More on The Meaning of Citizenship Pt.1

May 13, 2012 4:43 p.m.

Not surprisingly, my posts last week on citizenship have raised a storm of reader interest and controversy. Perhaps controversy isn’t the right word though since I think the vast majority of readers disagreed with me … and in not a few cases in passionate terms. Still, the exchanges I’ve been having with many of you have been fascinating and illuminating.

Let me try to group into a few broad categories the responses.In quite a few cases, I think TPM Readers and I were simply talking past each other. Many of these wrote in either to argue or describe the many ways in which individual or families can have ties, affinities or deep commitments to two or more countries at once.

So for instance long-time TPM Reader JL writes …

I have several friends who are dual citizens of South Africa, and the UK. I think BW’s view is more nuanced, realistic, and at the same time affirming the greatness of the American democracy and what it means to be a citizen in this land of so many from whose ancestors, or themselves, came from so many different places. Life is complicated, people’s allegiances and histories are complicated, and I think BW expressed perfectly how you can feel American and something else at the same time. I have a daughter who has been living abroad for 3 years, and I can see she is grappling with those issues. Wherever she might end up calling home, she will always be American, yet she will probably embrace another culture as well. I don’t see a conflict, I see a richness in our country having people like that as fellow citizens.

I think your view is too narrow, Josh, and could give support to those with more xenophobic views, although I don’t think your points were intended to support such a view whatsoever.

And TPM Reader LK writes …

I have to say, you are totally wrong on this. I think you are missing the point that everyone and don’t understand the issues. Our children have two cultures, speak two languages, and have half their family in two countries. t’s totally equal in every way. US law allows them to retain two passports at majority, but the other country currently does not. I don’t think it is fair to ask them to give up or renounce one of their cultures at the age of 21, basically becoming “foreigners” to a country they know everything about and have lived much of their lives in, speak the language fluently and have half of their family in. Perhaps restricting citizenship to first, second or third generation is reasonable, as some countries do. But denying first generation children of a citizen is unfair. It’s not like marriage, which is a choice and a bad analogy. It’s not a choice for the child, it’s given to them by birth. You can legitimately be bicultural with strong deep ties to two countries, languages, cultures, religions, etc. Our children are not “half American” and “half something else” they are fully American. YOU CAN REALLY TRULY BE BOTH! Many are both. Go out and meet these people who are BOTH. Talk to them. This is the concept you are not getting.

I think many readers took what I was saying to mean that you had to American or not American. No in between. You’ve to to be pure red, white and blue, love it or leave it, or you can’t be one of us. But that’s not what I’m saying at all. Quite the opposite actually. I have no issue whatsoever with people who are American citizens but maintain or found a deep attachment to other countries. You’re born in America but you’ve lived your life in France or Indonesia and your identity is as much French or Indonesian as American. Or maybe you’re Mexican-American or Jewish and still are deeply involved in the cultural and national life or Mexico or Israel. That’s totally different from anything I’m talking about.

Reviewing the emails again tonight one of the most elucidating came from a back and forth I had with TPM Reader JMK. Referring to my analogy to marriage, JMK wrote …

Your analogy to being married to two people is off the mark but it may be because you view citizenship through a different prism. Citizenship for me is about identity, who I am, it is not about relationship.

This cuts to the heart of the matter. Because I think precisely the opposite. Citizenship is very much a matter of a relationship. It can have a huge amount to do with identity. But I see that as more secondary. It’s a relationship to the rest of the people who are part of the same national community — with rights and responsibilities, and a significant degree of common responsibility for each other. And in a world that is so much more mobile and in which the educated and wealthy have so much more ability to become what amounts to international free agents, that seems particularly important to me rather than being quaint or out of date.

So an Eduardo Saverin can make a fortune in the billions in significant measure because of all the opportunities and tools available to him as an American citizen and then drop his citizenship when the taxes seem to high. And the super rich are generally welcome wherever they’d like to go.

As I said, I think a robust rather than a ‘thin’ definition of citizenship is a critical sheet anchor of our equality as citizens.

In my next post, I’ll discuss discussions with readers that got more to this issue of ‘thin’ and ‘robust’ concepts of citizenship and the pros and cons of each.

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