The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

A critical examination of global citizenship

By Andrew Pragacz

We use this term to refer, not to legal or juridical membership in a specific national polity, but more broadly to the phenomenon of active engagement in the public life of the local, national or transnational communities within which people live –Institute for Global Citizenship Website

This conceptualization of citizenship expounded by The Institute for Global Citizenship attempts to divorce power from the term itself. A global citizen has no specific rights or privileges; nor do they have responsibilities outside of their own moral/ethical code; a global citizen is not tied to any power structure. Rather, a global citizen must only “regard all human beings as fellow citizens”.

However, citizenship was born out of democratic theory. Citizenship dates back to the Greeks, as most people realize. This understanding of global citizenship owes its development to this lineage and is inherently tied to the larger democratic project. The above definition is soaked in democratic discourse and thus is full of power; democratic theory and citizenship are mutually constitutive terms. Any attempt to divorce global citizenship from democratic theory cannot acknowledge the problems inherent in democracy. Furthermore, if democracy is seen as a global ‘universal’ goal, as the discourse around global citizenship believes it to be, then the problematic and base motives behind ‘spreading democracy’ remain hidden from scrutiny, rendering the ideology simultaneously more potent and more deadly.

In fact, global citizenship is beholden to larger debates over citizenship. Liberal and conservative models have been duking it out for several hundred years; the former connoting rights (freedom from) and liberties (freedom to do) in a legalistic manner and the latter appealing to the promotion of the ‘public good’ as the goal of each citizen; the civic community over the individual.

I contend that the global citizen is really a civic republican that values the common good over individual rights and liberties; it relegates the global citizen to the global nation, and disavows the requirement of a global state. The danger in civic republicanism revolves around the definition of the ‘public good’, and how consensus of the public good achieved. Rousseau famously stated: “whoever refuses to obey the general shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free.” Rousseau’s democratic authoritarianism is what the liberal concept of citizenship has attempted to displace.

However, the global citizen, in denying the necessity of a global state, still requires a state, as the state is the world’s legitimate currency. The goals then of the global citizen still have to be viewed within state systems. The goal of the global citizen is not global democracy, but democracies around the globe. Civic republicanism should be viewed in the context of global citizenship as a strategy for creating those democracies.

Placing global citizenship inside democratic theory, we can reflect on the perhaps inherent fallacies and inadequacies of democracy. Who has been left out of the democratic project? Why? Who is eligible for citizenship? Who is not? Why? These are the questions that we must at least acknowledge in order to conceptualize global citizenship in a responsible manner not based on exclusion or conditional inclusion -which I believe to be impossible.

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