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In politics, dual loyalty is loyalty to two separate interests that potentially conflict with each other, leading to a conflict of interest.
While nearly all examples of alleged "dual loyalty" are considered highly controversial, they point to the inherent difficulty in distinguishing between what constitutes a "danger" of dual loyalty, a pair of misaligned interests, versus what might be more simply a pair of partially-aligned or even, according to the party being accused, a pair of fully-aligned interests. For example, immigrants who still have feelings of loyalty to their country of origin often insist that their two (or more) loyalties do not conflict. As Stanley A. Renshon at the Center for Immigration Studies noted,
Lan Samantha Chang (1999), a novelist writing in response to the Wen Ho Lee case, could say in a New York Times op-ed piece entitled Debunking the Dual Loyalty Myth, "True, many immigrants have strong ties to their countries of birth... But cultural or familial loyalties are on a different level from political allegiances.... I love China, but I am a citizen of the United States." Ms. Chang appears to want to distinguish a love for one's "home" country from being willing to commit treason against one's adopted one. This is obviously a fair, reasonable, and appropriate distinction.
Yet, in the process of making such a distinction, she acknowledges the duality of her feelings. The issue is not between love of one's country of origin and treason, but rather the multiple loyalties that appear to be part of many immigrants' psychology.
Some scholars refer to a growing trend of transnationalism and suggest that as societies become more heterogeneous and multicultural, the term "dual loyalty" had increasingly become a meaningless bromide. According to the theory of transnationalism, migration and other factors, including improved global communication, produce new forms of identity that transcend traditional notions of physical and cultural space. Nina Glick Schiller, Linda Basch, and Cristina Blanc-Szanton define a process by which immigrants "link together" their country of origin and their country of settlement.
The transnationalist view is that "dual loyalty" is a potentially-positive expression of multi-culturalism and can contribute to the diversity and strength of civil society. That view is popular in many academic circles, but others are skeptical of the idea. As one paper describes it,
On occasion, these imagined communities conform to the root meaning of transnational, extending beyond loyalties that connect to any specific place of origin or ethnic or national group. Yet what immigration scholars describe as transnationalism is usually its opposite... highly particularistic attachments antithetical to those by-products of globalization denoted by the concept of "transnational civil society" and its related manifestations.
Beyond its usage in particular instances, the terms "dual loyalty" and "transnationalism" continue to be the subject of much debate. As one academic wrote:
Although the events of September 11th may have shaken some assumptions - at least in the United States - about the nature of transnational networks and their capacity to facilitate flows of people, goods, and ideas across borders, the terms "globalization" and "transnationalism" remain relatively stable, albeit frustratingly imprecise additions to the language of social sciences, including anthropology.
Other historical examples of actual or perceived "dual loyalty" include the following:
Jews who were part of the Jewish diaspora have been accused of dual loyalty by the Romans in the 1st century, by the French in the Dreyfus Affair in the late 19th century, and in Stalin-eraSoviet Union in the 20th century. Before the creation of Israel, Jewish anti-Zionists used the accusation against other Jews. While today some use the phrase in a "neutral and non-pejorative fashion," this use can obscure the fact that home nations and Israel may have sharp political differences. The 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq lead to such accusations against Jewish neoconservatives, vocal proponents of war against Iraq who were alleged by anti-Semitic commenters that they sought to undermine Arab nations hostile to Israel (e.g., by the term "Israel-firster"). In 2019, Representative Ilhan Omar was widely accused of suggesting that pro-Israeli American Jews had dual loyalty towards Israel.
The loyalty of many Americans to the U.S. government was called into question during the Cold War due to alleged Communist sympathies, resulting in "witch-hunts" of various government officials, celebrities and other citizens (see McCarthyism).