Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 313–329 | Cite as

Are Citizenship Tests Necessarily Illiberal?

  • Michael BlakeEmail author


In recent years, many philosophers have argued that it is inherently illiberal to make citizenship for migrants conditional on a test. On these arguments, liberalism itself demands either that no test be administered, or that the test be so easy as to serve merely a symbolic function. In this paper, I make two claims in response to these ideas. The first is that a citizenship test - even a difficult one - is not inherently illiberal, when what is tested for reflects the actual backdrop of knowledge and history required for responsible participation in political discourse. The second is that we have reason to be suspicious of any existing citizenship test, but for reasons of prudence, rather than liberal principle. Existing political elites can be relied upon to make citizenship tests reflect not what is actually required for political agency, but what those elites would like to see reinforced and rein scribed as part of the national identity. Thus, we are right to be wary of citizenship tests - not because liberalism condemns them, but because of predictable moral failures on the part of those charged with writing such tests.


Citizenship Migration Tests Liberalism Justice Differentiation 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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