Throughout How to Be French, Weil compares French laws to those of other countries, including the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, showing how France both borrowed from and influenced other nations’ legislation. Examining moments when a racist approach to nationality policy held sway, Weil brings to light the Vichy regime’s denaturalization of thousands of citizens, primarily Jews and anti-fascist exiles, and late-twentieth-century efforts to deny North African immigrants and their children access to French nationality. He also reveals stark gender inequities in nationality policy, including the fact that until 1927 French women lost their citizenship by marrying foreign men. More than the first complete, systematic study of the evolution of French nationality policy, How to be French is a major contribution to the broader study of nationality.
The Sovereign Citizen begins with the Naturalization Act of 1906, which was intended to prevent realization of citizenship through fraudulent or illegal means. Denaturalization—a process provided for by one clause of the act—became the main instrument for the transfer of naturalization authority from states and local courts to the federal government. Alongside the federalization of naturalization, a conditionality of citizenship emerged: for the first half of the twentieth century, naturalized individuals could be stripped of their citizenship not only for fraud but also for affiliations with activities or organizations that were perceived as un-American. (Emma Goldman's case was the first and perhaps best-known denaturalization on political grounds, in 1909.) By midcentury the Supreme Court was fiercely debating cases and challenged the constitutionality of denaturalization and denationalization. This internal battle lasted almost thirty years. The Warren Court's eventual decision to uphold the sovereignty of the citizen—not the state—secures our national order to this day. Weil's account of this transformation, and the political battles fought by its advocates and critics, reshapes our understanding of American citizenship.