Citizenship One-Upmanship

by Henry Farrell on August 3, 2010

While “Mitch McConnell”: is trying to figure out whether the US can get rid of birthright citizenship, French rightwing politicians seem to be engaged in a “bidding war”: to see who can come up with the most egregious proposal for stripping citizenship from criminals. As Art Goldhammer observes, this is a fairly transparent attempt to distract voters from the Sarkozy government’s embroilment with dodgy billionaires and tax advisers.

bq. Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to strip certain criminals of French citizenship has brought the xenophobes out of the woodwork. Thierry Mariani, always a leader in this pack, has proposed extending the punishment to all who have been naturalized for less than ten years and convicted of crimes with sentences of greater than five years. The round numbers make short shrift of the constitutional problem, that any such law creates two classes of French citizens, those whose citizenship status is precarious and the rest–contrary to the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, which states that “all French citizens are equal before the law.” …

bq. But these _dérapages_ were predictable once the cat was out of the bag. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that they were intended. Each _surenchère_ relaunches the polemic and distracts attention from other issues. And of course none of these measures–even in the exceedingly unlikely case that any of them are enacted, given the likely refusal of the _Conseil Constitutionnel_ to accept them–would have the slightest effect on the “security” of the French. What proportion of crimes is committed by recently naturalized citizens (or wandering gypsies)? … you seize on some trival _fait divers,_ invoke the inalienable human right of self-preservation, and direct anger and fear at some disliked and defenseless element of the population, accused without evidence of imperiling the “security” of authentic citizens.



Matt 08.03.10 at 2:43 pm

Calls for changing the US’s unusually strong jus soli rule come up every few years but have not made any real progress in the past. Perhaps the political climate has changed to such a degree that they might go further, but the general grand-standing for political effect isn’t that new, even if it’s dangerous and reprehensible. (It is worth noting that very few countries have as strong of a jus soli rule as does the U.S. and are still liberal democracies in good standing. The U.K.’s rule, for example, is much more demanding. I think there are good arguments to be made for a fairly strong rule, and good arguments as to why the U.S., in particular, should have a very strong rule, but the particular details of the U.S. rule are not general requirements of justice, I think. I discuss this sort of stuff at length in a paper coming out in the Maryland Law Review this fall, available here, if anyone’s interested)

As for France, I don’t know enough about their laws to say if the proposed actions are legal, but they are certainly reprehensible.


Philip 08.03.10 at 2:58 pm

Also see here , in the Russian spy swap he British Citizenship was revoked. I thinkthis could only happen to someone with dual citizenship but still don’t like how it creates tow tiers of citizenship.


Philip 08.03.10 at 3:00 pm

I really should have checked that post before I hit submit.


Steve LaBonne 08.03.10 at 3:03 pm

WRT McConnell: Jus soli is very explicitly mandated in the very first sentence of the 14th Amendment to the US constitution. The Republicans are just pandering to their ignorant, racist base; they have no hope of changing it.


NomadUK 08.03.10 at 3:48 pm

Philip@2: That was revocation of naturalisation; they were Russian nationals who had obtained British citizenship. The US can revoke naturalisation as well (8 USC § 1451).

I believe the ECHR has ruled that a state cannot revoke citizenship in such a way as to render the individual stateless. So if a person does not have dual citizensip, but only citizenship by birth, it cannot be revoked.


ajay 08.03.10 at 3:54 pm

But these dérapages were predictable once the cat was out of the bag. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that they were intended. Each surenchère relaunches the polemic and distracts attention from other issues

The use of mots etrangeres in the milieu of a sentence otherwise written in anglais is extremely annoying, and makes the article very difficile to read. It’s not even as if Art Goldhammer is French.


Philip 08.03.10 at 3:57 pm

@ Nomad, yeah I thought it would be something like that. It seems that is what they are talking about in France but making it even easier to revoke the naturalisation. As it says in the quote in Henry’s post this creates two classes of citizenship. It really should be used in as few a cases as possible if at all. From the BBCarticle I linked to earlier.

‘The BBC’s Dominic Casciani said only half a dozen people have been stripped of British citizenship since the law was introduced in 2002. The law was partly introduced to make it easier to deport radical cleric Abu Hamza al Masri.’


Zamfir 08.03.10 at 6:36 pm

Ajay, complaining about French words in an article about France? Do you think other people never use English terms when discussing English-language politics? Or should the French just provide neat translations for every word they use?


dsquared 08.03.10 at 7:30 pm

I have no objection to “Conseil Constitutionnel”, which is an official French body with a name, plus ei bod yn hawdd to work out what it is in context. But it’s rather ofnadwy for a non-French writer to simply slip in French words, and not geiriau cyffredin either, in a context where they’re no needed, and where they’re not actually expressing uniquely French concepts (“slippage” and “outbidding”). It just creates boen yn y din for the reader and makes it look like the writer is showing off.


Zamfir 08.03.10 at 7:51 pm

Perhaps he is just being pompous (or grevelingen), could well be. On the other hand, if you are talking to an audience that is following the debate, they get to know the terms used quick enough, and might even get confused when you use a perfectly acceptable translation. “Impeachment” went the world over. “Hung parliament” was an understandable term within a day of the british election.


P O'Neill 08.03.10 at 7:51 pm

It’s just Rassemblez les suspects habituels for the modern age.


mds 08.03.10 at 8:19 pm

Oh, so that’s the signficance of the “Davies” part. Diolch. And [flips pages furiously] mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod.


bert 08.03.10 at 10:00 pm

I think Art Goldhammer has a pretty clear idea who his readers are. Often he cuts and pastes large chunks from the French press without bothering to translate. The words he’s using are terms of art from the current debate. If anything, it’s irritatingly insiderish rather than showoffy.
That said, it wouldn’t hurt to give a quick translation in brackets.
As for Sarkozy, what the fuck happened? It seems the fawning domestic press that for years interpreted his every move as a masterstroke has simply evaporated overnight. German indulgence, which for decades could be taken as read, has melted away. He’s left with nothing but warmed up Gaullism and a Kärcher (ddyfrha chyflegr).


sg 08.04.10 at 1:30 am

NomadUK@5, Australia has in the last 10 years stripped people of citizenship or deported permanent residents in such a way as to effectively render them stateless, because although they have another citizenship they do not speak the language of that country and have never lived there. In one famous case a serial criminal slept on the steps of the Australian embassy in Croatia, I think, and protested for months, because he had been deported to his “country of origin,” which he had never visited and whose language he didn’t speak.

Japan had a similar case with an Iranian schoolgirl recently whose parents were illegal immigrants, but the government agreed to let her stay on and finish her schooling before she went back.

I think this really is a fundamentally important part of modern statehood – no matter what you do, you shouldn’t be able to have your citizenship revoked. Even if it’s a second or third citizenship, I just don’t think citizenship should be a negotiable phenomenon once you have it. If states are going to turn citizenship into a revocable type of license, they should just give up on the concept and turn it into another class of visa.

Why would immigrants struggle to become citizens if they knew it was just a slightly more secure class of visa? And why would they take it seriously if they knew that the first time they make a mistake the polity doesn’t like, they are going to be treated differently to the rest of the citizenry?

I have 3 citizenships and I have only ever made any explicit promises of loyalty in connection with one, but that one is the most vulnerable to revocation of the three. No-one born in that country has ever made a pledge of any sort, yet they can commit any crime and never lose their citizenship. I don’t know how this is meant to be an inducement for me, the citizenship-adopter, to treat it as seriously as the other 2.


sg 08.04.10 at 1:31 am

by “tier” there, btw, I meant “order” (as in, the second or third you got after your first).


Guest 08.04.10 at 2:20 am

@6 – can’t agree. Goldhammer’s blog is clearly for people who are really into French politics, who for the most part can reliably be counted upon to know, or be interested in, the French language. If you read that blog a lot you’ll notice that most of his links are to French-language online periodicals.

@9 – if you wrote a full-time blog about events in Wales or Ireland or wherever the heck that funky language you’re quoting is spoken, are you trying to tell me you wouldn’t use those same words in it untranslated? C’mon.


NomadUK 08.04.10 at 8:35 am

sg@14: I agree completely, and find the idea that the state can strip one of citizenship completely abhorrent.

Why would immigrants struggle to become citizens if they knew it was just a slightly more secure class of visa?

A cynical person might argue that this was precisely the intention.


NomadUK 08.04.10 at 8:41 am

dsquared@9: If Wales had established a world-spanning empire and spread its language throughout, such that many of its words were incorporated into the native languages of its colonies, and the educated were expected to speak it, then it wouldn’t be much of an issue, really. As it is, it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of looking things up, especially now that it’s next to trivial.

All in all, frankly, the results might have been a bit better had she done so. But, we got the French and the English instead.


alex 08.04.10 at 9:04 am

DD, that’s a nasty cold you’ve got there.


ajay 08.04.10 at 9:59 am

Goldhammer’s blog is clearly for people who are really into French politics, who for the most part can reliably be counted upon to know, or be interested in, the French language

He should write it in French then.


Martin Wisse 08.04.10 at 11:43 am

But then ajay still italicses spaghetti…


mds 08.04.10 at 1:41 pm

Actually, I think ajay simply renders “spaghetti” into “little thin rope.”

On the other other hand, for those of us who are lacking a proper education and never lived under the French boot, the intermittent inclusion of sufficiently uncommon French words interrupts the flow in a rather jarring fashion. Yes, we can look it up. But why should we have to? These aren’t widespread expressions like spaghetti, or je ne sais quoi, or frankfurter, or schlemiel, or Harahefet sh’eli mele’ah betzlofahim. It detracts from clear communication, which I’d think would be the goal.


chris 08.04.10 at 1:48 pm

Does anyone else remember when “second-class citizen” was a figure of speech for being treated unfairly, because it was universally recognized as something too horrible for any respectable government to ever actually do?


chris y 08.04.10 at 2:08 pm

because it was universally recognized as something too horrible for any respectable government to ever actually do?

Yes, it was around the time when the Dixiecrats held the balance of power in the US Congress and all the laws deferred to them.


ajay 08.04.10 at 2:36 pm

21: seriously. If the argument is that he expects all his readers to be extremely familiar with French politics and to speak fluent French (I flatter myself that I can get by in French, to the point of being able to make sense of Le Monde, tell people how to treat penetrating abdominal wounds and deliver the occasional best man’s speech, and I got stumped by “dérapage” and “surenchère”), why doesn’t he write in French? What possible benefit is there to writing mostly in English but throwing in enough French words to ensure that he will not be fully understood by anyone who isn’t also a French speaker? At least if he wrote in French he would expand his readership to include all the French people who don’t speak fluent English. But I suspect that this would relegate him from the position of “expat anglo blogger who knows a lot about French politics” to “foreigner living in France who knows very little about French politics”.

See Peter Fleming on the “nullah, or Ravine, School of Travel Writing”. Except that at least that lot tended to translate the foreign words.


alex 08.04.10 at 3:07 pm

It’s his effing blog, putain de merde, he can write it any way he chooses.

And he’s a very well-known academic translator of French texts, for the record.


ajay 08.04.10 at 3:47 pm

26: So he’s hoping people will pay him to translate his own blog from Hercule Poirotish into English? Nice business model. He should put up a paypal link. “I will post the traduction of these pensées when people have deposited assez d’argent to make it, ‘ow you say, worth my while.”


Steve LaBonne 08.04.10 at 3:58 pm

This thread lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. C’est dommage.


mds 08.04.10 at 4:04 pm

Although I am obviously sympathetic to ajay’s original complaint, I must reluctantly join with alex in condemning ajay’s call to have Mr. Goldhammer banned from blogging, fired, and possibly arrested. Gesù Cristo.


sg 08.04.10 at 4:18 pm

ajay at 27, that’s comedy gold. I agree entirely. Chuck him in the wanker draw with Edgar Allan Poe!


Gareth Rees 08.04.10 at 7:09 pm

See Peter Fleming on the “nullah, or Ravine, School of Travel Writing”

But Fleming recanted, did he not?

“I swore that if ever I was misguided enough to write a book of travel my italics would be all my own; my saga would be void of nullahs. But I find now that this self-denial is not altogether possible…. When I consider how to dispense with the foreign words… I see that the difficulties of doing so are threefold… First of all, there are the words like batalõa and rapadura and mutum, which denote things unknown outside Brazil, and which it is therefore impossible to translate…. Secondly, there are the words of which a literal translation is for one reason or another inadequate. The word sandbank, for instance, gives a very niggardly idea of what a praia is… Thirdly, there are a few words which can be translated perfectly well, but which we, in conversation, never did translate: words like jacaré and arara.”

I am unsure, however, which of these three categories Goldhammer’s francophony falls into.


Witt 08.04.10 at 8:25 pm

Worldwide, there are about 12 million stateless people.

It’s a significant problem, especially in places where nationality dictates access to key benefits. (The article mentions people of Haitian heritage born and raised in the Dominican Republic and unable to attend college because of their nationality, or lack thereof.)

New crisis can also erupt very quickly after a natural disaster, as when the Haiti earthquake pointed up problems for Haitians born in the Bahamas (and thus lacking birth certificates or proof of citizenship). When the US allowed Haitians here to file for Temporary Protected Status, people without birth certificates scrambled to find a way to prove their Haitian citizenship.


praisegod barebones 08.13.10 at 4:45 am

Since we’re getting outraged about other people’s citizenship debates, can I just point out that a) since 1981 its been possible to be born in the UK, havde one British parent and not be eligible for British citizenship; and b) as far as I can tell, no-one gives a damn.

Comments on this entry are closed.