Counteracting Populist Anti-Immigrant Sentiments: Is Government’s Action Legitimate?


  • Laura Santi Amantini



Right-wing populist parties often resort to a xenophobic rhetoric which both exploits and fuels existing illiberal anti-immigrant sentiments. Since populist anti-immigrant sentiments are at odds with fundamental liberal values and challenge the implementation of any liberal ethics of migration, this essay argues that states should adopt civic education policies to counter such sentiments and persuade citizens to develop liberal attitudes towards immigrants. Empirical evidence suggests that sentiments may be malleable, and there are already examples of local governments devising or supporting initiatives aimed at dispelling prejudices and promoting positive interactions. It might be objected that a government’s involvement in shaping sentiments and opinions conflicts with liberal democratic states’ commitment to individual autonomy and electoral fairness. However, I argue that civic education policies are not necessarily incompatible with such values and I provide five criteria to identify policies that liberal democratic governments may legitimately adopt to counteract anti-immigrant sentiments.