Should Citizenship be Conditional? Denationalization and Liberal Principles

25 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2011

See all articles by Matthew Gibney

Matthew Gibney

Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford

Date Written: August 2, 2011


While political theorists have recently paid a great deal of attention to the question of whether states have a moral duty to grant citizenship to non-citizen residents, this paper examines the normative issues associated with the state’s withdrawal of citizenship. My discussion focuses on whether the practice of denationalization, as a punishment for certain types of behaviour (e.g., disloyalty) or to protect the vital interests of the state (against terrorists, for example), can be compatible with liberal principles. The ethical issues raised by denationalization have not been explored in great depth hitherto, despite that fact that citizenship stripping (in the form of banishment) was endorsed by many of liberalism’s foundational thinkers, including Kant, Montesquieu, Vattel and Beccaria. More recently, denationalization powers have emerged as a controversial political issue in the UK, France, the US, and a number of other liberal states. This paper begins by considering the prehistory of denationalization by briefly tracing the evolution of banishment as an idea and as a practice. It then turns to consider how denationalization power emerged and became consolidated in the UK and the US in the first half of the twentieth century. Its focus then shifts to the nature of liberal objections to the power, in particular to concerns about denationalisation’s link to statelessness, its creation of two classes of citizenship, and its arbitrariness. In an effort to disentangle contingent from intrinsic objections to the practice, the revocation of citizenship provisions in the UK’s Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002, which attempted to create a denationalization power that takes account of liberal objections, are considered. In the final section of the paper, I consider the effectiveness of this Act in accommodating liberal concerns in order to shed light on the likelihood of reconciling liberal principles with forms of conditional citizenship.

Suggested Citation

Gibney, Matthew, Should Citizenship be Conditional? Denationalization and Liberal Principles (August 2, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Gibney (Contact Author)

Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford ( email )

United Kingdom

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