Blurring the Line Between Citizen and Slave


Column by Robert Taylor.  


Exclusive to STR

 There has been a substantial amount of discussion concerning President Obama's drone attack in Yemen that killed Muslim Cleric Anwar Al-Awlawki. Awlwaki, who was born in the United States and was therefore an American citizen, was killed without the 5th Amendment provisions guaranteed to him by the US Constitution.

The issue of whether the President has a right to kill an American citizen without a trial is no trivial matter. Given that the US government has labeled those who mint gold coins in competition with the petrodollar and other "right-wing extremists" as terrorists sets a dangerous precedent for future Presidents to abuse and usurp.

A bigger issue, however, that seems to be rarely discusses is citizenship. Before we can answer anything about what someone from the White House can do to a citizen, we must define what one is.

In the most basic sense, citizenship implies the obligation or duty to a certain agency in exchange for a certain degree of protection and/or services. Although the concept of citizenship has ebbed and evolved over thousands of years, the essence of it has stayed relatively the same.

In ancient Greece, citizens swore their loyalty to the local Polis. Back then, citizenship was not merely the "public duty" it is today. Greek citizens not only voted and participated in the civic affairs of their Polis, but it was seen as their duty to be proactive members of their community as a sign of honor, respect, and virtue. And as an in many civic customs that are now universal, one of the defining factors of Greek citizenship was its particularity. Not everyone could be a citizen, of course, and both women and slaves rarely had the ability to hold that honorable title.

The Romans, on the other hand, were much more liberal in granting citizenship and viewed it quite differently from their Greek forefathers. Although the basic tenets of citizenship--loyalty in exchange for protection--were nominally existent, the Romans granted every subject of their massive empire citizenship in order to consolidate and legitimize their power over them.  While the Greeks viewed citizenship as a local web of communally-based duties to their small cities, the Romans saw it as a means to provide for law and order (or at least the illusion of it). Both of their views of the citizen were spawned from their worldview and the sizes of the political machinery they wielded. Local honor and duty became Civic romanus sum.

The Roman model became the de facto template for how future empires, especially the British, governed their foreign exploits. Benevolent protection was the justification for imperial rule, and victims of conquest and occupation could at least find comfort in the fact that their territory and peoples were now under the protection, laws, and justice of the foreign empire.

Fast-forward to today's America, and a citizen seems to be an odd mix of all of these factors. If you ask ten people to define what a citizen is, you will likely get ten different answers. At first, they were white, male property owners. Then women, followed by blacks and other racial minorities. Now, as in the case of Al-Awlaki, all it takes to be a citizen is to be born between the arbitrary northern and southern borders to receive the protection of the US government. And you can even be granted citizenship from other governments (dual citizenship) at the same time!

As in all government programs, a serious case of mission creep has set in. The more broad a government's stated goal becomes, the less it is able to provide it. The core of citizenship is the implicit "social contract"; however, when the other party openly acknowledges that it will not fulfill its part of the contract, what does that say about citizenship?

For example, multiple Supreme Court cases have ruled that the US government, in fact, has absolutely no obligation to protect you.  InSouth v. Maryland, in 1856, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has "had no duty to protect individuals, but only a general duty to enforce the laws." A 1989 decision, DeShaney v. Winnebago County, held that "the failure by county social service workers to protect a young boy from a beating by his father did not breach any substantive constitutional duty." And in the most recent case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales, the Court ruled that "the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation."

Even if we accept the validity of a social contract--one in which one never signs, consents to, but is bound to even if one is ignorant of the laws being applied--the government's own admissions prove that the status of "citizen" is a mere formality.

We are asked to pay our taxes, obey every one of the myriad of dictates that spew from Washington, send our children to government schools, buy into the premise of the social welfare state and a global empire, but don't you dare, citizen, expect the benevolent watchmen to actually protect you when you need it.

So it is understandable why Al-Alawki would withdraw his consent from this one-sided contract, even if one disagrees with his Islamic fundamentalist motives.

The idea of a citizen is really a great con. We are given a lofty and noble title with a laundry list of obligations, but very little protection in return. This is the problem with entrusting anything to a coercive monopoly.

I am reminded of the movie Starship Troopers. The film portrays a dystopia-esque future in which individuals can only earn citizenship--and thus protection--by joining the military. Although we are not at that frightening level yet, there have been many Ivory Tower hawks suggesting that those currently not under the tax jurisdiction of the US government--"foreigners"--should gain US citizenship simply by signing up for the US Army.

It appears that citizenship now is nothing more than a way for people to participate in the grand scheme of organized robbery that is participatory democracy. Every few years, everybody's life, liberty, and property is sold to the highest bidder, and "citizens" vote for as much loot as possible to be transferred in their direction.

Even under our terribly flawed concept of citizenship, it is still immoral, illegal, and unconstitutional for a US citizen to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process. However, it is time to take back the concept of citizenship to its contractual roots. There is nothing wrong with obligations or duties, as long as they are contractual and both sides fulfill their promises.

Unfortunately, we will never find this result in the sphere of the coercive power of the state. If we take a look around, we find that mutually-beneficial promises and transactions only occur in the free market, where we can take our business elsewhere and are free to purchase (or not purchase) a service at a competitive price. Until something so valuable and essential to civilization and human cooperation as protection and justice is left to the voluntary and competitive free market, then we will continue to be taxed into debt and poverty for the illusion of security and the line between citizen and slave will become ever more blurry.

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Westernerd's picture
Columns on STR: 7

lives in San Francisco, California. He spends his time reading voraciously, ranting, and advocating the virtues of economic and political freedom. He has written for multiple websites and hopes to play a small part in bringing a voluntary market society into fruition. He enjoys billiards, whiskey, and sabermetrics. He blogs at A Little Rebellion.