At a time when most countries defined citizenship by ancestry, Britain was unusual in developing a civil rather than an ethnic nationality. The U.S., as so often, distilled and intensified a tendency that had been present in Great Britain, explicitly defining itself as a creedal polity: Anyone can become American simply by signing up to the values inherent in the Constitution.Success in a republic -- especially in ours, where foundational principles included the propositions that citizens were expected to be responsible for themselves and their condition, that the individual states would be the principle means by which the citizenry would govern itself, and that the federal government would attend only to those duties that individuals and the individual states were structurally incapable of addressing (e.g. defense of the nation) -- demands a strong measure of self-discipline exercised by both the citizenry and the government and sufficient interest by that citizenry in political affairs that it is willing and able to hold its government to account when policies pose dangers to the long-term health and viability of the Republic. Currently, the majority of our citizenry is 'uninterested' and 'unwilling' and seems more inclined to increase the provision of federally-dispensed goodies even at the expense of the longterm health of our country. I hope the rapidly unfolding 'Affordable Care Act' debacle is sufficient to rouse people to action but our recent history doesn't make me very optimistic. Pity.
There is, of course, a flip-side. If the U.S. abandons its political structures, it will lose its identity more thoroughly than states that define nationality by blood or territory. Power is shifting from the 50 states to Washington, D.C., from elected representatives to federal bureaucrats, from citizens to the government. As the U.S. moves toward European-style health care, day care, college education, carbon taxes, foreign policy and spending levels, so it becomes less prosperous, less confident and less free.
We sometimes talk of the English-speaking nations as having a culture of independence. But culture does not exist, numinously, alongside institutions; it is a product of institutions. People respond to incentives. Make enough people dependent on the state, and it won't be long before Americans start behaving and voting like…well, like Greeks.
The World of English Freedoms