The Corner

Good Bye and Good Luck

Massachusetts-born Denise Rich, who paid President Clinton to pardon her ex-husband, Marc Rich (formerly of the FBI’s ten most-wanted list), has renounced her U.S. citizenship. (Here’s the most recent list of people who have chosen to expatriate; she’s listed under her maiden name of Eisenberg.)

I have no quarrel with people who want to emigrate. But to do so for tax reasons (which may or may not be the motivation in this instance) is, as David French put it in an exchange about Eduardo Saverin, “pathetic. Not punishable, but pathetic.”

But whatever the reason for your ceasing to be an American, that needs to be a decisive act. In other words, you have become a foreigner in every respect and should receive no consideration for once having been one of us. The departure tax we levy is dubious, because each of us should have perfect freedom to leave the social compact and cease to be a member of We the People. But your Social Security number should be cancelled, your birth certificate should include a notation that it no longer constitutes proof of citizenship, and the State Department should maintain a database and consider that your former status as a U.S. citizen makes you a greater risk for becoming a visa overstayer should you ever apply for a visitor visa in the future.

In “biological” nations, like Japan or Denmark or Botswana, one who renounces his citizenship nonetheless remains related to one’s former countrymen. But in a nation like ours, where membership is based on adoption of a combination of ideology and culture, one who renounces that membership has completely severed himself from us and can no longer claim any connection. Being an immigration-friendly country, where those who lack any ethnic or religious ties can become members, necessarily implies that those who emigrate forfeit the bonds of affection that tie us together. We hope that such people do not become enemies; we must not consider them so simply because of their decision to leave. But they attend to a different music, for the mystic chords of memory no longer play for them.


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