Citizenship: The History of an Idea

Citizenship: The History of an Idea

Citizenship: The History of an Idea

Citizenship: The History of an Idea

Synopsis

Citizenship is the main axis of modern political legitimacy... But for all its evident centrality to modern politics, it would be quite wrong to assume that citizenship itself is well understood... Paul Magnette's book offers an economical and illuminating guide through many of the elements which have gone into the intellectual and ideological history of modern citizenship. In doing so, he clearly surpasses any other recent analysis.

Excerpt

Long ignored by political scientists, confined to the sphere of law, citizenship is now one of the keywords of the science of politics, having impacted on every aspect of the discipline. No doubt we owe this taste for the concept to Thomas H. Marshall. The British sociologist, interested at the end of the Second World War in the effect of democracy on social inequalities, seized on the term for analytical ends: ‘The limit of my ambition’, he wrote, ‘has been to regroup familiar facts in a pattern which may make them appear … in a new light’. In studying ‘industrial citizenship’ or the ‘social dimension’, Marshall joined the vast current of research dedicated to relationships between the market and the state. He meant to show that the ‘social issue’ – placed at the time at the summit of the political agenda in Europe – was not a breaking-off but an extension of the political movement of modernity. The concept of citizenship had this heuristic advantage: it permitted the schematisation of the history of western political modernity as the succession of three phases – protection by the state, participation in democratic life and control of the market – and emphasised that these three components of citizenship were complementary. Without losing sight of his analytic pretension, let us note that Marshall did deliberately normative work: for this ‘ethical socialist’, it was a question of giving the ‘social issue’ a nobility and importance equal to those given in preceding centuries to the issues of rights to protection and of democratic participation.

What might have been merely a small conference soon forgotten became a scientific event. Firstly because the study of the Welfare State and its impact on the condition of the citizen imposed itself as one of the major themes of European political science, to such an extent that the expression ‘social citizenship’, a bit exotic in Marshall’s time, became almost banal thereafter. But also, and above all, because other fields of political science followed Marshall’s approach: in political theory, in the study of nationalism and migrations, in the analysis of democratic life, the heuristic virtues of the concept of citizenship were discovered during the middle of the 1960s.

Political theorists took an interest in the origins and the transformations of this concept, which had remained until then relatively marginal. Dedicating their efforts to the understanding of the basic grammar of politics, to the analysis of the . . .

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