What We Do for Our Families

As regular readers know, I’m partial to the tribal theory of political identity — that an important barrier to socialism is the deeply ingrained belief that the family should take precedence over the state, which helps explain resistance to taxes on the intergenerational transmission of wealth and what we might broadly refer to as “social engineering” — and so I was intrigued to read the following in a 2010 interview with the English actor Emily Mortimer: 

Mortimer recently became an American citizen, for tax reasons – she was informed of the gruesome fact that if Alessandro died, she as a foreigner would have to pay 70% tax on his half of everything – but she found herself moved by the ceremony. The Irish-American justice doling out the citizenship papers gave a speech saying to all the former foreigners that the best thing about America was that it was made up of “people like you”, and, as a result, was a better place today than it was yesterday. “In England immigrants wouldn’t be made to feel that they’d changed the country for the better,” Mortimer reflects.

The sense of an intentional investment in one place or another has been helpful to her, especially since the death in January last year of her father, to whom she was extremely close. “That whole thing of dividing up the land and house between the children – there’s something Chekhovian about it,” she says. “It’s the end of an era, and it’s all very strange.”

One assumes that Mortimer is politically left-of-center and that the idea of evading or avoiding taxes doesn’t appeal to her when stated baldly, yet the taxes on Alessandro Nivola’s estate would presumably go to fund various social programs that she in other circumstances would happily endorse. I don’t mean to criticize her for hypocrisy, particularly as I know little about her political views. Rather, I’m observing that the ideas of family and inheritance have a great deal of weight, even for cosmopolitans of an egalitarian bent. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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