I’ve gotten an amazing amount of feedback about my series of posts on dual-citizenship.
I’ll try to address the various points in a series of posts.
The first question to tackle is whether what we’re talking about is principally an issue of ‘loyalty.’ I don’t think it is. Unlike many conservatives I’m not worried that today’s immigrants are essentially different from those of 25, 50, or 100 years ago in their basic desire to become Americans and assimilate. We could dredge up the silly and well-worn question of whether Mexican-Americans would choose Mexico or America if the two countries went to war, or whether American Jews would fight for Israel or America, or Irish-Americans for Ireland or America.
But I find these scenarios as irrelevant as they are improbable. (I’m not saying it’s never an issue, just not the most important one.) We’ve had a long national debate over whether it’s a good thing that “ethnic” Americans (if we can use that deeply problematic phrase) maintain deep social and cultural attachments to their native countries. I think it’s just fine. In fact, I think it’s a very good thing, a very American thing.
But it’s a different issue than the question of citizenship.
Many of the responses I’ve gotten have raised very good points. But what strikes me about most of the ones that disagree with me is that their authors have a quite thin and what seems to me impoverished idea of citizenship.
I’ve received a number of emails from dual citizens who have the status because of a foreign-born parent or spouse or some similar reason. And from many of these folks the response is something like this: ‘I’m an American citizen but I’ve also got this French or German or Sudanese citizenship sort of in my back pocket, as it were. Why is it such a big deal?’
In a sense I suppose it’s not a very big deal. But doesn’t this trivialize what it should mean to be a citizen of one of those countries? It’s sounds less like a civic, national identity than a sort of heritage knickknack or heirloom. Citizenship isn’t just about having a standing right of residency or something you have because you have some attachment or family connection to a particular country. I think it’s something more than that — particularly in the context of American citizenship.
Let me try to sketch out my idea of citizenship. I see the American national community as a sort of club. A very large one, yes. A very diverse one. And one in which we’ll only ever meet a very small fraction of the members. But a club nonetheless. It trivializes what this means to reduce it to questions of which side would you fight on if the two countries went to war. Or sneering questions about loyalty and disloyalty.
The basis of the club and our membership in it is our fundamental equality. And the essence of that equality, as I see it, is that we’ve all thrown in our lots together. Some of us who were born here do it implicitly others who are newcomers did explicitly. But we’ve all committed ourselves to this group, this enterprise, this club, this nation. If some of us are American citizens and others of us are citizens of this and another country then we’re not quite equal anymore. The basis of our equality and citizenship is challenged.
More on the dual citizenship question in a bit, and also dual-citizenship in the context of 9/11 and globalization.