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Are you a ‘citizen’ or just a ‘subject’?

My previous article seems to have sparked off a discussion amongst the commentariat on the difference between being called a ‘subject’ or a ‘citizen’. To prevent that comment section from digressing too far, I thought it might be interesting to provide an article to revisit the topic even though I have written about it before.

There are some historical reasons why the British have been ‘subjects’ (as they were subject to the laws of the Crown), whereas Americans have been ‘citizens’. The reality is that the British are subject to are the laws of a democratically elected Parliament. As in truth the Royal Assent is nothing more than a historical curiosity, the actual differences between the way individuals truly relate to state in the United States and Britain is less than it might seem. The principle differences of significance are be that as Britain is more democratic at th national level, individuals have less institutional defences against the power of the state, whereas in the United States, with its written constitution and clearer separation of powers, an individual has more structural defences against the excesses of democratic politics, at least in theory.

In my experience most people tend to think they are citizens rather than subjects of whatever nation issues their passport. However I have always though the term ‘subject’ was a far more honest word to describe the relationship between individuals and the state rather than the prouder egalitarian sounding ‘citizen’. We are subject to taxes, we are subject to laws, we are subject to conscription of various sorts (be it military, educational or judicial). Sure, we ‘citizens’ are empowered via the glories of democracy, but quite how being out-voted and then being subject to some law you oppose ‘empowers’ you is unclear to me, even if it is a reasonable law. To be a subject may seem demeaning but in truth that is what we are: subjects.

As it happens, I think the term is even more appropriate for US ‘citizens’ given that at least in Britain and almost every other country, to avoid your particular state making ownership claims on the product of your labour, you just have to leave the country and live somewhere else. States generally do not claim to own you independent of your location, just the territory you live on and part of your labour within that territory in return for its ‘protection’ (capisce?).

The United States, on the other hand, claims you owe them the obeisance of taxes regardless of where you are physically located anywhere on the planet, although in practice it often makes arrangements with other nations to only impose its demands if you make more than a certain amount (double taxation treaties). Yet the obligation to report your income from overseas and to pay the IRS is still there if they wish you to do so.

So if it is not just sovereignty over a piece of land that the USA claims, it actually contends that it owns part of your labour regardless of where you live, making you subject to taxation for merely having the permission to live in America even if you choose to live elsewhere, then you sure sound like a ‘subject’ to me.

65 comments to Are you a ‘citizen’ or just a ‘subject’?

  • Pham Nuwen

    It seems to me that arguing over ‘Citizen’ vs. ‘Subject’ is pretty moot, when the proper term is ‘slave’.

  • Al Wheeler

    Actually, no “subjects” that I know of have been the subject of such restrictions. I think it’s obvious that people were generally more free in pre-WW1 europe, with all its tiny monarchies, than they are in modern America.

  • Verity

    I’ve always thought that the double taxation imposed on Americans working overseas was utterly bizarre and utterly unjustifiable. It applies to Greencard holders as well, which is why I relinquished mine (to my regret now) when I moved overseas.

  • Dual (or more!) citizenship would appear to offer the individual greater freedom of action. That’s good. It’s a step away from “subjection” to one set of laws, in the right circumstances. When contemplating the possibility, though, I do worry about being subject to two tax regimes, considering the American policy. Guess I better figure that out first.

  • quentin

    WRT the UK, it’s fairly simple: we’re citizens of the UK, and subjects of the monarch.

  • Alasdair

    Actually, I think we are Subjects of the Crown, rather than of the Monarch, are we not ?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Perry, I may be missing something here, but I think it is really semantics. I prefer “citizen”, if only because I don’t like being a subject to anyone, least of all a prize doofus like Prince Charles, or even our dear Queen.

    As a believer in natural rights (one of those quaint nostrums no doubt amusing to some, citizen is the term I prefer.

  • I prefer “citizen”, if only because I don’t like being a subject to anyone

    JP, that is rather my point, there actually is no major difference, except that ‘subject’ better conveys the true state of affairs whereas ‘citizen’ suggests rather more independence of action than is really the case. You are right to dislike the idea of being a subject but that does not mean it is not the better description.

  • Shane

    In my British Passport it states I am a British Citizen, However in the American Passport it states nationality.

    I am a British Citizen thats also SUBJECTED to the British State. :-)

    So Citizen or Subject, it makes no real difference as we all go to work and pay taxes etc..

    Just my 2pence/cents worth.

  • Julian Morrison

    I have to say that I don’t think of myself as either. I’m just a person, and if the law gets in my way, it’s not especially different from anything or anyone else getting in my way.

  • Greg

    I completely agree with your point about the terms citizen and subject. And I like the points that Pham Nuwen and Julian Morrison make as well.

    The issue of taxation of Americans who live abroad is an interesting one. There is a common notion that you are bound to obey laws by the social contract that you consent to by living in a democratic territory. It seems to me that if you are thought to owe taxes even after you have left that territory then that invalidates the social contract justification. You may as well stand anywhere you like then, because no action can mean consent if there is no action by which you can withdraw it.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on that point?

  • Ian

    I’ve always been a ‘subject,’ as two fingers to the all the citizens’-charter nonsense politicians speak, as an up yours to the caring state nonsense (no, you subject me), and as a vestigial High Tory preference for monarchy over republicanism. Well, it came as part of a High Church, High Tory and High Camp package, I’m ashamed to say…

    Still, Charles’ ignorant and priggish comments about the Religion of Peace have put me off that one.

    I’d suggest using the word that gets people to think, which is probably ‘subject.’ I find people quite happy talking about ‘government initiatives,’ but as soon as you start talking about ‘state control,’ they get a little unnerved. Curiously, no one likes ‘politicians,’ but a lot of people don’t mind ‘government.’

  • There is a common notion that you are bound to obey laws by the social contract that you consent to by living in a democratic territory. It seems to me that if you are thought to owe taxes even after you have left that territory then that invalidates the social contract justification.

    Yes, a common view but not one I really share (well, the first bit, at least). I do not accept that the state owns the territory over which it has control in the sence that I have to pay ‘rent’ to live there. In particular if a person is born in (say) the United States, why should they accept that some ‘social contract’ has been imposed on them unasked? Moreover, there is really nothing social about it. Social is the friend I make. Social is the family I had. Social is the interplay of free agents.

    Taxation and governance is not ‘social’ at all because these era the product of politics and therefore force, and to conflate government and society is actually a category error, because government and society are not the same thing at all.

  • Joshua

    In addition to double taxation (though, I should add, in many cases there are treaties that get us out of having to pay local foreign taxes), our government also puts some not-insignificant restrictions on where we are allowed to go. In my passport is a list of places that are “off limits.” Some of them make sense (Iran, North Korea), but others do not (Libya, Cuba). So it’s not only that they assert some claim to the fruits of our labor no matter where we are – it’s also that we are expected to comply with their manipulative foreign policy whims.

    That said, I think the case against taxation while abroad might be a bit overstated here. I’m not supporting it by any means, so please don’t misunderstand this comment – but the fact is that even while abroad you benefit, to a certain extent, from your government’s protection. In cases where you are abused, kidnapped, etc. the US government is responsible for helping you out. I disagree with taxation to support social welfare programs, but I’m in favor of paying taxes for military and police protection, the court system, prisons, etc. There is a sense in which your government’s obligation to protect you and your property extends beyond its borders (though diminished in extent, admittedly), so there’s at least an argument for charging citizens a fee when they’re abroad – though full taxation is obviously taking things way too far.

    This relates to Perry’s comment above too about paying “rent” for using “the government’s” land. I agree that such a basis for taxation is absurd. The government does not “own” its territory, and citizens should not pay “rent” to use land/property/etc. The social contract idea itself, however, is NOT absurd. Police and military protection are not free or even cheap – and they are absolutely essential to the maintenence of a society. Furthermore, they are not “services” in the same sense that garbage collection, say, is a service – so charging for them on a completely consensual basis is, sorry to say, simply not possible. I agree that taxation is not a kind of “rent” for using the land, but it IS justifiable as a maintenence fee. Insofar as citizenship brings benefits and those benefits are not free, citizens should obviously help pay for them. What system of payment is best is the subject of another debate.

    Regarding a much earlier comment – as for why Americans would accept that the social contract is opposed on them unasked – well, in fact, the government spells out clear ways to lose one’s citizenship. These are enumerated, in fact, in the passport. So if I decide I no longer want to be an American citizen, the algorithm for relieving myself of the burden is clearly laid out. This is proper to a “contract.” The exit clause is there too. Naturally if someone no longer wants their American citizenship, it is up to them to find a country willing to take them in and to jump through whatever hoops that nation sets up for the process of joining the club. I don’t really think of the contract as “imposed unasked” for this reason; I think of it more as a default state that it’s my responsibility to change if I find it disagreeable (not unlike being born into poverty). In this sense, I am an American citizen by choice. I have lived in some other countries (Germany, Japan, South Korea), have many foreign friends, and generally stay informed on political issues, and this experience tells me that the deal I have from the Americans – while far from ideal – is one of the best I’m going to get. So count me a loyal “subject” of the United States.

  • rosignol

    Indeed. Having the USMC pull you out if the country you happen to be in gets dangerous is not without value, and it should be remembered that the first $80,000 of overseas income is deductable- Uncle Sam only expects a cut of income in excess of that.

    Methinks the complaints are a wee bit overstated. In any case, US citizenship can be renounced if one wishes to.

  • Greg

    Thank you, Perry and Joshua, I value your input. I agree with most of your points, Perry. As for Joshua, there are several difficulties I still see with the social contract theory, even under your revised view of the terms. First of all, either through the government’s oversight or mine, I have never been provided with a passport. On the other hand I went through several years of compusory schooling, in which the notion of the social contract as I described it was occasionally discussed, but neither the contract as you described it, nor the exit clauses you mentioned were ever brough up. Whose responsibility should it have been to explain the terms explicitly then?

    Basically, I consider your notion of the social contract ad-hoc. The contract is never explicit, and thus is not a contract at all, but a fiction concocted after the fact to explain a situation merely propagated by power and tradition.

    Poverty, as a default is for some a natural condition, but government manifests itself as a periodic agression upon what in Perry’s sense is truly society.

    The difficulty deepens further when their nominal protection actually provokes agression by others, or harms individuals in peaceful activities, such as consentual acts of sodomy or recreational drug use. In such cases it becomes clear that my status is hardly the result of my own contractual dealings.

    Ok, now tear that apart, comment, agree, whatever. I’m sure it will be most educational.

  • guy herbert

    In my experience most people tend to think they are ‘citizens’ rather than ‘subjects’ of whatever nation issues their passport.

    In Britain, at least, that’s a little perverse. As a citizen you don’t have a right to a passport, and it can be confiscated or revoked at any time. There’s no stronger symbol of subjection, unless or until we have state control of our identities in our own country.

  • Greg

    Greg writes:

    Basically, I consider your notion of the social contract ad-hoc. The contract is never explicit, and thus is not a contract at all, but a fiction concocted after the fact to explain a situation merely propagated by power and tradition.

    You’re right, of course. The so-called “Social Constract” is a weak analogy, nothing more. It’s not meant to be understood in the same sense as a business contract. The main idea behind it – and the reason why I consider it a step forward in the history of ideas, even if it is imprecisely labeled – is that government also has obligations to its citizens. Where it falls short is, as you say, on the analogue of negotiation. Apparently the two parties negotiating are “the government” and “the governed” – this latter as a collective. So the individual, it seems, doesn’t count for much, and that’s the flaw in the model.

    But that was rather my point in bringing up the police and the military. Absolute individualism is not “civilization” in any meaningful sense. Certain actions violating the rights of others (e.g. murder, theft) have to be proscribed for society to function. These proscriptions have to apply to everyone regardless of their individual consent. Certain bulky individuals might, for example, have no problem with outlawing guns but allowing street brawls – since they’re likely to do well under such terms. We nevertheless forbid physical assault – perhaps without their individual assent – on the basis of establishing basic rights. The fact that not everyone has individually agreed to respect such rights in all cases is what necessitates the existence of the police – and necessitates the manner in which they do their job (i.e. enforcing, not reasoning with), and necessitates taxation to fund them (because if everyone is to be equal before the law we can’t have the wealthy buying police support, etc.).

    I think of the social contract more as a thought experiment than anything to be taken literally. It’s something like “abstracting away from an individual’s actual situation here and now at time t, what would that individual have agreed to under ideal conditions as an acceptable system of obligations to and claims on fellow citizens?” (I think there’s something like this in Rawls – who, of course, draws all the wrong conclusions from it, but never mind.) So we imagine, for example, that an individual might want the right to take all property for himself and have none taken from him – but this won’t square with the others at the negotiating table, so we imagine the process ends in a general agreement by everyone to respect everyone else’s property, etc.

    Now – of course it’s a flawed model. Your examples of sodomy and recreational drug use illustrate this well – because these interest groups wouldn’t have had much pull at the hypothetical negotiating table. But the point is that it’s a thought experiment and not a literal contract. That is the sense in which I understood it in my comments above.

    It is an unfortunate fact of reality that no currently existing nation really employs even this method for making laws. That is – I doubt very seriously if members of the US Congress actually think through the finer ethical points of their legislation using Gedankenexperimente like hypothetical contracts! Even if they did – it’s not clear that it would lead to ideal results.

    But that’s fine – my comment was not meant to advocate support for a social contract model – just to say that there are some senses in which it is intuitively right. I was simply trying to put the brakes on the idea (which seemed to be geminating) that “consent of the governed” could ever be understood in terms of agreement by every individual to every finely detailed point of law on the books on a line-item basis. I think it should be obvious that such a society can not now and never will exist.

    Given that that’s reality, I had the impression that people (in their comments) were expecting a bit much. Specifically, there was the suggestion that people have no choice about which society they live in. It’s true that people don’t have as free a choice about this as we’d like them to – but I think there is a real sense in which, if you don’t like the US, you are free to leave and take up citizenship somewhere else. Having denied your American citizenship, the IRS won’t bug you for money anymore, among other things. I don’t like my government’s policy of taxing me while abroad either – I largely agree with Perry that it’s morally perverse. My quibble was more with the extent to which people were starting to take the argument. If the government has obligations to you while you are abroad, then it’s not absurd to think you might have corresponding obligations to the government (though full taxation is taking it way too far, as I said). And while you don’t have line-item consent in the way you do with a business contract, it is still meaningful to talk about your relationship to your government as “contractual” in some abstract sense.

    Of course my American citizenship isn’t something I have by choice in the ordinary sense. But because there are several countries I’m free to apply for citizenship from, there is at least an element of choice in my decision to stay here. I’m American and not Canadian, to put a fine point on it, because I think the US offers me a better deal than Canada. Lucky for me all I have to do to keep it is not renounce it – but I know plenty of Canadian-born who are now US citizens by choice, etc. I doubt that any one of them would claim that the US is the pinnacle of all possible social development – but they would all say the same as me – namely that it offered them a better deal than Canada (no doubt the Americans who move north feel the same way about Canada vis-a-vis the US).

    Now – out of curiosity (seriously) – how was the Social Contract explained to you in school? It may be that I have simply misunderstood what it means. I don’t remember them spending much time on it when I was comulsorily educated either…

  • Joshua

    Greg writes:

    Basically, I consider your notion of the social contract ad-hoc. The contract is never explicit, and thus is not a contract at all, but a fiction concocted after the fact to explain a situation merely propagated by power and tradition.

    You’re right, of course. The so-called “Social Constract” is a weak analogy, nothing more. It’s not meant to be understood in the same sense as a business contract. The main idea behind it – and the reason why I consider it a step forward in the history of ideas, even if it is imprecisely labeled – is that government also has obligations to its citizens. Where it falls short is, as you say, on the analogue of negotiation. Apparently the two parties negotiating are “the government” and “the governed” – this latter as a collective. So the individual, it seems, doesn’t count for much, and that’s the flaw in the model.

    But that was rather my point in bringing up the police and the military. Absolute individualism is not “civilization” in any meaningful sense. Certain actions violating the rights of others (e.g. murder, theft) have to be proscribed for society to function. These proscriptions have to apply to everyone regardless of their individual consent. Certain bulky individuals might, for example, have no problem with outlawing guns but allowing street brawls – since they’re likely to do well under such terms. We nevertheless forbid physical assault – perhaps without their individual assent – on the basis of establishing basic rights. The fact that not everyone has individually agreed to respect such rights in all cases is what necessitates the existence of the police – and necessitates the manner in which they do their job (i.e. enforcing, not reasoning with), and necessitates taxation to fund them (because if everyone is to be equal before the law we can’t have the wealthy buying police support, etc.).

    I think of the social contract more as a thought experiment than anything to be taken literally. It’s something like “abstracting away from an individual’s actual situation here and now at time t, what would that individual have agreed to under ideal conditions as an acceptable system of obligations to and claims on fellow citizens?” (I think there’s something like this in Rawls – who, of course, draws all the wrong conclusions from it, but never mind.) So we imagine, for example, that an individual might want the right to take all property for himself and have none taken from him – but this won’t square with the others at the negotiating table, so we imagine the process ends in a general agreement by everyone to respect everyone else’s property, etc.

    Now – of course it’s a flawed model. Your examples of sodomy and recreational drug use illustrate this well – because these interest groups wouldn’t have had much pull at the hypothetical negotiating table. But the point is that it’s a thought experiment and not a literal contract. That is the sense in which I understood it in my comments above.

    It is an unfortunate fact of reality that no currently existing nation really employs even this method for making laws. That is – I doubt very seriously if members of the US Congress actually think through the finer ethical points of their legislation using Gedankenexperimente like hypothetical contracts! Even if they did – it’s not clear that it would lead to ideal results.

    But that’s fine – my comment was not meant to advocate support for a social contract model – just to say that there are some senses in which it is intuitively right. I was simply trying to put the brakes on the idea (which seemed to be geminating) that “consent of the governed” could ever be understood in terms of agreement by every individual to every finely detailed point of law on the books on a line-item basis. I think it should be obvious that such a society can not now and never will exist.

    Given that that’s reality, I had the impression that people (in their comments) were expecting a bit much. Specifically, there was the suggestion that people have no choice about which society they live in. It’s true that people don’t have as free a choice about this as we’d like them to – but I think there is a real sense in which, if you don’t like the US, you are free to leave and take up citizenship somewhere else. Having denied your American citizenship, the IRS won’t bug you for money anymore, among other things. I don’t like my government’s policy of taxing me while abroad either – I largely agree with Perry that it’s morally perverse. My quibble was more with the extent to which people were starting to take the argument. If the government has obligations to you while you are abroad, then it’s not absurd to think you might have corresponding obligations to the government (though full taxation is taking it way too far, as I said). And while you don’t have line-item consent in the way you do with a business contract, it is still meaningful to talk about your relationship to your government as “contractual” in some abstract sense.

    Of course my American citizenship isn’t something I have by choice in the ordinary sense. But because there are several countries I’m free to apply for citizenship from, there is at least an element of choice in my decision to stay here. I’m American and not Canadian, to put a fine point on it, because I think the US offers me a better deal than Canada. Lucky for me all I have to do to keep it is not renounce it – but I know plenty of Canadian-born who are now US citizens by choice, etc. I doubt that any one of them would claim that the US is the pinnacle of all possible social development – but they would all say the same as me – namely that it offered them a better deal than Canada (no doubt the Americans who move north feel the same way about Canada vis-a-vis the US).

    Now – out of curiosity (seriously) – how was the Social Contract explained to you in school? It may be that I have simply misunderstood what it means. I don’t remember them spending much time on it when I was comulsorily educated either…

  • Joshua

    Many apologies for that double-post. I accidentally entered Greg’s name in the NAME section – intending originally to address the post to him and so felt obligated to correct it.

    Yikes.

    My only excuse is that it’s 5.30am here and I can’t sleep.

    Sorry again.

  • Tatterdemalian

    Whose signature is on that currency, that makes it more valuable than any other pretty patterned piece of paper? It’s the signature of one of the government’s Secretaries of the Treasury, and the other serial numbers and seals on every dollar bill all have significance in verifying that your dollars are, indeed, the product of your government. Without those, and without the government’s continuing efforts to ensure the stability of the currency (which, even today, is held in place by a thinner thread than anyone would like to believe), dollar bills wouldn’t even be worth the paper they are printed on.

    Give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, and give unto God what is God’s.

  • There are many reasons why private currencies (pdf) may work better that ones which are a government monopoly, particularly in a era of sophisticated methods of hedging. The states trying to ensure they have a near-monopoly of currency is no excuse for anything they do because economies can work just fine without them.

  • anonymous coward

    Perry has moved the goal posts of the subject/citizen discussion, ducking the subject. A leftist discussion move, as is taking traditional vocabulary (subject, citizen) and giving it cool new meanings. Didn’t Orwell write about this? The world is full of people who will tell you black is white. If Brits don’t want to be subjects they can depose the royal family. They’ve done it before.

  • Matt O'Halloran

    America’s arrogance about Federal income tax (which it has been cogently argued is unconstitutional anyway) is nothing new. PG Wodehouse suffered from the Internal Revenue’s depredations back in the early 1930s.

    Here’s what’s been happening to one longtime anti-income tax protestor:

    http://irwinschiff.blogspot.com/

    Of course if you’re the sort of warhawk who keeps telling us Europeans that we should bow down in gratitude to the American military Moloch every day for ‘keeping us free’, you probably think we should all be forced to help contribute to the upkeep of America’s military industrial complex. So why shouldn’t Uncle Samson send every Brit a bill too?

  • Tatterdemalian

    “There are many reasons why private currencies (pdf) may work better that ones which are a government monopoly, particularly in a era of sophisticated methods of hedging.”

    Nothing says they can’t be used. They just have to compete with the currency the government already has in place.

    If the methods of hedging are truly so sophisticated, we may even begin to see such personal currencies be traded, maybe even have streets dedicated to their exchange.

  • Eric Blair

    Tax all foriegners living abroad! (Thank you Monty Python)

    But that anonymous coward has it right, I think. You’re using traditional usage and messing with it to score a rhetorical point.

  • leftist discussion move, as is taking traditional vocabulary (subject, citizen) and giving it cool new meanings

    It may be a new meaning to you, but traditionally ‘subject’ and ‘citizen’ have not been synonyms at all.

  • Verity

    Americans will know the whole story, but after the Civil War, there was no official currency and a number of banks issued their own currencies which circulated in competition. There was a bank in (formerly French – I say this for Brits who may not know) Louisiana which printed notes for Ten. Ten of what, I’m not sure. But they were designated in French. Dix. Those notes competed with other currencies and were commonly known as dixies. See where this is going?

  • John Nowak

    I’m a US citizen, just recently returned from two years working as an expat in France. In that time, I voted in US elections, continued to pay into US-based retirement funds (both social and private), retained a right to return and work in the US, while receiving the protection of Puteaux’s police and fire department.

    Given that, what would Perry regard as a “fair” taxation scheme?

    Bluntly, one where France recieved the bulk of my taxes, which were then taken into account and credited to me when calculating the taxes due to the US strikes me as pretty damn reasonable. I think the US payments for one year came to about three dollars.

    This has nothing to do with the US “owning” me, thanks. The suggestion is manifestly preposterous, since as a US citizen I retain both obligations and privileges from being a US citizen.

    That said, the term “British subject” is simply an old hold-over which in my opinion doesn’t ccarry the weight it once did, any more than the fasces decorating the podium in the US House of Representatives imply Mussolini’s in charge.

  • Patrick

    Anyone in Britain is subject to its rules, but only its citizens have rights against the state, however circumscribed they may be. YOu are better off appealing the decision to revoke your passport than the decision to revoke your visa.

    Of course this is not entirely consistent with modern EU practice where non-citizens seem to have more and mroe rights at the same time as citizens have less and less.

  • Midwesterner

    Tatterdemalian

    “Nothing says they can’t be used. They just have to compete with the currency the government already has in place.”

    Unfortunately, they are emphatically prohibited by the Feds since 1914ish.

    Similar timeframe in UK, I think.

  • Peter Melia

    All of the above comments are theoretical, yet there is a practical side as I found out. I have made numerous visits to UAE, Dubai, always arriving by air. No problem, I was allowed 90 days stay, because of my British passport. Then on one occasion I arrived by sea, at Fujairah and was issued with a visa, entirely written in Arabic. My agent explained that it was for a 3-day stay only, on account of my being a British subject, the 90-day stay only applied to British citizens. I then read my passport and realised I was a British subject. It was academic for me as I was staying for 3 days only anyway, but I decided to speak to the British Embassy about the matter anyway. The next day was a national holiday and on the 3rd day I contacted the British Embassy in Dubai, and the friendly staff there immediately offered to change my passport with a new one, in which I was a British citizen. I had already checked out of the hotel and so, suitably armoured with the brand new passport I set out for Jujairah and blow me! the immigration man was the same as before. His smile of recognition changed to perplexity then to anger when he realised what I had done. He than said I couldn’t leave UAE as my passport was invalid. “Foreigners” he said, “couldn’t just come into the UAE and change their passports at will, what did I think the UAE was, etc etc?”. The upshot of it was whereas when I entered I was allowed a 3 day visa, now he wouldn’t let me leave until I recovered my old “subject” passport. It was in vain to explain that if I did so then I was in contravention of the law because I would be bound by the 3 day visa, whereas my new “citizen” passport allowed me 90 days. Anyway the British Embassy was by then closed for the day, and by the next day I would be even further in the merde. He kept me there for 5 hours, whilst we both made numerous phone calls, me to Embassy private numbers, he to Allah knows whom, before he finally decided to let me go, to leave the UAE as a Free British Citizen.
    As I said, it is a practical effect of the “subject” v “citizen” thing, and probably doesn’t add anything useful, but I thought it might be useful.

  • Tatterdemalian

    Don’t you love it when people say they want to use “private currency” when they really mean “print counterfeit government currency?”

    They really don’t mean the same thing, Midwesterner.

  • Verity

    Subject: “Under the authority or control of, or owning allegiance to, another.”

    Thus, we were subjects of the Queen. Later, it was changed – I think at the Queen’s request although I may be imagining that I know this – to make us citizens of the United Kingdom.

    It has nothing to do with the verb “to be subject”.

  • Wild Pegasus

    Given that, what would Perry regard as a “fair” taxation scheme?

    There’s no such thing.

    - Josh

  • Paul Marks

    Perry I wrote out a long comment on the above – but it was blocked “as it might be spam”.

    I suppose this is a change from “you can not post comments” (which is what I sometimes used to get), but it is still irritating.

    I tried messing about with the word order of what I wrote, but nothing worked. I must have banged in the “Turin code”…. well I do not know how many times I banged it in, but it was a lot of times.

    All this computer security stuff drives me up the wall.

  • anonymous coward

    O, Perry, we have been trying to tell you that a citizen is not the same thing as a subject! Only you and the bureaucrats are trying to spin subjects into citizens. Like straw into gold, it will not go, except in fairytales. If the bureaucrats had marked off the legal residents of GB from the rest of HRM’s subjects by calling them “documented residents” or somesuch there would be no quarrel. But they misappropriated the word “citizen.” No one minds your being subjects, only your being embarrassed about it and fibbing. If I were to attend a Samizdata party and insist that I were a belted earl you would be unbelieving; so are we citizens about subjects’ claims to being citizens. There is no logic (nor dignity) in supporting a monarchy and then claiming you are not a subject, and only Cool Britannia spinmeisters attempt it.

    I am however willing to concede John Nowak’s point: your queen is not really a queen, so you are not really her subjects. Royals are simply maintained at the public expense for the entertainment of masses, a sort of substitute for Hollywood, except that everyone must buy a ticket.

  • There is no logic (nor dignity) in supporting a monarchy and then claiming you are not a subject, and only Cool Britannia spinmeisters attempt it.

    And speaking of logic, I cannot follow yours. Not only do I state (several times) that I am indeed a subject, I contend that so are you.

  • All this computer security stuff drives me up the wall.

    And getting several hundred adverts posted in the comments section every day would drive us up the wall.

    A great many people seem to be able to post comments, so I cannot see why you would be having problems unless you insist on using terms commonly found in spams or you cannot enter the Turing code correctly for some unknown reason.

    Also if you have something to say of an administrative nature, might I point out that is what e-mail is for.

  • Euan Gray

    Not only do I state (several times) that I am indeed a subject, I contend that so are you.

    In law, you almost certainly are not, given the provisions of the various British Nationality Acts, especially the 1981 Act.

    In practice, though, I would argue that pretty much all people are effectively subjects of the states whose citizenship they hold, although really it comes down to a subjective (no pun intended) interpretation of the meaning of the word, and in particular an emphasis on its negative connotations.

    All in all, I’d rather be the subject of a constitutional monarchy than a citizen of a dictatorial republic.

    EG

  • Midwesterner

    Tatterdemalian,

    You quoted Samizdata Illuminatus. So I actually printed and read the paper he (and you, by quoting him) referenced. The definition in the paper was very clear and I have to believe you never read the paper your remark refered to.

    http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/econn/econn054.pdf(Link)

  • Midwesterner

    Euan! You’ve said something I absolutely 100 % agree with. (whistles Theme from Twilight Zone)

    “All in all, I’d rather be the subject of a constitutional monarchy than a citizen of a dictatorial republic”

  • Verity

    The definition of subject, one more time is,

    “Under the authority or control of, or owning allegiance to, another.” The word “person” is understood in this context.

    People are not free to make up their own definitions of words to suit their purposes. Tony Blair has already staked out that territory. You can be the subject of a person, like a king or a princeling, not a state.

  • Euan Gray

    You can be the subject of a person, like a king or a princeling, not a state

    Your quoted definition doesn’t exclude the possibility of being subject to a state, nor to the law, etc. One can be a subject without suffering subjection to a defined individual person.

    In any case, states have legal personality (they are in law artificial people), so you’re caught coming and going on this one.

    People are not free to make up their own definitions of words to suit their purposes

    Nor are they free to selectively edit accepted definitions to suit their preconceptions…

    EG

  • Nor are they free to selectively edit accepted definitions to suit their preconceptions

    As several of the comment show, the negative connotations of being a ‘subject’ is hardly my linguistic invention. As I see the state is largely negative terms, naturally I see that as the more appropriate description.

  • tatterdemalian

    PDFs do weird things to my computer, so I avoid them whenever possible.

    I’ve seen “private currency” arguments before, though, and they are mostly just favoring codified structures that either imitate the banking systems currently used without actually calling the management and enforcement institutions “banks,” or they seek a means to return to gold/silver barter systems and personal IOUs.

    Or, as the mention of their “illegality” hints at, they seek to allow individuals to print their own imitation dollar bills and have them carry the full force of government backing. Need money? Print money!

  • Midwesterner

    tatterdemalian,

    It is actually a fascinating, brief (11 pages) paper reviewing the history of banking prior to national reserve banks. It might be worth trying to get a copy.

    It discusses the issue of currency by banks, problems and benefits of that, and what happened under various systems of regulation.

    I learned a lot I didn’t know. Did you know that, to this day, there are still three Scottish clearing banks printing there own notes. IRCC w/o going back and looking it up, when England went off of the gold standard, the Scottish banks were required to back their notes with Bank of England notes.

    It’s fascinating reading for the history. It’s position will require more than a quick read to opinionate on.

    I’m going to read it slowly and more carefully tomorrow.

  • Euan Gray

    In considering competing private systems of money, you need to reflect on the real world experience of extensive fraud, embezzlement and bank failure that actually happened in the US during the period in question. You must also consider the impact of a significant increase in currency exchange costs.

    In considering commodity money, you need to think about the fact that it tends to make recessions become depressions since there is no recession-beating manipulation of ther money supply. Another factor is that the potential of what can happen with fiat money in terms of rampant inflation needs to be seen alongside the general absence of this effect in most modern neo-Keynesian economies i.e. you have to consider what really happens as well as what might possibly happen.

    Whilst there are advantages to the ideas of competing money systems and even to commodity money, there are also significant disadvantages. The question is whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and in modern western neo-Keynesian economies the answer thus far is plainly “no.”

    EG

  • The tartest remark I’ve read on this subject was–almost of necessity–written by a “Straussian,” Harvey C. Mansfield, speaking of Americans: “We call ourselves citizens, but most of us are, at best, voters.”

  • Gentlemen!

    How much ado need there be, between conflating an adjective (people subject to laws not derived from their consent), and a noun (an individual who is the subject of another ruler)?

    I’m an American. From my time in the UK, I tend to think that the Brits have lost almost everything that is recognizably “free.” I know Brits, on the other hand, who are more than willing to take their turn at the beer pointing out the ugliness of MY peculiar Leviathan (though, as a Texan, I tend to forget and say “Texas” when asked about my citizenship)…. the point is, we all want more FREEDOM. How can one possibly enter into a decent debate about it, if we’re arguing vocabulary without agreeing on parts of speech?

  • Kim du Toit

    Relinquishing your US citizenship does not relieve you of your obligation to pay US taxes, for the next ten years anyway.

    Congress passed a law which effectively prevented retired zillionaires from taking their massive incomes offshore — hence the 10-year tax obligation.

    The only good news is that the inheritance tax seems to be doomed, and now the alternative minimum tax is also in the cross-hairs (AMT is the moral equivalent of the old British Super Tax, which double-dips the incomes of “the wealthy”).

    You know, I don’t mind paying the State a small amount of danegeld (say, 15% of earnings), because I like things like carrier groups and interstate highways.

    But good grief…

  • mike

    Seems I’m late to the thread again. For what it’s worth, I agree with Perry’s view that ‘subject’ is the more accurate term for the Americans and British alike.

    As a British expat in Asia, I’d categorise myself as a British subject, but also as a denizen of my host country since I have neither the full rights of cititzenship, nor am I subjected *exclusively* to the laws of my host country’s State.

    Having agreed with Perry’s view above, I should say that I much prefer the term ‘denizen’ to either ‘subject’ or ‘citizen’ – as it conveys nothing about my relationship to the State; neither rights, restrictions or obligations.

  • Verity

    No, Mike. Read above. “Subject”, which is a noun means one who owes allegiance to another person – as in royalty.

    This is why the Queen – I’m sure, under “advisement” did away with the description “subject” on our passports. I would have preferred that it be kept, because then our loyalty would have been to our head of state, in commonalty with the rest of HM subjects. Our head of state means “us”.

    Who diluted it?

  • Euan Gray

    Who diluted it?

    Thatcher. Immigration Act, 1981.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    My mistake, British Nationality Act, 1981. Still Thatcher, though.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    “Subject”, which is a noun means one who owes allegiance to another person – as in royalty

    Person or persons, as in a monarch, a government, etc. One does not have to be a subject of a single person in order to be a subject.

    EG

  • Matt O'Halloran

    “The tartest remark I’ve read on this subject was–almost of necessity–written by a “Straussian,” Harvey C. Mansfield, speaking of Americans: “We call ourselves citizens, but most of us are, at best, voters.””

    As ‘exoteric’ as most Straussian remarks. Most Americans these days are citizens wihtout being voters.

  • mike

    You could’ve spared me the pedantry, Verity – but one good turn deserves another, and so…

    As I understood it Perry’s original point was that ‘subject’ was a more accurate (‘honest’) term than citizen to describe our subjection to the State. ‘Subject’ is a noun yes – but I’d always, possibly like Perry and others, assumed it was a gerund noun (i.e. formed from, and pertaining to the verb ‘to subject’), and if this is in fact the case then the pedantry is irrelevant.

  • Kim du Toit

    I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, and it strikes me that the difference between “subject” and “citizen” might be explained in terms of the famous four boxes with which the populace may effect political change:

    soap box
    letter box
    ballot box
    cartridge box

    If the State removes the first three, and the populace has no recourse to the fourth, are they not “subjects”?

    Thanks, Perry, for a very thought-provoking post.

  • obrien

    Its pretty clear “Citizens” can only be of a “Republic” while Briton are “subjects” are of the “crown”. It is not merely semantics sincve such a difference underlines the American Revolution.

    Certainly not all “Britons ” are equal as “citizens” would be since in the UK there are various degrees of entitlements such as those enjoyed by hereditary peerage something that is abhorrent to a true republican . Of course there are Citizens in the British Isles, but those are they that belong to the Irish Republic.

  • O’Brien: but that is a meaningless distinction now and of historical curiosity only. Are you under the impression the law does not apply to a Duke? If so, what law would that be?

    My point is that any notion that you are freer as an American or Irishman or whatever because you are a ‘citizen’ is an illusion. That is why I think the emotive term ‘subject’ is more honest and representative of the true relationship between an individual and the state.

  • obrien

    Historical curiosity? Hardly! tell that to the almost 1 million British Subjects who wish secede from the United Kingdom to be citizens of a Republic, (and a plurality of that number have believed in the legitimacy of armed force to do so).

    Any citizens can be president of United States not so in the United Kingdom nor does the United States Senate have heritary membership unlike the British House of Lords hardly an example of egalitarianism.

  • Historical curiosity? Hardly! tell that to the almost 1 million British Subjects who wish secede from the United Kingdom to be citizens of a Republic, (and a plurality of that number have believed in the legitimacy of armed force to do so)

    So? And in what way does being a ‘citizen’ of the Irish republic makes them freer than being a ‘subject’ of the UK? Do they stop having to pay taxes? Are they no longer regulated regarding that they can build on their own property? Are their children no longer consripted by the state for an approved ‘education’?

    So people in southern Ireland have a separate nation-state. Big deal. They are just subject to a different bunch of kleptocratic thugs now who are in anything even more corrupt that the previous bunch of kleptocratic thugs. The great thing about the Crown is it is powerless. Liz Windsor and her clueless son cost me a few pennies a year (literally), but it is whatever bastard is in 10 Downing Street that I actually have to worry about: THAT is who in reality I am a subject of.

    Any citizens can be president of United States not so in the United Kingdom nor does the United States Senate have heritary membership unlike the British House of Lords hardly an example of egalitarianism.

    Oh please. Firstly, I think what you mean is ‘any citizen who has millions of dollars and a corrupting political machine behind them’ can become the capo di tuti capo in the USA. There is also an interesting move towards dynastic families, as we will see again when Hilary Clinton gets to be head sow next time around.

    Also, what makes you think ‘egalitarianism’ is in any way desirable? The reason the House of Lords made such sense was to have an body who were not directly political as a check on power (i.e. much like the Supreme Court appointees-for-life in the oh so egalitarian USA). It is the reduction in power of these non-egalitarian institutions like the House of Lords which has brought Britain’s civil liberties under such threat in recent years.

    The UK is far more democratic than the USA due to the supremacy of Parliament and the fact there are far less constraints on direct democratic politics, unlike the USA, which at least still has SOME profoundly undemocratic limits (i.e. the Bill of Rights, created by a bunch of patricians a couple hundred years ago) placed on what is amenable to (entirely democratic) legislation, so please, spare me talk of ‘egalitarianism’.

  • obrien

    Being a citizen of the Irish republic mean that Irish citizens who are land owners no longer have to pay British tax land annuities dating from the 19th century, as far as conscription goes funnily enough it was the issue of conscription into the British army to fight Britain’s imperial war that galvanised Irish independence movement

    The British Parliament with its “first past the post electoral system” allows for the rule on the minority as currently exemplified by Blair’s government. As far as the hereditary peerage, these are the dynastic families that where the original kleptocratic thugs which ruled the UK and drove Ireland and the United States to become free Republics in the first place.

    On one had you claim that aristocratic peerage i.e. dynastic families as a check on British parliament’s powers while denouncing perceived dynastic “trend” in American politics, well which is it ?

    As for British rule of law and civil liberties they where always subjectively applied in the “colonies” either America or Ireland. To be politically independent and practice local government, I ‘ed say that’s pretty good start.

  • Being a citizen of the Irish republic mean that Irish citizens who are land owners no longer have to pay British tax land annuities dating from the 19th century, as far as conscription goes…

    Which is exactly why I said your points are of historical interest only.

    As far as the hereditary peerage, these are the dynastic families that where the original kleptocratic thugs which ruled the UK and drove Ireland and the United States to become free Republics in the first place.

    In Ireland they were just replaced by a different set of kleptocratic thugs and in the USA, it was the patrician land owners who were the driving force behind independence (or are you under the impression Jefferson, for whom my admiration is considerable, was some sort of egalitarian share cropper?)

    On one had you claim that aristocratic peerage i.e. dynastic families as a check on British parliament’s powers while denouncing perceived dynastic “trend” in American politics, well which is it ?

    I mention the trend towards dynastic political families but I was not aware I had actually denounced it other than as part of a general denunciation of intrusive kleptocratic politics generally. My point was just that the notion of the USA as an egalitarian realm of stalwart citizens in stark contrast to the ‘subjects’ of Britain is pretty much a delusion.

    As for British rule of law and civil liberties they where always subjectively applied in the “colonies” either America or Ireland.

    Indeed. Something never change.

    To be politically independent and practice local government, I ‘ed say that’s pretty good start.

    And there is where I would say you mistake local kleptocracy as being inherently better than a more remote kleptocracy. I really do not care if the people taking my money and regulating my life do so from London or Brussels or Dublin or Washington DC: it is just as intolerable and to see things in nationalistic or ethnic terms is to fail utterly to understand who your enemies really are. Moving the thieves closer to home via local government usually just makes the theft more efficient.

    Perhaps you mistake my views as an apologia for colonialism and hereditary power but that is not true. I am just pointing out that the opposite of tyranny is not nationalism or egalitarianism, it is any form of liberty that gives individuals freedom from oppression from imposed collectives of any kind and it matter little where that liberty comes from just as it matters little where the tyranny comes from.