Thursday, January 6, 2011
"Beyond Exclusion: A Review of Peter J. Spiro’s 'Beyond Citizenship'" In a disorienting world where many non-Americans (and Americans) no longer recognize or identify with the United States, Peter J. Spiro’s "Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization" intervenes with a timely and provocative discussion of the issues, problems, and dilemmas that accompany twenty-first century American identity, and its articulation in U.S. citizenship law. In 163 pages of learned but accessible text, Spiro’s rich and erudite work describes the history and future trajectory of key aspects of U.S. citizenship law, American national identity, and their interaction. Spiro’s work is particularly interested in giving a descriptive account of citizenship law’s contributions to the “eroding foundation of the national community." And while most of the broad themes that Spiro engages with in his book are intriguing, he makes a number of particular arguments in his work concerning the similarities between religious and national community that are especially provocative. As I argue in this Review, however, Spiro’s arguments about religious and national communities’ shared need to exclude outsiders and also insist upon internal conformity in order to become “meaningful” communities are often quite simplistic. This is especially so where Spiro premises his arguments on unsupportable generalizations about religion writ large, and under-theorizes the foundational ideas of “community” and “meaningfulness.” In fact, Spiro ultimately undermines his ambitious and thought-provoking arguments connecting religious and national communities by relying on narrow and inaccurate accounts of what counts as a real or meaningful “religion” or “nation” in the first place. Ultimately, these problems undermine his overarching account concerning American community, including his account of how an over-inclusive U.S. citizenship regime has seriously diluted American national identity.