Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism

By Richard Johnson Dagger | Go to book overview
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Cities and Citizenship

Education and participation, the subjects of the preceding chapters, are of obvious importance to the attempt to promote republican-liberal citizenship. A less obvious but no less important subject is the city: the site or context in which citizenship historically has been thought to develop. Nor is the city important only for its historical connections to citizenship. For better or worse, urbanism is apparently becoming the way of life of more and more people around the world. If republican liberalism is to prove a plausible and persuasive theory of politics, it must attend to cities as well as citizenship.

My purpose in this chapter is to sketch the outlines of a republicanliberal conception of the city. Part of this sketch will focus on the obstacles that contemporary cities place in the way of conditional altruism and active, public-spirited citizenship; another part will suggest some steps that might be taken to remove or overcome these obstacles. But first I want to indicate what the republican-liberal conception of the city will not be.

To begin with, republican liberals cannot simply accept today's sprawling metropolis as the ideal city. In this respect they differ, once again, from those liberals who regard politics as merely another form of market activity. According to the market view, the metropolitan complex consisting of a central city surrounded by a profusion of suburbs is an efficient arrangement that responds to the preferences of "citizen-consumers." Much as a cafeteria provides a wide variety of foods to satisfy diverse tastes, so the proliferating municipalities of metropolis offer a wide variety of services and amenities from which mobile citizens (in the legal sense) may choose when they are deciding on a place of residence. As Charles Tiebout explains the point, "the consumer-voter moves to the community whose local government best satisfies his set of preferences. The greater the number of communities and the greater the variety among them, the closer the community will come to fully realizing his preference position." 1

From the standpoint of republican liberalism, the problem with this cafeteria or shopping-mall conception of metropolis is that it undermines both


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