Moral Imperialism vs. Utilitarianism in the Context of the EU Migrant Crisis

Moral imperialism is defined as an attempt to force one’s morals, values, and or beliefs on another entity without its consent.[1]  I would argue that this is not the same as the tenets of utilitarianism observed in the way the EU has responded to the migrant crisis. Instead of imposing its will upon the 28 member nation states that comprise the EU, a vote was taken to determine their preferences with regard to accepting refugees into their countries. Everyone was given a unit of measure – a vote – to exercise his/her right to express a preference on the matter of the refugees.[2] After votes were taken and it was determined that a majority of the countries were willing to accept refugees, quotas of refugees were assigned to EU member states in accordance with countries’ characteristics and capabilities – distributing refugees appropriately in accordance with countries’ abilities to manage them. These actions were done to ensure that everyone’s welfare was taken into consideration to maximize utility. Moral imperialism, or any other type of imperialism is not that because the preferences of the entity upon which the morals and values are supposedly “forced” are not considered at all. No votes are taken with imperialism. No opinions are considered with imperialism. As a member of the EU, Hungary has agreed to abide by the policies and procedures of the EU. It has given its “consent” by its agreement as a responsibility of membership to be a team player, along with the other 27 member nation states. As such, refugee quotas are not moral imperialism.

Dorkina Myrick, MD, PhD, MPP, is a physician-scientist and pathologist trained at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Myrick also previously served as a Senior Health Policy Advisor on the United States Senate.  She obtained her Master of Public Policy degree at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England. Dr. Myrick is currently a JD candidate at the Boston University School of Law.


[1] Moral Imperialism: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Berta Esperanza Hernández-Truyo. 2003. New York University Press.

[2] Thomas Christiano. “The Authority of Democracy.” The Journal of Political Philosophy (12) 266-290. 2004



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