Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Kant's Dilemma and the Double Life of Citizenship

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Kant's Dilemma and the Double Life of Citizenship

Article excerpt


This paper uses a critical reading of Immanuel Kant's struggles in his late writings to conceptualize citizenship as a lens to examine a tension inherent to the idea of citizenship itself. This tension, which the paper argues underlies the divides in the citizenship literature between Greek and Roman concepts of the citizen and contemporary liberal, republican, and Habermasian approaches, is between two separate political functions that citizenship is meant to perform: identifying who belongs to the political body, and connecting political duties to the capacities necessary to perform those duties. Coming to term with the practical and conceptual tension between these two functions opens the possibility of new approaches to thinking about citizenship as a practice, and how we structure debates about citizenship and inclusion.

Keywords: agonism, association, citizenship, exclusion, Kant, rule

1. Introduction

In his now iconic lecture at Queen's College,1 J.G.A. Pocock opened his remarks by raising the question of whether the exclusions that have historically been built into rules of citizenship - the barring of women, of the working classes, of ethnic minorities - were conceptually a part of the idea of citizenship itself, or merely contingent products of the historical eras in which rules of citizenship were established. Pocock set that question aside for others (particularly feminists) to answer in order to focus on a tension that he argues has been sustained throughout the history of citizenship, between two divergent formulations of the concept itself.2 These two forms of citizenship - one Greek and more or less Aristotelian, one Roman and particularly Gaian - for Pocock represent the fundamental models between which the practices and meanings of citizenship have vacillated.

Perhaps, however, Pocock was too quick to set aside the question of the contingency of citizenship's exclusions as distinct from his own. The tension Pocock identifies between the Aristotlean and Gaian understandings of citizenship and the systematic exclusions he cites are closely related symptoms of a deeper problem in the architecture of the concept of citizenship. This wellspring of both citizenship's exclusions and its conceptual tensions can be spied at in those politically fraught moments when the practical concerns of setting boundaries to citizenship run up against its putative ideals, and there are few places in political thought where the tension of these moments are more clearly on display than in Immanuel Kant's fractured and uneasy late attempts to ground citizenship in his philosophy of right.

In part thanks to Jürgen Habermas' late turn towards cosmopolitanism, much ink has been spent analyzing and expanding the Kantian idea of a "citizen of the world," and the idea of citizenship in the context of globalization.3 Less well understood and at times openly ignored is Kant's deeply troubled and troubling account of state citizenship. Citizenship was a problem for Kant, and he knew it; the two explicit but brief accounts that he gives have large narrative gaps and logical inconsistencies, and display some of the worst of his socially reactionary tendencies. In spite of his potentially radical idea of world citizenship, when pushed onto the question of state citizenship itself Kant reverted to pre-critical form and attempted to exclude women and the property-less from suffrage.4 The problem for Kant, particularly by the late stage of the Metaphysics of Morals, was that in the meantime he had systematically undermined the arguments that allowed him make these prohibitions.

It might, of course, simply be the case that Kant's exclusionary account of citizenship was nothing more than a product of engrained personal prejudices. But while perfectly historically plausible, in taking Kant's discriminations at face value such arguments miss the opportunity to delve into what these rare moments of clear dissonance in Kant tell us about the broader arguments in which they are embedded. …

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