Freeman

ARTICLE

Who Is an American?

JANUARY 01, 1988 by RICHARD R. MAYER

Mr. Mayer is a surveyor living in Schuylerville, New York.

As Americans we are often un-American when it comes to illegal aliens.

The word illegal connotes something contrary to the law; yet what more clearly defines our law than those unalienable rights spelled out in the Declaration of independence or what better describes our land than its heritage as a haven for those wishing to better themselves? Can we logically describe as “alien” those who seek freedom, opportunity, and equality before the law?

America is a unique concept. It is a land whose people are defined not in terms of nationality but of outlook. It is what one believes that makes an American, not skin color, religion, or language.

An American is described by his beliefs, his adherence to certain clear principles not of religion but of religious freedom, not of status but of equality of treatment, not of privilege but of opportunity. By this measure there are many true Americans who do not reside here, and others who vegetate here but are not truly Americans.

There is concern that those who come to this land may take jobs from local residents, secure false social security cards, passports, and drivers’ licenses, or go on welfare. But are such regimentation and programs really the American heritage? And is beating someone out of a job by being more willing and competitive really un-American? Such objections come from those who have obtained privileged or protected positions through licensing, certification, seniority, or monopolization and who are not willing to compete in a free and open market.

Do I, because I was born here, have greater claim than one who has made the conscious choice to come to the United States? Do I through mere chance and by none of my own doing have a greater claim to being an American than he who has made the effort?

I think not. I only am an American by being an American, by making that choice daily in my life. And the refugee who makes that choice is also a true American, as much as I—a brother of the spirit, as Americanism is a matter of the spirit. He has the right to live, to provide for himself, and to care for his family, without certificate of occupancy or let from petty official or regulatory agency.

Through our churches and legislatures, we dole out billions of dollars in foreign aid—anything to keep the natives happy (and away from our shores). We charitably give to others, so long as they’ll stay where they “belong.” But we will not grant them the right to practice Americanism, claiming this as a privilege for those who got here first. This isn’t very American.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

January 1988

comments powered by Disqus

EMAIL UPDATES

* indicates required

CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
Download Free PDF

PAST ISSUES

SUBSCRIBE

RENEW YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

Essential Works from FEE

Economics in One Lesson (full text)

By HENRY HAZLITT

The full text of Hazlitt's famed primer on economic principles: read this first!


By FREDERIC BASTIAT

Frederic Bastiat's timeless defense of liberty for all. Once read and understood, nothing ever looks the same.


By F. A. HAYEK

There can be little doubt that man owes some of his greatest suc­cesses in the past to the fact that he has not been able to control so­cial life.


By JEFFREY A. TUCKER

Leonard Read took the lessons of entrepreneurship with him when he started his ideological venture.


By LEONARD E. READ

No one knows how to make a pencil: Leonard Read's classic (Audio, HTML, and PDF)