We pride ourselves on having abolished the hereditary privileges once associated with aristocracy. But our citizenship system replicates many of the same evils.
Ilya Somin | Jul. 7, 2018 6:20 pm
A US passport. The privileges associated with it are available only to citizens, and citizen status is largely hereditary.
Citizens of modern Western nations like to think that we have abolished the hereditary privileges once associated with aristocracy. No longer does a person born a noble enjoy a vast array of rights denied to commoners. Nor do we any longer have a class of serfs tied to the land, condemned to poverty and oppression for life. But, as conservative columnist Rachel Lu points out in an insightful recent article, we have a system of hereditary privilege that in many ways is just as pernicious as the aristocracy of old. We call it citizenship: We like to think we’ve transcended this kind [of] elitism. Here in America, we prioritize content of character, not circumstances of birth. In this country, your fortunes depend on what you can do, not on some inherited pedigree.
That, at any rate, is our national myth. Unfortunately, it’s not really true, in this nation or any other. Democratic ideals may have swept the globe so totally that even totalitarians now pay lip-service to them, yet our world is in some respects more ruthlessly class-divided than ever. I’m not talking here about the 1 percent, or the 9.9 percent, or whatever percentage we see as inheriting systemic advantages from their well-heeled parents.
I’m talking about citizenship. Citizenship represents the most significant class lottery remaining in the modern world. The cover of your passport speaks volumes about your prospects for enjoying peace, prosperity, and happiness over the course of your life. If you are the offspring of Danes, you can likely look forward to eight peaceful and happy decades, with a good education and quality medical care. Were you born in Haiti? In that case, you may get 65 years, but you’ll probably spend them coping with grinding poverty (at about 1/30th the income of an average American). …
Citizenship, in short, is massively consequential, and there’s almost nothing meritorious about it. If you’ve spent your life as an American citizen, your fortunes have depended to a very great extent on an inherited pedigree. Even if you’re brilliant and full of entrepreneurial energy, those qualities probably wouldn’t have helped you as a citizen of Burundi or Niger.
King John should have had Ilya Somin working for him doing spin at Runnymede in 1215. He would have shamed those aristocrats into giving up all their Magna Carta hereditary rights to the autocrat.
Do you ever get the feeling that, leaving aside minor details about what kind of economic system, the Soviet Union will eventually triumph over the United States due to the sophistic skills of ex-Soviets like Ilya Somin, Max Boot, Masha Gessen, and Julia Ioffe? They may not quite agree on what should replace the U.S., but they are united in being committed to propagandizing Americans into believing that America isn’t for “ourselves and our posterity,” no matter what it says in the Preamble to the Constitution.
After all, who would know more about how to organize a polity than somebody whose ancestors helped set up the Soviet Union? Who cares what Gouvernor Morris thought, when what matter these days is what the Somin family thinks?
Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University and the author of Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter and The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain.
In contrast to your ethically deplorable hereditary American citizenship, the Koch Brothers’ inherited wealth is sacred, as are any and all bequests they might choose to make to institutions promoting their views, such the sacredness of inherited property and the dubiousness of inherited citizenship, such as, say, George Mason University.