Defining British Citizenship: Empire, Commonwealth, and Modern Britain

Defining British Citizenship: Empire, Commonwealth, and Modern Britain

Defining British Citizenship: Empire, Commonwealth, and Modern Britain

Defining British Citizenship: Empire, Commonwealth, and Modern Britain

Synopsis

Unlike many nations Britain had not developed a national citizenship by the 20th century. Instead belonging in Britain was merely a function of allegiance to the Crown. This lack of definition was seen as beneficial. Rieko Karatani explores the implications of such vagueness as a new millennium begins.

Excerpt

Everyone has the right to a nationality, but which one? and what does it mean, in terms of rights and duties, expectations and responsibilities, to be the citizen of a State? Even identifying those who are formally members of a particular political community at a particular time and place is rarely as easy as some lawyers and ideologues would like to believe. 'Nationality' is not an absolute, but often relative; not merely a legal tag, but also a factual condition, a matter of social attachment, sentiments, interests and intent.

Given Britain's history of engagements across the globe and the natural persistence of the resulting bonds of culture, language and blood, it is hardly surprising that the concepts of nationality, citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and British subject, among others, have proved troublesome and complex. For those steeped in the simplicity of a single, simple citizen-State relationship, the manner in which the British Crown and Parliament treated their peoples must have appeared strange, at times even devious and divisive, particularly over the last 40 years or so, when debate and legislation were often driven by crude immigration control arguments and racial considerations.

That was only ever part of the picture, however, and on closer examination the 'truth' of the case proves to be rather more multifaceted-a mix, indeed, of laudable aspects, historical ideals, half-remembered principles, post-colonial debts (not always honoured), and those regrettable tendencies. Dr Karatani's book throws light on that truth, bringing into the open much that had been hidden and much else that was conveniently ignored for the sake of ideological assumptions of one colour or another.

As she points out, the origins of what we are finally beginning to recognize as 'British citizenship' lie not in an idealized conception of the citizen-State relationship, so much as in the essentially personal link between subject and sovereign-the bonds of loyalty and allegiance. It was these bonds, among others, which allowed the

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