Criteria For Citizenship

In a previous blog post I covered a long list of criteria on which people could be judged, having nothing to do with race or skin color. The standards that were listed are just some of the ways of judging a person, whether it’s someone you’re considering for a job, a romantic relationship, someone you are inviting into your home, or into your country.

Here I will discuss more specifically the criteria for someone to become a citizen of a rights-respecting limited government.

A limited government is based on the consent of the governed, and so is formed by voluntary contract. The primary guiding principle when judging an applicant for citizenship is whether they understand and agree to the contract in question.

The core criteria to check for their agreement would include:

  • Do they understand the moral and political philosophy that is the essence of the idea of limited government?
  • Do they fully agree with this essence?
  • Do they hold beliefs that are contradictory to this agreement?

In this contract they are voluntarily binding themselves to adherence to the government’s laws and procedures, and the consequences for breaking them. It’s important they understand what it means to have signed this, not just in granting them entrance into the country, but the privileges and protections afforded to them, and also that this makes them subject to governmental authority and imposes certain obligations. Without a legal agreement in place, the government cannot legally – or justly – either provide the benefits or impose the obligations and consequences on them.


Understanding is the most straightforward criteria to test. This would be a standard academic test for comprehension – essentially a civics exam. Some of the criteria for a good test of understanding would include:

  • Can they define the relevant terms? (like, “rights”, “justice”, “contract”, “citizen”, etc.)
  • Can they give examples?
  • Can they cite factual information about how these ideas are implemented in this country? (e.g. the branches of government, the bodies of the legislature, who are the current heads of government, and so on)
  • Can they distinguish whether a given position (or a given example) is or is not consistent with the ideas? (for example, “can insulting your beliefs be made illegal?”, or, “can a person’s immoral behavior be outlawed if it isn’t harming anyone else?”)
  • Can they write a persuasive essay (and/or give a persuasive oral argument) identifying the main reasons justifying the positions?

Ideally there should be a curriculum and classes to teach these the ideas and the reasoning behind them to those who seek citizenship, including to high-school students coming of age.

(While the United States’ naturalization process is remarkably good, it is unfortunately only currently used for foreigners becoming citizens, whereas it should be a process any long-term resident goes through, including children born here. Birthright citizenship is fundamentally incompatible with a limited government, which has at its core a signed, voluntary, contractual agreement. Many problems arise from birthright citizenship, from people who feel as though obligations like taxation are being unfairly imposed on them, to people who are working to subvert and transform the nature of the government, all because they never had to agree to these terms of their citizenship or the specific nature of the government they were joining in the first place. The issues with birthright citizenship will be addressed more fully in a future post.)


While a signature on a binding contract signifies agreement, and other similar methods like requiring a sworn oath, or line-by-line confirmation of the main points can emphasize it, ultimately agreement is more difficult to verify than knowledge. Verifying agreement requires making judgments about the person – backed by some specific evidence. For example, in order to judge if they value hard work, their work history could be verified. In order to judge if they have good character, character references could be required.

Many of the standard questions for a job interview would also be relevant:

  • Asking about the person’s past and what challenges/weaknesses/mistakes they’ve overcome, and how they think they’ve grown and learned from them.
  • Hypothetical “what would you do if…?” questions to determine their judgement, reasoning, problem-solving ability, and their priorities.
  • Why are you choosing to apply here? What specifically attracted you and why do you think you’d be a good fit?
  • What are your goals and where do you see yourself in 10 years?

These kind of in-person interviews are an effective tool for judging a potential employee in business, and should be an essential part of judging applicants for citizenship as well.

Similarly, before getting married, couples may go through pre-marital counseling, which has many of the same criteria as a citizenship agreement: a good counselor will try to make sure that you fully understand the nature of the commitment, and that you understand the responsibilities it entails. They will try to understand whether you are making the decision for the rights reasons, and get you to seriously think about whether this relationship is right for you. They will also go through some of the potential trials that you may encounter, and make sure you are aware of these possibilities at the outset before you make the commitment. Taking a similar approach with citizenship can help the government make a better judgment about the suitability of the applicant, and help prepare the applicant for their future citizenship.

Other evidence could be gleaned from psychological tests, like the kind that employers sometimes use to determine, in a roundabout way (without asking you directly so you know what the “right” answer is), whether you have certain personality traits. Indications for personality characteristics like psychopathy, sociopathy, aggression, or anti-sociality – or moral characteristics like deceitfulness, or lack of respect for rules or boundaries when seeking a reward, may be helpful in forming an overall judgment about the person. Psychological tests that demonstrate the ranking of preferences would also be helpful, like showing that truth and liberty outrank concerns like comfort and political stability.

All of these can provide evidence demonstrating to what extent someone truly agrees to the contract they are signing, and could potentially delay or rule out an applicant if there are too many red flags. There is no way to obtain perfect knowledge of a person’s true beliefs or intent, but perfect verification isn’t ultimately necessary. If their understanding has been verified, and they have signed a legal agreement, then at least holding them accountable is justified if they do break the law.

Contradictions to the agreement

Even when a candidate has demonstrated their understanding and has claimed agreement, contradictory information can undermine the credibility of their claim.

Any candidate who is found to be lying at any point during the process can be rejected. Dishonesty undermines their credibility, and as a character trait is incompatible with a rights-respecting society.

Any candidate presenting a clear threat, such as holding an un-renounced citizenship with an enemy country, membership in a terrorist group, or a violent criminal record can be rejected.

Another important check for a potential citizen is for adherence to incompatible belief systems. Take for example the belief in marxism, socialism, or communism – collectivist belief systems clearly contradictory to a libertarian limited government based on individual rights (there are other incompatible belief systems which will be the subject of a future post). If there is hard evidence that a person is an active member of an organization based on these ideas, then they can be categorically ruled out for citizenship. If they are a former member, or are known to associate with such groups, or have made public statements in support of these ideologies, then this might raise a red flag – especially if they refuse to denounce the ideas, or can’t persuasively argue the main reasons that the idea of limited government is opposed to them.

A good example of screening candidates in this respect was employed when the Nazarene Fund, vetting refugees coming out of Syria and Iraq, had to prove that the candidate was a long-term member of a local Christian church. Evidence such as church membership documentation, and known church members who could vouch for them were required (among other things) in order to show that they had a belief system compatible with the country that would take them in (and didn’t have allegiance to ISIS).

Is this necessary?

One may argue that every human being is already capable of understanding and agreeing with the basic moral principles of respecting individual rights – so why bother with all of this screening and testing? Shouldn’t everyone just be convinced by the good ideas and the beneficial results they produce?

“America 150 years ago had a completely different attitude to immigration.. the statue of liberty basically says “bring em on”, “just come”… we believed that people could change. We believed that when confronted with good ideas, with just ideas, with right ideas, with freedom, that people would adapt to those ideas. That they wouldn’t just mindlessly bring their culture to America and impose their culture on America- they’ll turn America into Mexico. No, what we believed then was that we would turn Mexicans into Americans, we would get rid of the bad stuff that they brought in, embrace the good stuff, but ultimately make them Americans ideologically.”

“[One of the motivations] behind the anti-immigration attitude [is] a complete lack of confidence in what it means to be American, in what America stands for, and the idea that we can convince people to adopt our ideal.”

– Yaron Brook, Free Will and Free Borders

The problem with this argument is that knowledge is not automatic, and neither is agreement. As an old saying goes, a teacher can lead you to the door, but the student must walk through it. If the student (some candidate for citizenship in this case) is not interested in learning the ideas or understanding the system, or if they have their own incompatible beliefs, the general environment in society cannot force them to change their mind (nor should the citizens in this society be forced to accept the cost and the risk of this naive hope).

There is a difference between the capability of a person to understand and agree, and whether they actually, currently do. The purpose of screening and testing applicants for citizenship is to hold them to the required standards of knowledge and beliefs that will earn them the right to call themselves a full citizen of the country, and not extend them unearned credit.

“Man has free will. He can always correct… his weaknesses, or his flaws. But he cannot expect the unearned, neither in love, nor in money; neither in matter, nor spirit.” -Ayn Rand, Mike Wallace interview

“I am not committing the contemptible act of asking you to take me on faith”

“If one’s actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others… a moral blank check” – Francisco d’Anconia, Atlas Shrugged

As many people as possible should be encouraged to understand the idea of limited government, to believe in it, and to become citizens. But there is a responsibility to carefully screen and judge those who wish to join, for the sake of the integrity of the contract, the safety of the citizens, and the integrity of all interactions in society, in business and otherwise.