Citizenship: Yale Professor Traces a Disturbing History

Racism, sexism, and “nativism” are as central to American politics as liberalism and republicanism ever were, argues Yale political scientist Rogers Smith in his newly released book, “Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. Public Law”, Yale University Press, 1997. Periods of reform have alternated with periods of reaction all through American history, and progress towards extending citizenship has always come at a high cost.

To celebrate the publication, Book Haven, 290 York St., will hold a party this afternoon, Oct. 29, 4-5:30 p.m. Professor Smith will be on hand to answer questions, sign books and give interviews.

“Civic Ideals” offers a major reinterpretation of American history. By examining 2,500 U.S. citizenship laws, Professor Smith shows how central racial, ethnic, gender and place-of-birth issues have been in the construction of national identity. Who deserves to be a citizen? What special rights do citizens have? What does it mean to be an “American”? Professor Smith’s book shows that despite widespread beliefs to the contrary, American thinking and politics have been dominated by illiberal, inegalitarian and undemocratic beliefs from the colonial era right up to recent times.

Professor Smith joined the faculty of Yale in 1980. He is co-author of “Citizenship Without Consent: The Illegal Alien in the American Polity,” and author of “Liberalism and American Constitutional Law.” Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, he belongs to a family that had many former slaveholders and a few anti-slavery preachers. He grew up in Springfield, Illinois, Abe Lincoln’s hometown, during the Civil Rights era and became strongly opposed to the racism and sexism that were part of the heritage of his family and all Americans.

“Civic Ideals” is a selection of the History Book Club.

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