Year XLI, 1999, Number 1, Page 55



The article by Keith Suter “Rethinking World Citizenship”, published in issue number 3/1998 of this journal, gives us a detailed and well constructed picture of some of the changes that are taking place in our post-industrial society of global communication, and looks at the effects they will have on the concept of citizenship.
According to the historical diagnosis of Mario Albertini, these changes are linked to the evolution of the mode of production which, following a phase of vertical integration that has brought to the fore and introduced into the political process new social classes, allows an outward process of integration, in other words, a process of integration which extends beyond national boundaries. This second process is what triggered, to use Albertini’s expression again, the supranational course of history; it rendered conceivable the formation, through the establishment of federal ties, of unions of states as a means of adapting the political framework and political institutions to an increasingly interdependent society (and in Europe gave rise to a concrete federal design).
In federalist thought, the characteristic features of this developing society, outlined in Suter’s article, represent the historical-social conditions which make it possible to transform into political aims the ideals of peace, universal brotherhood and equality among all men which have been, and still are, aspects of religious thought and of political ideologies (liberalism, democracy, socialism), but which are, in reality, obstructed by the division of the world into sovereign and independent states.
The question of world citizenship needs to be viewed in the context of this historical diagnosis not only in order to appreciate the potentialities it offers, but also to be both “realist”, in the positive sense of the word (its negative sense being the incapacity to interpret reality as well as merely recording it), and able to apply concepts in the spheres to which they pertain.
And the concept of citizenship can, substantially, be interpreted in two ways. In one, the word has the same general meaning as it has in cosmopolitan thought and as such has, above all, a psychological significance (that of “feeling like” a world citizen) that is certainly neither new, nor exclusive to the age in which we live. Having said that, however, the cosmopolitan thought of the past (with the exception of that of Immanuel Kant, who overcame its limits), being founded purely on culture and on ideals, was limited to a narrow circle of people — and it could not have been otherwise, given the degree of evolution of the society in which it manifested itself. On the contrary, the present information-oriented development of society allows cosmopolitan feelings nowadays to be based on concrete and daily experiences of life which are, as Suter so clearly illustrates, shared by a constantly growing number of people.
But if, as he says, “They will also be increasingly world citizens in an economic and cultural sense” — if, in other words, a new historical-social framework is being created, this does not automatically mean that a world citizenship (citizenship here having a different significance from the general psychological one mentioned earlier) is being created, too.
If we want to appreciate the full potentiality of this new world situation, it must be recognised that the concept of citizenship also has its own, very real, political significance (and this is the second way of interpreting the concept). A citizen is invested with rights and is subject to obligations in the framework of an organised society. And a society is organised when its functioning is regulated by political institutions. Therefore, in the context of a state, one can quite correctly talk of citizens and citizenship.
Now, the concept of national citizenship has been rendered obsolete by the fact that the framework of the nation-state, too small to cope with the size of the problems with which it faced, is undergoing a profound crisis. In this framework, the rights and obligations of the citizens are becoming, to the extent to which these individuals are no longer able to exercise effectively their fundamental right to take part in the democratic decision-making process, nothing more than empty words. And the same is true, and in fact is even more obvious, in areas where the inadequacy of nation-states prompts the creation of international organisations, organisations in which intergovernmental collaboration still reflects the relationships, based on strength, typical of a hierarchical system of states, and from which the citizens are entirely excluded.
If all this is true, then Suter’s remarks can be completed by adding (to the objective factors contributing to the current evolution that he expounds) the need for subjective factors to come into play as well: volition and action in the political realm of human behaviour. These are the only factors that can give rise to new institutions which, by extending the sphere of “statehood” through the creation of regional federations of states, in order to move towards a world federation, can also extend the scope of democratic citizenship.
The concept of exclusive citizenship, linked to the nation-state, is not something which can be overcome spontaneously; for this to come about fully, nation-states will have to be replaced by federal states in which each individual will be a citizen on a number of levels. And he will be a citizen of the district, town, region, state and of the federation (even, in the future, of the world federation) to which he belongs because he shares in the choices which each level of government is required to make.
The non-governmental organisations (NGOs), with their global sphere of action, certainly help considerably to raise awareness of the need to overcome the barriers that are the boundaries of states. However, if they are to be more than just a passive reflection of the evolution that is taking place, they need to realise that “shaping society” means making choices, and that it is only within democratic political institutions that such choices can truly be made.
European federalists are striving to complete the transition from the Europe of nations to the European federation, precisely in order to give real meaning to the right of European citizenship which, while it is formally recognised in the Maastricht Treaty, is to be brought to fruition in concrete terms. Only a world federation, if and when it is created, will have the capacity to establish real world citizenship.
Nicoletta Mosconi

Share with