Skip to main content

Democratic Citizenship and Denationalization

  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.

Are democratic states permitted to denationalize citizens, in particular those whom they believe pose dangers to the physical safety of others? In this article, I argue that they are not. The power to denationalize citizens—that is, to revoke citizenship—is one that many states have historically claimed for themselves, but which has largely been in disuse in the last several decades. Recent terrorist events have, however, prompted scholars and political actors to reconsider the role that denationalization can and perhaps should play in democratic states, in particular with respect to its role in protecting national security and in supporting the global fight against terror more generally. In this article, my objective is to show that denationalization laws have no place in democratic states. To understand why, I propose examining the foundations of the right of citizenship, which lie, I shall argue, in the very strong interests that individuals have in security of residence. I use this formulation of the right to respond to two broad clusters of arguments: (1) those that claim that it is justifiable to denationalize citizens who threaten to undermine the safety of citizens in a democratic state or the ability of a democratic state to function as a democratic state, and (2) those that claim that it is justifiable to denationalize dual citizens because they possess citizenship status in a second country that is also able to protect their rights.

Corresponding author
Patti Tamara Lenard is an Associate Professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, 120 University Private, Ottawa, ON, K1N 6N5, Canada (
Hide All

I have presented this work at several workshops and conferences, and owe thanks to those who invited me and to the generous and friendly audiences who engaged with my work. They include: Lucas Stanczyk, who invited me to give the earliest version of this article at the MIT Political Theory workshop; Miriam Ronzoni and Christine Straehle, who invited me to present this work to the Normative Theory and International Institutions workshop at the University of Manchester; Rainer Bauböck, who invited me to present this work at the European Union Institute; Daniel Butt, Zofia Stemplowska and Cecile Fabre, who invited me to present this work at the University of Oxford's Department of Politics and International Relations seminar series; Avigail Eisenberg, who invited me to present this work at the University of Victoria; Margaret Moore and Amandine Catala, who invited me to present this work to the Territorial Rights: New Directions and Challenges workshop at the University of Quebec at Montreal; and Jay Drydyk, who invited me to present this work to the excellent students of Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of Carleton. I owe special thanks to the following individuals who offered written comments on this work, as it proceeded through its many stages: Rutger Birnie, Jacob J. Krich, Margaret Moore, Robert Sparling, Peter Spiro, Annette Zimmerman, and the wonderfully generous reviewers for this journal.

Hide All
Angeli, Oliviero. 2016. “Immigration Fees: A Non-Consequentialist Defense,” paper presented at the workshop Normative Perspectives on Labour Migration, Frankfurt, June 6 (paper on file with author)
Arendt, Hannah. 1963/1994. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin Book.
Arendt, Hannah. 1973. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Inc.
Barry, Christian and Ferracioli, Luara. 2016. “Can Withdrawing Citizenship Be Justified?Political Studies 64 (4): 1055–70.
Bauböck, Rainer. 2007. “Stakeholder Citizenship and Transnational Political Participation: A Normative Evaluation of External Voting.” Fordham Law Review 75 (5): 2393–448.
Bauböck, Rainer, and Paskalev, Vesco. 2015. “Cutting genuine links: A Normative Analysis of Citizenship Deprivation.” Georgetown Immigration Law Journal 30: 47104.
Bloemraad, Irene. 2004. “Who Claims Dual Citizenship? The Limits of Postnationalism, the Possibilities of Transnationalism, and the Persistence of Traditional Citizenship.” International Migration Review 38 (2): 389426.
Bloom, Tendayi, Tonkiss, Katherine, and Cole, Philip (eds.). 2017. Understanding Statelessness. London: Routledge.
Bosniak, Linda. 2000. “Citizenship Denationalized.” Indiana Journal of Global Law Studies 7: 447509.
Carens, Jospeh. 1987. “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders.” Review of Politics 49 (2): 251–73.
Carens, Joseph. 2010. Immigrants and the Right to Stay. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Carens, Joseph. 2015. The Ethics of Immigration. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
CBC News. 2013. “Resettlement Offer Appealing to Tiny N. L. Communities, Say Leaders,” March 29:
CBC News. 2016. “François Hollande drops bill to revoke French citizenship of convicted terrorists,” March 30:
Cohen, Elizabeth. 2016. “When Democracies Denationalize: The Epistemological Case Against Revoking Citizenship: A Response to Patti Lenard.” Ethics and International Affairs 30 (2): 253–59.
Cole, Phillip. 2000. Philosophies of Exclusion: Liberal Political Theory and Immigration. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Davis, Darren W., and Silver, Brian D.. 2004. “Civil Liberties versus Security: Public Opinion in the Context of the Terrorist Attacks on America.” American Journal of Political Science 48 (1): 2846.
de Groot, Gerard-René, and Vink, Maarten P.. 2010. “Loss of Citizenship: Trends and Regulations in Europe,” working paper of the EUDO Citizenship Observatory, European Union Institute (Robert Schuman Centre for Advance Studies: European Union Institute): 1–57.
de Groot, Gerard-René, Vink, Maarten P., and Honohan, Iseult. 2010. “Loss of Citizenship,” EUDO Citizenship Policy Brief no. 3. Robert Schuman Centre for Advance Studies: European Union Institute:
Duff, Antony. 2001. Punishment, Communication, and Community. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Edwards, Alice. 2016. “The Meaning of Nationality in International Law: Substantive and Procedural Aspects.” In Nationality and Statelessness under International Law, eds. Edwards, Alice and van Waas, Laura. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1143.
Feldman, Leonard. 2006. Citizens Without Shelter: Homelessness, Democracy and Political Exclusion. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Forcese, Craig. 2014. “A Tale of Two Citizenships: Citizenship Revocation for ‘Traitors and Terrorists’.” Queen's Law Journal 39 (2): 551–85.
Forsdyke, Sara. 2009. Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy: The Politics of Expulsion in Ancient Greece. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gibney, Matthew J. 2013a. “‘A Very Transcendental Power’: Denaturalisation and the Liberalisation of Citizenship in the United Kingdom.” Political Studies 61 (3): 637–55.
Gibney, Matthew J. 2013b. “Should Citizenship Be Conditional? The Ethics of Denationalization.” The Journal of Politics 75 (3): 646–58.
Golder, Ben, and Williams, George. 2006. “Balancing National Security and Human Rights: Assessing the Legal Response of Common Law Nations to the Threat of Terrorism.” Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis 8 (1): 4362.
Goodin, Robert E., and Tanasoca, Ana. 2014. “Double Voting.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (4): 743–58.
Hampton, Jean. 1992. “An Expressive Theory of Retribution.” In Retributivism and Its Critics, ed. Cragg, Wesley. Stuttgartt: Fritz Steiner Verlag, 125.
Herzog, Ben. 2010. “Dual Citizenship and the Revocation of Citizenship.” In Democratic Paths and Trends, ed. Wejner, Barbara. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing, 87106.
Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. 2015. “Introduction: The Human Right to Citizenship.” In The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept, eds. Howard-Hassman, Rhoda E. and Walton-Roberts, Margaret. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 118.
Joyner, Christopher C. 2004. “The United Nations and Terrorism: Rethinking Legal Tensions between National Security, Human Rights and Civil Liberties.” International Studies Perspectives 5 (3): 240–57.
Kingston, Rebecca. 2005. “The Unmaking of Citizens: Banishment and the Modern Citizenship Regime in France.” Citizenship Studies 9 (1): 23–40.
Kymlicka, Will. 1995. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Lavi, Shai. 2010. “Punishment and the Revocation of Citizenship in the United Kingdom, United States and Israel.” New Criminal Law Review: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal 13 (2): 404–26.
Lenard, Patti T. 2012. “Democratic Self-Determination and Non-Citizen Residents.” Comparative Sociology 11 (5): 649–69.
Lenard, Patti T. 2015a. “The Ethics of Deportation in Liberal Democratic States.” European Journal of Political Theory 14 (4): 464–80.
Lenard, Patti T. 2015b. “Residence and the Right to Vote.” Journal of International Migration and Integration 16 (1): 119–32.
Lenard, Patti T. 2016a. “Democracies and the Power to Revoke.” Ethics and International Affairs 30 (1): 7391.
Lenard, Patti T. 2016b. “Patti Tamara Lenard Replies,” Ethics and International Affairs 30 (2): 271–73.
Macklin, Audrey. 2014. “Citizenship Revocation, the Privilege to Have Rights and the Production of the Alien.” Queen's Law Journal 40 (1): 154.
Macklin, Audrey, and Bauböck, Rainer. 2015. The Return of Banishment: Do the New Denationalisation Policies Weaken Citizenship? Florence: European Union Democracy Observatory on Citizenship.
Mason, Rowena, and Vikram Dodd. 2017. “May: I'll rip up human rights laws that impede new terror legislation,” The Guardian, June 6:
Miller, David. 2016. “Democracy, Exile and Revocation: A Reply to Patti Lenard.” Ethics and International Affairs 30 (2): 265–70.
Ministry of the Interior, Migration Department, Government of Finland. 2014. “Ad-Hoc Query on Revoking Citizenship on Account of Involvement in Acts of Terrorism or Other Serious Crimes.” European Commission:
Moore, Margaret. 2015. A Political Theory of Territory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nyers, Peter. 2006. “The Accidental Citizen: Acts of Sovreignty and (Un)making Citizenship.” Economy and Society 35 (1): 2241.
Parveen, Nazia. 2017. “Members of Rochdale Grooming Gang Face Deportation to Pakistan,” The Guardian, February 9:
Ramraj, Victor V., Hor, Michael, Roach, Kent, and Williams, George. 2005. Global Anti-Terrorism Law and Policy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Raz, Joseph. 1984. “On the Nature of Rights,” Mind 93 (370): 194214.
Savage, Charlie, and Hulse, Carl. 2010. “Bill Targets Citizenship of Terrorists’ Allies,” New York Times, May 6:
Spiro, Peter J. 2011. “A New International Law of Citizenship.” The American Journal of International Law 105 (4): 694746.
Spiro, Peter J. 2014. “Expatriating Terrorists.” Fordham Law Review 82 (5): 2169–87.
Stilz, Anna. 2013. “Occupancy Rights and the Wrong of Removal.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 41 (4): 324–56.
Thwaites, Rayner. 2015. “New Laws Make Loss of Citizneship a Counter-Terrorism tool.” The Conversation, December 10, 2015:
Vaughan, Barry. 2000. “Punishment and Conditional Citizenship.” Punishment & Society 2 (1): 2339.
Vucetic, Srdjan, Lenard, Patti Tamara, Nagra, Balit, Wark, Wesley, and Winter, Elke. 2016. “Securitizing Muslim Canadians: Evaluating the Impact of Counter-Terrorism, National Security and Immigration Policies since 9/11.” Working report prepared for the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness:
Weil, Patrick. 2012. The Sovereign Citizen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

A correction has been issued for this article: