In his speech to the UN in September 2019, President Trump drew a stark contrast between globalists and patriots. Globalism, he claimed, ‘exerted a religious pall over past leaders causing them to ignore their own national interests’ and ‘wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first’. In his opinion, ‘The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors and honor the differences that make each country special and unique’. ‘Patriots’ became a group with special access to the national interest, able to ‘see a nation and its destiny in ways no one else can. Liberty is only preserved, sovereignty is only secure, democracy is only sustained, greatness is only realised by the will and devotion of patriots’. The obvious corollary is that criticism of narrow self-interest and support of the global common good becomes unpatriotic treachery. In her speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2016, Teresa May made a similar, though less strident, claim that ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowehere. You don’t understand what citizenship means’. Both were setting the ‘somewheres’ against the ‘anywheres’, to use the terms of David Goodhart in The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics (Penguin 2017).
The notion of who is a citizen is contested and shifting, and the reflections of Frederick Cooper are very helpful in providing an overview of the debate and different meanings that are given to the term. Here is a draft review that I have recently published.
Frederick Cooper, Citizenship, Inequality and Difference: Historical Perspectives Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2018, x + 205
This short book based on the Lawrence Stone lectures at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton handles a vast topic of contemporary significance. Reading Cooper’s history of contested claims to citizenship is a depressing experience – not because of any failure of his lucid and acute analysis, but in response to the current political connotations on both sides of the Atlantic, with President Trump’s calls to build a wall and corral children of immigrants into camps or Prime Minister May’s ‘hostile environment’ for would-be migrants. Cooper’s long historical perspective reflects these current debates over citizenship as inclusive or exclusive, over what threshold of commonality is needed to allow access to the status of citizen. It is a book that deserves to be read far beyond academic specialists.
The Nationality Act passed by the British parliament in 1948 made people in the white Dominions of Australia or Canada into ‘Commonwealth citizens’, and of Jamaica and Nigeria into citizens of ‘the United Kingdom and the colonies’, alongside the category of ‘British subject’. Cooper refers to these layers of citizenship as ‘superposed nationality’. When immigrants from the West Indies arrived on the ss Windrush in 1948, they were citizens with the right to settle and work in Britain – as one government minister claimed, like Romans they ‘can say “Civis Britannicus sum”’. Attitudes soon changed, with the warnings of Enoch Powell, classical scholar and politician, that, like the Tiber, British cities would foam with blood. Starting in 1962, rights to citizenship became more restrictive, which led to political scandal in 2018 when May’s ‘hostile environment’ denied citizenship to the children of the Windrush generation who had every reason to assume that they were citizens, after living and working in Britain for 60 years. At the same time, three million European Union citizens resident in Britain wonder what rights they will have after Brexit, and 2 million British people living and working elsewhere in the European Union worry that they will lose their citizenship of the European Union – another example of ‘superposed nationality’. The fantasy of ‘taking back control’ might strip British citizens of their European Union citizenship, and European Union citizenship of their rights in Britain. These issues are deeply felt and highly contentious – and Cooper’s book provides long run and comparative insights into our current dilemmas.
Similar issues of superposed nationality arose in the French constitution of 1946. The French Empire became the French Union, with the colonies as overseas territories whose residents became citizens of France – and in Algeria, Muslims gained the right to citizenship without renouncing their Islamic status and accepting the civil code. But in 1974, French citizenship became more restrictive, ending the special treatment of former overseas citizens and creating a class of people who were resident in France without access to welfare benefits. A distinction emerged between French people with a historical claim to French heritage and the children of immigrants. These debates over inclusion and exclusion fuelled the far right of Le Pen – but equally, French republicanism and laicisation marginalised those who were accused of ‘communitariansim’. In both Britain and France, inclusive citizenship made sense for reasons of state at the end of the Second World War in an effort to hold empires together – thirty years later, empires largely disappeared and so did the need to offer inclusivity.
Cooper ranges widely, drawing parallels between the French constitution of 1946 and the Cadiz constitution of 1812 which debated similar issues in the Spanish empire, leading to the same fears of dilution of citizenship of those who saw themselves as more genuinely Spanish than diverse ethnic groups in Spanish America. The Cadiz constitution took an inclusive definition, as in France in 1946 and Britain in 1948 – at least for indigenous peoples, though not for Africans and their descendants who were assumed to come from somewhere else. Citizenship rested on being a member of an established community – a concept that emerged in early modern Spain in which citizenship was ‘performed’ in a collection of local communities.
Cooper sees the origins of these debates in the ancient world, which was often referenced in later periods. Unlike the closed city states of Greece, the Romans attached conquered people to the empire by an offer of citizenship. The edict of Caracalla in 212 extended citizenship to all free male inhabitants, without obliging them to surrender their local patriotism and identity. The edict was used by Indians at the end of the nineteenth century to claim a right to British imperial citizenship – an option that was opposed by the British government and by Dominions which feared a flood of Asians into Australia or Canada. Instead, citizenship might be limited to a white ‘Greater Britain’, so directing Indians to demands for independence.
Cooper shows how claims to citizenship were contested and defined in diverging ways. Was it acquired by birth on a state’s territory – jus soli – or descent from a recognized citizen – jus sanguinis. Both approaches had (and have) their critics – the former for granting citizenship to individuals with a minimal attachment as a result of the chance of birth, the latter for denying the rights of long-term migrants. Different regimes handled claims in different ways, by creating group-differentiated citizenship in the Ottoman Empire, tsrarist Russia, the Soviet Union and India, or a more universal approach defined by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789.
Cooper covers a vast subject in a necessarily brief manner, building on his own deep knowledge of France and its empire. The book could have been two or three times as long, and dealt in more detail with the internal political and cultural debates that led to different outcomes. But the virtue of brevity is that highly complex and contentious issues can be understood – and provide ammunition for those who, like Cooper, wish to counter narrowly inclusive and national definitions of citizenship with a flexible and multilevel citizenship. In 2016, Theresa May assured the Conservative party conference that ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.’ Cooper shows that May has no historical or conceptual understanding of what citizenship has meant and can mean.