Session VII Conceptions of Citizenship

Conceptions of Citizenship
Steven Lee, Cosmopolitan Citizenship
Emily Gill, National Citizenship and Civil Marriage: Ascriptive and Consensual Methods
Moderator, Helga Varden
Rapporteur, Stephen Nathanson
Emily Gill discusses two types of criteria that might be used for granting (or not granting) citizenship to immigrants and likens this issue to similar questions about criteria for recognizing (or denying) the status of being married to same-sex couples. In one case, society either allows or denies a person’s attempt to acquire the status of citizenship while in the other, it either allows or rejects the attempt by people of the same sex to have the status of marriage.
Gill describes two types of criteria: a) ascriptive criteria that focus on qualities of the people seeking a certain social status and b) consensual criteria that focus on whether or not members of a society support giving people or groups the status that they desire, whether it is citizenship or marriage.
Gill notes that it is often believed that ascriptive criteria for citizenship are more rigid and exclusionary. This is based on the fact that in the past, ethnic, racial, and religious criteria have been used to deny citizenship to people. In the marriage case, ascriptive criteria have limited marriage to couples of different sexes.
A central claim made by Gill is that ascriptive criteria can be more inclusive than consensual criteria. Consensual criteria, which derive from liberal theories that emphasize the importance of agreement by members of a society, will be exclusionary whenever members of a society oppose granting a desired status to people, whether it is marriage or citizenship.
Ascriptive criteria can be friendly to granting citizenship to aspiring immigrants or marital status to same sex couples. This would be the case, for example, if living with another person provided the ascriptive basis for recognizing a marriage and living in a country for a certain period of time provided the basis for recognizing people as citizens.
Gill does not argue that one type of criterion is necessarily more inclusive than the other in granting the status of citizenship or marriage. Rather, she concludes with the more modest view that “the consensual model can function to exclude, whereas the ascriptive model can be more inclusive.” Apparently, then, both ascriptive and consensual criteria can take inclusive or exclusionary forms.
Finally, Gill noted that there is a tendency to favor married over unmarried people, and she saw this an unjust form of inequality. Just as marriages with male and female partners should not have higher status than same sex marriages, so too married people should not have a higher status or access to important benefits that are denied to unmarried persons.
One focus of discussion was the contrast between ascriptive and consensual criteria and the claim that ascriptive criteria can be more inclusive than consensual ones. Given the importance of criteria for recognition of valuable status, it was suggested that there is a need for a normative theory about which types of features are (in)appropriate for making status decisions about citizenship and marriage.
One key question is what counts as an ascriptive feature. Must ascriptive features be inherited traits such as race, gender, or ethnic group? Or can relational features—like living in a particular place or living with a partner—be ascriptive as well? In fact, various relational features—such as the chances of people’s adapting to a new country by sharing its language and values—have been accepted as relevant to citizenship claims. Similarly, in the past, couples were often recognized by their society if they possessed relational features such as living together or having children.
One problem raised is that basing citizenship on participating in a society overlooks the fact that non-citizen resident may be excluded from participation in relevant social relationships. A non-citizen, for example, may be denied the right to serve on a local school board. Gill noted that even if particular roles or activities are denied to non-citizens, they may have other ways of acting as members if, for example, they have children in a school system. This may allow the parents to participate in more informal ways.
Responding to her use of the analogy between citizenship and marriage, one person asked whether citizenship is like marriage in having a commitment to one partner. A related question involved polygamy. Suppose that we accept as a criterion for marriage the fact that people have a stable relationship and live together. Would meeting this criterion provide grounds for recognizing polygamous marriages? Should it? Gill said that she “would consider” the legalization of polygamy.
It was pointed out that in considering relationships as a basis for recognition of marriages, there is a tendency to stress the love and affection that same sex couples may have for one another. This tendency obscures the fact that people may marry for practical benefits and that this motivation can be as legitimate as romantic love. It would be a mistake to assume overly romanticized conceptions of marital relations. In response, Gill said that she accepted this and did not support the idea of a narrow list of ascriptive features.
Regarding benefits and harms, it was pointed out that gay persons often suffer various harms when their traits and relationships are not recognized as legitimate. These harms can be far from trivial, as shown by high levels of suicides among gay people who live in societies that reject same sex relationships. Social recognition help to alleviate the harms generated by anti-gay policies and attitudes.
A further question was raised about the nature of ascriptive criteria and their relations to consensual views. Once relational criteria are accepted as relevant, can’t features such as “being accepted by one’s society” or “provoking hostility in many people” be seen as ascriptive? But if they can be, then one may wonder whether there actually is a contrast between ascriptive and consensual criteria. At a minimum, the contrast needs to be clarified, especially when ascriptive criteria are broadened to include relational properties.
On the issue of marriage, it was noted that common law marriages can generate moral obligations even though they have not been legally recognized.
Finally, returning to a point made by Gill, it was suggested that there is a need to avoid “couplism,” the tendency to grant special recognition and privileges to married people. Being married can be an advantage for people who seek to immigrate and become citizens in a new country. While the value of marriage has been emphasized in the same sex marriage debate, the view that unmarried people are somehow less valuable should be avoided. As Gill noted, we should avoid seeing married people as privileged insiders and unmarried people as outsiders.
Steven Lee defends the view that there can be such a thing as cosmopolitan citizenship even though there is no global political structure and no legal standing for claims to global citizenship. A key argument for his claim involves a comparison with the status of slaves in the pre-Civil War United States. Before the Civil War, slaves did not have the legal status of being persons, yet we would all recognize that they were persons. Similarly, people can be cosmopolitan citizens in a moral sense even though this status is not recognized by current laws.
Lee responds to several criticisms of the idea of cosmopolitan citizenship developed by David Miller. According to Lee, in spite of the lack of legal status, the idea of cosmopolitan citizenship has moral content. It contains three important features that are realizable in the absence of legal status: a) a recognition of basic rights and duties that belong to all people, b) involvement in political activities that aim for the good of the global community, and c) the psychological benefits of “feelings of belonging and a sense of identity, and…a sense of solidarity with their fellow [world] citizens.”
1. Among the comments, some combined both challenges to the idea of cosmopolitan citizenship and sympathy with its underlying motivation. Three points that expressed this combination were:
a) That although the concept of cosmopolitan citizenship does not designate a factual status, it is a valuable metaphor that suggests that all persons have equal worth independently of the particular community they belong to.
b) That cosmopolitan citizenship is an aspirational concept, the expression of a wish for something that does not yet exist because it is not recognized by existing institutions.
c) That cosmopolitan citizenship suggests an equal concern for all people but mistakenly ties this to the concept of citizenship, which is something quite separate.
One person linked cosmopolitan citizenship with the notion of “civitas,” the ideal of an association that is dedicated to the pursuit of justice. From this perspective, perhaps (in the spirit of Lee’s paper) cosmopolitan citizenship can exist when there are people who are associated in the pursuit of global justice even if the association is moral and personal rather than legal or institutional.
Similarly, one suggestion was that the aspiration toward cosmopolitan citizenship reflects the need for ways of grappling with global problems and the lack of adequate institutions for dealing with these problems. The people, for example, who gathered in the September 2014 climate march—over 300,000 in New York City and many others is cities around the world—were trying to act as global citizens in spite of the lack of institutions that are capable of protecting the world environment. This event may be described either as aspirational or as creating genuine citizen-like activities.
2. While much of the discussion focused on issues concerning the idea of individuals being cosmopolitan citizens, other comments focused on cosmopolitanism’s implications for institutions.
One question that was raised concerned the implications of adopting cosmopolitan citizenship. Would adopting this idea create genuine demands on existing countries? What would be the practical implications of accepting this?
This question is related to issues that often arise in discussions of cosmopolitan institutions. Do cosmopolitans support a world government? And if so, is this a good thing? Would it do away with local and national institutions? Would its decisions trump all decisions made by lower level institutions?
A few people suggested that we already have these types of institutions. The U.S., for example, has a federal system that includes both a central federal government and as well as state and local governments. Each level may have final say on different types of issues. Similarly, we already have various international institutions such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. These exist without doing away with lower level institutions. This shows that aspects of a world government already exist and can develop further without overthrowing national systems.
3. One challenge, offered in the spirit of a devil’s advocate, suggested that nation states were better than cosmopolitan, global institutions. Nation states are better vehicles, for example, for deciding issues regarding governance and for protecting the rights of their citizens. Nations can also promote global justice when they recognize that although their primary obligations are to the nation and its citizens, they also have genuine but weaker obligations to outsiders. This combination can help to achieve global justice while avoiding the confusions generated by the idea of cosmopolitan citizenship.
Two criticisms were made in response to this challenge. One, by Steven Lee, challenged the idea that nation states were better for achieving global justice. In fact, nation states have failed to deal effectively with global issues. Second, it was urged that a stronger global government is needed in the same way that in U. S. history, the federal government had to intervene when individual states failed to protect the civil rights of all citizens.
Finally, it was noted that citizenship need not be connected with only one institution or group. People can be and are citizens of units at different levels, including their neighborhoods, towns or cities, states, and countries. Adding a level of global citizenship is possible and, as several people suggested, can be desirable.

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