The Public Interest

Elective citizenship?

Jeremy Rabkin

Spring 1998

WE often think of the United States as a country founded on universal principles of individual rights—on “unalienable rights endowed by [our] Creator,” in the familiar phrase of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration actually begins on a different note, however. The first sentence invokes “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” not to justify individual rights but to defend national sovereignty, when “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” The Declaration assumes, then, that there is already some deep bond among Americans which, in spite of previous and contrary political ties, makes them a distinct “people.”

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