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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 (
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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.

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American Political Science Review
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A correction has been issued for this article: