Critically examining global citizenship: Part II

By Andy Pragacz

Who is the global citizen? Simply put he is a rational man. Even though a global citizen views everyone as a possible global citizen, it is not a requirement that the other is a global citizen, but only endowed with that potentiality. I believe that it is the understanding that every person cannot be a global citizen, that such a titled must be limited, as historically certain sections of society have been unable to achieve full citizenship. Ultimately, by exposing who is the global citizen we will discover who shall be forcefully freed. Rationality is the way we make sense to one another, it is how we are intelligible. We cannot understand our actions, or the actions of others without a (seemingly) pervasive and quasi-universal concept of why we act. We act, and speak from a specific rational formation. (Our language is perhaps the most influential force in formations of rationalities.) Reason is not a singular universal concept, but rather is contingent on context and thus is differently understood in different time and location.

Global citizenship being part and parcel of democratic theory is based on a democratic rationality. Democracy has universal democratic rationality in order to create a debate around the public good. Politicians justify their actions by consistently harkening back to a discourse about the people and the general welfare. By creating this debate democracy justifies itself (whether it’s disposition is toward the public good or not).

At the same time almost any action can be justified under this form of Reason. We can never know what is the Truth of the public good, but we are constantly told: “I have the solution” by many. Furthermore, this rationality allows politicians (and academics) to dismiss their opponents. One who does not share my vision of the public good must be either disingenuous or not rational. And thus they can be dispelled from public life.

Democratic public life is based on rational formations. The public/private division denotes the place and purpose of rationality. For Habermas the free and ‘rational’ subjects were the prerequisites of public discussion and thus the proper public sphere. The ‘public good’ was the subject matter of rational citizen debate; citizens came together in the public sphere as citizens, untarnished and unburdened with their own particular interests. Reason itself was/is conceptualized as the detachment from particularity (passion, inclination etc).

I contend that a global citizen must embody Western/democratic rationality in order to communicate democratic concerns both within states and between them. Thus the project for establishing democracies across the global, a global community of democracies, is based on universalizing democratic rationality, either by convincing people to submit to the power of democracy or forcing those unable or unwilling to be free. But we can feel good about this, because we put these Others on the right historical track: ours; we have validated ourselves by striving for the global good.

I opened this article by pointing out that a global citizen is a rational man. Democratic rationality since the Greeks has not only been denoted as masculine but has been developed in contrast to femininity. For the Greeks rationality was the means to dominate nature, and to make sense of the indeterminate matter and system(s) that made up the natural world, aligned with femininity. Nature is passive, and is to be controlled by the intellectual strength of men just as reason is suppose to control human passions (including economic self-interest). The masculine character has been maintained through the social contract theorists, to Kant, Hegel, then to Habermas. It has left a possibly permanent imprint on democratic theory.

The point to noting the masculine character of democratic rationality is to expose who is and how they are left out of the democratic project. By relegating traditionally feminine emotions to the private sphere, the public sphere can dismiss a whole set of public concerns as ‘unworthy of discussion’. It can also leave out undesirables, or ‘radicals’ or wonton beings. The public sphere (and thus Reason) can be clean, and universal, but only by limiting it’s membership.

The point of all this is not to point out that global citizenship is gendered and/or Eurocentric (which is certainly is), or to discover the Truth of global citizenship, but rather to raise critical questions about what will come to define Macalester. I believe that by promoting global citizenship we are reinforcing currently existing societal norms one way or another. This is exactly what most of us are critical of in the first place, right? Is global citizenship something we really want to propagate?

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