Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The End of Citizenship

From Michael Lind, at the Tablet, "Having converted their own republic into a borderless credit union, Americans have to borrow other people’s national pride":

In the spring of 2022, speculation in the commentariat that partisan rivalries were bringing the United States to the verge of actual civil war abruptly came to an end. With few exceptions, Americans of left, right, and center rallied around the national colors. Postmodern multiculturalism and anti-Enlightenment paleoconservatism suddenly were marginalized by romantic nationalism of the 19th-century variety. As war fever swept America, progressives and conservatives joined in denouncing not only the enemy government but also the enemy people and their enemy music, enemy literature, and enemy cuisine. Americans displayed the national flag in every imaginable form and pledged undying hatred of the nation’s foes.

The nation that Americans celebrated was not their own, but rather Ukraine, following the brutal Russian invasion of the former Soviet republic. Liberal Americans who would have thought it vulgar if not fascist to wave the Stars and Stripes took selfies with the blue and gold of Ukraine’s national flag. Democrats and Republicans who routinely demonize the leaders of the rival American party engaged in a kind of sentimental, uncritical hero worship of Ukraine’s president, Volodomyr Zelensky, which would have been mocked had its object been Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Neoconservatives and centrist liberals used the Ukraine war as an opportunity to settle scores by accusing opponents in the rival party and rivals in their own parties of moral if not legal treason for less than total and uncritical support of a foreign country with which the United States does not even have an alliance.

Whether the war in Ukraine is a final aftershock of the first Cold War or the first major proxy war in Cold War II remains to be seen. The sudden outburst of vicarious Ukrainian patriotism on the part of many Americans—as well as people in similar North Atlantic democracies—seems like a Freudian “return of the repressed.” Taught that celebrating their own national traditions is racist and xenophobic, and deprived of opportunities to play a meaningful role in national defense, many Americans and Western Europeans have found an outlet for a lost sense of belonging by borrowing the national pride of another nation.

Long before the United States began selling green cards—the tickets to U.S. citizenship—to rich foreigners by creating the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program in 1990, American citizenship had been devalued. From the days of the Greek city-states and the Roman republic to the city-republics of the Renaissance and the cantons of Switzerland, citizenship in the fullest sense originally involved active participation of citizens—a group not only male but also usually smaller than the population as a whole—in the government of their communities, as electors, office-holders, jurors, and citizen-soldiers.

In practice, the ideal of the amateur, omnicompetent citizen—a member of the militia today, a town or county council member tomorrow and a juror next week—could be realized only in small, relatively undeveloped communities. The ideal of the self-sufficient family farmer with a musket and a copy of the Constitution on the fireplace mantle was a casualty of economic centralization and modernization. Most Americans are proletarians who live from paycheck to paycheck, and a majority of American workers are employed by firms with more than 500 employees and supervised by salaried corporate bureaucrats.

The ideal of the male citizen-soldier who earns his civil rights by contributing to the defense of the republic survived for a while by being transferred to the colossal modern nation-state, whose citizens, mostly unknown to one another, are united by common culture, institutions, location, or some combination of the three. For a time, the mass national conscript army and its reserves were thought of, however implausibly, as the heir to the local militia. The older tradition of civic republicanism inspired the linkage of military service to government benefits like the GI Bill and other privileges for veterans. That link was all but eliminated by the abolition of the draft in 1973. Today’s American military is a professional force, more like those of premodern European bureaucratic monarchies than frontier militias.

The right to vote remains, but its power has been diluted, even as it has been extended in law and practice—first to white men without property, then to white women, and finally to nonwhite citizens. In a world of industrialized nation-states, in which even small countries are vastly more populous than the city-republics of antiquity and the Middle Ages, scale alone ensures that the influence that any one individual can exert by voting periodically in free and fair elections is negligible.

While the positive duties formerly associated with citizenship have gradually been discarded, there has been a trend to establish government requirements for the provision of positive rights or benefits, from public or publicly funded education and public retirement spending to guaranteed health care. As a result, in the United States and other Western democracies, it is widely accepted in the 21st century that national citizens have a right to various public goods and welfare services without any need to earn the benefits at all, purely on the basis of their status as citizens of a particular nation-state.

Already by the 1960s and the 1970s, the link between a citizen’s personal contribution and a citizen’s right to government benefits was being questioned...

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