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February 28, 2018

Citizenship is not a one-way street

A STATE is sustained by the obedience of its citizens. Various considerations prompt them to obey the state. It may be ‘quality of law’, or it may be ‘justice’ that the state stands for, or it may just be ‘habit’ that makes them obey the state.
These considerations allow us to understand citizenship in three ways. First, citizens are obedient to their state because they believe it is in their best interest. Second, they obey the state out of fear of punishment. Third, they obey the state because they believe it is legitimate, meaning they see the state as belonging to them and serving them. When this third group ceases to see the state as legitimate, they will no longer obey.
It is worth recalling that citizenship should not follow the same pattern as a one-way street. Besides rights, citizenship entails a number of obligations and duties. Every society is obliged to be in constant perpetuation of itself, protecting against enemies. In addition, a society must make sure its deceased members are replaced. Citizenship has been developed to fulfill this task. Theorists of citizenship, which has evolved since the time of the Greek city-states, have grappled with this problem. A perennial feature of modern, democratic citizenship is the effort to identify the proper relationship between the individual citizen and her compatriots on one hand and the institutions of the state on the other hand.
In a sense, rights and obligations are opposite sides of the same coin. To possess rights usually places someone else under an obligation to uphold or respect those rights. If the right to life is meaningful, for instance, then the government is subject to an obligation to maintain public order and ensure personal security. Should citizens be bearers of rights alone, and should all obligations fall upon the state, orderly and civilized life would be impossible. Individuals who possess rights but do not acknowledge their obligations would be lawless and unrestrained.
These questions all boil down to the idea that citizenship, therefore, must entail a mixture of rights and obligations, including the very fundamental obligation of citizens to acknowledge the authority of the state and obey its laws.


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