Liberalism, Empire, and Movement: An Appraisal of the Contemporary Political Theory of Migration
In this paper I discuss the contemporary crisis of liberalism through the prisms of migration and the literature on liberalism and empire. Based on a genealogy of the racial regulation of labor mobility within imperial practice, I theorize the entanglement between liberalism and empire in the differential treatment of mobility of colonial subjects within and outside empire. I further argue that the development of regulated racialized mobilities proceeded alongside “democratic” moments of labor enfranchisement in Western democracies and influenced emerging notions of popular sovereignty. The organizing principles of this regulation of motion remained central in the design of the post-war guest worker programs by Western democracies and still structure the politics of migration today. With this genealogy in mind, I read the contemporary political theory of migration as working through the tension between an imperial will to extract racialized labor while safeguarding privilege, on the one hand, and the universalist impulses of liberalism, on the other hand.