Citizenship as a Foundation

In my last post I suggested that the concept of citizenship could provide the basis for a system of valuing individual worth, a system which was sometimes complimentary with and sometimes constraining of capitalism. In explaining this system of citizenship, I’ll start with the three qualifications I outlined earlier:

  1. It does not require a radical departure from U.S. law or history. A basic concept of citizenship has been with us from the beginning of the nation and is imbedded in the Constitution. In fact, part of the reason the Revolution was fought was out of a sense that the colonists’ rights as British citizens were not being sufficiently protected and respected.
  2. It could be broadly embraced by American voters and politicians. Whatever your political beliefs, speaking up on behalf of citizens and citizenship seems pretty safe. This could get trickier as the definition gets more complicated, but at least initially the reception should not be too difficult.
  3. It values individuals on a basis other than their economic standing. Though in theory citizenship has always, like justice, been blind to other systems of valuation (race, wealth, gender, sexuality), it’s taken us a long time (and a lot of Supreme Court decisions) to get us to the point where that’s even approximately true on a practical level. But the theory is what I’m after right now. Theoretically, the status of citizenship confers rights and benefits regardless of any other characteristics of the holder. Citizenship is an independent status that values each individual equally.

As an example, consider the right to vote. In the United States, the right to vote has long been connected with citizenship. Though states occasionally have granted the right to vote to non-citizens, currently I know of no such allowances. Standing up for citizen voters would require almost no political capital. It certainly wouldn’t require a politician to embrace some radical new political idea. And, the electoral college notwithstanding, each vote is equal to each other vote, regardless of my social standing, class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, political preferences, income, property ownership, etc. This wasn’t always the case, but by now the idea is sufficiently entrenched as to be non-controversial.

As you can see, the concept of citizenship presents an attractive foundation on which to build a system that can stand beside capitalism as a central pillar of American society and governance. In fact, it’s already been there, developing alongside capitalism and sometimes constraining it, since the nation’s founding.

One Response to Citizenship as a Foundation
  1. kaahl
    August 3, 2011 | 6:42 am

    What about the Starship Troopers idea of citizenship where only citizens can vote and you can only become a citizen by serving your country in a difficult or dangerous capacity that demonstrates you value the needs of society above your own? I know this is a serious blog that is focused on more practical matters, but, at least in part, it sounds like the citizenship you are describing is a move away from individualism towards a more social society. All of those words–social, collective, etc.–are anathema to many Republicans, but I think the underlying idea of somehow making citizenship more meaningful and valuable is something worth exploring.