Historian Victor Davis Hanson’s latest book may not be the kind of optimistic, feel-good reading that many would wish for at a time when the U.S. is facing multiple crises, from the disaster at the southern border to catastrophe in Afghanistan to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a bad economy. But as much as The Dying Citizen: How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization Are Destroying the Idea of Americamay be a bitter pill to swallow, it is nevertheless a much needed wake-up call and a reminder of the importance of citizenship. Immigration and sovereignty are also recurring themes in the book.
The author – a senior fellow in military history at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and professor emeritus of classics at California State University, Fresno – traces the historical origins of citizenship, back to the roots of Western Civilization in ancient Greece and Rome all the way to its ultimate – albeit imperfect and incomplete – flowering in the American constitutional republic. However, the idea that a state should be governed by, and accountable to, a body of citizens endowed with inalienable rights has been a rarity throughout human history, and in many places still is. Mere residents and subjects – most of whom were poor peasants with local or, at most, tribal affiliations – ruled over a powerful but small elite were the norm.
Sadly, Hanson contends that in the U.S., as well as in much of Western Europe, citizenship is now being undermined and weakened by conflating citizens with residents and aliens – be they legally or even illegally present – as if simply residing in a certain territory was all that citizenship entailed. This subversion of the centrality of citizenship is exhibited in a variety of ways, including tolerating and “normalizing” illegal migration while simultaneously conflating illegal migrants with legal immigrants. The degradation of the value of citizenship includes allowing non-U.S.-citizens (even illegal aliens) to receive state assistance and other benefits; sanctuary policies that explicitly shield those who violate immigration laws; disincentivizing (or at least not promoting) assimilation; and otherwise claiming that illegal aliens are no less American, and deserve no fewer rights, than U.S. citizens. Concurrently, anti-American and anti-Western identity politics – which Hanson refers to as “tribalism” – further works to dissolve the bonds that hold our civic nation together.
Globalists and leftists view the weakening and dilution of citizenship, borders, and sovereignty as a victory of progress, humanity, and cutting-edge modernity over the antiquated, reactionary, and stifling. However, as Hanson reminds us, it is actually a throwback to the “pre-citizen” days of empires, tribes, and mere residents/subjects.
Similarly, the historian points out that the middle and working class is being crushed and squeezed between the millstones of globalization (outsourcing U.S. jobs in particular) and mass, unending low-skilled migration, which either depresses wages or makes them stagnant. He also emphasizes that, rather than signaling a leap into some sort of hip, post-industrial utopia, the hollowing out of the middle strata is essentially a reversion to the days of the all-powerful, uber-wealthy few ruling over a vast mass of “peasants,” who, in the current age, may have smart phones and video game consoles, but are also up to their necks in debt and dependent on big government and big corporations.
Although the author may sound gloomy and pessimistic, The Dying Citizen is both a sober diagnosis of our country’s current crisis – of citizenship, sovereignty, and borders – and a call to action, if only because “[t]he stakes [are]no less than the preservation of the American republic itself.” And the fight for rational, pro-American immigration policies is a key front in this battle.