Protecting the future from the present: Migration as a manifestation of Lex Divina

gulina smallBy Olga R. Gulina
CEO and founder of the RUSMPI Institute on Migration Policy; Alumna of Moscow School of Political Studies
23 August 2017

Nowadays some people talk about migration with fervor and compassion, others – with cold calculation and fear. Like any social phenomenon, migration is a subject that can and must cause different people to hold different views. How do you look at the new migration challenge – globally or locally? As a citizen of the world or a particular country?



Different answers to these questions give rise to different takes on the issue. As a citizen of the world, cosmopolite, you cannot restrict the right of a person from Syria or Sudan to stay in a safe section of our planet, but if you are a European or, to narrow it down even further, a Pole, Austrian or German, you are not going to view the right of arrivals from Syria or Sudan to stay and live in Europe as an absolute right. An absolute right to residence means that any person has the right to a safe shelter, places humaneness above the interests of a state, and prioritizes the power of lex divina, which, according to Thomas Aquinas, serves as a criterion and a guidance in inevitable discussions about strengths and weaknesses of man-made laws. Sophocles’ “Antigone” is yet another reminder for people who, forced by circumstances, or catering to the interests of certain individuals or even of a state, are willing to recognize only man-made laws. Creon, king of Thebes, who preferred lex humana over lex divina, brought ruin to his family and his country because “'…is best to keep the established [divine] laws, even to life's end.”

Migration as a moral and ethical test for modern humans

People have debated for centuries whether one or another human right is an absolute. Recognizing Cicero’s idea that humankind was “bound together,” Kant in his “Perpetual Peace” talks about the absolute right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another (Kant, 1795: 106). A stranger’s right to hospitality is provocative by itself. A very illuminating example in this respect is the case of Jacques Derrida’s book Pas d’hospitalité, called in English Step of Hospitality / No Hospitality, because the French word pas has two meanings in English – “a step” and “lack of something” (Stronks, 2008). Nowadays reception of humanitarian migrants is highly polarized and politicized in the global political agenda. The migration crisis on the European continent has shown that the European´s approach toward humanitarian migrants were and are not good enough to dealing with the growing number of newcomers searching for shelters and asylum. Ivan Krastev, a prominent Eastern European intellectual, calls the present situation in Europe “the Central European version of a revolt against globalization” and argues that the East and the West share loathing for cosmopolitan thinking. When seen through the lenses of the challenge migration currently poses for the human race, the difference between the East and the West indeed becomes much more pronounced. Contrary to the expectations, European countries provide shelter and safety to far smaller amounts of refugees and displaced persons than countries of the East. According to the UN statistics, 86% of humanitarian migrants find shelter in the least developed countries. In 2014 the countries that received the biggest amount of refugees per 1,000 local residents were Lebanon, Jordan, the tiny island country of Nauru, Chad, Djibouti and Turkey. Europe accepts only a small part of the world’s flow of humanitarian migrants, and this stream is unevenly distributed across Europe. In 2015 the countries most hospitable to foreigners were Germany, Sweden, Austria and UK (Eurostat 2015).

In 2016 the famous English and Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman published a collection of essays "A Fear of Others" (Bauman 2016). The main postulate of his book is a paraphrase of the motto put forward by the chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel: not just "wir schaffen das" ("we shall succeed"), but "wir müssen es schaffen" ("we must succeed"). As an enthusiast and follower of Kant and his "Perpetual Peace," Bauman views the world as "the home of all mankind," where the right to shelter is every person’s absolute right (das Jedermannsrecht).

Sure enough, Kant’s idea of world citizenship and the community "of all men" is unrealizable, but it is only because there are plenty of states whose citizenship is not something that people want and there are also plenty of other states, where many people want to live and whose citizenship is coveted by many. This take on the issue requires a (re)conceptualization of the essence of the migration challenge. Physicists and mathematicians are fond of saying that our Universe has three kinds of processes going on in it. The first group is processes with a full predictability of the future, defined by a dynamics of the past; the second group is processes whose future trajectories are defined by a game of chance. And the third group is processes akin to a pendulum: you can predict the dynamics at a certain period of time... but you can never predict a distant future (Kapitsa, Kurdyumov&Malinetskiy 2001).

The migration challenge of today is the pendulum-like process, wherein our perception does not coincide with our expectations and all the attendant elements – the structure of society and the state, culture, ideology, religion – are unable to adapt to the new future quickly enough.

Migration as a safety valve

Mobility of modern humans is a politicized and scarcely researched taboo subject. The problem with the world today is not that the humans move from one continent to another but that inequality and different living standards propel people from one country to another. Are humans today able to cope with their migration challenge when Western nations spend, on the average, 135 euro per day for a Syrian refugee staying in a EU country, and only 1 euro per day is expended on a Syrian refugee in Jordan? (Collier 2013)

Paul Collier in his book "How Migration Is Changing Our World" writes that migration is a sort of "safety valve," and whether we want it or not, the pace of migration is accelerating and we have to look for levers to manage it. In 2015 migrants’ contribution to the world’s economy totaled between 6.4 and 6.9 billion USD, or 9% of the world’s GDP. Meanwhile, 90% of all economic benefits gained through migration are distributed across 25 countries, 3

including European nations, USA, Australia and Canada (McKinsey Global Institute 2016: 7–8). As the supplier of most of the world’s migrants, Africa still remains a continent with an untapped potential. The continent has a positive demographic dynamic but not enough jobs; trade between African nations accounts for just 13% of the continent’s revenues, while Africa’s share of the world’s trade is just 2.2%.

So, construction of the walls and the imposition of restrictions on legal and illegal migration to Europe cannot really solve the problem and stop the flow from Africa to Europe. Migration becomes all the more diverse, and its management patterns, all the more primitive, uniform and restrictive.

A migration tsunami is just around the corner

Migration is called a horseman of the Apocalypse, which will define the fates of the humankind and herald the death of the modern world (Morris 2010). This is not exactly so. Migration, especially humanitarian migration, is a harbinger of a new "dissonant world" where geographic borders would not be so much defined by the affiliation of the territories of individual states as they would become the point of overlap of the trajectories of people’s destinies.

The human race is certain to experience new waves of migration, for which it is utterly unprepared and which would make the humankind’s present mobility look like a particle of sand in a sea. Our children and grandchildren will see relocation of masses of people so huge that the number of refugees and persons in search of shelter would far exceed the number of Europe’s present-day inhabitants. According to a report of the Global Military Advisory Council, the biggest threat to security in the 21st century is climate changes on the planet.

By 2030-2050 forced relocation or humanitarian migration will become a necessity for 88% of the population of the Bahamas, 76% of Surinam’s, 74% of the Netherlands’, 55% of Vietnam’s, 46% of Bangladesh’s, 11% of China’s, 6% of India’s, etc. (IOM 2008). Neither the UN convention on Refugees nor the EU’s Dublin III Regulation on Asylum Seekers, currently in the process of reform, are attuned to the specifics of this humanitarian migration. All these documents address the displacement of separate groups (not masses) of people caused by persecution on the account of race, faith, citizenship, affiliation with a certain social group, or political convictions (1951 Refugee Convention), and not by anthropogenic, natural changes or an inequality of living standards. The humankind is bound to experience a migration tsunami that will crash enclosures and walls currently being built, annihilate the existing borders and send into oblivion many modern states and alliances formed by them.

Is there a solution?

If materialized on our planet, lex divina would organize human society in such a way that its resources become renewable, transformable or replaceable. Thomas Robert Malthus’s ideas that the well-being of the population depends on wars, diseases, droughts and "moral self-control" have been disputed by many. Natural scientists are very fond of saying that the humankind does not need to act contrary to the absolute laws of nature because the population size, and the dynamics of its growth, on our planet are defined by the number of people living on it. 4

The mathematician Pierre François Verhulst, disputing Malthus’s ideas in 1845, hypothesized that any population trying to hold on to an existing power balance during periods of crisis and external challenges and failing to search for new resources ends up exhausting its resource niche, degenerating and perishing. The sustained development comes to a standstill: usual resources appear exhaustible, new resources are not identified or found, and existing technologies do not catch up with the pace of development.

To handle the migration challenges, the logic of lex divina requires from modern humans the following:

* reprogramming information space, including the inculcation of the ethical principles "understand thy neighbour" and "love the Other";

* reconfiguring institutional and legal mechanisms, including the creation of international documents and institutions capable of handling migration of masses;

* rebooting people’s minds – in particular, abandoning the concept of nation states in favor of a cosmopolitan unity on the Earth;

* changing the world dynamics, including such measures as reducing poverty, ensuring equal opportunities and equal access to resources.

Our contemporaries rejecting the idea of "love thy non-neighbour" (Leviticus 19:18) narrow the corridor of opportunities available for expanding the humans’ resource niche. This is why it is these people, unable to understand and act in agreement with the logic of lex divina, who draw the curtain on today’s world as we know it.


Bauman Z. (2016) Die Angst vor den anderen. Ein Essay über Migration und Panikmache. Suhrkamp Verlag.

Collier P. (2016) Das Etikett Flüchtling geht am Problem vorbei. IPG. 25.11.2016

IOM. (2008) Migration and climate change. International Organization for Migration // IOM Migration Research Studies. No. 31.

McKinsey Global Institute. (2016) People on Move. URL:

Morris I. (2010) Why the West Rules — for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal about the Future. Farrar Straus & Giroux.

Stronks M. (2008) Re-reading. Of Hospitality. Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond // Amsterdam Law Forum. 2008. Vol. 1. No. 1.

UN Refugee Convention. (1951) The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. URL:

Verhulst P.F. (1845) Recherches mathématiques sur la loi d’accroissement de la population, dans Nouveaux Mémoires de l’Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Bruxelles. No. 18. P. 1–42.

Kapitsa S. (1985): Between the obvious and the incredible (in Russian). Moscow.

Collier P. (2013) Exodus: How Migration Is Changing Our World. Oxford University Press Inc.

Kapitsa S., Kurdyumov S., Malinetskiy G. (2001): Synergetics and forecasts of the future (in Russian). Moscow.

Sophocles. Antigone. URL:

Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Association of Schools of Political Studies.