By Carl Watner
This article was prompted by thoughts of a trip abroad and my perusal of the “Application For A U.S. Passport” (Department of State Form DS-11). On page one, the applicant is asked to “declare under penalty of perjury” that “I am a citizen … of the United States …”
Can I, as a voluntaryist, make that declaration? Can you?
First of all, what does it mean to be a citizen? What are the pros and cons of citizenship? Are they of any consequence?
The word ‘citizen’ is of Anglo-Norman and Old French origin and in the context of this article means “a member of the State.” From the perspective of the United States government, every person born within the United States has these basic duties:
..To serve in the military, if drafted;
..To pay taxes on his or her worldwide income;
..To serve as a juror and appear as a witness when subpoenaed by a court;
..To obey all the laws promulgated by local, state, and federal governments.
In return, the United States government’s primary duty towards its citizens is that of providing ‘protection’ from domestic criminals and foreign enemies. Federal, state, and local governments also provide courts, roads, postal delivery, social services, and numerous other entitlements to those living within its jurisdiction. (It generally does a poor job of providing ‘services’ and assumes no responsibility for its failures.)
The main problem with government, as voluntaryists see it, is that the State is a criminal organization. It claims sovereignty over a certain geographic area. Within this zone it wants everyone to become at least partially responsible for its crimes by making them citizens. It enforces a compulsory monopoly of defense (police, law and courts, and the armed forces), such that individual property owners may not decline its services, or employ another agency to provide the defense services they would prefer. To fund these monopolies, it collects compulsory levies known as taxation and operates a fiat money system (central bank with legal tender laws). In short, the State is an invasive institution because its existence rests on the initiation of coercion. According to the government, a person may not decline to fulfill his or her obligations to the State. You will be fined, arrested, and/or jailed, and probably held in “contempt” if government agents discover that you are not satisfactorily doing what you are supposed to do in fulfilling its mandates.
One of the ‘services’ provided by the American government is that of issuing passports and providing consular protection to those traveling outside the United States. Voluntaryists also object to the whole concept of government passports. To wit –
..They are government documents.
..They are generally required to leave the country.
..They are generally required for re-entry to the United States.
..They allow the government to track where you have been.
..They are unnecessary.
For much of American history (with the exceptions of the War Between the States, and the First and Second World Wars), no passport requirements existed. It was not until 1978 that it was made “illegal [for a U.S. citizen] to enter or depart the United States without” a passport. [Wikipedia, “United States passport”]
This is not to deny that there might be travel documents issued by private organizations in a free society. Some travelers may consider passports an essential part of life, but providing them need not be a government function. As I discussed in my article, “The Exit Option,” passports at one time were issued by notaries, and even peddlers. Furthermore, there has never been a requirement to have a passport when traveling within the United States, for example, from the East coast to the West coast. And that being the case, why should there be such a requirement when leaving El Paso, Texas for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico or from Niagara Falls, New York to Niagara Falls, Ontario? (By extension, voluntaryist logic questions why there should be any political boundaries at all.)
The whole purpose of government passports is to help the government to exercise control over its citizens, whether within or without the United States (and to generate revenue for itself in doing so).
This leads to the next question: who might be citizens of the United States?
Since many people reading this article are native-born Americans, I will only discuss the concept of birthright citizenship. This refers to people who were born within the geographical confines of the United States, and harks back to the old English common law which held that “birth and [political] allegiance go together.” [Wikipedia, “Birthright citizenship in the United States” (sub-section: “English common law”)] Citizenship law can be very complicated, so for simplicity sake, I will confine the discussion of birthright citizenship to those born within the United States of parents, who themselves, were born in the United States.
Generally, according to government interpretation, a person born within the territory of the United States is a citizen of the United States, regardless of that person’s desire. You become a citizen at birth, not when you reach adulthood, at age 18 or 21. You do not consent to become a citizen. You do not have any choice in the matter. You are simply designated a citizen! And if you wish to divest yourself of that status, you must leave the country, and formally renounce your citizenship before an American consular official outside of the United States. (And if you do this for the reason of not wanting to pay taxes to the United States government, you are still obligated to pay those taxes for another ten years from the date of your renunciation.) Jeff Knaebel, who immolated himself in India in 2011, discovered that he could not divest himself of his American nationality without assuming Indian citizenship, a fact that disconcerted him greatly. All political governments and international law discourage statelessness, which is what one becomes when one renounces one’s birthright citizenship and refuses to assume citizenship of another country. But the fact is that all people are born stateless. They certainly have not consented to become a member of any government merely by being born. If a government can unilaterally impose citizenship, then it has already assumed arbitrary jurisdiction over bodies. Perhaps that is why the Jewish zealots said that taxation (a consequence of citizenship) was no better than an introduction to slavery. If the government can assert its control over you due to the fact that you were born in an area it claims to control, then it is simply a matter of grace – on its part – as to what it allows you to do, to earn, and to keep from your efforts.
In truth and good conscience, and as a voluntaryist, I cannot affirm that I am a citizen of the United States. Why so? I don’t want to give my sanction to the United States government. I do not wish to support it financially. I do not wish to participate in political elections. I object to the forced collection of taxes because taxes are a euphemism for stealing. I do not want to be responsible for any of the actions of the United States government. Is there not a link between the crimes of the United States government and the citizens who compose it, those who pay their taxes, those who vote in elections, and serve in its armed forces? This is not to say, however, that I do not want to be a vibrant participant in the voluntary sector of the community within which I live. Communities have always existed before governments, and there are many peaceful ways of providing for the demands of society in the absence of the State (private business activity, co-operative societies, religious supported institutions, and philanthropic efforts, to name just a few).
So what does it mean to be an American citizen? Is an American citizen a slave of his government? A slave is a person who is “the property of another,” a person who is “bound to absolute obedience.” The status of a slave is not a matter of choice. A slave has the major decisions of his or her life made by his or her owner. Must a citizen fight in wars declared by the American government? Must a citizen risk his or her life to defend it? Must a citizen kill those whom the government labels “enemies”? Must a citizen support the American government by paying its tax bill(s)? Is there any limit to the amount it may demand? Must a citizen be forced against his or her will to serve as a juror or as a witness in criminal or civil legal proceedings? And finally, must a citizen obey the government’s laws, many of which are inane, insane, or simply against his or her conscience? The government’s answers to these questions are obviously, “Yes,” though a person may choose to say “No,” and refuse to follow its orders. Ultimately, if enough of us speak out and say “No,” the government will lose its legitimacy.
The American government can call me anything it wants, but that does not make it so. It can label me an American citizen, but it forgets that I have a say in the matter. In my own mind and in my own person I refuse to be subservient and accept its jurisdiction over me. That is why I am not an American citizen.
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