Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Citizenship Test

The NY Times has a front-page article on the new test given to folks who want to be citizens. It is a new test, the first change since 1986. Note all the other articles or sites related to the issue, including this one that asks the same questions of those who are citizens already; they don’t do so well. This is the new test (pdf file).

Obviously, we can have a perfectly interesting conversation on what a citizenship test should look like, is this one good enough, etc. I’m not all that interested in any kind of multiple choice test myself, perhaps especially on something of this importance. And yet, I understand that some sort of test has to be given. And this may do. My father also had to take a multiple choice civics test in 1962 (which he probably cheated to pass, since he really couldn’t read English). But he didn’t fail on the test the judge gave him, as he stood in front of him: Dad was asked whether he would be willing to serve in the U.S. military, if needed. Yes. Where does your mother live now? Budapest. Would you be willing to serve as a bombardier, if asked? Yes. Would you be willing to go to war against Hungary, if asked? Yes. Would you be willing to bomb Budapest? Pause. Yes. What would your mother think of this? She would understand. Congratulations, Mr. Schramm, you are now a citizen of the United States of America.

Discussions - 19 Comments

How lovely.

If you want to be one of Us, you've got to be willing to kill your mother.

"But he didn’t fail on the test the judge gave him, as he stood in front of him: Dad was asked whether he would be willing to serve in the U.S. military, if needed. Yes. Where does your mother live now? Budapest. Would you be willing to serve as a bombardier, if asked? Yes. Would you be willing to go to war against Hungary, if asked? Yes. Would you be willing to bomb Budapest? Pause. Yes. What would your mother think of this? She would understand. Congratulations, Mr. Schramm, you are now a citizen of the United States of America."



Yikes! Do we really want people's attachments to their country to be stronger than their attachments to family? I would never potentially bomb my mother. Never. They could have their stinking citizenship if that is what is required. I honestly think this gets at a very fundamental paleo/neo distinction. To what do we owe our primary allegiance? Family or State? And not State as in the land, but State as in the political entity.



It seems perfectly natural to me for a mother to want the best for her son and hence to "understand." But it also seems equally natural not to take her up on the bargain.

As I think about it, the Judge was totally out of line here. As if good citizenship requires the willingness to potentially bomb one's mother. It was a very unfair position for him to put your father in. As they say, "hard cases make bad law."

First, asking a question and giving an answer aren’t absolutes. The judge wasn’t asking him if he would jump on a plane in the next few minutes and bomb Budapest. He was asking if the man before him knew that to change citizenship was to accept burdens and responsibilities to a new country.

Second, you’re a bombardier at an airbase in Britain in WWII. You are supposed to bomb a city. Your commanding officer knows your mother lives there. Someone is sent in your place on that sortie, just as if you were injured and couldn’t go.

Third, family is everything—unless your family is in the Gestapo, at Mussolini’s right hand, your brother is a serial killer, etc. There were a lot of families in the American Civil War with brothers and other close relatives on both sides of the fight. The Nazi’s frequently lined up people and threatened to kill them if someone wasn’t turned over to them, like a hidden American or British flier, etc. There were families who watched their members murdered in front of them rather than turn the hidden person over.

Fourth, wars and other forms of conflict give people unspeakable choices. The issue is, with the world the way it is at the time of a given decision, are you prepared to make your decisions based on the duty you owe your country? If you cannot believe that your country is worth the dedication, why have you come from somewhere else to become a citizen in a country you don’t consider worth sacrificing for?

I believe that the judge who asked that question and the man who answered it both knew what they were talking about, and it wasn’t Budapest and it wasn’t mothers.

Red, if this gets at a very fundamental neo/paleo distinction then I am trapped in the middle. If you have to answer the questions with 100% moral conviction without the least bit of doubt and aren't allowed to lie a little then I would take your side...but morze makes a good point no?

Look the United States is a great country and the benefits of citizenship are great...If you gave me a million dollars for answering a series of questions in the affirmative I would...I would take the money and think: sucker! Now if a smart judge is asking a series of people these questions, he knows that some of them are just going to say yes...but he is asking the questions to make them think.

"are you prepared to make your decisions based on the duty you owe your country?"



That is the point. The duty you owe your country is never greater than the duty you owe you family as it is never greater than the duty you owe God.



The loyalty that you owe to your country is an extension of the loyalty you owe to your family. Our duties extend outward in concentric circles. Family, extended family, neighborhood, city, county, state, country. In the modern age, where people just pick up and move all over the country, this connection is lost. But before modern transportation, people intuitively understood this.



The case of the immigrant is hard, because they are being asked to form a new loyalty that is not based on those ancient bonds. That immigrants would retain some measure of loyalty to the old home country is entirely natural and understandable. And they did. (Pole Town, Little Italy, etc.) That begins to fade after a couple of generations.

Red, you are right in a fundamental way. Of course your duty to your family is essential (excepting the kinds of examples I noted above—you don’t help your Gestapo brother murder Jews, for instance) but you know that, that’s not what you’re saying, Red. Still it needs to be pointed out.

What I meant is that the man was asked about being a bombardier. Soldiers, police, firemen, emergency responders, all enter a realm where family duty cannot be the primary duty, or they would quit. If one of these officials is out and a tornado or earthquake hits he cannot run home and check on his family first. A soldier leaves home for a long time, and in the past especially, had no way to handle problems at home. These special categories show that even outside of these categories there may be greater duties than your family. An adult who uses her body to block huddled, unrelated children from a gunman in a mall is acting to a higher duty than the one she owes her family.

The main point I was making is that, again, I believe the judge and man were not talking about his mother, they were talking about issues of oath-taking and meaning it. Such as the oath a policeman makes, or a soldier, and so forth. And they were talking about what it means to come to America voluntarily and ask to become a citizen.

Red, you said: “The duty you owe your country is never greater than the duty you owe you family as it is never greater than the duty you owe God.”

I am just pointing out that bombardier’s, firemen, and others take oaths to their mission, such as to their country, when they choose to serve. That makes the duty they owe God to be the duty to their service, often leaving or staying away from their families for other duties. The judge was talking about the way the man viewed America and why he wanted to become a citizen, which was a deliberate act.

Red Phillips, has it occured to you that your view of the supremacy of family is no different from those we're fighting in the Middle East and that maybe their tribalism is why they're so backward? I remember your endorsement of a fractionalized Europe based on ethnicity rather than the nation/state and I begin to understand why you're so backward on everything.

"why you're so backward on everything"

Some of us call that conservatism. The modern nation state is a leftist product of the French Revolution.

Red - You're opposed to the state as such, I thought. Isn't the modern state as such older than 1789?

It's an exercise in futility, Steve. I've come to the conclusion that Red wants some sort of Old Testament-esque kingship or maybe a Victorian-era England. Events like the Peace of Westphalia just bounce right off.

I am not against the state per se. I am not an anarchist. I am not even really a minarchist. I was pretty happy with the Articles of Confederation. I am against the MODERN nation state. I am against the unified, undivided sovereign of Hobbes, Locke, Lincoln, Bismarck, etc. There must be competing sovereigns.



The grand evil of the last century - Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc. - was able to happen only because the nature of the modern state allowed it. A King could not have dreamed of carrying that kind of evil out. He would not have had the tools at his disposal to do so. Look at the size of the standing armies in Europe before Napoleon. Compare that to the size of the army Napoleon was able to muster. Napoleon's army dwarfed those that preceded it. That is part of the reason he was able to have his way at first. I guess unified, indivisible sovereigns are good if you like a big military and imperialism (hmmm... maybe I'm on to something). They are not good if you like freedom.



The reason you are having a hard time conceiving of what I am suggesting is because you can't think outside your modernist box. Read Politica by Thomas Althusius. Key concepts are federalism and subsidiarity.

I knew it! Alright, anyone want to volunteer to be a commoner?

Andrew, you see what you want to see. I was not endorsing monarchy. I was comparing the power of the King to the power of Stalin, Hitler and Mao.

Also, perhaps you might want to address my points.

"I was pretty happy with the Articles of Confederation." How old are you Red?

Red - I would be interested in knowing just how the Articles of Confederation might have saved us from the modern state. Stipulations: (1) the Confederacy doesn't count as the Articles reinstated. (Let's not go there again.) (2) economic development proceeds, from 1789 onwards, pretty much as it did in fact. Ditto, the presence of foreign powers in North America at our starting point in 1789.

Good question, Steve. The answer is we'd still have the modern state; it's just that our capital would be London, rather than Washington.

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