A review of The United States in Crisis: Citizenship, Immigration, and the Nation State by Edward J. Erler, Encounter Books 2022, 184 pages, $27.99

In Search of an American Citizen

The meaning of American citizenship has been eroding for quite some time. American globalists—an oxymoron if there ever was one—have been taking pointers from the playbook of the European Union and its power station, the World Economic Forum. Arguments for open borders, against national sovereignty, as well as erasure of human differences under the guise of fake multiculturalism diminish the nation-state. Ideology has taken over and seeped into public policy.

In his book, The United States in Crisis: Citizenship, Immigration, and the Nation State, Edward J. Erler probes the philosophical and legal questions about American citizenship. The idea of global government is continuously imposed on sovereign nations, especially the United States since it is one of the most powerful nations in the world. Erler moves through several fundamental aspects of citizenship—sovereignty, birthright, and the needs of a functioning society—deftly and effortlessly. In particular, his contribution to the legal questions of American citizenship, particularly birthright citizenship, will be of great interest not only to constitutional scholars but also to a broader audience deliberately kept in the dark about legal and constitutional precedents. 

One of things that made Donald Trump widely popular is that he appealed to people’s commonalities as Americans. While Democrats sought (and still do) to divide people along the ideological lines that are based in hatred of American foundational principles, Trump presented not only a love for America but described it as a place where every person should be able to succeed and realize his or her potential. During his campaign and presidency, Trump was always focused on that one aspect of life—our potential to realize a better life with the gifts that we have been given, and having the freedom to do so. 

Erler writes that diversity is not America’s strength or the primary aspect of the American creed. Yet America is exceptional precisely because of its foundational ideas. 

Erler reminds the reader of Barack Obama’s famous statement: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Just like most progressive answers to life, there is a small grain of truth here. Of course, all people in all nations, for the most part, like the country that is theirs. But Obama completely misunderstood this. Most Europeans do not see their nations through the prism of pride, ambition, or success. Nor do they think that the “pursuit of happiness” is necessarily important to life. This really is a distinctly American idea, and does not appear in the political or nation-building documents of any other nation. America was built on the notion of possibility and growth rather than to become a static government that falls into tyranny and turns citizens into subjects.

Globalism’s oligarchical threat is real, and Trump knew this during his campaign and presidency. Erler mentions Trump’s 2019 UN speech, which completely exemplifies the difference between nationalists and globalists: “Liberty is only preserved, sovereignty is only secured, democracy is only sustained, greatness is only realized, by the will and devotion of patriots . . . Love of our nations makes the world better for all nations.” In other words, Trump thinks that every nation has a right to its sovereignty and should commit to the pursuit of excellence. 

The globalist dream is a nightmare for the people. As Erler notes “The dream of global unity—that is, universal homogenous state of free and equal persons—is the greatest of all deceptions, because the goals to be achieved seem to be so lofty and noble that any means can be justified if they tend to the realization of such goals, including global terrorism. But we must remind ourselves that the human capacity for self-deception is almost unlimited.”

There is no such thing as legitimate global government because it is unelectable. We have witnessed, in the last two years, what happens when a bunch of unelected, power-hungry bureaucrats decide to use the “common good” as a way to totalize and dominate the people. You could say that we live in a post-modern world (or some semblance of it) where truth, the good, and beauty are subsumed by the ideological doctrine of relativism. In this case, progressives argue, why wouldn’t citizenship be relative as well? 

Erler rightly points out that “It is law, not nature, that defines citizenship. Citizens are relative to the regime. The good citizens of a democracy will not be a good citizen in an oligarchy, nor will he be a good citizen in a monarchy. Being a citizen of a democracy requires different habits and manners—different virtues—than those required of a citizen in a monarchy.” What made the Declaration of Independence revolutionary is that “it transformed subjects into citizens where citizenship was based on consent, not the accident of birth.” In other words, the founders recognized not only the sovereignty of a nation but sovereignty of the self! 

Of course, with citizenship also comes responsibility and a requirement for allegiance to the United States. It is not an accident that during a naturalization ceremony, an immigrant becoming an American citizen begins his citizenship with the Pledge of Allegiance. (As a Bosnian who became an American citizen, I had the great privilege during my own naturalization ceremony to lead my fellow immigrants from many nations with the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. At that moment, we became united in our common acceptance of America’s founding principles. We became committed to America. This is not to be taken lightly). 

Erler writes that “Assimilation, not multiculturalism, is the strength of a nation; multiculturalism dissolves and dissipates a nation’s strength. A nation-state must have a shared, patriotic conception of the common good that transcends their immediate interests.” True American tolerance means that we cultivate individuality and diversity that comes from differences in personalities, interests, and backgrounds. That should be our common culture, not some meaningless acceptance of any and all cultures. This kind of respect for diversity is not political, and certainly not ideological. 

Those who do not fully believe and accept the foundational principles of the United States do not belong in such a place. I do not mean this as a way to claim exclusivity for myself and others like me but to point out that a person who finds himself in the United States when he fundamentally does not accept the meaning of American citizenship will be unable to thrive individually or contribute to the excellence and soul of America. And that’s the best case scenario. There are those who emigrate and would love nothing better than to see America destroyed—Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) being just one example.

United we stand, divided we fall. It’s a true statement but the question is who will end up falling? “The nation-state is the last refuge of freedom and constitutional government,” writes Erler. It’s imperative to define citizenship and nationhood properly in order to get ourselves out of our current chaos. The fight against globalism or any other totalitarian system will, no doubt, continue indefinitely but much of our approach to it depends on the comprehension of the problem, which is clearly and logically illuminated by Erler. 

About Emina Melonic

Emina Melonic is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Originally from Bosnia, a survivor of the Bosnian war and its aftermath of refugee camps, she immigrated to the United States in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2003. She has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her writings have appeared in National Review, The Imaginative Conservative, New English Review, The New Criterion, Law and Liberty, The University Bookman, Claremont Review of Books, The American Mind, and Splice Today. She lives near Buffalo, N.Y.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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