Each of these five articles of faith – in the Almighty; our institutions; ourselves; the Founders and our neighbors – is critical to the central issue of our history – citizenship – what it means (rights and responsibilities) to be a citizen; who is a citizen; how does one become a citizen. Central to any discussion of citizenship is the role of culture in creating the communities of which we all are citizens.
“A community is “a small or large social unit (a group of people) who have something in common [culturally], such as [behavioral] norms, religion, values, or identity [and, most importantly, have faith in the community – the people and the institutions]. Often – but not always – communities share a sense of place that is situated in a [defined] geographical area.” For the purposes of this discussion, the community of interest is that of the United States of America – all 330,000,000 of us. How was this community created, by whom, for whom and to what end?
Well, it was created by about 4 million of us in post-revolution 1787-88 – predominantly religious and/or commercial colonists from the British Isles (75%) with a smattering of Dutch and Germanic. All colonists of European ancestry (except British loyalists), partners in the fight, were considered citizens upon the establishment of the United States. Some free blacks also enjoyed some benefits of citizenship, but not all. Only male landowners could vote.
The predominant culture in the new nation was that of the Western Tradition – carried across the ocean along with the ideals of personal rights and responsibilities, literature, music, dance, written laws, representative government, a moral sense of right and wrong, religious freedom, the concept of private property, a passion for truth, a sense of fair play and a yearning for liberty.
This tradition came down to them primarily through the ancient Celtic civilization of Central Europe, originating near the headwaters of the Rhine and Danube Rivers (as early as 4000bc – having migrated from the Fertile Crescent with the expansion of agriculture and from the Samara Culture of the Caucuses – hence Caucasian – and the steppes of Central Asia), who then migrated west to the Atlantic and North Sea coasts of continental Europe and finally across the water to Ireland and England. Later, as Germanic tribes, they migrated north across the islands of the Kattegat to southern Sweden and Norway to become the Norse.
The Celts were later joined in England by their Continental cousins – the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and others from what are now Holland, Belgium, Denmark and northern Germany. Finally, in the 9th Century, their coastal areas were invaded by the Norse, better known as the Vikings – from Norway into Eastern England and from Sweden into Western Scotland and the area around Dublin in Ireland.
They were the descendants of the Greek, Roman and Christian traditions, the Dark Ages, the Carolingians, the great imperial monarchies, the Age of Discovery, the Black Plague, serfdom, feudalism, mercantilism, the invasion of the Mohammedans, the Reformation and centuries of religious wars, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the creation of the scientific method, the Puritan ethic and finally, a proto-capitalism and republican-democracy. They said what they meant and meant what they said. They were unique in the world and in all human history. For them, finally and for all time – the individual mattered and that was their cultural center.
They were no longer British, or European, or Russian, or Mediterranean, or Spanish, or North African, or Middle Eastern, or Asian or South Asian, or Sub-Saharan African, or Central or South American, or Aboriginal – they were Americans – having evolved for over a century on their own on the far side of the Atlantic and had been annealed through six years of war with the world’s most powerful military – on their farms, in their yards and houses, cities and towns. Finally, they were free.
When their time came, they created We, the People and proclaimed themselves citizens of the United States of America “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” and with their first act, proclaimed a brilliant, written Constitution within which to enshrine their culture for all time, plain and simple, and which was to be preserved, protected and defended, under oath – the most sacred form of personal commitment – by all who would ever serve under its auspices.
It was simply, the most profound political statement of all time! Having had enough of imperial governmental abuse and revolution, they chose evolution instead and included provisions in the Great Document to preserve their culture from all enemies, foreign and domestic, as well as to allow the People (not the government) to adopt new provisions as their culture evolved over time.
Today, tribes (Mestizos, Somalis, Kurds, Bedouins, etc.) from other (non-Western) cultures are attempting to insert their tribes’ cultural truths into America, under the rubric of diversity and multiculturalism, and are demanding that the American culture change to accept their particular cultural norms. The differences between insular tribal cultures and a cosmopolitan American culture are inherently incompatible.
The Constitutionally enshrined process for maintaining a viable American culture worked well enough for two centuries but cracks have begun to show because of the efforts a new form of domestic enemy who also favors imperial government – the PLDC.
Any discussion of citizenship and culture would do well to consider the brilliant and evocative work of Leti Volpp, Professor, Boalt School of Law, University of California, Berkeley, in The Culture of Citizenship. [The italics are mine. This is high scholarship and a profound and convincing argument in one of the great issues of our history which I summarize later.]
“I begin this part by examining how recent multicultural scholarship has turned to concepts of citizenship to solve the question of how the [classic] liberal state is to respond to cultural difference. I show the[ir] circularity at work.
To be a citizen, one must rid oneself of certain forms of cultural excess. But citizenship itself is a culturally specific formation.
Political theorists have devoted much energy in recent years to two questions: first, the debate over the rights of ethnic minorities in multi-ethnic societies, discussed in such terms as multiculturalism and the politics of recognition; and, second, the responsibilities of democratic citizenship, in what some have called the civic-virtue debate.
As Audrey Macklin has noted, one way to understand the historical bifurcation between these two debates is that the former focuses on substantive questions as to the content of multiculturalism, while the latter focuses on procedural questions as to the virtues, practices and responsibilities of democratic citizenship.
I am concerned that the attempt to address multiculturalism on the terrain of citizenship is not a salutary turn. The recent reliance upon democratic citizenship as a “solution” to the questions posed by multiculturalism will reflect the limits of a focus on procedural as opposed to substantive rights, with all the much-criticized problems of focusing on process versus outcome, formal versus substantive measures of justice.
At the same time, focusing on “civic virtue” masks the manner in which the questions of democratic citizenship are value-laden, as the other continues to haunt what is positioned as the purportedly neutral activity of deliberative democracy. Pivotal to my argument is the claim that liberal ideas about citizenship presume nations devoid of culture, against which we find racialized others overburdened with culture. The assumption is that public attachments to culture are contradictory to citizenship. [This begs the question: How can “racialized others overburdened with culture” ever become citizens?]
When I refer to the substantive content of multiculturalism, I mean the question of what kinds of minority practices (language rights, indigenous claims, ethnic claims) the state chooses to [either] ban or accommodate. The debate over the content of multiculturalism includes controversy over the normative issues raised by minority “rights”, such as the principles on which minority rights should be tolerated or not.
By the procedural questions involved in democratic citizenship, I mean the question of what kinds of citizenship practices are necessary for a flourishing democracy. Thus, one way of thinking about “substance” versus “process” is that the first inquiry considers the substance of practices engaged in by individual members of minority groups; the second inquiry considers the rules through which individuals participate in citizenship [a province of the majority].
To be a citizen means to “transcend one’s [unique, individual] ethnic, religious and other particularities and to think and act as a member of a political community [as defined above]” and may be characterized by the belief that minorities’ rights are derived from and vested in the enabling power of liberalism, which positions the non-ethnic as an autonomous, rational and self-sufficient individual, in contrast to the disorderly, irrational, culturally motivated other.
That the specific cultural content of varieties of citizenship assumed in the literature is somehow absent, so that citizenship appears cultureless, is vividly apparent in Kymlicka’s and Norman’s description of the virtues and practices of democratic citizenship. Citizenship is presented as a blank schematic into which questions of culture are only to be newly introduced [an absurdity].
Following the work of William Galston, the authors suggest that “responsible citizenship” should be understood as made up of four distinct types of civic virtues: 1) general virtues: courage, law-abidingness, loyalty; 2) social virtues: independence, open-mindedness; 3) economic virtues: work ethic, capacity to delay self-gratification, adaptability to economic and technological change; and, finally, 4) political virtues: capacity to discern and respect the rights of others, willingness to demand only what can be paid for, ability to evaluate the performance of those in office, and willingness to engage in public discourse.
These virtues appear to be culturally specific values that support what we could consider the Protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism [which are the specific virtues of the Western Tradition that animated the Founders and Drafters] molding the values of socially dominant groups into the identity of the citizen.
These purportedly neutral virtues are not culture-less. Yet somehow these virtues reappear in contemporary debates on multiculturalism and citizenship as the abstract guidelines through which cultural difference is to be processed.
Cultural attachments are thought to inhibit one’s ability to engage in several distinct forms of citizenship. My focus here is on liberal discourses of citizenship. There are other conceptions of citizenship that posit a more robust relationship between citizenship and a common culture. We could note here Rey Chow’s work which draws out the “protestant ethnic” as the figure created by the contemporary belief of salvation in secular modernism and a capitalist economy.
I rely upon the work of legal academic Linda Bosniak, who suggests separating citizenship into four different discourses: 1) citizenship as formal legal status (which differentiates the citizen from the alien); 2) citizenship as rights; 3) citizenship as political activity, and; 4) citizenship as identity/solidarity. In thinking through these distinct forms of citizenship, the first question is what cultural attachments one must shed (or never have been attached to) in order to gain citizenship as a formal legal status, to be naturalized as a citizen.
In the context of the United States, as a contemporary matter, “good moral character” is a prerequisite to naturalization. The requirement of demonstrating “good moral character” contains within it the disavowal of various behaviors thought to inhibit the practice or possibility of good U.S. citizenship, including [respecting the rights of others,] gambling and prostitution. Formal citizenship means the qualifications required to possess the legal status of a citizen — in the United States, as granted by the Constitution or by statute. Citizenship as rights signifies the rights necessary to achieve full and equal membership in society.
This approach tracks efforts to gain the enjoyment of civil, political and social rights in Western capitalist societies. In the context of the United States, citizenship as rights is premised on a liberal notion of rights, and the failure to be fully enfranchised through the enjoyment of rights guaranteed under the Constitution has been described as exclusion or as “second-class citizenship.”
Citizenship as political activity posits political engagement in the community as the basis for citizenship, as exemplified both by republican theories that played a key role in the founding of American democracy, as well as by a recent renaissance of civic republicanism. Lastly, citizenship as identity, or citizenship as solidarity, refers to people’s collective experience of themselves, their affective ties of identification and solidarity.
Alternatively, Will Kymlicka and Wayne Norman provide a schematic of citizenship, which differentiates among status, identity, activity/civic virtue, and the citizenship ideal of social cohesion (which they identify as citizenship at the level of the political community as a whole against concerns of fragmentation). Their citizenship as status encompasses both of Bosniak’s concepts of citizenship as formal legal status and citizenship as rights.
(Requirements of Naturalization): No person, except as otherwise provided in this title, shall be naturalized, unless such applicant… during all the period referred to in this subsection has been and still is a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.
For naturalization, one must show that one has been a person of good moral character for the statutory period (typically five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen or one year for Armed Forces expedited citizenship) prior to filing for naturalization. The question of good moral character examines not only present but past practices as well, in certain instances it is of no use even to disavow these practices. A past history of gambling or prostitution bars one from American citizenship.
Secondly, in the discourse of citizenship as political activity, one is to approach one’s engagement in the republic free of corruption, and free of other ties of loyalty and attachments [to other political entities representing other cultures – see “birthright citizenship]. Here, an attachment to culture might be thought to inhibit one’s ability to function as a citizen in the political sense.
As an example, the idea of Chinese immigrants as being under the sway of foreign despots and engaged in loyalties based upon community ties, inhibiting their ability to follow the rule of law, fueled historic arguments that the Chinese could not become members of the American political body — they could not “understand republican values.”
Arguably, this vision of Chinese-Americans lingers today, so that Chinese-Americans continue to be characterized as disloyal, nepotistic and deceitful, as illustrated in the “Asian campaign finance” scandals. Thus, ideas about cultural others are used to frustrate the ability of these others to engage as virtuous participants in the republic. In addition, we can isolate the argument that cultural attachments are thought to inhibit one’s ability to engage in citizenship in another sense, which is that to be a citizen of certain Western democratic states, particular values must be accepted as a baseline for membership — for example, the value of gender equality. The immigrant other must be emancipated from the group and group values of gender subordination to qualify as a citizen [think Islam].
[Two examples:] The idea that immigrants may espouse contradictory values is thought to preclude them from citizenship, which requires shared moral commitments. We know from Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” that the Jewish other was to be “emancipated” from the group and the purported group value of “hucksterism”. In order to qualify as a citizen; today, if, over the last five years he or she has engaged in various criminal offenses, including gambling, has been involved in prostitution, has smuggled “illegal aliens” into the U.S., has been a “habitual drunkard,” or has not supported his or her dependents, citizenship would not be granted.
This discourse of the inability to understand republican values was invoked in 1866 in Congress during deliberations as to whether to lift the racial ban on naturalization to allow Chinese to naturalize (the answer was no). In this discussion, the values that immigrants are assumed to espouse, as exemplified by their conduct, are thought to be totally separable from their identities.
According to the conventional narrative of U.S. citizenship, once upon a time there were identity-based exclusions from citizenship, so that one’s status — first as nonwhite, later as racially ineligible to naturalize — precluded one from membership; today, citizenship is inclusive of all and no longer features such identity-based exclusions. Today we have neutral, non-identity based restrictions premised upon conduct — all one has to do is to share certain visions and normative beliefs about American democracy, and act accordingly.
However, this vision of a progression from status to conduct ignores two facts. First, the historical status-based exclusions were, in fact, premised upon assumptions regarding conduct or behavior. The first federal citizenship statute, passed by Congress in 1790, restricted naturalization to “free white aliens.” Act of Mar. 26, 1790, ch. 3.
Birthright citizenship was not guaranteed regardless of race until the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which the Supreme Court, in Wong Kim Ark in 1898, ruled applied to Chinese-Americans as well as African-Americans (but not to “children of members of the Indian tribes, standing in a peculiar relation to the National Government”).
U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 682 (1898). The law was amended in 1870 to add “aliens of African nativity or African descent.” Act of July 14, 1870, ch. 255, § 7, 16 Stat. 254. This led to the “racial prerequisite” cases — litigation where non-citizens attempted to prove they should be considered eligible for naturalization. The racial restrictions were not entirely lifted until 1952.
[Birthright citizenship will be discussed in a separate chapter below.]
In addition, the idea that status and conduct can be separable should be thrown into question. The assumption that Chinese immigrants were incapable of comprehending republican values was used to justify the retention of race-based restrictions to naturalization in 1870. Thus, although we remember exclusions as having been status-based, they were in fact premised upon assumptions about normative behavior. Second, the conduct or behavior-based restrictions that exist today, while conventionally understood as neutral, are both constitutive of and the product of – status.
As one example, we could take the idea of the “terrorist” — a conduct-based distinction that purports to separate out one who engages in terrorism from the citizen. This distinction is at the same time foundationally about a particularized status of national origin in the context of governmental policies of detaining, deporting, interrogating and excluding those who are nationals of countries with significant Al Qaeda [and ISIS] presence or activity. But the governmental policies are not purely based on national origin, or else they would target nationals of countries such as Germany, which is a country with significant Al Qaeda presence or activity. Rather, countries with predominantly Muslim populations are targeted, so that the targeted status fuses national origin and religion.
Moreover, when we think about the governmental policies targeting residents of certain neighborhoods in the United States, arresting and detaining individuals based upon their appearance, we understand that the targeted status fuses national origin, religion, and race. We could note here the case of Yaser Hamdi, required to “renounce” his citizenship in exchange for being released from U.S. custody, as evidence of the notion that one cannot be both a “citizen” and a “terrorist.” [People who are presumed to participate in] hate-violence are [commonly] identified by a fusion of national origin, religion and race, so that an “Arab, Middle Eastern or Muslim” appearance is believed to reflect or augur conduct befitting of “terrorists.”
At this point, it seems impossible to separate who is likely to engage in terrorist behavior from assumptions about that person’s race, religion and national origin. Recognizing that identity, racial and otherwise, is a matter of conduct as well as status, and that the two are, in fact, mutually constitutive of one another, should help us in framing a new understanding of the story of citizenship.
Historically, identity — as construed in terms of both status and conduct — has excluded certain persons from citizenship, and it continues to do so in the contemporary moment, now construed in terms of culture. If we consider this together with the fact that the perception of cultural behavior is subject to a kind of selective recognition — so that problematic behavior is thought to be characteristic of the culture of entire nations, rather than the product of individual deviants — we can see the perversity of current configurations of the relationship between citizenship and culture.
One’s cultural identity constitutes a predictor [understandably, without contradictory first-hand experience] of problematic behavior [in the minds of a nation’s citizens]. To be a citizen, one must not engage in problematic behavior [nor frighten the community with problematic precursors of untoward behavior – demanding Sharia Law in the United States, for instance – if domestic tranquility is to be honored] . Both the cultural norms underlying citizenship and the problematic behavior of those who are already recognized as citizens are made invisible [because both the good citizen and the problematic one have been exposed to the accepted cultural norms and subsequently have chosen their own path]. Next time: Citizenship v. Culture.