for immigration controls pay off.

Chapter 1 examines immigration control and its relation to freedom, arguing that immigration controls pose threats to ‘the free society itself’ (p. 2), as the modern nation-state acts as a kind of ‘panopticon’ with its guards and surveillance systems (p. 4). Chapter 2 focuses on the nature of immigration and the idea of open borders regarding immigration and its consequences. It is persuasively argued that immigration control ‘is not just about policing boundary crossing’ but more about managing ‘the rights, the status, and even the identities of people within as well as outside the borders of the state’ (p. 19). Chapter 3 moves on to discuss how immigration controls threaten freedom and the free society with a specific reference to the nation-state’s controlling mechanisms such as interior checkpoints, surveillance, and restrictions that individuals and groups are subject to. Then, Chapter 4 further explores the undesired outcomes of immigration control regarding equality, the rule of law, the (arbitrary) use of power, and so on in a free society.

Chapters in the second part examine whether immigration controls that come at the expense of freedom and the free society is still desirable in contemporary societies, arguing that the trade-off should be worthy, but in the end, it is not. Chapter 5 elaborates on the so-called economy argument, which emphasizes that immigration control is beneficial on economic terms. In addition to showing that immigration control is highly costly, for example, the costs of policing national borders and monitoring all segments of the society, Kukathas, citing Canada and Singapore, argues that immigration may generate greater economic benefits. Chapter 6 focuses on the cultural argument that highlights the importance of immigration control in relation to preserving the integrity of the existing culture, and concludes that ‘the cultural defence does not establish a sufficiently strong case for limiting freedom’ (p. 168). Chapter 7 examines the political argument that legitimizes immigration controls in the name of the political community’s right to self-determination. Kukathas describes the Westphalian state as a corporate, not simply a collectivity of individuals and groups, serving its own interests; therefore, he contends, immigration control is a mechanism that states utilize to control people, ‘not a means of self-determination’ (p. 214). Overall, it is argued that the economic, cultural, and political arguments are not persuasive, and the stakes for trade-off are too high. Chapter 8 revisits the main questions asked at the beginning in relation to the nature of free society. It restates that controlling immigration inevitably translates into controlling the society, and in controlled society freedom of people is diminished (p. 242). Kukathas concludes that neither immigration nor immigration control is a panacea for all the problems that immigration-receiving countries have; the latter, however, is likely to result in key challenges such as setbacks in the free society.

This monograph successfully demonstrates the implications of immigration controls concerning free society, contributing to our conceptual thinking on the linkage between Immigration and Freedom. Having said that, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed. First, surprisingly limited engagement with the relevant scholarly fields restricts the book’s ability to incite discussions within a broader scholarly space. In Chapter 6, for instance, except for a brief mention of Will Kymlicka (2001) in relation to the culturalist approach to immigration control, there is a limited engagement with the mounting liberal nationalist corpus. There is no single mention of Yael Tamir, and surprisingly, relatively poor mention of the recent works of David Miller (2020). As such, there is no single mention of multiculturalists like Bhikhu Parekh or Tariq Modood, who have developed a nationally focused theory of multiculturalism sympathetic to immigration as well as to the state’s right to limit immigration. It would have been more fruitful if the book had engaged with a wider academic community specifically with those sympathetic to immigration and immigration controls at the same time. In doing so, the book might have provoked greater concerns among liberal nationalists and multiculturalists regarding the outcomes of immigration controls. After all, such immigration enforcement described throughout the book should distress both liberals and multiculturalists, who affirm the state the right to control immigration.

Second, a major theme that Kukathas identifies as central to his argument relates to what is now widely called methodological nationalism. The book overtly invites the reader to think outside the nation-state framework, to have a broader perspective on immigration and related concepts such as nationality, citizenship, and the nation-state per se without actually establishing a persuasive argument that shows that the nation-state no longer makes sense and that we are no longer chained to the state and its presuppositions about individuals, groups, and communities. Although processes of globalization and transnationalization have arguably reduced the core position of the concepts of nationalism and the nation-state, the nation-state system does not seem to fade away, and the nation appears to be enduring and persisting as the most important, if not the sole, source of political legitimacy. Therefore, disregarding the nation-state can be misleading. This is not to say that one has to constrain herself with the nation-state as the sole unit of analysis or as a meta-category shaping every other social and political process. Indeed, cross-border ties, engagements, and activities of people as well as growing transnational and supranational actors have been shaping sociopolitical outcomes alongside nation-states.

A final point relates to the solutions that the book offers. Admittedly, this book does not aim to provide any solutions for the problems caused by immigration controls, it is just ‘an invitation to think through’ its consequences (p. 2). Yet, at the same time, Kukathas contends that ‘reduction […] of immigration controls’ can be advocated (p. 2), but this point is hardly developed throughout the book. Even though this is a captivating book providing substantial food for thought regarding the outcomes of immigration controls over the whole society, it however leaves the reader with a desideratum. The book does not provide satisfactory accounts on whether immigration controls can be replaced with another mechanism that might have less detrimental impacts on freedom or how damaging effects of immigration controls on freedom can be mitigated, if not eradicated. It would have been interesting if the book had some further reflections on the solutions to the problems that have been successfully revealed throughout the book.

Overall, Immigration and Freedom is a though-provoking monograph effectively bringing a new argument to the immigration debate, which will hopefully encourage many to reconsider their views on immigration enforcement. This is an important read for students, academics, and practitioners alike who are interested in the topic of immigration in general.

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


  1. Kymlicka, W. 2001. Politics in the vernacular. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. DOI: 

  2. Miller, D. 2020. The Coherence of Liberal Nationalism. In: Gustavsson, G and Miller, D (eds.), Liberal Nationalism and Its Critics. 23–37. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. DOI: 

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