Volume 87, Number 2

May 2012

Prospective Allegiance

Alexander N. Li

What normative principles animate our laws on the conferral of citizenship? The present literature is divided between two competing ideas: the Consent Principle, which holds that citizenship stems from the mutual consent of the prospective citizen and the existing polity; and the Responsiveness Principle, which holds that citizenship is extended by the government in fulfillment of its duty to be responsive to the governed. In this Note, I argue that the Consent Principle is best understood as a background political theory and the Responsiveness Principle as an interpretive theory of law, and that thus understood, these principles are functionally complimentary rather than competitive. I then contribute a third idea called the Allegiance Proviso. The Allegiance Proviso says that, notwithstanding any affirmative obligations to the contrary, a government may withhold citizenship if it reasonably believes that a prospective citizen will not undertake the duties of citizenship— obedience to the laws and assistance in the common defense—in good faith. Taken together, the Consent Principle, Responsiveness Principle, and Allegiance Proviso form a coherent theory that fits our intuitions and illuminates the hard issues of citizenship today.