Essay on the Concept of Citizenship

Even the wisest of the Greeks regarded slavery as a natural institution and Aristotle considered it essential for citizenship and human progress. The slaves, in brief, were not entitled to the privilege of a citizen.

Much the same position continued in ancient Rome or in the European medieval free- cities, except that in the latter serfs took the place of the slaves. The rise of dynastic States in Western Europe around 1500 A.D again made the State the focus of sovereign powers, but the individual was still a subject, a recipient of orders and not a participant in the public affairs.

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The Glorious Revolution in Britain and the French Revolution reversed the scales and brought about a phenomenal change in the concept of citizenship. The theory of limited and free government recognised the brotherhood of man and claimed equality for all in the common fraternity.

This view was powerfully supported by the sentiment of nationalism, which encouraged men to assume participation in the affairs of government as their right. The modern concept of citizenship is, therefore, the product of a limited government and of a sovereign State. It concerns the rights and privileges of the citizens of a State, as distinct from aliens.

A citizen may be defined as a full member of the State, enjoying, if properly qualified by age, residence, and other lesser requirements as necessitated by law, the fullest extent of rights and privileges in that State.

As every right has a corresponding obligation, a citizen owes a duty to the State to provide the general well-being of his fellow citizens. He may even be called upon to sacrifice all that he has and all that he can claim to possess, including his life, to maintain the integrity and sovereignty of the State to which he belongs and owes allegiance.

For the proper exercise of his rights and discharge of his duties, a citizen, to put it in the words of Laski, must make “contribution of one’s instructed judgment to public good.”

To express it in another way, a citizen enjoys rights and owes duties to the State, which, inter alia, include defence of the State, maintenance of its unity and integrity, and provision of the general well-being and progress of the people with whom he shares his weal and woe.

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