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.