Cosmopolitan Sentiment and Membership (Citizenship) in the Demos

| December 2015
Facebook Twitter Email
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Some of the offline comments I have received on yesterday’s post have prompted this follow up discussion. In most modern societies, membership in the demos, in the political community, is defined by citizenship. Some nations still maintain a citizenship based on ius sanguinis, that is, one must be born to citizens to be a citizen, while others extend citizenship to anyone born within the jurisdiction of the demos. Most modern states also have pathways to naturalization, to acquiring citizenship. But the nature of sovereignty in a Westphalian world system of independent states means that each demos sets its own rules and procedures for recognizing who constitutes “the people” in a political sense.

Based on its domestic preferences, and/or on the international commitments that a state has entered into, a demos may be required to extend rights, privileges or protections to noncitizens. These groups of people may have standing to make claims for aid and assistance even if the citizens of the demos may not be willing to do so, because it is a matter of law. Thus, in the United States, for instance, constitutional protections are extended to all people on the territory of the United States regardless of citizenship status, even if welfare benefits are not.

A true cosmos-polis, that is, a world-wide or universal political community to which all human beings are citizens, does not yet exist. In terms of law, we have reciprocal agreements between different states about the rights and privileges their citizens may possess on others’ territory. We have general agreements about how refugees and migrants ought to be treated. But for the most part, cosmopolitan obligations are moral rather than legal in nature, enforceable less through the courts of law and more through voluntary acceptance on the part of states, their political leaders, and, ultimately, their citizens.

This brings us to the question that continues to bedevil leaders trying to cope with the migration/refugee/immigration crises. Human rights are enforceable, in the end, only via state institutions or those transnational institutions where states have ceded sovereignty (such as the European Court of Human Rights). Governments of these states, however, are answerable and accountable to citizens, deriving both their powers of governance from them and taking on the obligation to defend them from assaults both internal and external. What happens when growing numbers of citizens of a particular state adopt the views of the nineteenth century German author Felix Dahn, “Where is this ‘mankind’ you speak of? I don’t see it. . . . A ‘mankind’ over and above these peoples, somewhere in the air, that I don’t recognize. I serve mankind when I love my own people.”

The traditional European approach has been to create a “cosmos-polis”, at least a regional one, through a union of “demoses” (demes), transferring power upward and creating a sense of common identity and even European citizenship. As more people from outside the European Union, however, seek entry, that project itself within Europe is now imperiled. Similarly, the view of the United States as an embryonic universal nation–a cosmos-polis not encompassing the entire territory of the world, but a state where every part of the world finds representation–is also now under challenge.

So I reiterate: striking a sustainable balance between the needs of the demos and the desire to be cosmopolitan will be the defining political debate of the coming year.



Facebook Twitter Email

Category: Blog, Migration

Comments are closed.