Future Citizen News
Global Citizenship versus Cosmopolitan Citizenship

At the Future Citizen Institute we are concerned with conceptualizing and understanding the idea of citizenship in the 21st century. However, what is the proper name for citizenship in an increasingly mobile and interconnected world? Is it global citizenship? Cosmopolitan citizenship? And what will be the role of the nation state? Is it possible for global citizenship, nation state citizenship, and more local forms of citizenship to co-exist?


On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the global financial crisis we took stock of citizenship-related developments since 2008, drawing on an editorial in Citizenship Studies. Two of the observations made in that editorial about global or cosmopolitan citizenship are worth quoting here at length (our emphasis):


It is doubtful whether citizenship can become global since it remains a state institution, and it is based on contributions that presuppose a reciprocal relationship between rights and obligations, and imply a relationship between rights and territory. To employ the notion of citizenship to understand rights claims outside the confines of the state often neglects the effective conceptual domain of the concept. A citizen exists originally within the political confines of a state, and until a genuinely global state exists that has sovereign powers to impose its will, it is misleading to talk about the “global citizen”. This criticism suggests that some terms in social science are based on the state and cannot be redefined arbitrarily. Yet, it does not follow that the concept of citizenship is obsolete, inadequate or must remain contained within the state. Citizenship does extend beyond the state but through institutions and practices that cannot be captured by the concept “global citizen”. We need to distinguish “global citizen” from “cosmopolitan citizen”.


As regards how states implicate citizens without their movement, there have been multilateral arrangements and international accords that implicate (or fail to implicate) their citizens in a web of rights and responsibilities concerning the environment (wildlife, pollution), trade (copyright, protection), refugees, crime, minorities, war, children and many other issues. While the enforceability of these accords and compliance are ongoing matters, virtually no state exists in a social, political or economic isolation. This implicates citizens of states in an international regime of responsibilities and obligations by virtue of the involvement of their states in them. This complex web of rights and responsibilities implicating citizens in various ethical, political and social decisions is important to think about citizenship beyond the state. It does not follow that such thinking should assume citizenship without the state but investigate the ways in which such overflowing rights and responsibilities can be institutionalized without an appeal to a “world” or “global” state.


The assumption underlying these quotes is that citizenship is a political idea based on reciprocity. This goes in the direction of what David Miller has argued in a chapter in Varieties of Sovereignty and Citizenship (an earlier draft is available here). In his book On Nationality, Miller had already submitted that ‘nationality answers one of the most pressing needs of the modern world, namely how to maintain solidarity among the populations of states that are large and anonymous, such that their citizens cannot possibly enjoy the kind of community that relies on kinship or face-to-face interaction’. In his view, nationality comprises three interconnected propositions. These concern nationality as part of one’s personal identity, an ethical dimension to nationality (meaning that the duties owed to fellow-nationals are in principle different from, and more extensive than, the duties owed to human beings as such), and finally a political dimension. The latter proposition, as described in Miller’s Citizenship and Nationality Identity, implies that ‘people who form a national community in a particular territory have a good claim to political self-determination; there ought to be put in place an institutional structure that enables them to decide collectively matters that concern primarily their own community’. The latter point raises pertinent questions about the right to state secession.


In his book chapter, Miller agrees that global citizenship does not need to mirror in all aspects the citizenship that has so far been achieved on the national or city-state level. Nevertheless,


if it is to be a form of citizenship at all, the relationship between co-citizens must be a reciprocal one. That in turn requires two things. First, citizens must know who their fellow-citizens are, and must expect them to act as citizens, that is to say be motivated to achieve whatever form of political agreement is appropriate to the particular relationship in question. Second, each must know enough about the others – about their beliefs and their interests – to know which outcomes are ones that they could possibly accept and which are not.


The recurrent question in Miller’s piece – and a fundamental one at that – is whether the concept of global citizenship as it has developed in recent years, drawing inspiration from a large body of literature going back to classical antiquity and Immanuel Kant, is deserving of the name citizenship. He feels that it does not for lack of the indispensable political relationship between fellow-citizens that characterizes the idea of citizenship. Arguing that ‘the person who aspires to be a good global citizen in this everyday sense needs first of all to become an active citizen at local and national level, because this is where the necessary authority structures already exist’, Miller submits that


it is wrong to think of global citizenship as though it were an alternative to local or national citizenship. We can’t have a relationship to all our fellow human beings that is genuinely a relation of citizen to citizen; what we can do is identify with them, show ethical concern for them, arrange our institutions to avoid global harms. In other words we can have citizenship that incorporates global concern; besides factoring in the beliefs and interests of our compatriots when collective decisions have to be made, we can take account of the concerns of people outside of the political community. How best to do this is of course a big practical problem.


Dani Rodrik has put forth a similar argument from an economic perspective, going so far as to claim that democracy, the nation state and globalization cannot exist simultaneously. Claiming that you can only have two out of three at the same time, Rodrik emphasises the strength and importance of the traditional democracy-nation state tandem:


The nation-state has long been under attack from liberal economists and cosmopolitan ethicists alike. But it has proved remarkably resilient and remains the principal locus of governance as well as the primary determinant of personal attachments and identity. The global financial crisis has further underscored its centrality. Against the background of the globalization revolution, the tendency is to view the nation-state as a hindrance to the achievement of desirable economic and social outcomes. Yet it remains indispensable to the achievement of those goals.


Will a recent Financial Times commentary therefore be right in claiming that ‘historians will look back on the crisis of 2008 as the moment the world’s most powerful nations surrendered international leadership, and globalization went into reverse’?


Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk