Sorry, Donald Trump: America needs birthright citizenship

There’s another funny intersection between birthright citizenship and the conservative worldview, and I have an unusual window into it. As I said, I’m a Frenchman. France and the United States are unusual in both being nations explicitly founded (or refounded) on Enlightenment values. And one trait they share is that they both instituted birthright citizenship.

One reason was the Enlightenment-driven belief, over and against the feudalism that prevailed in most places in Europe, that citizenship depended on a social contract, not a bloodline, and that your parentage should not therefore change your citizenship status.

But there was another reason (and here lies an entire critique of the Enlightenment, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms), a reason we’re not too comfortable with today: empire. The institution of birthright citizenship in France was enacted by France’s revolutionary government and ratified by Napoleon’s civil code, partly so citizens could be pressed into duty in the army. As France expanded, so did its citizenship rolls, as did its citizen army, as did its military might, all in a virtuous cycle (virtuous, at least, from Napoleon’s perspective).