Citizenship – Highly Debated Throughout History

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It’s important to discuss citizenship because being able to define what constitutes as civic engagement can solidify the way we solve or discuss problems within our society. Some, like Aristotle, believe that citizenship is dictated by the power to take part in the decisions of a state or by possession of a government position. Others, like John Dewey, emphasized the idea of working as a whole for the common good and focusing on the public rather than a sole individual. Both takes on citizenship are flawed”Aristotle’s is too alienating, and Dewey’s concept is too idealistic”but both takes got certain points about citizenship correct.

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Aristotle claims that the citizen () differs under each form of government, (Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, 2024) that is to say, a citizen in a democracy will most likely not be a citizen in a dictatorship. This is not because of birthright, but rather because different types of government systems have different principles and values. In terms of a democracy, he insists that citizens are those who hold a position in government or who have the opportunity to make administrative decisions. As a result, laborers cannot be considered citizens because we cannot consider all those to be citizens who are necessary to the existence of the state (Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, 2028). Since they have several responsibilities and obligations, they can’t have the time to deliberate the issues and concerns of a society and thus cannot be considered a citizen.

Aristotle’s requirements on who can be considered a citizen are much too demanding and, in this day, and age, a very few number of people are actually able to fulfill these requisites. In addition, Aristotle’s views are also very elitist. It places citizenship solely on people that hold a government office, leaving the majority of society who cannot give as much time to leisurely activities or to things like education or political activism out of the running. This only works in forming an unfair hierarchy, with the upper class at the top and in control while the lower classes are forced towards the bottom. According to Aristotle, citizens should have little to no responsibilities, which is almost impossible nowadays since everyone has a job or a career that requires their time and attention. His demands are incredibly difficult to be met in today’s world, which doesn’t put his theory on a solid base. On the other hand, Aristotle’s take on the qualifications needed to be considered a citizen encourage political participation. Citizens would be required to make well-informed decisions affecting the public. Political participation”or lack thereof”is an issue in today’s world. It’s fair to assert that only those actively engaged in making change are citizens. These citizens would be civic agents and they’re the ones that work to improve our political community by starting discussions and bringing about change that will improve everyone’s life and not just a single group’s. Voting is an example of civic agency and it is the lack of voter participation that is a huge issue in our society now. People are not being as politically active as they can be either for lack of availability or apathy and it’s affecting the way we are governed.

John Dewey argues that democracy should be embedded not only in our political community, but in every aspect of our everyday lives. Everyone longs for freedom and it’s their search for it that can lead to conflict. Democracy, he believes, is the solution to these issues since it can serve as a moderator for individuals. A democratic government will ideally give everyone equal rights, as well as protect and defend them. Everyone will be entitled to stating their beliefs and interests. He claims that a good citizen finds his conduct as a member of a political group enriching and enriched by his participation in family life, industry, scientific and artistic associations, (Dewey, The Public and its Problems, 148) meaning that in order to be considered a good citizen one must not only be involved in the political community but said involvement will be improved by all other aspects of their life. As a result, they will be more well-rounded and prepared to take on the challenges that inevitably appear when in a democracy. If the public are deprived of education and knowledge, then they will be ill-informed and unable to make decisions that benefit the public as a whole. As a result, the society will no longer be a democracy since only those with enough power to receive an education will be ruling. Only when education and proper communication channels are adapted so that they’re available to everyone will there be an ideal democracy. By using our intellect, scientific inquiry, and moral reasoning, we can solve our problems. In order to be a good citizen, according to Dewey, one must obtain an effective sense of being an individually distinctive member of society; one who understands and appreciates its beliefs, desires and methods, and who contributes to a further conversion of organic powers into human resources and values (Dewey, The Public and its Problems, 134).

Dewey’s ideas seem more plausible than Aristotle’s. For one, it’s not as exclusive or elitist. He places tremendous importance on education for all, which is easy to support. The idea that everyone needs to have access to the same education in order to make decisions that will affect everyone is a good one. Today, a lot of people tend to vote or spout rhetoric without being fully informed and seeing the complete picture. This is an issue because if you vote without being knowledgeable on the topic, you could potentially be harming yourself and other people. Democracy is a system that permits everyone to have a voice. There are many issues with our society today. For starters, it’s getting more and more difficult to hold a meaningful conversation with someone of differing opinions. The polarization of our society causes us to be forceful, rather than patient and understanding. The problem with Dewey’s view, however, is that he is far too idealistic. There will always be a difference of opinion amongst citizens in a society and no matter how much we all communicate, there are times when no one can reach an agreement. If one is reached, there will always be someone that is unhappy with the compromise or decision. Not only that, but there will always be citizens that perhaps do not want to communicate. People tend to be set in their ways and can be very opposed to change. There’s really not much that can be done to change the perspective of these people.

The best way to determine citizenship is through civic agency. As long as someone is actively engaged in their community and contributes ideas and actions that only serve to progress society, they can be considered a citizen. There is too much relevance given to whether or not someone who is part of the state can be a citizen. For one thing, change can be brought about by anyone”a part of the state or not”it’s all about determination and dedication. Secondly, assuming that a political community is not necessarily an entire nation, then someone’s relation to the state is irrelevant since a political community can be entirely local or perhaps completely separate from the state.

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Citizenship - Highly Debated Throughout History. (2019, Apr 12). Retrieved February 1, 2023 , from

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