Wrap-Up Post: W(h)ither America?

by Peter Spiro

Chimene detects some nostalgia in Beyond Citizenship‘s suggestion that America may be unsustainable in the long run. But how could I not be nostalgic? I’m an American, and America has had a pretty good run of it.

At least I recognize the nostalgia. One thing that is both fascinating and frustrating about engaging on citizenship issues is the difficulty in keeping some perspective on the conversation. Most of the scholars addressing American citizenship theory are themselves Americans, and proud ones at that, the progressives as much as the conservatives. I think that sometimes adds an ingredient of wishful thinking to the mix. Americans certainly don’t want to hear about the end of America (unless of course there’s something they can do about it), academics no more than anyone else. There’s something, well, slightly unpatriotic about it.

In fact constitutional law scholars may be more sensitive than others to the nation’s possible dissipation. As John points out, constitutional governance as we know it is ultimately what’s at stake here. Although progressive scholars aren’t openly opposed to supra- and transnational forms of governance, it tends to make them fidget for the same reasons. The shift puts everything up for grabs in a slightly scary way. It’s not just that power might shift away from America to other states, as the latest bestseller argues, it’s that power may shift beyond the state, to zones in which all our received wisdom may just not apply. The United States will be around as a weighty, historic association of individuals, of citizens, into the distant future, but for many it will be a less important component of their identity going forward. America is not for all time. Academics are positioned to be thinking through alternate locations of governance.

Many, many thanks to Alex, Chimene, Cristina, John, Jon, and Ken for participating with their thoughtful and challenging posts in this book roundtable. I think this has been an edifying discussion, or at least I know that I’ve learned a lot in the process. I hope some readers have also found it to be of interest, though I’m sure others will be relieved that we now return to our regular programming!


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