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L. Neil Smith's
Number 704, January 6, 2013

"It is perhaps a bit late, but individuals
who value civilization are beginning to act."

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Do it Better than Superman on Citizenship
by Wendy McElroy

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Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

How do you know when the content of a nation's character is bankrupt? One way is to examine the dynamic symbols that embody its character and which shift in reaction to circumstance. These symbols are often found within literature and other cultural expressions.

In last year's Action Comic #900, Superman declared an intention to renounce his US citizenship. The Man of Steel explained, "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy. 'Truth, justice, and the American Way'—it's not enough any more." Many readers were outraged because, despite being an illegal alien in the most literal sense, Superman epitomized the American Way.

But America is no longer a bastion of truth or justice. Truth has become PC doublespeak; justice has become militarized both domestically and abroad. Superman was expressing his disillusionment with current American policy, especially with the administration's disapproval of a mission he made to Iran to protect those protesting the regime. He echoed Captain America, who briefly became Nomad or "man without a country" in the 1970s. Captain America's de facto renunciation of American citizenship sprang from his frustration with what was clearly a depiction of the Nixon administration; his defection came on the heels of the Watergate scandal. Unlike the Captain, however, Superman's renunciation threat never became real.

Of course, neither character is real, and I am not collapsing the wall that separates fiction from reality. Instead, I argue that popular fiction reflects popular opinions within a culture. Inherent in the opinions expressed by Captain America and Superman is that 'honorable' reasons exist for turning your back on the United States. The scant attention given to expats by the mainstream media and the political machine always focuses on what is considered to be a dishonorable motive: namely, the selfish wish to escape ruinous taxation and preserve one's own wealth. The attention never focuses on more traditionally noble motives such as the drive to be free, a desire for children to have a better life, or the wish to no longer sanction a totalitarian empire. The comic book characters reflect the fact that a significant segment of the public understands that renunciation can also come from totally non-financial motives. It can come from motives that are more traditionally considered 'honorable' such as self-respect and love of family.

On some level, the "America, love it or leave it" crowd understands this as well. Otherwise they would not have become so upset at a comic book character's defection. In the conservative Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last lamented, "[t]his isn't the first time Supes has flirted with turning his back on America." Last concluded, "Once he's a 'citizen of the universe' what, exactly, will he believe in?....If Superman doesn't believe in America, then he doesn't believe in anything." [Emphasis in the original.] Here you have the love it or leave it mentality. No one can renounce their citizenship on principle because beliefs themselves are a byproduct of being American, and not possible without citizenship.

On FOX News, Republican activist Angie Meyer adopted a slant that is closer to the truth. She declared, "Besides being riddled with a blatant lack of patriotism, and respect for our country, Superman's current creators are belittling the United States as a whole. By denouncing his citizenship, Superman becomes an eerie metaphor for the current economic and power status the country holds worldwide." Meyer is correct; going global is an insult to the idea of American superiority and it does reflect upon America's worldwide status. She is incorrect in believing the insult is unmerited or that the über-status should be preserved. Indeed, if America's global power is so fragile that a comic book character can rattle it, then that power is already in a nosedive.

As it happened, Action Comic #900 was issued only days before the killing of Osama bin Laden. Afterward, there was a surge of general patriotism and of sharp criticism directed at Superman. The comic book publishers retreated faster than a speeding bullet. The mainstream media and elites were once again able to settle comfortably into the notion that only villains, cynics, and the irredeemably selfish would abandon US citizenship for a global identity.

And, yet, people on the street then and now sensed that something else was going on. When Forbes ran an expat article, an obviously knowledgeable commentator wrote that leaving America was not about fundamentally about taxes for most people. "[T]he larger issue is the complete betrayal by one's country in an attempt to gouge for money to make up for the horrific [US] debt....It is high time... Americans learn that the country they grew up in, no longer exists. The 'American exceptionalism' that we were taught to believe in, needs to be seen for what it has become, an excuse for the government to do whatever it wants with no concern for the consequences. ALL Americans lose in this process." The United States has become what it used to denounce—a fascist police state. To love America (the ideal), you must now leave America (the reality)—either physically or spiritually.

It is wise to do so quietly because the very hint of 'going expat' can drive some people into fury. In his article "Citizenship is a problem to be solved," Phil Hodgen addressed the 'furious'. He admonished them, "Put down your pitchforks. The point article like this is not to answer with 'You're right!' or 'You're wrong!' The point of the to explore the ideas. There are some important concepts here that transcend taxation..." I encourage everyone to explore the idea of moving abroad by browsing the Dollar Vigilante with special attention to the section on residency and foreign passport service, TDV Passports. I encourage everyone who is separating from the US but geographically remaining to check the section on "Homegrown: Surviving and Prospering Inside the Police State".

Meanwhile the furious can find some solace in the fact that Superman will stay stateside. As the liberal MSNBC suggested, perhaps the classic Superman line should be changed to read, "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a...US citizen!"

Wendy McElroy is a renowned individualist anarchist and individualist feminist. She was a co-founder along with Carl Watner and George H. Smith of The Voluntaryist in 1982, and is the author/editor of twelve books, the latest of which is The Art of Being Free. Follow her work at

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