Assessing global citizenship

By Andrew Pragacz

The global citizen would have no problem with the spirit of the Iraq War. Democratic theory has reached a point of crisis, or rather a new crisis, since in order for democracy to exist there it must be in constant crisis. According to the rhetoric, democracy cannot reach its goal of full-realization because of the existence of illiberal states and/or non-democracies (the distinction is almost superficial). These ‘rogue states’ somehow threaten ‘our’ (notice the invocation of a unified collective) ability to continue our self-democratizing mission. Another hegemonic logic the global citizen tacitly condones is ‘free markets make free countries’, the neo-liberal mantra. The global citizen can be a Marxist, but more likely he is an econ major. The global citizen has no inherent problem with the idealistic assumption that markets can be free (so we need to liberate them). Even if the global citizen opposes War in general and Capitalism at its core he can only oppose a certain kind of violence (physical), while extolling his own violence to pursue the same end. He cannot question the universal democratizing mission itself, but only supply an alternative teleological mode, with the same results.

By attempting to divorce power from the concept of global citizenship it is capable of reinforcing and legitimizing already existing hegemonic formations and understandings. While I must acknowledge that any concept like global citizenship has this capacity, I believe global citizenship is more problematic than most because it does recognize itself as part of a dialogue. It cannot recognize its own limitations and biases. Or rather it cannot question democratic theory and especially the teleological assumptions of democratic theory.

Global citizenship is simultaneously parochial and utopian. Parochial because it claims to come from nowhere and is simply a ‘state of being’; utopian because it claims to making it all better (democracy is an inherently utopian project always oriented toward a ‘future time’, a ‘better tomorrow’) by indoctrinating everyone, or at least the rational amongst us, into the global citizenship way. It is power-filled and yet completely empty of meaning. Why is that? We must ask ourselves what kind of purpose does this concept serve? Who does it serve? I don’t have the answer to this question and I do not think there is a True answer, but it must be discussed, it must be asked. If we refuse to ask we do not know who we will be potentially be serving. It could produce the next Gandhi, or George Bush III, both are equally likely.

Let’s stop the nice, perfect, linear history of global citizenship right here. Critique seeks to reorient time away from a nice teleology (even if the end is an unknown) and ask: where is this train headed? We have three choices: we can accept the global citizen’s teleology, we can give a new one or we can reject teleology all together. I am for the last of these choices. A teleology that desires the ‘public good’ always necessitates coercion and force. While it is possible that my examples can be read as the pursuit of a new teleology I am not proposing one, nor I am looking for a ‘consensus’ regarding the ‘public good’ (there is no universal). Rather, I am for the reflexive citizen who can ask: what kind of power am I supporting? I do not support the global citizen which can only combat a particular teleology and replace it with its own.

We, as Macalester College students, can remake the global citizen (hopefully with a new name) or rather deconstruct the global citizen. We often forget that collectively students have a lot of power. We can make, with effort, the IGC what we want (and ‘yes’ I too am appealing to a future-time, a time without global citizenship, a time that is better than our current time. It is part of the grammar of action, sorry). Let us be reflexive citizens, let’s ask questions, and even make a small scene. This is a call for action not a search for Truth, make no mistake about it.

Andrew Pragacz ’10 can be reached at [email protected]