Citizenship in the Western Tradition: Plato to Rousseau

Citizenship in the Western Tradition: Plato to Rousseau

Citizenship in the Western Tradition: Plato to Rousseau

Citizenship in the Western Tradition: Plato to Rousseau


Intended for both general readers and students, Peter Riesenberg's instructive book surveys Western ideas of citizenship from Greek antiquity to the French Revolution. It is striking to observe the persistence of important civic ideals and institutions over a period of 2,500 years and to learn how those ideals and institutions traveled over space and time, from the ancient Mediterranean to early modern France, England, and America.


This book has been in process a long time; indeed, it goes back to the fifties when, while examining late-medieval consilia, I began to notice the frequency with which citizenship appeared in this enormous record of private and public litigation. Property, perquisites, privileges, protection, military and tax obligations could all depend upon possession, nonpossession, or loss of citizenship.

Over the medieval centuries a law of citizenship came into being throughout Western Europe. Every city and country eventually established or recognized some form of citizen status and developed its own naturalization requirements and procedures. Citizens necessarily became very aware of the importance of citizenship powers in their lives. Since this happened at the very time of the discovery of the ancient civil law and its establishment in the curriculum of Bologna and other universities, and since citizenship was prominent in the classical texts, the legal profession gave great attention to citizenship issues. When Aristotle's Politics and other ancient moral and political works were translated and read, they stimulated new thinking on citizenship, all of which eventually influenced the legislation of governments, mostly city governments, attempting to create citizenship policies.

Medieval citizenship was the subject of the first book I wrote. It was substantially completed by the end of 1965, after a year at Harvard's Center for Renaissance Studies, I Tatti. However, I decided not to publish that monograph on citizenship in communal Italy. the subject seemed to demand something more, and about that time events on my campus precipitated by the Vietnam War drew me into campus politics.

Eventually I conceived of the book presented here, one that would carry citizenship from its Greek origins in our tradition to the French Revolution. It appeared that nothing of this ambitious nature existed in English, or, indeed, in any other familiar language, and that such a venture was worth the effort. What follows is my attempt, perhaps a foolhardy one, to write a book that would be scholarly, yet at the same time suggestive to a wider audience in . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.