political revue


Year XXXV, 1993, Numero 2 - Page 80




The concept of citizenship has attained an extraordinary fortune in the politico-cultural debate of the 1980’s and 90’s. It is commonly held that the citizenship issue contains certain crucial characteristics that facilitate the definition of an individual’s political role (in particular a new code of citizens’ rights and duties) in the society of the future; a society in which class struggle has ceased to be the key issue of political life.
The idea of citizenship began as a juridical concept in Roman law. The ius civitatis defined the political rights of the civis romanus, the member of the city’s political order, and was considered distinct from civil rights, which guaranteed the equality of all before the law, foreigners included.
In his book Citizenship and Social Class, [1] Marshall has reinterpreted in sociological terms the concept of citizenship in industrial societies. He has studied the growth of the content of citizenship through three progressive stages: the recognition of civil rights (which guarantee the individual’s liberty against interference from the state and secure life, liberty and property, to use Locke’s famous triad); political rights (which guarantee the citizen’s participation in political decision-making); and social rights (which guarantee citizens a minimum wage and social security). This process spans three phases of the class struggle: the initial affirmation of bourgeois rights, followed by middle class and finally working class ones. Civil rights are an achievement of the liberal movement, and are safeguarded by the rule of law based on the principle of the division of powers. The democratic movement led to the achievement of political rights, including the principles of popular sovereignty and democratic government being based on universal suffrage. Social rights are the fruit of the struggle of the socialist movement and affirmation of the welfare state.
However it is worth clarifying that, contrary to what Marshall argues, the sphere of citizenship does not coincide with all three categories of the above-mentioned rights, but only with those of political rights. Clearly, both negative liberty, which protects the citizen from the arbitrary interference of the state in his private sphere, and social rights, which offer the individual the means to give substance to liberty, represent essential conditions for dismantling the barriers that impede free and independent participation in the democratic process. Nevertheless the sphere of political rights, as distinct from human rights, coincides with active political participation. Its specific character consists in the power attributed to citizens to take part in the law-making process and hence in the potential for mobilising the people against possible attacks on their rights as citizens and, more generally, against any possible degeneration of the democratic system.
It needs to be remarked on that democracy has so far only been established within state borders and, as long as it remains thus restricted, attitudes, policies and institutions will survive violating democratic principles.
The rights of man and citizens that are established on a national level are denied at the international level, since international politics is still based on the use of force between states, and hence is still in the state of nature. Furthermore, international anarchy hinders the full realisation of democracy even at the national level, because national governments are pushed to favour security over liberty and equality, and even to sacrifice these values, if necessary, to the requirements of defence, and to militarism and centralism. More specifically, the division of the world into sovereign states highlights three limitations to democracy.
The first limitation derives from the fact that democracy has so far only been established in a few states. As a result the division between democratic and undemocratic states represents an obstacle to the establishment of world democracy, which requires, as already pointed out by Kant in To Perpetual Peace, that “the constitution of every nation” be “republican”.[2]
The second limitation is due to the fact that democracy has so far generally taken the form of national democracy. The general will of citizens has expressed itself only in a divided fashion, in national representative institutions.
If the formation of the general will is confined within national borders it thus becomes a contradictory concept: it is one individual and separate will in conflict with other national interests. In other words, the suffrage is not universal, but national. Many national suffrages co-exist simultaneously, which express numerous conflicting national wills.
This contradiction can be overcome by asserting the idea of the general will of mankind, which can take shape only within the framework of a world federation. In reality, only a democratic world government can facilitate the democratic and rational control of the clash between different and divergent national wills.
It needs to be stressed that the purpose of the destruction of nations is foreign to federalist plans. The overcoming of the exclusive sovereignty of nations involves solely the transfer of powers upwards (as well as downwards) in such a way that nations lose only those powers that can be exercised more effectively at higher (or lower) levels; but they will not lose all their powers. Great revolutionary changes have the character of a break; nevertheless they do not interrupt the evolution of history. According to the dialectic concept of history, revolutionary action is negation, but at the same time conservation, that is a transformation or, to use Hegel’s term, an overcoming (Aufhebung) of the old order.
In other words, the conflict between national and supranational requirements, which characterises the processes of political unification, can be resolved by federal compromise, whose essence is the overcoming of exclusive national sovereignty while respecting national independence. Popular sovereignty, which legitimises power, can be expressed in accordance with a federal power distribution structure, on two or potentially many levels, spanning from local community to the entire world.
The third limitation depends on the coinciding of citizenship and nationality. On the basis of this principle, the national state recognises only the political rights of those who fulfil the nationality requirement, and excludes foreigners from participating in the democratic process. In a world in which, in the final instance, states resort to war to resolve international conflicts, the exclusion of foreigners from exercising political rights has solid foundations: in the event of war, foreigners may collude with the enemy of the state which is hosting them.
Consequently, although democracy is based on the principle of universal suffrage, in reality, due to the division of the world into sovereign states, the right to vote is only granted to the nationals of individual states. A foreigner is thereby excluded from active and passive electoral rights in the country where he resides. In this way, the democratic principle has been interpreted to mean that only those who fulfil the nationality requirement have the right to participate in political life, and foreigners are to be excluded from exercising this right.
In connection, it is worth recalling that both the French and Russian revolutions asserted the principle of extending the right to vote to foreigners, in their initial phases before prevailing nationalism extinguished their universal momentum. Today, the question is posed once again in an even more acute form due to the crisis of the national state and developments in the process of political unification. After the extension of the right to vote to a greater number of people, thanks to the fall of barriers based on wealth and sex, and the lowering of age limits, the new goal in the struggle to extend the vote is the ending of nationality requirements.
In other words, the exercise of the right to vote and other political rights should be linked to the sole requirement of residence. The implications of this principle are explosive, since it enables the separation of what the national principle has maintained united: nationality and citizenship. In fact, the attribution of political rights on the basis of the criterion of residence, independent of nationality, is a principle which is applied in all federations of states. It is time to extend these rights throughout the world by establishing Kant’s “cosmopolitan right”, of which he wrote in To Perpetual Peace,[3] and the introduction of a cosmopolitan citizenship.
The overcoming of these three limitations to democracy brings us to the conditions elaborated by Kant two hundred years ago for the establishment of perpetual peace. These are the three “definitive articles for perpetual peace among nations”,[4] whose essential elements are as follows: 1) all states must be republics; 2) world federation is the means by which to give legal weight to international law; 3) cosmopolitan law must grant foreigners the right to be protected by the state in which they reside, on condition that they do not act in a hostile way towards their host state.
These are the three principal features to Kant’s proposal, which tends to give a legal solution to the problem of peace. They represent three stages in the process of extending the rule of law to all social relations: first to relationships among individuals within a single people (public law), then to relationships among the states into which the human race is divided (international law), and finally to relationships among all peoples in their capacity as a universal state (cosmopolitan law).
The crisis of the national state, which has been brought about by the internationalisation of productive processes and the international scale of major political, economic and social problems, has also been the cause of the crisis of democracy. In reality, the democratic powers, due to their national dimension, have lost control of the historical process; while at the international level, where the major problems can be solved, no democratic institutions exist. The ultimate significance of European unification consists in the overcoming of the national state and the start of international democracy.
Habermas[5] has recently argued that European union, in its capacity as a multinational community, may be the place for testing a new principle for legitimising power: constitutional patriotism. This expression designates a new reference point around which the collective identity in post-national societies could crystallise: the universal principles of the rule of law and democracy.
It should be stressed that this principle of legitimacy concerns the political regime, while the legitimisation of the political community, which has the function of ensuring the cohesion of the people within the state, will continue to be an indispensable element in maintaining the unity of the state as long as the world remains divided into sovereign states. In fact, every state will have to justify and, if necessary, defend its borders and legitimise the membership of a population in a distinct political community.
This means that in post-national societies some form of national sentiment will survive; its reference point will be the union of nations. This sentiment will be weakened by the contradiction undermining it, which is to survive in a post-national age and to justify power in a multinational community.
The national principle will therefore be fully overcome only when the federative process among nations is extended throughout the world.
Nevertheless the European federation will start the transition process towards this goal. Indeed it will be the first example of the overcoming of Europe’s historic nations, which express the idea of the natural division of mankind into hostile, warring communities, and will pave the way for the assertion of the principles of a cosmopolitan society. There are three reasons for believing this.
First, the European Community has not simply carried forward a unification process between democratic states, but has exercised influence internationally on its neighbouring states; this has conspired to bring about the fall of fascist and communist authoritarian regimes, which, in turn, represents a prerequisite for the Community’s progressive enlargement.
Second, with the European elections the process of asserting international democracy, alongside national democracy, has started. Two limitations remain: the democratic area is extended only to a part of the world; moreover the European Parliament has not yet been granted full legislative rights. As a result, the design of international democracy will not be fully realised until these limitations have been overcome.
Third, as regards more precisely European citizenship, this has been introduced by the Maastricht Treaty. European citizenship represents an important goal in the difficult process of the democratic transformation of the European Community and creation of the European state. It should be stressed that Maastricht has simply outlined the goal, which cannot be achieved until the Community’s democratic deficit has been overcome; in other words, until full legislative powers are granted to the European Parliament. Without the democratic process being fully developed on European soil, European citizenship will remain an empty expression. Indeed what sense is there in exercising the right to vote in European elections with all Community citizens voting in their state of residence, if the final say in the legislative process is generally reserved for the national governments in the inner sanctum of the Council?
The fact remains however that the Maastricht Treaty, by attributing the right to vote in local and European elections to member state citizens in their country of residence, has broken the bond between nationality and citizenship, which brings the Community another step closer to the federalist pattern.
It should be added that European unification, precisely because its central feature is the overcoming of the national principle, has enabled progress to be achieved as regards the recognition of political rights even for non-Community citizens. The European Parliament’s decision to extend the right to petition to non-Community citizens is the latest step in this direction. In addition, some Community countries (Denmark, Ireland and Holland), have followed Sweden and Norway’s example, and recognised the active and passive right to vote in local elections for all resident citizens, non-Community ones included. The above is the expression of nascent cosmopolitan citizenship principles at the heart of European society.
The fact that electoral rights have so far only been recognised for local elections demonstrates that the conditions for extending these rights to the level of international politics do not yet exist. Nevertheless, participation in local elections allows immigrants to influence political decisions which have a considerable impact on their living conditions, relating for example to housing, education and health issues, and encourages their effective integration in the community which is hosting them. It is worth adding that nothing is preventing the immediate extension of the right to vote in provincial and regional elections to all resident people. Moreover the prospect of national states becoming member states of the European federation creates the necessary conditions for extending recognition of these rights even at the national level. If the European federation is able to follow the spirit of previous great revolutionary changes, there exists the possibility that it may progressively assert the recognition of political rights for all persons in their country of residence, beginning with the citizens of states which have particular ties of friendship, such as the United Kingdom has done for Commonwealth citizens and Portugal for Brazilian citizens. Only by applying this principle at all levels will the European federation give due weight to its nature of a multinational political organisation, open to the rest of the world, and allow it to present itself as the first stage on the road to the unification of the human race.
Lucio Levi

[1] T.H. Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1950.
[2] I. Kant, “To Perpetual Peace” (1795), in Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, ed. by T. Humphrey, Indianapolis, Hackett, 1983, p. 112.
[3] Ibid., p. 118.
[4] Ibid., Second Section.
[5] J. Habermas, Staatsbürgerschaft und nationale Identität. Überlegungen zur europäischen Zukunft, St. Gallen, Erker Verlag, 1991.




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