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How Constitutional Systems and Citizenship Perish

Only a little more than half of the current world’s 7 billion people are citizens of fully consensual governments.

That lucky 50% alone enjoys constitutionally protected freedoms. Most are also Western. Or at least they reside in nations that have become “Westernized.”

Migrants—regardless of their race, religion, or gender—almost always head for a Western nation. And most often their destination remains the United States. The more it is now fashionable for Americans to take for granted or even to ridicule the idea of their own country, the more the non-American global poor risk their lives to crash America’s borders.

Constitutional systems easily perish because they ask a lot of their citizens—to vote, to be informed about civic and political issues, and to hold elected officials accountable. That responsibility is perhaps why, of the world’s true republics and democracies, only about 22 have been in existence for a half-century or more.

We are seldom told, then, that America is a rare, precious, and perhaps even fragile idea, both in the past and in the present.

American citizens are clearly also not the custom of the past. Unlike history’s more common peasants, citizens are not under the control of the rich who, in turn, seek undue influence in government through controlling them.

Instead, viable citizenship has always hinged on a broad, autonomous middle class. Those Americans in between lack both the dependence of the poor and the insider influences of the elite. Suffocate the middle, and we know that a binary feudalism will soon replace it. We are seeing just that medievalization in contemporary California.

Nor are American citizens mere migratory residents who drift across nonexistent borders in expectation of receiving more rights than ...

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