Kochenov: The Growth of Citizenship and Decline of Duties

The gradual extension of the scope of those enjoying the rights of citizenship among the actual bearers of the status is a well-known story of women, indigenous peoples, and other minorities. The gradual extension of those enjoying the status of citizenship in full is the story of the ‘coloreds’ “unfit for citizenship”, of migrants, and of colonial subjects. Once it became unacceptable not to extend the rights of citizenship to settled minority categories, not allowing them to pass on citizenship became obviously problematized, just like the right of other minorities to enjoy access to the status as such.

As the gap between the scope of nominal citizens and the scope of citizens with citizenship rights was drastically diminishing (women were granted the right to vote and pass on their citizenship status to their descendants, for instance), coupled with the extension of the status of citizenship to formerly excluded minority groups (think of the extension of full Australian citizenship to Aboriginals, for instance), the ideological distinction between citizens and non-citizens in a society expectedly came to be problematized and contested, bringing about the increasing extension of rights, coupled with a grant of a (theoretical) possibility of acquiring citizenship status to any settled resident of any modern liberal democratic state.

Crucially, and inseparably from the story of status and rights, the same evolution affected citizenship duties too. Traditionally the main vehicle of transposition of purely legal truths into the reality of day-to-day lives through coercion, mass schooling, and conscription, duties of citizenship are undergoing an astonishingly speedy recess in the majority of liberal democratic jurisdictions around the globe, as forging a good citizen — that is, punishing those who deviate from the legal truth enforced by teachers, the army, and the police (and, crucially, the complacency of the well-meaning, law-abiding masses) — is no longer a defensible task of the state.

In the majority of liberal democratic jurisdictions there is no conscription, no more citizenship-based taxation, and no more harassment of dual nationals, to give just a few examples. As long as the duties and the civic virtues promoted by any state are necessarily designed to quash the recognition of minority groups in society (and sometimes even majority groups, as was the case with women all around the world and Black people in South Africa), any arguments for their goodness and necessity fail to tell the whole truth, stopping at the retelling of the ideological mantras of the unity of demos and political community, as polished as they are comfortable, and ignoring the functions of such duties in the actual societies on the ground.

It is a most-welcome development that citizenship is no longer centered on duties, thus becoming less totalitarian, more inclusive, and forward-looking. Truly, 19th century scholars would find it most surprising and counterintuitive that full citizenship, including a package of rights associated therewith, is attainable without conscription and sacrifice, let alone extended to the legally ‘unfit’ who cannot be conscripted at all — for instance, women and/or minorities.

With the waning away of the need to rationalize discrimination and de facto inequalities within the de jure status of equals, which seems to be the key function with which the duties of citizenship have traditionally been endowed, the modern state certainly lost some of its stakes in the grand citizenship narrative of egalité, liberté, and fraternité for the very select few on the pre-set terms of goodness that have to be shared by all at gunpoint.

Register to receive the digital version of each edition of the Global Citizenship Review