As citizens, we hold certain truths to be self-evident: that the
rights to own land, marry, inherit property, and especially to
assume birthright citizenship should be guaranteed by the state.
The laws promoting these rights appear not only to preserve our
liberty but to guarantee society remains just. Yet considering how
much violence and inequality results from these legal mandates,
Jacqueline Stevens asks whether we might be making the wrong
assumptions. Would a world without such laws be more just?
Arguing that the core laws of the nation-state are more about a
fear of death than a desire for freedom, Jacqueline Stevens
imagines a world in which birthright citizenship, family
inheritance, state-sanctioned marriage, and private land ownership
are eliminated. Would chaos be the result? Drawing on political
theory and history and incorporating contemporary social and
economic data, she brilliantly critiques our sentimental
attachments to birthright citizenship, inheritance, and marriage
and highlights their harmful outcomes, including war, global
apartheid, destitution, family misery, and environmental damage. It
might be hard to imagine countries without the rules of membership
and ownership that have come to define them, but as Stevens shows,
conjuring new ways of reconciling our laws with the condition of
mortality reveals the flaws of our present institutions and
inspires hope for moving beyond them.
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