Definition Essay On Citizenship

“Citizens are made not born”[1]. This statement is the basis on which citizenship is defied because it takes into account that citizenship is more than just being born into a country, it encompasses the notion that citizenship can be changed, is active and can be taught. In order for a democratic society to function properly citizens must be actively involved in a multitude of areas. If citizens are not willing to convey their ideas socially, politically and economically then the government, whose founding principle, is rule by the people that is effectively governing blindly. The state depends on the actions of its citizens. An example of this is the state could not provide free healthcare if its citizens did not agree to taxation that enables Canada’s highly coveted healthcare system[2].

I feel in a libertarian society, a citizen is best defined as an individual who is invested in society and contributes to its stability by performing their civic duties. In order for society to be made up of these invested citizens, the individuals of a nation-state need to be sculpted in accordance to the fundamental principles that would best serve society. These principles; open mindedness, critical thinking and political knowledge should be taught in schools to form the individual that can definitively be called a citizen.

I will examine each principle and why it is fundamental in creating the type of citizen as defined above. Within each fundamental principle I will present counterarguments opposing the teaching of set principle in schools as well as ways of implementing these principles in classrooms.

A society is built upon basic institutions. The accessibility of these institutions depends on the willingness and accommodation of others’ differences by the citizens of set society.[3] In order for citizens to learn how to accommodate each other’s differences, education in schools is needed. One of the first fundamental things that individuals need to be taught is to enable the possession of an open mind and the value of it. The possession of an open mind is becoming more important in Canada’s libertarian society due to multiculturalism. Individuals need to be aware of the differences of opinions, religious views, morals and values that other individuals posses. The teaching of possessing an open mind will help individuals understand each other, and help instil the value of tolerance and ideally, the ultimate goal; acceptance.[4]

This goal of acceptance is achieved through obtaining personal autonomy. Personal autonomy is defined as “the skills and inclination to choose on the basis of critical thought about the right and the good.”[5] By possessing personal autonomy, individuals are able to become aware of the diverse ways of life that the other individuals in their society possess.[6]

The role of education in this is imperative. According to Callan, “civic education can no longer be understood as wedded to the ideal of the culturally homogenous nation-state.”[7] On account of the fact that Canada is multicultural, its education of citizenship cannot just encompass homogenous values. This means that if Canadian citizenship is to be constructed in accordance to our multicultural society that the conceptions of citizenship and the educational training that supports it need to be revised.[8]

Some may argue that the teaching of toleration and cultural diversity is another form of western ethnocentrism.[9] However, what civic education on open-mindedness and new civic ideals would teach is not ethnocentrism but would help individuals be better equipped to deal with global diversity and help to battle hate and violence.[10] This civil education of broader thinking could make sure that events like the Holocaust could not happen because of teaching intrinsic values of citizenship and with it the value of being anti-racist and anti-discriminatory.[11]

Acting out the democratic duties of a citizen through an open mind or with personal autonomy would ensure that laws passed would aid the greater good, ensure equal rights and not infringe on minorities. This will enable the advancement of a multicultural society because according to Kymlicka , the “ health and stability of society depend on the attitudes of citizens.”[12] It is only with attitudinal change that the government can enact laws, implement values and dictate the direction of society with the support and help of its citizens.

Once individuals have learnt in schools how to view others and differences with an open mind, or at best obtain personal autonomy, a second instrumental attribute is needed to be taught.  This attribute is critical thinking and it enables individuals to examine political, moral, economical and overall societal issues while looking at both sides of an issue and weighing the solutions or opinions carefully and reasonably. The ability to think critically and effectively is needed in order for citizens to dutifully enact and obey Guttman’s and Thompson’s norm of reciprocity. The norm of reciprocity should be one of the sub-fundamental principles of good citizenship that must be taught to children in schools. The norm of reciprocity is a guideline for public debates and acting politically based on moral beliefs.[13] In short, citizens in order to obey the norm must respect others and their beliefs and must not “impose a requirement on other citizens to adopt one’s sectarian way of life” in order to understand another’s moral views or claims.[14]

The teaching of critical thinking and with it the norm of reciprocity helps to make sure that children will not be educated just to advance their own moral interests. This will create adult citizens that will be able to examine the norm and in turn be able to recognize the value of public debates as well as being able to scrutinize and deliberate on public views.[15]

Furthermore, the ability to deliberate and scrutinize public opinions effectively ensures that laws will not be passed due to political leaders or groups lobbying out of their own personal moral convictions. Ways of implementing this in schools is through open public debates on controversial issues with no right or wrong answers as well as critically examining issues in society. This can be done through teaching how to analyze, interpret and present issues of societal concern in a classroom setting.

The ability to teach critical thinking and the norm of reciprocity may seem to some problematic. Some argue that finding unbiased teachers that will have the ability to teach children how to reason about emotional and controversial issues will be extremely tough.[16]Another argument against the teaching of critical analysis and thought is that some parents may think that their child is being indoctrinated or that prejudices could be taught.[17] Moreover, some parents may feel that it is unfit for their children to critically examine issues that may go against their personal religious beliefs. The argument that civic education could be biased can apply to any institution or person that occupies an authoritative position in society. The fact is that institutions like the family can teach children values that go against or come into conflict with libertarian principles and values of society.[18] I feel that even though teaching citizenship may not be possible without bias, creating more enlightened, critical thinking individuals while giving them the ability to interpret for themselves will create a more well-rounded citizen, without having coerced them into believing anything.

In the last Canadian election the percentage of citizens that enacted their duty to vote was the lowest ever recorded. This apathetic mindset in Canadian citizens reflects political ignorance as well as ignorance on the duties of citizens. The classroom is where this political ignorance needs to end.  The attitudes, morals and values of society have drastically changed, yet the education on citizenship and politics has remained stagnant. I believe that in order for citizens to become more knowledgeable in the political spectrum, they must first be taught the basic democratic duties that come with being a citizen.

Curriculum should be created that specifically discusses and outlines the duties and rights of a citizen. The duties that should be taught are but not limited to, the duty to vote, the duty to maintain a just society and tolerate others.[19] Specific duties, such as voting, have been neglected on account that many citizens are unaware that voting is a duty, not just a right of a citizen. Furthermore, it is imperative that individuals, specifically those aged 14-17 receive knowledge about political issues in society in order for them to make informed decisions when they are the age of majority. This will help make sure that these informed citizens will continually exercise their civil, political and social duties that define a citizen.

If individuals are taught that voting is a duty then they are more likely to make sure that they maintain a basic knowledge of politics in order to vote and be active in the political arena. Being active in the political arena also draws on the two other fundamental principles discussed above. If citizens use an open mind, think critically and are knowledgeable about issues, specifically political issues, then these enlightened individuals are more likely to be involved politically and act on the common good. They are also more likely to form educated opinions that have factual basis rather than just moral beliefs.

Another argument against this is that in order for a state to be justified legitimate consent must be earned and that education on citizenship, specifically civic duties, is gaining consent in an illegitimate way.[20] Although, if through education you give individuals the tools to think critically then by teaching them about the duties of citizenship, they will be critically examining them and may choose to consent or not, which would be legitimate.

Another possibility is that only those that accept the fundamental principles and will keep up with their duties of citizen should be granted the status of a citizen.  Maybe to some, being a citizen is too much work and people may not want to have to exercise their duties and would rather be ignorant and apathetic.  Perhaps through education of the duties of a citizen, ability to think critically and with an open mind individuals before they enter the age of majority, should be allowed to choose whether or not they want to become a citizen. Possibly only those that are able to attain these fundamental attributes promise to enact their duties and want to, should be granted the duty to vote. This would ensure that those that are defined as a citizen, are indeed a contributing member of society dedicated to ensuring that they fulfill their duties, think critically and act for the common good. This would also solve the problem of educating individuals in order to coerce them into accepting the state because in order to become a citizen it would require explicit consent.

Regardless, education on the duties of citizen ship will help create political awareness and with the teaching of the other two fundamental principles described above, collectively citizens may want to create laws distributive justice and property rights that benefit the collective good and whole and not necessarily strictly benefit themselves. This would also cause them to critically look at the systems we have in place in society and either collectively come together and ask for a reform, or stand behind the policies already enacted.

In order to keep up with societal values the concept of what a citizen is needs to be redefined. This definition may depend on the society an individual inhabits, but the idea that citizenship needs to be taught in school should not be up for debate. Many societies have realized this and have altered their definitions of citizens and created a curriculum to complement it. An example of this is in France where children are expected to know how political institutions work, understand fundamental rules of political and societal conduct and be capable of effective communication in a formal debate among other things.[21] This ensures that the youth of the nation will be knowledgeable about their civic roles in society.

As the world becomes smaller with globalization and technology it is crucial that citizenship encompass more than just living in a sovereign state. The citizens within a sovereign state must not only be aware of the values and norms of that society but they must be open and tolerant of new cultures. Perhaps in the near future, citizenship to nation-states will be obsolete and citizenship and its definition will pertain to a global context where personal autonomy, critical thinking and political knowledge are a must in order to be a functioning member of the globe.

Works Cited

Brighouse, Harry., and ed. McKinnon, Catriona. “Citizenship”: Issues in Political Theory, New

York: Oxford University Press, 2008

Callan, Eamonn., “Citizenship and Education” Annual Review of Political Science 7 (2004) : 71-


Kymlicka, Will., Contemporary Political Philosophy; An introduction, 2nd Ed. Oxford

University Press: 285-326

[1] .  Harry Brighouse, “Citizenship”: Issues in Political Theory, ed. Catriona McKinnon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) 254.

[2] .  Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy; An introduction, 2nd Ed. (Oxford University Press): 285

[3].   Eamonn Callan, “Citizenship and Education” Annual Review of Political Science 7 (2004) : 74.

[4].   Callan, 75.

[5].  Callan, 75.

[6].   Callan, 75.

[7].   Callan, 72.

[8].  Callan, 72.

[9].   Callan, 77.

[10].  Callan, 77.

[11].  Callan, 75.

[12].   Kymlicka, 285

[13] .  Harry Brighouse, “Citizenship”: Issues in Political Theory, ed. Catriona McKinnon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) 247.

[14] .  Brighouse, 244.

[15] .  Brighouse, 247.

[16] .  Brighouse, 255.

[17] .  Brighouse, 256.

[18]. Callan, 87

[19] .Brighouse, 243.

[20] .  Brighouse, 257.

[21] .  Brighouse, 257.

This article is about being a member of a country. For other uses, see Citizen (disambiguation).

Citizenship is the status of a person recognized under the custom or law as being a legal member of a sovereign state or belonging to a nation.

A person may have multiple citizenships and a person who does not have citizenship of any state is said to be stateless.

Nationality is often used as a synonym for citizenship in English[1] – notably in international law – although the term is sometimes understood as denoting a person's membership of a nation (a large ethnic group).[2] In some countries, e.g. the United States, the United Kingdom, nationality and citizenship can have different meanings (for more information, see Nationality versus citizenship).

Determining factors[edit]

Further information: Nationality law

Each country has its own policies, regulations and criteria as to who is entitled to its citizenship. A person can be recognized or granted citizenship on a number of bases. Usually citizenship based on the place of birth is automatic, but in other cases an application may be required.

  • Citizenship by birth (jus sanguinis). If one or both of a person's parents are citizens of a given state, then the person may have the right to be a citizen of that state as well.[a] Formerly this might only have applied through the paternal line, but sex equality became common since the late twentieth century. Citizenship is granted based on ancestry or ethnicity and is related to the concept of a nation state common in China. Where jus sanguinis holds, a person born outside a country, one or both of whose parents are citizens of the country, is also a citizen. States normally[citation needed] limit the right to citizenship by descent to a certain number of generations born outside the state, although some do not.[clarification needed] This form of citizenship is not common in civil law countries.
  • Born within a country (jus soli). Some people are automatically citizens of the state in which they are born. This form of citizenship originated in England where those who were born within the realm were subjects of the monarch (a concept pre-dating citizenship) and is common in common law countries.
    • In many cases, both jus soli and jus sanguinis hold citizenship either by place or parentage (or both).
  • Citizenship by marriage (jus matrimonii). Many countries fast-track naturalization based on the marriage of a person to a citizen. Countries which are destinations for such immigration often have regulations to try to detect sham marriages, where a citizen marries a non-citizen typically for payment, without them having the intention of living together.[5]
  • Naturalization. States normally grant citizenship to people who have entered the country legally and been granted permit to stay, or been granted political asylum, and also lived there for a specified period. In some countries, naturalization is subject to conditions which may include passing a test demonstrating reasonable knowledge of the language or way of life of the host country, good conduct (no serious criminal record) and moral character (such as drunkenness, or gambling), vowing allegiance to their new state or its ruler and renouncing their prior citizenship. Some states allow dual citizenship and do not require naturalized citizens to formally renounce any other citizenship.
  • Excluded categories. In the past there have been exclusions on entitlement to citizenship on grounds such as skin color, ethnicity, sex, and free status (not being a slave). Most of these exclusions no longer apply in most places. Modern examples include some Arab countries which rarely grant citizenship to non-Muslims, e.g. Qatar is known for granting citizenship to foreign athletes, but they all have to profess the Islamic faith in order to receive citizenship. The United States grants citizenship to those born as a result of reproductive technologies, and internationally adopted children born after February 27, 1983. Some exclusions still persist for internationally adopted children born before February 27, 1983 even though their parents meet citizenship criteria.


Main article: History of citizenship


Main article: Polis

Many thinkers point to the concept of citizenship beginning in the early city-states of ancient Greece, although others see it as primarily a modern phenomenon dating back only a few hundred years and, for mankind, that the concept of citizenship arose with the first laws. Polis meant both the political assembly of the city-state as well as the entire society. Citizenship has generally been identified as a western phenomenon. There is a general view that citizenship in ancient times was a simpler relation than modern forms of citizenship, although this view has come under scrutiny.[8] The relation of citizenship has not been a fixed or static relation, but constantly changed within each society, and that according to one view, citizenship might "really have worked" only at select periods during certain times, such as when the Athenian politician Solon made reforms in the early Athenian state.[9]

Historian Geoffrey Hosking in his 2005 Modern Scholar lecture course suggested that citizenship in ancient Greece arose from an appreciation for the importance of freedom.[10] Hosking explained:

It can be argued that this growth of slavery was what made Greeks particularly conscious of the value of freedom. After all, any Greek farmer might fall into debt and therefore might become a slave, at almost any time ... When the Greeks fought together, they fought in order to avoid being enslaved by warfare, to avoid being defeated by those who might take them into slavery. And they also arranged their political institutions so as to remain free men.

— Geoffrey Hosking, 2005[10]

Slavery permitted slaveowners to have substantial free time, and enabled participation in public life.[10] Polis citizenship was marked by exclusivity. Inequality of status was widespread; citizens had a higher status than non-citizens, such as women, slaves or barbarians.[11] The first form of citizenship was based on the way people lived in the ancient Greek times, in small-scale organic communities of the polis. Citizenship was not seen as a separate activity from the private life of the individual person, in the sense that there was not a distinction between public and private life. The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected into one's everyday life in the polis. These small-scale organic communities were generally seen as a new development in world history, in contrast to the established ancient civilizations of Egypt or Persia, or the hunter-gatherer bands elsewhere. From the viewpoint of the ancient Greeks, a person's public life was not separated from their private life, and Greeks did not distinguish between the two worlds according to the modern western conception. The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected with everyday life. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle famously expressed: "To take no part in the running of the community's affairs is to be either a beast or a god!". This form of citizenship was based on obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizens of the community. This was not a problem because they all had a strong affinity with the polis; their own destiny and the destiny of the community were strongly linked. Also, citizens of the polis saw obligations to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous, it was a source of honour and respect. In Athens, citizens were both ruler and ruled, important political and judicial offices were rotated and all citizens had the right to speak and vote in the political assembly.

Roman ideas[edit]

In the Roman Empire, citizenship expanded from small-scale communities to the entire empire. Romans realized that granting citizenship to people from all over the empire legitimized Roman rule over conquered areas. Roman citizenship was no longer a status of political agency, as it had been reduced to a judicial safeguard and the expression of rule and law.[13] Rome carried forth Greek ideas of citizenship such as the principles of equality under the law, civic participation in government, and notions that "no one citizen should have too much power for too long",[14] but Rome offered relatively generous terms to its captives, including chances for lesser forms of citizenship.[14] If Greek citizenship was an "emancipation from the world of things", the Roman sense increasingly reflected the fact that citizens could act upon material things as well as other citizens, in the sense of buying or selling property, possessions, titles, goods. One historian explained:

The person was defined and represented through his actions upon things; in the course of time, the term property came to mean, first, the defining characteristic of a human or other being; second, the relation which a person had with a thing; and third, the thing defined as the possession of some person.

— J. G. A. Pocock, 1998

Roman citizenship reflected a struggle between the upper-class patrician interests against the lower-order working groups known as the plebeian class.[14] A citizen came to be understood as a person "free to act by law, free to ask and expect the law's protection, a citizen of such and such a legal community, of such and such a legal standing in that community". Citizenship meant having rights to have possessions, immunities, expectations, which were "available in many kinds and degrees, available or unavailable to many kinds of person for many kinds of reason". The law itself was a kind of bond uniting people. Roman citizenship was more impersonal, universal, multiform, having different degrees and applications.

Middle Ages[edit]

During the European Middle Ages, citizenship was usually associated with cities and towns, and applied mainly to middle class folk. Titles such as burgher, grand burgher (German Großbürger) and bourgeoisie denoted political affiliation and identity in relation to a particular locality, as well as membership in a mercantile or trading class; thus, individuals of respectable means and socioeconomic status were interchangeable with citizens.

During this era, members of the nobility had a range of privileges above commoners (see aristocracy), though political upheavals and reforms, beginning most prominently with the French Revolution, abolished privileges and created an egalitarian concept of citizenship.


During the Renaissance, people transitioned from being subjects of a king or queen to being citizens of a city and later to a nation.[19]:p.161 Each city had its own law, courts, and independent administration. And being a citizen often meant being subject to the city's law in addition to having power in some instances to help choose officials. City dwellers who had fought alongside nobles in battles to defend their cities were no longer content with having a subordinate social status, but demanded a greater role in the form of citizenship. Membership in guilds was an indirect form of citizenship in that it helped their members succeed financially. The rise of citizenship was linked to the rise of republicanism, according to one account, since independent citizens meant that kings had less power. Citizenship became an idealized, almost abstract, concept,[9] and did not signify a submissive relation with a lord or count, but rather indicated the bond between a person and the state in the rather abstract sense of having rights and duties.[9]

Modern times[edit]

The modern idea of citizenship still respects the idea of political participation, but it is usually done through "elaborate systems of political representation at a distance" such as representative democracy.[8] Modern citizenship is much more passive; action is delegated to others; citizenship is often a constraint on acting, not an impetus to act.[8] Nevertheless, citizens are usually aware of their obligations to authorities, and are aware that these bonds often limit what they can do.[8]

United States[edit]

From 1790 until the mid-twentieth century, United States law used racial criteria to establish citizenship rights and regulate who was eligible to become a naturalized citizen.[24]The Naturalization Act of 1790, the first law in U.S. history to establish rules for citizenship and naturalization, barred citizenship to all people who were not of European descent, stating that "any Alien being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof."[25]

Under early U.S. laws, African Americans were not eligible for citizenship. In 1857, these laws were upheld in the US Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sandford, which ruled that "a free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a 'citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States," and that "the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them."[26]

It was not until the abolition of slavery following the American Civil War that African Americans were granted citizenship rights. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified on July 9, 1868, stated that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."[27] Two years later, the Naturalization Act of 1870 would extend the right to become a naturalized citizen to include "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent".[28]

Despite the gains made by African Americans after the Civil War, Native Americans, Asians, and others not considered "free white persons" were still denied the ability to become citizens. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act explicitly denied naturalization rights to all people of Chinese origin, while subsequent acts passed by the US Congress, such as laws in 1906, 1917, and 1924, would include clauses that denied immigration and naturalization rights to people based on broadly defined racial categories.[29] Supreme Court cases such as Ozawa v. United States (1922) and U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), would later clarify the meaning of the phrase "free white persons," ruling that Japanese, Indian, and other non-European people were not "white persons", and were therefore ineligible for citizenship under U.S. law.

Native Americans were not granted full US citizenship until the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924. However, even well into the 1960s some state laws prevented Native Americans from exercising their full rights as citizens, such as the right to vote. In 1962, New Mexico became the last state to enfranchise Native Americans.[30]

It was not until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that the racial and gender restrictions for naturalization were explicitly abolished. However, the act still contained restrictions regarding who was eligible for US citizenship, and retained a national quota system which limited the number of visas given to immigrants based on their national origin, to be fixed "at a rate of one-sixth of one percent of each nationality's population in the United States in 1920".[31] It was not until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that these immigration quota systems were drastically altered in favor of a less discriminatory system.

Soviet Union[edit]

The 1918 constitution of revolutionary Russia granted citizenship to any foreigners who were living within Russia, so long as they were "engaged in work and [belonged] to the working class."[32] It recognized "the equal rights of all citizens, irrespective of their racial or national connections" and declared oppression of any minority group or race "to be contrary to the fundamental laws of the Republic." The 1918 constitution also established the right to vote and be elected to soviets for both men and women "irrespective of religion, nationality, domicile, etc. [...] who shall have completed their eighteenth year by the day of election."[33] The later constitutions of the USSR would grant universal Soviet citizenship to the citizens of all member republics[34][35] in concord with the principles of non-discrimination laid out in the original 1918 constitution of Russia.


National Socialism or "Nazism", the German variant of twentieth century fascism whose precepts were laid out in Adolf Hitler'sMein Kampf, classified inhabitants of the nation into three main hierarchical categories, each of which would have different rights and duties in relation to the state: citizens, subjects, and aliens. The first category, citizens, were to possess full civic rights and responsibilities. Citizenship would be conferred only on males of German (or so-called "Aryan") heritage who had completed military service, and could be revoked at any time by the state. The Reich Citizenship Law of 1935 established racial criteria for citizenship in the German Reich, and because of this law Jews and others who could not prove "German" racial heritage were stripped of their citizenship.[36]

The second category, subjects, referred to all others who were born within the nation's boundaries who did not fit the racial criteria for citizenship. Subjects would have no voting rights, could not hold any position within the state, and possessed none of the other rights and civic responsibilities conferred on citizens. All women were to be conferred "subject" status upon birth, and could only obtain "citizen" status if they worked independently or if they married a German citizen (see women in Nazi Germany).

The final category, aliens, referred to those who were citizens of another state, who also had no rights.

"The People's State will classify its population in three groups: Citizens, subjects of the State, and aliens.

The principle is that birth within the confines of the State gives only the status of a subject. It does not carry with it the right to fill any position under the State or to participate in political life, such as taking an active or passive part in elections. Another principle is that the race and nationality of every subject of the State will have to be proved. A subject is at any time free to cease being a subject and to become a citizen of that country to which he belongs in virtue of his nationality. The only difference between an alien and a subject of the State is that the former is a citizen of another country.

The young boy or girl who is of German nationality and is a subject of the German State is bound to complete the period of school education which is obligatory for every German. Thereby he submits to the system of training which will make him conscious of his race and a member of the folk-community. Then he has to fulfil all those requirements laid down by the State in regard to physical training after he has left school; and finally he enters the army. The training in the army is of a general kind. It must be given to each individual German and will render him competent to fulfil the physical and mental requirements of military service. The rights of citizenship shall be conferred on every young man whose health and character have been certified as good, after having completed his period of military service. This act of inauguration in citizenship shall be a solemn ceremony.

And the diploma conferring the rights of citizenship will be preserved by the young man as the most precious testimonial of his whole life. It entitles him to exercise all the rights of a citizen and to enjoy all the privileges attached thereto. For the State must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and the support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled in the State simply as earners of their livelihood there.

On the occasion of conferring a diploma of citizenship the new citizen must take a solemn oath of loyalty to the national community and the State. This diploma must be a bond which unites together all the various classes and sections of the nation. It shall be a greater honour to be a citizen of this Reich, even as a street-sweeper, than to be the King of a foreign State.

The citizen has privileges which are not accorded to the alien. He is the master in the Reich. But this high honour has also its obligations. Those who show themselves without personal honour or character, or common criminals, or traitors to the fatherland, can at any time be deprived of the rights of citizenship. Therewith they become merely subjects of the State.

The German girl is a subject of the State but will become a citizen when she marries. At the same time those women who earn their livelihood independently have the right to acquire citizenship if they are German subjects."

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Volume II: The National Socialist Movement, Chapter III: Subjects and Citizens

Different senses[edit]

Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and duties. In this sense, citizenship was described as "a bundle of rights -- primarily, political participation in the life of the community, the right to vote, and the right to receive certain protection from the community, as well as obligations."[37] Citizenship is seen by most scholars as culture-specific, in the sense that the meaning of the term varies considerably from culture to culture, and over time.[8] In China, for example, there is a cultural politics of citizenship which could be called "peopleship".[38]

How citizenship is understood depends on the person making the determination. The relation of citizenship has never been fixed or static, but constantly changes within each society. While citizenship has varied considerably throughout history, and within societies over time, there are some common elements but they vary considerably as well. As a bond, citizenship extends beyond basic kinship ties to unite people of different genetic backgrounds. It usually signifies membership in a political body. It is often based on, or was a result of, some form of military service or expectation of future service. It usually involves some form of political participation, but this can vary from token acts to active service in government.

Citizenship is a status in society. It is an ideal state as well. It generally describes a person with legal rights within a given political order. It almost always has an element of exclusion, meaning that some people are not citizens, and that this distinction can sometimes be very important, or not important, depending on a particular society. Citizenship as a concept is generally hard to isolate intellectually and compare with related political notions, since it relates to many other aspects of society such as the family, military service, the individual, freedom, religion, ideas of right and wrong, ethnicity, and patterns for how a person should behave in society.[19] When there are many different groups within a nation, citizenship may be the only real bond which unites everybody as equals without discrimination—it is a "broad bond" linking "a person with the state" and gives people a universal identity as a legal member of a specific nation.[39]

Modern citizenship has often been looked at as two competing underlying ideas:[40]

  • The liberal-individualist or sometimes liberal conception of citizenship suggests that citizens should have entitlements necessary for human dignity.[41] It assumes people act for the purpose of enlightened self-interest. According to this viewpoint, citizens are sovereign, morally autonomous beings with duties to pay taxes, obey the law, engage in business transactions, and defend the nation if it comes under attack,[41] but are essentially passive politically,[40] and their primary focus is on economic betterment. This idea began to appear around the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and became stronger over time, according to one view.[9] According to this formulation, the state exists for the benefit of citizens and has an obligation to respect and protect the rights of citizens, including civil rights and political rights.[9] It was later that so-called social rights became part of the obligation for the state.[9]
  • The civic-republican or sometimes classical or civic humanist conception of citizenship emphasizes man's political nature, and sees citizenship as an active process, not a passive state or legal marker.[40] It is relatively more concerned that government will interfere with popular places to practice citizenship in the public sphere. Citizenship means being active in government affairs.[41] According to one view, most people today live as citizens according to the liberal-individualist conception but wished they lived more according to the civic-republican ideal.[40] An ideal citizen is one who exhibits "good civic behavior".[9] Free citizens and a republic government are "mutually interrelated."[9] Citizenship suggested a commitment to "duty and civic virtue".[9]

Further information: Civic engagement

Scholars suggest that the concept of citizenship contains many unresolved issues, sometimes called tensions, existing within the relation, that continue to reflect uncertainty about what citizenship is supposed to mean.[9] Some unresolved issues regarding citizenship include questions about what is the proper balance between duties and rights.[9] Another is a question about what is the proper balance between political citizenship versus social citizenship.[9] Some thinkers see benefits with people being absent from public affairs, since too much participation such as revolution can be destructive, yet too little participation such as total apathy can be problematic as well.[9] Citizenship can be seen as a special elite status, and it can also be seen as a democratizing force and something that everybody has; the concept can include both senses.[9] According to sociologistArthur Stinchcombe, citizenship is based on the extent that a person can control one's own destiny within the group in the sense of being able to influence the government of the group.[19]:p.150 One last distinction within citizenship is the so-called consent descent distinction, and this issue addresses whether citizenship is a fundamental matter determined by a person choosing to belong to a particular nation––by his or her consent––or is citizenship a matter of where a person was born––that is, by his or her descent.[11]


See also: Global citizenship

Some intergovernmental organizations have extended the concept and terminology associated with citizenship to the international level,[42] where it is applied to the totality of the citizens of their constituent countries combined. Citizenship at this level is a secondary concept, with rights deriving from national citizenship.

European Union[edit]

Main article: Citizenship of the European Union

The Maastricht Treaty introduced the concept of citizenship of the European Union. Article 17 (1) of the Treaty on European Union[43] stated that:

Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.[44]

An agreement known as the amended EC Treaty[44] established certain minimal rights for European Union citizens. Article 12 of the amended EC Treaty guaranteed a general right of non-discrimination within the scope of the Treaty. Article 18 provided a limited right to free movement and residence in Member States other than that of which the European Union citizen is a national. Articles 18-21 and 225 provide certain political rights.

Union citizens have also extensive rights to move in order to exercise economic activity in any of the Member States[45] which predate the introduction of Union citizenship.[46]


The concept of "Commonwealth Citizenship" has been in place ever since the establishment of the Commonwealth of Nations. As with the EU, one holds Commonwealth citizenship only by being a citizen of a Commonwealth member state. This form of citizenship offers certain privileges within some Commonwealth countries:

  • Some such countries do not require tourist visas of citizens of other Commonwealth countries.
  • In some Commonwealth countries resident citizens of other Commonwealth countries are entitled to political rights, e.g., the right to vote in local and national elections and in some cases even the right to stand for election.
  • In some instances the right to work in any position (including the civil service) is granted, except for certain specific positions, such as in the defense departments, Governor-General or President or Prime Minister.

Although Ireland was excluded from the Commonwealth in 1949 because it declared itself a republic, Ireland is generally treated as if it were still a member. Legislation often specifically provides for equal treatment between Commonwealth countries and Ireland and refers to "Commonwealth countries and Ireland".[47] Ireland's citizens are not classified as foreign nationals in the United Kingdom.

Canada departed from the principle of nationality being defined in terms of allegiance in 1921. In 1935 the Irish Free State was the first to introduce its own citizenship. However, Irish citizens were still treated as subjects of the Crown, and they are still not regarded as foreign, even though Ireland is not a member of the Commonwealth.[48] The Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947 provided for a distinct Canadian Citizenship, automatically conferred upon most individuals born in Canada, with some exceptions, and defined the conditions under which one could become a naturalized citizen. The concept of Commonwealth citizenship was introduced in 1948 in the British Nationality Act 1948. Other dominions adopted this principle such as New Zealand, by way of the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act of 1948.


Citizenship most usually relates to membership of the nation state, but the term can also apply at the subnational level. Subnational entities may impose requirements, of residency or otherwise, which permit citizens to participate in the political life of that entity, or to enjoy benefits provided by the government of that entity. But in such cases, those eligible are also sometimes seen as "citizens" of the relevant state, province, or region. An example of this is how the fundamental basis of Swiss citizenship is citizenship of an individual commune, from which follows citizenship of a canton and of the Confederation. Another example is Åland where the residents enjoy a special provincial citizenship within Finland, hembygdsrätt.

The United States has a federal system in which a person is a citizen of their specific state of residence, such as New Jersey or California, as well as a citizen of the United States. State constitutions may grant certain rights above and beyond what are granted under the United States Constitution and may impose their own obligations including the sovereign right of taxation and military service; each state maintains at least one military force subject to national militia transfer service, the state's national guard, and some states maintain a second military force not subject to nationalization.


Main article: Citizenship education (subject)

"Active citizenship" is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. In this vein, citizenship education is taught in schools, as an academic subject in some countries. By the time children reach secondary education there is an emphasis on such unconventional subjects to be included in academic curriculum. While the diagram on citizenship to the right is rather facile and depth-less, it is simplified to explain the general model of citizenship that is taught to many secondary school pupils. The idea behind this model within education is to instill in young pupils that their actions (i.e. their vote) affect collective citizenship and thus in turn them.

Republic of Ireland[edit]

It is taught in the Republic of Ireland as an exam subject for the Junior Certificate. It is known as Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE). A new Leaving Certificate exam subject with the working title 'Politics & Society' is being developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and is expected to be introduced to the curriculum sometime after 2012.[49]

United Kingdom[edit]

Citizenship is offered as a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) course in many schools in the United Kingdom. As well as teaching knowledge about democracy, parliament, government, the justice system, human rights and the UK's relations with the wider world, students participate in active citizenship, often involving a social action or social enterprise in their local community.

  • Citizenship is a compulsory subject of the National Curriculum in state schools in England for all pupils aged 11–16. Some schools offer a qualification in this subject at GCSE and A level. All state schools have a statutory requirement to teach the subject, assess pupil attainment and report student's progress in citizenship to parents.[50]
  • In Wales the model used is Personal and Social Education.[51][52]
  • Citizenship is not taught as a discrete subject in Scottish schools, but is a cross-curricular strand of the Curriculum for Excellence. However they do teach a subject called "Modern Studies" which covers the social, political and economic study of local, national and international issues.[53]
  • Citizenship is taught as a standalone subject in all state schools in Northern Ireland and most other schools in some forms from year 8 to 10 prior to GCSEs. Components of Citizenship are then also incorporated into GCSE courses such as 'Learning for Life and Work'.

Criticism of citizenship education in schools[edit]

There are two kinds of criticism of citizenship education in schools. Firstly, some philosophers of education argue that most governments and mainstream policies stimulate and advocate questionable approaches of citizenship education. These approaches aim to develop specific dispositions in students, dispositions conducive to political participation and solidarity. But there are radically different views on the nature of good citizenship and education should involve and develop autonomy and open-mindedness. Therefore, it requires a more critical approach than is possible when political participation and solidarity are conceived of as goals of education.[54] Secondly, some educationalists argue that merely teaching children about the theory of citizenship is ineffective, unless schools themselves reflect democratic practices by giving children the opportunity to have a say in decision making. They suggest that schools are fundamentally undemocratic institutions, and that such a setting cannot instill in children the commitment and belief in democratic values that is necessary for citizenship education to have a proper impact.[55] Some educationalists relate this criticism to John Dewey (see critical comments on this interpretation of Dewey: Van der Ploeg, 2016).[56]

See also[edit]



  1. ^Votruba, Martin. "Nationality, ethnicity in Slovakia". Slovak Studies Program. University of Pittsburgh. 
  2. ^Weis, Paul (1979). Nationality and Statelessness in International Law. Sijthoff & Noordhoff. p. 3. ISBN 9789028603295. 
  3. ^Article IV of the Philippine Constitution.
  4. ^8 USC Part I - Nationality at Birth and Collective Naturalization8 USC Part I - Nationality at Birth and Collective Naturalization
  5. ^UK government Web site: Bishops act to tackle sham marriages - New UK Border Agency approved guidance for clergy should help prevent weddings for visas, 11 April 2011
  6. ^ abcdeIsin, Engin F.; Bryan S. Turner, eds. (2002). Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Chapter 5 -- David Burchell -- Ancient Citizenship and its Inheritors; Chapter 6 -- Rogers M. Smith -- Modern Citizenship. London: Sage. pp. 89–104, 105. ISBN 0-7619-6858-X. 
  7. ^ abcdefghijklmnHeater, Derek (2004). A Brief History of Citizenship. New York City: New York University Press. p. 157. ISBN 0-8147-3671-8. 
  8. ^ abcHosking, Geoffrey (2005). Epochs of European Civilization: Antiquity to Renaissance. Lecture 3: Ancient Greece. United Kingdom: The Modern Scholar via Recorded Books. pp. 1, 2 (tracks). ISBN 1-4025-8360-5. 
  9. ^ abHebert (editor), Yvonne M. (2002). Citizenship in transformation in Canada. chapters by Veronica Strong-Boag, Yvonne Hebert, Lori Wilkinson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 3, 4, 5. ISBN 0-8020-0850-X. 
  10. ^See Civis romanus sum.
  11. ^ abcHosking, Geoffrey (2005). Epochs of European Civilization: Antiquity to Renaissance. Lecture 5: Rome as a city-state. United Kingdom: The Modern Scholar via Recorded Books. pp. tracks 1 through 9. ISBN 1-4025-8360-5. 
  12. ^ abcTaylor, David (1994). Bryan Turner; Peter Hamilton, eds. Citizenship: Critical Concepts. United States and Canada: Routledge. pp. 476 pages total;. ISBN 0-415-07036-8. 
  13. ^"A History of U.S. Citizenship". The Los Angeles Times. July 4, 1997. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  14. ^"A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  15. ^"Scott v. Sandford". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. 1857. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  16. ^"Constitution of the United States: Amendment XIV". The Charters of Freedom. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 1868. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  17. ^"Naturalization Act of 1870". Wikisource. U.S. Congress. 
  18. ^"1917 Immigration Act". US Immigration Legislation Online. University of Washington-Bothell Library.
Geoffrey Hosking suggests that fear of being enslaved was a central motivating force for the development of the Greek sense of citizenship. Sculpture: a Greek woman being served by a slave-child.
Portrait of Dred Scott, plaintiff in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford case at the Supreme Court of the United States, commissioned by a "group of Negro citizens" and presented to the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, in 1888
Many theorists suggest that there are two opposing conceptions of citizenship: an economic one, and a political one. For further information, see History of citizenship.
Diagram of relationship between; Citizens, Politicians + Laws

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