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The Bombings and the Claims of Citizenship Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 23 April 2013

On July 10, 1858, Abraham Lincoln was speaking in Chicago,  as he was launching his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Just a few days earlier there had been a celebration for the 4th of July, and Lincoln noted that many people gathered there to celebrate had not really been descended from families who had been here at the time of the Revolution.

They were newcomers.  As Lincoln said, they had, “come from Europe – German, Irish, French, and Scandinavian. . .settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things.” He continued:

If they [seek] to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, …but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration,  and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

As Harry Jaffa observed, this was a kind of democratic “transubstantiation.”  If these people grasped that central principle, to be shared as the common faith,  they were “flesh of the flesh, blood of the blood” of the men who had made that revolution. If they understood that “proposition,” as Lincoln called it, “all men are created equal,” they understood the equal rights of all of those around them, for they grasped the moral ground of those rights. And if they grasped those things, they grasped the core of what they needed to know in order to be a good “citizen” of this place.

The late Fr. Richard Neuhaus once did a seminal essay, “Can an Atheist Be a Good Citizen?”  If what we mean by a “citizen” is a man who pays his taxes and obeys the laws, the answer was a ready “yes.” But that was a scaled down definition of what it meant to be a citizen. 

The deeper question was whether the atheist could give a moral defense of that regime that commanded his deep respect and loyalty. And yet that demand has been waived as we have moved away from any sense of the moral requirements of citizenship, because we have receded from the sense of the moral character of the polity itself. 

In the age of relativism we have been backing into the notion of the polity as a hotel. It is a place of residence;  people check in and out; and the main requirement is to pay the bill (i.e., the taxes) and obey the house rules. But we are not prepared to respond to a call to military service from the Waldorf Astoria.

I raise this matter now in the wake of the recent bombings in Boston carried out by two young brothers, one a naturalized “citizen,” and the controversy arising weeks earlier over Americans who had joined the terrorists. Did they deserve a constitutional protection that is not accorded to terrorists who do not happen to be citizens?

The raising of the question marked a dim echo of an earlier time, when the notion of citizenship was taken to mean far more than it does now. It was assumed to mark people who had cultivated a deep attachment to the country, perhaps people who had come from abroad, and made a formal adherence to the American regime, for compelling reasons. 

Some of them would have borne obligations to the country, even to the point of risking their lives in its defense. It is one of the ironies here that people drawn to this country from abroad often have a more vivid sense of what this country is about than many people who have been born and raised here. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became radically disaffected, but America has also known its homegrown traitors willing to deliver to our most lethal enemies the means of killing other Americans on a grand scale.

In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court took up the case of New York State providing a rich menu of subsidized higher education, but wishing to reserve the subsidies for students who were – or were intending to become – citizens of the United States. The Court struck down that policy as an invidious discrimination. And yet, what was so inapt about asking students of mature years about the regime that finally elicited their deepest attachment?

Did it matter that the people of New York were funding students of engineering, in the 1930s, who would return to Germany and the service of Hitler? Or in later years, Iraqis putting their skills in the service of Saddam Hussein? The decision of the Court made sense, again, mainly if one supposed that “citizenship” no longer bore anything of moral significance.

Welcome, then, to the America of our time, arguing now over immigration, but no longer clear that we are inviting people to a regime, or a way of life, that can decently ask for their respect.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.
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Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Manfred, April 23, 2013
Thank you for an excellent article, Dr. Arkes. I agree with your comments and I would only add that the 2012 elections were a warning as well. They showed that we were moving toward a European/Latin American model which downplays personal initiative and responsibility toward one dependent on the largesse of the State. Which peoples in the world have been the builders of aircraft, railroads and steel ships? On the other hand, Western companies are presently in Haiti building,for the first time in its history, a sewer system in Port au Prince. Pres. John Adams warned that the American democracy could only be sustained if the citizenry was up to the task. Now, one of the arguments that growers are putting forth for awarding citizenship to some of ten million "illegals" is that we need them to assist in picking crops.
written by Grump, April 23, 2013
"The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his own weight." -- Theodore Roosevelt.

In America today, roughly half the population, all naturalized, do not follow this principle.
written by william manley, April 23, 2013
Thanks for a thoughtful essay. One aspect of this case that hasn't been talked about too much is the demand for the death penalty for the naturalized citizen who helped perpetrate this atrocity. That's a moral issue that I would like to learn more about from the doctrinal Catholic perspective. It raises the whole issue of right to life and the possibility of repentance, which is at the core of our religion. I'm hoping to find a future essay on that topic here. Thanks.
written by Walter, April 23, 2013
The historical precedents relate to non-citizens who aspire to become citizens. Clearly, a moral framework should be part of the naturalization process.

It is quite another matter to question whether citizens like Tsarnaev - whether native-born or naturalized - deserve constitutional protections. To do so hollows out the argument that such protections are based on God-given rights.

Perhaps Professor Arkes and the pro-choice lobby do agree on something after all.
written by Mark , April 23, 2013
As a Canadian I look to the U.S. as the bulwark against totalitarianism and the promoter of freedom. I suppose it made Canada’s forays into socialism a little more tolerable because you knew that if it got too bad one could always “go to the ‘States”. However more recently I look with trepidation to the direction that the U.S. is heading. With the growing size of the government and with its coercive powers to manipulate morality a definite pattern is emerging. There seems to be a push to negate Christian morality. This is happening not just within America but also (in conjunction with the G7) there is a push to force third world nations to adopt the West’s position on abortion and other immoral acts.
In those beautiful words that Lincoln spoke regarding freedom one can’t help noting that there was an underlying base of Christianity that allowed freedom to prosper within its proper realm. I think it will be futile to hope for freedom while excluding Christianity.
written by Just wondering, April 23, 2013
I was just wondering how a whole column can be written about the horrendous barbarism in Boston without mentioning that it was done in the name of Islam? The problem is not limited to the USA. Everywhere that Islam is practiced innocents are being slaughtered. It seems quite impossible to have a peaceful society if the religion of peace is present.
written by Seanachie, April 23, 2013
Hadley, thoughtful piece, until you wrote, "but no longer clear that we are inviting people to a regime, or a way of life, that can decently ask for their respect." Seems to me, the question arises: if not here (U.S.), where else? Perhaps, in light of recent events, the better question is: Are lawful immigrants willing to respect and make our "way of life" their own? We cannot only "decently ask" but also demand "respect" for our "way of life" from those wishing to unite with us as fellow citizens...too many American citizens have sacrificed greatly to settle for anything less. In short, as the cliche has it, America: like it or leave it (or never come in the first place).

written by Louise, April 23, 2013
Hadley, your article caused me to look up what was required to become a naturalized citizen.
Here are some taken directly from the government's website:
"The applicant must demonstrate good moral character for five years prior to filing for naturalization, and during the period leading up to the administration of the Oath of Allegiance
The applicant must have an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and be well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law
The applicant must be able to read, write, and speak and understand English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government"

I wonder what qualifies as good moral behavior? And what are the principles of the U.S. Constitution considered to be since they seem to be rather fluid in the minds of many of our judges?
written by Tony Esolen, April 23, 2013
Saddest thing about this splendid article: the knowledge that none of our current politicians could have written Lincoln's paragraph, or perhaps even have conceived the idea that inspired it.
written by Kurt, April 24, 2013
The idea that atheists canot be a good citizen may make sense to the late Fr. Neuhaus and to Prof. Arkes, but it strikes me as irresponsible and irrational (in the strict sense of that word). A rational person can understand the moral meaning and depth of "all men are created equal" without believing in God. And religious people such as the alleged Boston Bombers (Muslims) and Timothy McVeigh (Catholic, i.e. received the sacrament of confirmation) can be oblivious to it. Religious faith and the teachings of the Church certainly may inspire and guide the development of the moral senibility Prof. Arkes seems to find lacking in the U.S. today, but to argue that atheists are incapable of understanding or practicing foundational moral truths suggests that such truths are merely a matter of belief, and not of reason. It also comes close to saying that a religious test should be required for any office or public trust -- something Article Vi of the Constitution forbids.
written by Manfred, April 24, 2013
@Kurt: You make excellent points. One gap is the taking of an oath. For decades, atheists could not serve on a jury as the oath to tell the truth would be meaningless. Here's why:
When a BELIEVER solemnly swears, he is saying that if he deliberately swears falsely or perjures himself, that God should punish him in this world or the next. That is why he places his hand on the BIBLE! Notice I said BELIEVER. I am not talking about someone today who has a half-vast idea of a religion. There became so many non-believers they were asked to simpy "affirm". The whole point has been lost with the loss of Faith (do you remember SAINT Valentine's Day?) Now there are few prosecutions for perjury as it occurs so frequently. By the way, the perjuror is still punished by God. He has to learn this when it occurs as no one warns of this any longer.
written by Gian, April 25, 2013
Yet Lincoln held out against granting freed slaves equal rights along with the whites. He was explicit that coexistence on an equal footing was impossible between populations that differed so much. The democratic “transubstantiation" was reserved for European immigrants.

Clearly, Lincoln did not share 20C liberal taste for political equality. He understood that political rights are not natural rights.

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