Dual Nationality: TR’s “Self-Evident Absurdity”
David A. Martin
Warner-Booker Distinguished Professor of International Law and Class of 1963 Research Professor
University of Virginia School of Law
Chair Lecture, October 27, 2004
The calls started coming in the very first year I was listed as a teacher of immigration law. They would go something like this:
- I just found out that I can get Irish citizenship because my grandparents were born there. It would be worth a lot to my career plans to be a European Community citizen. But I don’t want to lose my American citizenship. Can I do this?
Here’s a second example:
- My husband is from Chile and we just had our first child. Will we be in trouble if we get her two passports, US and Chilean? And anyway I heard she has to choose between the two countries when she reaches 21. Is that right?
These are questions about dual nationality or dual citizenship. They capture not only individual dilemmas but also significant questions of national and international policy and law. Both the individual and the societal issues arise more often and more insistently as globalization advances, and the world seems to be rethinking its customary answers.
The history of American and international
law governing citizenship gives my callers good reason to express
concern. Dual nationality is traditionally disfavored by law
and diplomatic practice—denounced
as an evil, condemned as worse than bigamy. But some writers, and
also many government leaders on the world stage, today endorse
and even promote the status. A rather rapid stroll through that
history provides a good starting point for both answering my callers’ questions
and, more importantly, figuring out what rules for dual nationality
make the most sense for the 21st century.
Background: the Rise and Fall of Perpetual Allegiance
I’ll start by looking closely at American rules. Early US courts took as their starting point the British common law legacy. This approach proved exceedingly awkward in the first decades of our national life, because British law adhered to the theory of perpetual allegiance to the sovereign. Only the king could release “subjects,” as the Brits liked to call them, from their bonds of nationality.
King George was taken to have consented to such a parting with regard to his rebellious colonists, as part of the treaty of peace ending the American Revolution. But he wasn’t prepared to treat that settlement as automatic permission for later migrants to shed their allegiance. Worse than that, his majesty’s navy found a particularly galling way to enforce this doctrine as its hunger for manpower grew during the Napoleonic wars. They stopped American ships and forcibly impressed sailors into the royal service, on the theory that King George never consented to their naturalization. These British acts helped trigger the War of 1812. For domestic reasons, Britain abandoned impressment a few years after Waterloo, however, and citizenship issues receded from prominence for a time.
Shortly after the Civil War, controversy flared again, involving the same two countries. This time it was triggered by Britain’s treatment of a handful of naturalized Americans who had joined the Fenian movement to fight for Irish independence. Captured and put on trial, they were subjected to English procedures and punishments that properly applied only to British subjects, not to aliens, as these traveling American troublemakers considered themselves to be. Public opinion back on our shores burned hot at this treatment. Britain replied to American diplomatic protests by throwing some of our own case law back at us—and sure enough, federal court precedents were still supporting the claim that a sovereign had to consent to a change of citizenship.
Congress had had enough. In order to end this slavish judicial reception of the common law, it passed the Expatriation Act of 1868, declaring that “the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Congress went on to state that any action by a US officer “which denies, restricts, impairs, or questions the right of expatriation, is hereby declared inconsistent with the fundamental principles of this government.” The law also imposed a duty on the president to take steps, short of war, whenever any citizen was “unjustly deprived of his liberty” by a foreign sovereign.
Britain took the point. Within a couple of years it signed a treaty agreeing to treat naturalized US citizens as no longer holding British nationality, and it soon passed a statute recognizing individual choice in such matters. Nor was Britain the only power that began changing its views. We had encountered similar conflicts with several other European states around this time, growing mainly out of their nasty habit of conscripting naturalized US citizens during temporary visits back to their native lands. It proved possible, however, to negotiate agreements, known as the Bancroft treaties, that resolved most of these issues. The parties pledged to treat naturalization as an act severing all prior citizenship ties.
Thus the theory of perpetual allegiance died a surprisingly speedy and unlamented death in the late 19th century. Nations came to recognize that this medieval notion no longer fit the needs of a globe where rail and steamship travel, coupled with the dislocations of the industrial revolution, led to massive flows of permanent migration.
Rights and Duties to Expatriate
A concern for rights figured prominently
in the passage of our Expatriation Act and certainly triggered
the immediate changes. But the imperatives of states also played
a major role. In fact, the state interest thread soon came to
dominate the next round of moves in the dual nationality arena.
The emerging consensus of the era was that multiple claimed citizenships
would only give rise to intolerable diplomatic problems for both
polities. Indeed, that was exactly why the perpetual allegiance
doctrine withered away. But lo and behold, some individuals were
found who might prefer to keep both nationalities. The literature
of the time generally portrayed them as crass opportunists, dodging
the obligations of citizenship by living elsewhere, but then
asserting the nationality of the distant state when it momentarily
suited their private interests. The risk of national friction
from such a scenario was seen as intolerable, whatever the individual’s wishes. From the right
of expatriation announced in our 1868 Act, it proved to be only
a short step toward a duty of expatriation—a forced loss
of citizenship—for those individuals who created circumstances
that might put the two nations in conflict.
In consequence, State Department officers policed vigilantly against situations thought likely to give rise to such complications. Invoking some provisions of the Bancroft treaties, for example, they systematically notified naturalized US citizens who went back to live for extended periods in their native lands that they thereby lost their US nationality. The Department also treated naturalization in another country as triggering the automatic loss of US citizenship, whatever the individual’s wishes. The same for those who took an oath to a foreign government—which meant that nearly anyone who assumed public office in another state or served in a foreign military would lose American nationality.
Congress finally got into the act in 1907, passing a new law that essentially codified most of these administrative rules governing expatriation. Loss of citizenship depended on the act—naturalizing elsewhere or assuming lengthy foreign residence, for example—not the conscious choice of the individual to give up US nationality as a result. But Congress also decided to add a new ground for loss of citizenship. American women who married foreign husbands, Congress decreed, would immediately lose their US citizenship. At least part of the motivation was to help prevent dual nationality, on the part of the woman and her children. When Ethel Mackenzie, a suffragist leader, tried to register to vote under a progressive 1911 California law that extended the franchise to women, she was denied on the ground that she lacked US citizenship based on her recent marriage to a well-known Scottish tenor who had taken up residence here. She fought the federal expatriation law all the way to the Supreme Court, claiming that Congress lacked power to take away citizenship without individual assent. In Mackenzie v. Hare, in 1915, however, the Justices found little difficulty rejecting her challenge. Thus the 1907 Act, now duly blessed by the Supreme Court, seemed to have plugged most loopholes through which dual nationality might enter.
But there remained one other unavoidable source of plural citizenship: the varying rules adopted by different nations for the acquisition of nationality at birth. The United States had enshrined the jus soli in its Constitution as part of the 14th amendment, meaning that virtually anyone born on American soil is a US citizen. But most European states, the primary source of our 19th century immigration, followed the jus sanguinis, the right of blood, whereby citizenship depends on descent, not the place of birth. Dual nationality often resulted. The State Department had an answer, however, adopting a stance common to several other governments of the day. It insisted that children born with double nationality had to choose one or the other upon attaining majority—a process known as “election.” If a 21-year-old dual national continued his residence for an extended period in the other country, he was deemed to have elected the other nation’s citizenship. US diplomats would no longer offer their protection, and the individual stood no chance of obtaining a US passport.
Theodore Roosevelt Weighs In
Around this time another powerful voice joined the chorus. The retired but never retiring Theodore Roosevelt gave a well-known speech in 1915, six years after leaving the Presidency, denouncing what he called “hyphenated Americans.” His speech is often mischaracterized. It was not an anti-immigrant diatribe. He welcomed immigration, but he insisted that immigrants must become, as he put it, “heartily and singly loyal to this Republic.” At a time when Europe was descending into what became World War I, he asserted that the “foreign-born population of this country must be an Americanized population—no other kind can fight the battles of America either in war or peace.” But he emphasized that this was not a one-way proposition; America had to do right by its new immigrants as well. “We cannot secure such loyalty,” he wrote, “unless we make this a country where men shall feel that they have justice.... We cannot afford to continue to use... immigrants merely as industrial assets while they remain social outcasts.”
Another brief article that Roosevelt published around this time in the journal Metropolitan spelled out what his views implied for dual citizenship. His writing was triggered by a State Department letter that its addressee, one P.A. Lelong, had shared with him. Lelong had been born in New Orleans to parents who had immigrated from France. He had always considered himself a US citizen, consistently voted in US elections, had held public office here, and was a member of the bar. He planned to travel to France on business, but had been warned that he might be conscripted while there or punished for failing to fulfill his military duties to France. Lelong sought department assurance that it would help defend his claim that “my constitutional privileges as an American citizen follow me wherever I go.” State responded very matter-of-factly, quoting French law to point out that France would regard him as a citizen under its jus sanguinis rules. You were therefore born with dual nationality, the letter continued blandly, and the department can give no assurance about your liability for military obligations “should you voluntarily place yourself within French jurisdiction.”
Roosevelt could hardly stand it. “The United States,” he thundered, “cannot with self-respect permit its organic and fundamental law”—here he referred to the jus soli rules enshrined in our Constitution—“to be overridden by the laws of a foreign country.” Dual nationality, he added for good measure, “is a self-evident absurdity.” The bureaucratic attitudes reflected in the letter “seem like the phantasmagoria of an unpleasant dream.”
TR was known for his exuberance, of course. One journalist wrote: “You go into Roosevelt’s presence... and you go home and wring the personality out of your clothes.” His hyperbole nonetheless brings home to us the common citizenship assumption of the early 20th century, a few risk-averse diplomats to the contrary notwithstanding—that national loyalty is indivisible. This was not just an American view. By 1915 virtually all other governments followed the same theory of nationality. Countries of emigration, having abandoned the perpetual allegiance theory, were usually as vigilant as countries of immigration to base their actions on the same idea—that dual nationality makes no sense, and holds dangers for good relations between nations.
A Slow Erosion of the Aversion to Dual Nationality
Views like Roosevelt’s also launched an ambitious effort to harmonize global practices on the granting and withdrawal of nationality—an effort to codify nationality rules in one universal treaty. Harvard Law School devoted its considerable prestige to this process, and a much publicized Harvard Research study on nationality laws, coupled with a proposed draft treaty that scholars derived from their labors, became the starting point for an international conference at the Hague. The preface to the 1930 Hague Convention signaled its chief aims in lofty rhetoric: “the ideal towards which the efforts of humanity should be directed in this domain is the abolition of all cases both of statelessness and of double nationality.” The Hague Convention would have helped reduce each. But the diplomats backed off from many of the more ambitious harmonization provisions offered by the Harvard scholars. And in the end the Hague Convention, though signed by many nations, was ratified by only 20.
It couldn’t be spotted at the time, but the relative failure of the Hague conference gave evidence that the consensus against dual nationality was subtly eroding from what may have been its high-water mark around the time when TR wrote, in 1915. As far as American rules are concerned, the erosion started in the political arena, but later found its real momentum in the courts.
Think back to Ethel Mackenzie, stripped of her citizenship because she married a foreign husband. Mackenzie and her suffragist colleagues did not take the Supreme Court’s dictate as the final word on the subject. Within five years of the Court’s 1915 ruling they had secured the enactment of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing to women the right to vote nationally. And exactly as the suffragist movement had promised, it promptly mobilized its new voting power to cut back greatly on the sweep of that 1907 provision that stripped married women of their citizenship. A repentant Congress acted promptly. The legislators did not think of themselves as voting in favor of dual nationality, of course. But as a result of that repeal, more children would be born to American mothers and foreign national husbands. Along with later reforms that ultimately gave women equal rights to transmit citizenship to their offspring, this repeal created lots more opportunities for dual nationality, particularly as more cross-national marriages took place, a trend that accelerated as the 20th century matured.
Perhaps that statutory amendment would have meant little if the State Department’s preferred remedy for dual nationality at birth had retained its vigor—the required election of a single nationality upon attaining majority. The Harvard Research project favored that approach and included a uniform election requirement in its draft global treaty. But the diplomats assembled at the Hague conference quietly dropped that provision. Meantime, US courts often found fault with particular actions by the State Department in applying its election requirement. Then in 1952, the Supreme Court essentially declared that the emperor had no clothes. The State Department’s broad election requirement, the Justices gently pointed out, suffered from the modest defect that it utterly lacked statutory foundation. Election disappeared from the Department’s arsenal against dual nationality.
US diplomats, however, were still enforcing the Bancroft treaties and the surviving expatriation provisions that actually appeared in the US code—irrespective of the person’s subjective wish to retain citizenship. Those who voluntarily naturalized in a foreign state, or took an oath of allegiance, for example, would still find their citizenship forfeited.
For several decades after Mackenzie v. Hare, the Supreme Court remained supportive of such forfeits. But mid-century brought the beginnings of serious judicial resistance. Again the direct motivation was not to promote dual nationality—but only to avoid a fate that many of the Justices deemed overly harsh: the involuntary stripping of US citizenship. A contradictory trio of cases in 1958 signaled the beginning of the end of involuntary expatriation. In Trop v. Dulles, the Court ruled that taking away citizenship from a military deserter was cruel and unusual punishment and hence unconstitutional. The same day, in Nishikawa v. Dulles, it also reversed the expatriation of a dual national who had fought with the Japanese in World War II. Because citizenship is so precious, the Court decided, Nishikawa should be given a new hearing where the government would be placed under a heavier burden of proof to show that his foreign military service was not coerced.
Those decisions were 5-4 rulings. The third case of the day, however, Perez v. Brownell, sent a very different signal, likewise by a 5-4 margin. Justice Brennan switched sides to help sustain expatriation for an act that would seem on its face far less serious than that involved in the other two cases. Perez had been born in the United States, but lived most of his life in Mexico, his parents’ country of nationality. A dual national, he voted in Mexican elections. But in 1940, Congress had expanded the list of expatriating acts to include voting in a foreign election. The majority opinion is vintage Felix Frankfurter—a bit pedantic, condescending, and ultimately blind to the human impact of the technical doctrine he was affirming. But the opinion also reflects the aversion a devoted naturalized citizen like Frankfurter must have felt toward Perez’s checkered history, his frequent falsehoods about his citizenship status, and his clear lack of devotion to the country whose membership he was now opportunistically asserting.
Frankfurter found that Congress had power to regulate American participation in foreign elections as part of its broad authority over foreign relations. Yet the key question was not the objective, but rather the means: whether Congress could enforce its regulation by decreeing loss of citizenship for those who violated the voting rules. Frankfurter ruled that only a rational basis was required to find the law constitutional. Such voting, he wrote, is “potentially embarrassing to the American Government and pregnant with the possibility of embroiling this country in disputes with other nations.” What an eye for pregnancy! There was no evidence that any nation had ever objected to any such voting by US citizens, and no other country on the globe had a comparable provision, as Chief Justice Warren pointed out in a passionate dissent.
Academic commentary was not kind to the Perez ruling, and it may have helped encourage a spate of additional expatriation challenges in the succeeding years. In all of them the Supreme Court distinguished Perez and held for the individual. Most importantly, in 1964 the Court struck down a ground of expatriation that had figured prominently in the Bancroft treaties and had been historically crucial to the State Department’s efforts to diminish the conflicts growing out of dual nationality. This was the provision decreeing that naturalized citizens who returned to live for a specified period of years in their former country would be deemed to have lost US citizenship. Unlike the Perez provision, this one did have a respectable provenance and was supported by the practice of most other countries. It fell nonetheless, in a majority opinion authored by Justice Douglas. This ruling was vintage Douglas—rhetorically catchy and sympathetic, but glib and analytically sloppy at best or disingenuous at its worst. Purporting to apply Perez, he found an equal protection violation, because Congress, in his view, lacked any reason beyond administrative convenience to distinguish between the native born and the naturalized citizen in applying these rules. He summed up by condemning Congress for “creat[ing] indeed a second-class citizenship.”
Dual nationality gained significant protection from that decision. But it was the overruling of Perez in 1967 that really led us into the modern era of constitutional protection for dual nationality. Afroyim v. Rusk presented a challenge to the same statute Frankfurter had upheld, but this time the challenger was a respectable artist from New York who had, perhaps naively, voted in an Israeli election. Frankfurter was not present to defend the technical merits of his analysis, for he had died in 1965, and Justice Brennan had reconsidered. In the majority opinion in Afroyim, Justice Black found that intervening cases had weakened Perez and justified a rethinking. He then took refuge, in a fashion deeply characteristic of his own constitutional style, in the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment, which decrees that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States....” In Black’s view, that language set forth the circumstances under which citizenship would arise, and left no room for Congress ever to take it away thereafter without the citizen’s assent. Any ambiguity or softness in that 5-4 ruling was swept away by a 1980 case, Vance v. Terrazas. There a unanimous court held that citizenship could be lost only if the person committed an expatriating act with the specific intent of surrendering his US nationality—basically the doctrine for which Ethel Mackenzie had argued 50 years before Afroyim.
After Terrazas, all but one of the main devices the State Department traditionally used to guard against dual nationality had been ruled unconstitutional. This does not of course mean that all foreign naturalizations or all births to cross-national couples will inevitably result in dual nationality. Citizenship carries both rights and duties, and it certainly happens that emigrants may want to surrender the former nationality on taking up a new one—to avoid double taxation or multiple military service claims. If that outcome is desired, US law gives them that power, provided they make it clear that they have the requisite intent to surrender citizenship. And of course the other country of nationality might well still impose its own requirements, rigorously terminating citizenship, for example, for anyone who naturalizes elsewhere. Still, it is no wonder that dual nationality involving Americans has proliferated under Afroyim and Schneider.
Dual Nationality and its Modern Protections
Hence I could answer the phone inquiries with which I began this exploration with a decisive response: Don’t worry—at least as far as US law is concerned. Taking up Irish citizenship or holding two passports under these circumstances is a right protected by the Constitution. And no dual national child can be forced by American authorities to elect a single nationality upon reaching majority.
Moreover, it is increasingly rare for persons in these circumstances to have to worry about the laws of the other country. The trend is particularly pronounced among countries that are major sources of emigration, in a pattern that began in earnest about 25 years ago but has recently added several key nations to its ranks. Mexico, for example, long a staunch opponent of dual nationality, treated naturalization elsewhere as an automatic expatriating act until very recently. But in 1998 it amended its Constitution to permit, indeed to encourage, its nonresident natives to keep their Mexican nationality upon naturalizing. Two other countries among America’s top four source countries for immigration joined these ranks in 2003: India and the Philippines. Those governments came to realize that their diasporas, already a major source of hard currency through remittances to their native lands, might be more likely to continue that practice—and indeed to use their western wealth to invest in fledgling businesses back in the old country—if they could retain the old citizenship even as they gained a new one. If nothing else, the eased travel that comes from entering on a local passport is likely to promote such connections.
These visible legal changes have stirred new opposition to dual nationality in some immigration countries, raising doubts about conflicted loyalties, or worries that the source countries were trying to use the new laws as a means of manipulating voting in US elections. That concern is misguided, however, both empirically and conceptually, and in any event has so far not had much effect in slowing the international momentum toward accepting dual nationality.
The Other Side of the Coin
But there is still another side to the coin, so far as US law is concerned. There remain some formal barriers to dual nationality. Consider another set of phone calls I have regularly received over the years. Those questions go something like this:
- I’ve been here for 10 years on a green card, and now I’ve decided to become an American citizen. Somebody at the State Department told me it would be no problem to keep my other citizenship and keep traveling on my EU passport. But I just got the application packet, and the oath I have to take doesn’t sound that way at all. I’m not sure I want to naturalize if I have to give up my other citizenship.
There is definitely a problem here. Our naturalization law, following a pattern set in 1795, spells out in considerable detail the oath to which a new citizen must swear. Its rich, old-fashioned language requires a pledge:
that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen....
And the oath concludes with these words:
I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God.
Congress’s intent could hardly be clearer. The Supreme Court’s rulings in Afroyim and Terrazas, so sweepingly powerful in defending dual nationality when chosen by those who already enjoy US citizenship, have no bite here. These phone calls ask what kind of conditions the United States can impose on those who stand imploringly at the door of membership. It is the one setting in which US law now appears to stand foursquare against dual nationality.
But the actual effect of this provision in practice has been problematic for generations. This requirement often prompted US immigration officials to collect the old passports at the time of the naturalization ceremony. They then dutifully returned them to the embassy of the original country. Some embassies then doubtless recorded the change and notified their capitals that the person had given up her original nationality. But I have heard numerous stories of embassies that had no such routine. At first puzzled over what to do with these documents, they eventually chose the path of bureaucratic least resistance. They cleared out their inboxes by mailing the passport back to the person who initially surrendered it!
Sometime over the last 30 years, however, the State Department began to acquiesce in, and even to embrace, the retention of dual nationality at the time of naturalization, to the point that it now informally advises aspiring new citizens that they can of course retain their original nationality. Hence my phone calls. When I first heard of such advice, I could hardly believe that the State Department would do this. One would think that State would at least show a bit of embarrassment at the fact that its advice is totally contrary to the statute, which spells out in great detail the renunciation requirement included in the oath.
Awhile back, at a conference, I was finally able to pin down some State Department officers on how they rationalize this advice. Their justification goes something like this: we cannot guarantee that other states will recognize the renunciation oath as an effective surrender of the first nationality. (Fair enough.) And Congress, unlike, say, the German Bundestag, has not required naturalizing citizens to present evidence that they have rigorously pursued the other nation’s formalities to ensure that loss of nationality will be effective. (Also correct.) Hence the other country may well still consider them its citizen, and we might as well tell them so.
As I listened to the official’s explanation, I could almost sense Teddy Roosevelt rising from his grave. This is so much like the situation that triggered his 1915 diatribe. Who cares what those other nations do? The oath, he might say, creates a solemn compact between this country and the new citizen—who has, under our 1868 statute, an absolute right to expatriate. Our new citizen has solemnly sworn that he is renouncing all other ties. It’s the other country’s problem to figure out how to make their laws match ours, not vice versa. Should that other country ever treat our new citizen as subject to its obligations—well, where are my gunboats?
Now there is of course one important difference between my caller and the 1915 case that stirred TR’s ire. Lelong wanted to be considered a mono-national. Today, perhaps in some measure because many nations have abandoned conscription, my inquiries tend to come from people who firmly wish to keep both nationalities.
So how should I answer my caller’s question? Were I a social scientist, I could report that the US government for decades has fully supported a naturalized citizen’s ongoing exercise of rights as a dual national, and that this pattern appears likely to continue. But as a lawyer, bound by a lawyer’s ethical obligations, I could not possibly advise an individual to swear to our required oath while planning to violate its pledges.
More importantly, as a matter of public policy, the State Department’s arrogation of the power to countermand a congressional statute has left us in what may be the worst possible situation. Its stance amounts to encouraging new citizens to start their membership with an act of perjury. Bad enough on its own—and perhaps it even leaves the individual open to denaturalization if a future administration ever decides to crack down on false swearing (although I doubt that will happen). But the State Department’s stance has also taken away most impetus for Congress to revisit these provisions and decide explicitly whether they should be revised to fit a different legal and social landscape.
Dual Nationality on the Merits
So should this provision be changed? Renunciation as part of the oath made sense when it was written over 200 years ago. It reflected strongly held beliefs that individuals, not sovereigns, were entitled to control their citizenship ties. The oath affirmed what it meant, under conditions of the time, to be a free citizen rather than a perpetually subordinate subject of a King.
We should pay due honor to that tradition and meaning. But to do so in modern conditions, I believe, requires us to change course in what we ask of naturalizing citizens. We no longer inhabit a globe of jealous or greedy monarchs, nor a globe where migration marks a definitive one-time-only movement that utterly changes the migrant’s entire life framework. The 20th century revolution in transportation and communications enables migrants to retain close and meaningful ties with the country of origin, and with family who remained behind, even as they develop close affiliations with their new country of citizenship.
The geopolitical context is also totally different—something that might cause even Theodore Roosevelt to reconsider some of his dogma. As he was writing those words calling dual nationality absurd, back in 1915, he was surrounded by evidence of the fickleness of national alliances. World War I was underway, though the United States was not yet involved. It had been triggered by rapidly shifting alliances as monarchs jockeyed for position. Citizen armies were being fed into the fire of machine guns wielded by the citizens of another nation not too long before regarded as an ally on the same side of the global chess game. In that context, leaving multiple calls on a citizen’s loyalties posed real risks.
Today, far more nations exhibit an enduring commonality of interest than they did in the age of the monarchs, a commonality built around a commitment to democracy and to some form of market economy. These are not universally held commitments, to be sure. But the differences that remain among nations are far more likely to be resolved peaceably. The risk of nation-to-nation war is considerably more remote. In fact, we are about as far removed from Roosevelt’s time as he was from the Napoleonic Wars and the era of perpetual allegiance. That citizenship doctrine should take another turn after another century might not surprise that amateur historian.
We also have a richer understanding, one may hope, of the nature of loyalty. Recent decades have led to much commentary on the value of civil society—that web of organizations and commitments that exist separate from, and often in counterbalance to, the national government. To value civil society is to accept that citizens will hold a variety of involvements and loyalties at the same time—commitments that are not seen as diluting a healthy allegiance to the nation. We should be able to recognize, in the 21st century, that national allegiance is not all-consuming, that patriotic commitment can coexist with loyalty and devotion to other groups and institutions. We should extend that insight to the sphere of national loyalties. Even if there are limits at the extremes (such as in time of actual war between the two nations), those deeply atypical combinations should not dictate the legal framework that applies to most people most of the time. Therefore we should drop the language requiring renunciation of other nationalities, although it remains a sound idea to include a non-exclusive oath of allegiance as part of our naturalization ceremonies.
So far my account parallels the advocacy to be found in most contemporary academic writing on the subject, which warmly embraces dual nationality. But I do part company with the greatest enthusiasts, and I do so for reasons about which Roosevelt felt strongly. Some who embrace dual nationality, like Yasemin Soysal or David Jacobson, see its growing incidence as signaling an end of the nation-state and our passage into a post-national global order. Others treat national membership as simply one among many different affiliations that are to be picked up and dropped entirely at an individual’s option. Peter Spiro characterizes citizenship as simply “equivalent to membership in a... civic organization.” Thomas Franck writes of loyalty as “less like a dollar to be bet on one’s favorite racehorse than a handful of birdseed to be distributed among several feeding stations.”
Such casualness about national allegiance
goes too far. Nation-states are going to remain the globe’s key governance units, at
least for many decades to come. Membership in the type of institution
that holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is a far
more serious matter than joining the Rotary or choosing your sports
team—even if it is the Red Sox. Loyalty to a nation can
of course go to extremes. It can foster blind and unthinking obedience.
It can descend to chauvinism. But a more measured loyalty, built
on a genuine and enduring sense of commitment, is crucial in making
democracy work. Citizens in democracies have to cultivate a far-from-natural
impulse to remain engaged in an ongoing common political enterprise
even when their side loses an election or a policy battle. Beneath
the bombast, Theodore Roosevelt recognized this core value of national
solidarity. That is why he wanted new immigrants to identify so
completely with the American polity—and also why he wanted
the American polity to be sure to treat them, and all citizens,
with justice and dignity. In the realm of citizenship, all members
are equal. One citizen, one vote. The concept of equal citizenship
also gives a strong foundation for bridging ethnic divides and
for adopting measures meant to reduce the differences between rich
and poor. Equal citizenship can be a foothold for resisting individual
retreat into selfishness, for winning the comfortable over to public
or private efforts to assist the poor or to contribute, even at
some individual cost, to community enterprises.
Such national loyalty may be even more important today, in the face of trends in many parts of the world that seem likely to heighten ethnic divisions. Michael Ignatieff, in his important book called Blood and Belonging, on the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia, observed that “the only reliable antidote to ethnic nationalism turns out to be civic nationalism, because the only guarantee that ethnic groups will live side by side in peace is shared loyalty to a state strong enough, fair enough, equitable enough, to command their obedience.”
I line up decidedly with Theodore Roosevelt on the value of such civic solidarity. We should not demean or dismiss it. But national allegiance can be genuine without being one-dimensional. The proper analogy for dual citizenship is not bigamy, but rather the birth of a second child. A good parent extends complete love and devotion to the infant, without diminishing at all the love and devotion felt toward the sibling.
Citizenship is a key building block in civic nationalism, intimately linked to solidarity and effective democratic engagement. Even in a world that rightly accepts dual nationality on a wider scale, we should, like Roosevelt, foster the sense of reciprocal commitment that national citizenship rightly represents.