Posted on April 17, 2022

Who Is a Frenchman?

Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, April 1998

(Credit Image: © Visual via ZUMA Press)

France is one of the few countries that, like the United States, grant citizenship to children of foreigners born within their territories. In other words, it practices jus soli (right of soil), as opposed to jus sanguinis (right of blood), according to which nationality is transmitted only by biological descent.

The American version is by far the more lunatic. If a Japanese woman, who happens to be changing planes in New York, suddenly gives birth to a baby in the airport, she can demand U.S. citizenship for the child. Theoretically, the mother need not even touch the ground; if she gives birth in an airplane while it is in American airspace, she has just produced a new American citizen.

The French practice is somewhat more nuanced. The first modern citizenship law dates back to 1889, and reflects the radical egalitarianism of the French Revolution. Any child born of parents who were, themselves, born in France, was a French citizen at birth. This was known as the “double right of the soil.” A child born in France of non-French parents had a right to French citizenship at age 21 if he was reared in France. A foreigner who moved to France could apply for French citizenship after living in France for 10 years. French law was unlike any other in Europe and was based on the revolutionary assumption that nationality was a matter of assimilation rather than blood. The law was further liberalized in 1927, in the hope of making up for the losses of the First World War: Foreigners could apply for naturalization after living in France for only three years.

The Vichy government promptly established jus sanguinis — citizenship by descent — and naturalization was made considerably more difficult. In 1945, General Charles de Gaulle reinstituted the 1889 law, arguing that “a lack of men” explained the defeat of 1940 and that looser citizenship requirements would swell the population. In 1973 the “double right of the soil” was expanded to grant birthright citizenship to children born in France of parents born in former French colonies and overseas territories. This foolish law meant that Senegalese and Moroccan immigrants — who were living in France but born in Senegal or Morocco before independence — could count on instant citizenship for their children born in France. Children of French residents of other nationalities had a right to citizenship when they reached their majority.

Unlike immigrants from other former colonies, Algerians could always claim the “double right of the soil” for their French-born children, since Algeria was administratively part of France until independence in 1963. This meant that the Algerian immigrants streaming into France seeking work had been producing French babies even before the 1973 law. This had awkward consequences after the immigrants were no longer wanted and began to get chips on their shoulders. Beginning in 1981, there were spectacular cases of young Algerian-Frenchmen contemptuously renouncing their unwanted French citizenship.

A new law in 1993 did not revoke the “double right of the soil” for children of immigrants from the former colonies, but it did mark a slight retreat from jus soli. Children born in France of parents who were neither French nor from the colonies could no longer anticipate automatic French citizenship when they reached their majority. At some point between their 16th and 22nd birthdays they had to make a positive declaration of loyalty to France, and prove they had been living in France for the five years preceding the declaration. In 1998, with the left once more in power in the National Assembly, this requirement was removed; French-born children of foreigners still do not get birth-right citizenship, but they are automatically granted citizenship at age 18.

Needless to say, the FN advocates a return to jus sanguinis, and its deputies have repeatedly proposed new nationality laws. Although there is increasing popular opposition to non-white immigration, France continues its distinctive practice of jus soli for several reasons. First, the idea that France adopt the jus sanguinis of its European neighbors can no longer be evaluated rationally but must turn into an emotional debate about “racism.” At the same time, France still has a lingering attachment both to revolutionary sans-culottism and to a more recent “mission civilizatrice,” or civilizing mission. The glory of France that was once spread by empire can now be spread by opening the portals of civilization to barbarian aliens. Since foreigners of all races — particularly Americans — are barbarians, the mission civilizatrice has not been tossed out with its 19th century British equivalent, the white man’s burden.