Ayelet Shachar


On her book The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality

Cover Interview of August 27, 2009


We live in a non-ideal world.  Without tangible ideas about how we can change our world, change can never occur.  The existing system of membership allocation did not fall from the sky.  It is the result of human agency.  We can alter it, just as we can preserve it.  The latter route simply asks us to continue our complicity in preserving an unfair situation.  The former clearly requires hard work: breaking old habits of thought and adopting creative reformulations instead.

What I propose is not an easy process.  But the stakes are high.  We now live in a world torn between those who are doomed to an endless night and those promised a sweet delight due to arbitrary circumstances of station of birth.  This is morally wrong, politically unstable, and institutionally unsound: the fossil of a bygone era.

Counterintuitively, The Birthright Lottery demonstrates that by treating birthright citizenship as a special kind of inherited property, we can generate fresh answers to old questions about how best to mediate the demands of security and mobility, justice and citizenship, and especially those dealing with ownership, selection, and allocation.
To draw the analogy to inherited property and to acknowledge birthright entitlement to citizenship as a human construct not impervious to change is to open up the existing system to critical assessment.  Once we categorize certain relationships under the rubric of property and inheritance, the classic questions of distributive justice—that is, of who owns what, and on what basis—cannot but follow.  This is precisely what is missing in our blind reliance on blood and soil in the assignment of membership entitlement—a connection that is currently both taken for granted and ignored, and ends up obscuring from view the manifold ways in which citizenship operates as a distributor (or denier) of opportunity on a global scale.

© 2009 Ayelet Shachar