Summer 2016 (30.2) Essay

Patti Tamara Lenard Replies

Is the revocation of citizenship—a policy increasingly adopted by democratic states—a violation of democratic principles? In an article published in the Spring 2016 issue of this journal, I argued that it is. A true commitment to the best understanding of democratic citizenship does not permit the revocation of some citizens’ status by others. David Miller and Ben Herzog are unconvinced. Elizabeth Cohen agrees that revocation is a violation of democratic principle, but argues that my defense of this claim leaves room for it nevertheless. These thoughtful critiques raise two questions to which I would like to respond: (1) What is the nature of citizenship in democratic states? (2) What can legitimately be done by democracies to protect themselves?

The logic of democratic citizenship is inclusive and equal. All citizens are entitled to know that their status, and the equal basic package of rights to which this status entitles them, is secure. It goes almost without saying that historically democracies have not interpreted citizenship in this way, and indeed not all present-day democracies protect citizenship in this way. Citizens of ancient Athens were supported by a slave population, and metics—most famously, Aristotle—were denied the status of citizen. Present-day democracies frequently deny equal packages of rights to their citizens; for example, in some U.S. states convicted felons are permanently disenfranchised. To the extent that these democracies protect a citizenship that is exclusive and unequal, the citizenship they protect is not truly democratic.

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