The Morality of Democratic Citizenship: Goals for Civic Education in the Republic's Third Century

R. Freeman Butts
Center for Civic Education
Calabasas, California

Chapter Three
Underlying All Else:
A Defensible Conception of Citizenship

The subject of this chapter can be anticipated by ringing the changes on a phrase that has haunted the United States from the Watergate to Iran-Contragate. What do students know about being a citizen–and when do they know it? Or, better perhaps, to paraphrase the refrain that echoed throughout the Carnegie Forum Task Force Report–What do students and teachers need to know about citizenship and what should they be able to do about it? 1 

In foregoing chapters, I have tried to summarize some of the answers that have been given to these questions. From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s the various movements for law-related education have led the efforts to revivify civic education. But the excellence movement largely ignored civic education in favor of academic achievement, while contingent efforts were made to preempt public attention for technological literacy, or consumer sovereignty and family choice, or traditional literacy, or religious values. Then, in the mid-1980s the gathering momentum to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Constitution refocused attention on civic education and gave a new thrust to the study of history, civics, and government, especially as they teach about the origins and interpretations of the Constitution itself. Excellent new materials to these ends have been developed. (See Notes Four and Five in Chapter Two.)

But what is still missing is a broad scale effort to develop a coherent, persuasive and scholarly-based conception of citizenship upon which further long range programs of civic education can rest. Underlying all else is the need to formulate a conception of democratic citizenship that will embody the best of our traditional civic values and respond to the vast complexities of the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century. A spelling out of the civic values fundamental to the theory and practice of democratic citizenship could become the major themes in the common core of study in American schools and colleges. If there is to be a national certification of teachers, such study of citizenship should become a major part of it.

Citizenship education has a better chance of succeeding in public schools if they emphasize the civic values that bind us together and that we share in common no matter what religious, ethnic, or cultural ties may legitimately divide us. We should try to take account of the dynamism inhering in the calls for moral education, character education, and, yes, the calls for teaching about religion. But I believe that this should be done by redirecting these movements into the study of citizenship, a study that becomes a common core of the curriculum, that rests on a scholarly approach to moral and civic values, and that provides a meeting ground for the diversity of beliefs and outlooks genuinely held by the plurality of our religious, ethnic and linguistic communities. To these ends I suggest an agenda comprising (1) the idea of citizenship in historical perspective and (2) the core of civic values that are fundamental to democratic citizenship in modern America, all deserving careful study by students and teachers alike.

Fortunately, in the past decade a remarkable body of scholarship in political science, history, philosophy, and law have been produced centering on the idea of citizenship. I cannot possibly review or summarize this successfully. All I can do is mention two or three highlights that I believe are especially significant for a promising agenda in civic education devoted to the idea of citizenship. They all reflected a growing concern for the normative role of the academic disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences, they all received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the American Political Science Association was involved in all three.

The first, a project on "Education in the Ethical Issues of Political Life," was designed to enable political science faculty members to meet in seminars for discussion of such issues as equality, political participation, and the public interest. Several monographs were issued in 1977 and 1978 designed primarily to enhance instruction about ethical and philosophical concepts in college undergraduate courses in politics. 2 

A second project of faculty seminars sponsored by the NEH and APSA was even more directly focused on the theme of citizenship. It was a project on "Ethical Issues: Citizenship and Political Education," and resulted in two extremely interesting papers addressed to teachers of political science. In one of the reports Richard Flathman of Johns Hopkins addressed the question of citizenship and authority by distinguishing between the normative classical views of "high citizenship" and the modem empirical, behavioral views of such political scientists as Seymour Martin Lipset, Bernard Berelson, and Robert Dahl. Flathman characterizes their views as a "withdrawalism" from the classical ideal, which they regard as irrelevant and unattainable in modem society. Thus, they argue for investigating the realities of politics and political behavior today and abandoning the normative objectives and commitments of the "high" ideal of citizenship. 3 

Flathman himself argues for a "chastened view," somewhere between the high ideal and withdrawal from it. He concludes that there must be some shared beliefs and values if there is to be political authority in a society. If political practice does not match the ideal, then we should try to change the practice, not abandon the ideal. And, besides, the empirical approaches do in fact rest upon some normative value assumption even if not made explicit.

The normative view reasserts the importance of studying the value questions raised by the "high ideal" of citizenship in the classical tradition of Pericles, Aristotle, and Rousseau, in which citizenship is defined as a high, if not the highest, moral and political role for human beings, a distinctive role based on justice, freedom, equality and participation. Among the recent political philosophers who seek to revitalize such studies are Hannah Arendt, Benjamin R. Barber, Carole Pateman, Dennis F. Thompson, John Rawls, and Michael Walzer. 4  One could add others in political and economic theory like Michael J. Sandel, Ronald Beiner, and Albert O. Hirschman. 5  And in sociology the normative values of democratic citizenship are touched upon from a variety of ideological positions by Amitai Etzioni, Robert Bellah, Morris Janowitz, and Manfred Stanley. 6 

The other paper issued by the project on ethical issues in citizenship and political education focused on "Rights and Citizenship" to complement Flathman's paper on authority and responsibility. Written by J. Roland Pennock, emeritus professor at Swarthmore, it is not only very useful but it makes a point at the outset that I would like to underline:

Although it [this paper] contains little directly dealing with how to go about the education of citizens, it does embody material that would be desirable for citizens to know and to understand. 7 
It is indeed desirable for citizens to know and understand such material, but it is now even more desirable and urgent that scholars and educators alike begin to deal more explicitly with how to go about the training of the teachers who will teach the future citizens.

A third recent project, which did begin to give attention to the educational issues as well as the substantive knowledge about citizenship, is Project '87, jointly sponsored by the APSA and the American Historical Association. Its quarterly publication, this Constitution, begun in September 1983, contains a veritable gold mine of scholarly articles dealing at large with "thirteen enduring constitutional issues" but also many dealing more specifically with the idea of citizenship revealed in our constitutional history and practice. I think especially of articles by James McGregor Burns and Richard B. Morris, co­chairs for APSA and AHA, respectively, Gordon S. Wood, Donald S. Lutz, Paul L. Murphy, A.E. Dick Howard, Jack N. Rakove, Howard N. Meyer, Thomas L. Pangle, Jack P. Greene, Roger M. Smith, Kenneth M. Holland, and Robert S. Alley. 8 

There is much, much more in the developing periodical scholarship of the past decade that could be cited to indicate the normative concern in the several academic disciplines, 9  but I cannot possibly encompass it, let alone deal with it. All I can do is refer very briefly to the "high ideal" of citizenship that had so much influence on the American past and then mention a few key references as I deal in Chapter 4 with the table of twelve civic values that I am advocating as fundamental to education for American citizenship today and in the future.

A. The High Ideal of Citizenship in a Republic

Those of us born and brought up in modern nation-states are likely to think that citizenship is "natural" and something to be taken for granted. But those who have been born in one country and have immigrated to another to become "naturalized" citizens and especially those who are prevented from emigrating are not nearly so likely to take citizenship for granted. And those who are "stateless" or who are denied full citizenship in the countries of their birth know only too well the handicaps, if not the terrors, of having little or no citizenship at all in a world made up of nation-states. I begin, then, with a reminder about the origin of the idea of citizenship in a republic, which long antedated the modern nation-state but which is now tightly bound up with it.

The idea of republican citizenship was forged in two major formative periods. The first formulation occurred during the rise and fall of the Greek city-states from roughly the seventh to the fourth centuries B.C. and was developed further in the Roman Republic from the fifth to first centuries B.C. The second took place in connection with the growth of the modern nation-states in the revolutionary era of Western Europe and America from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. We in the United States are inheritors of both periods. The founders of the American Republic not only drew heavily upon both the Graeco-Roman tradition of citizenship and the Western European, but made significant contributions of their own to the idea of democratic citizenship. As the twentieth century draws to a close, it is clear that we are in a third formative period when the idea of citizenship will again need to be reformulated to take account of the dramatically changed world situation, which the men of the eighteenth century could not foresee.

Two main points about the origin of the idea of citizenship are: (1) citizenship came to be based on membership in a political community regulated by man-made laws rather than on membership in a family, clan, or tribe arising from kinship, religion, ethnic background, or inherited status; and (2) the predominant view of citizenship in fifth century Athens was that citizenship meant that the laws were made, administered, and judged by free citizens who were both rulers and ruled, not merely "subjects" of a king or priest who made or revealed the laws. In the first case, citizenship entailed rights and responsibilities conferred by law (achieved status) in contrast to roles and obligations conferred by inherited class, kinship, or sex (ascribed status). In the second case the free citizens became members of a democratic or republican political community in which the citizen class participated actively in the affairs of the state.

The significant fact about the rise of the Greek city­states from the seventh to the fifth century B.C. was that authority for governing, for maintaining social order, and for administering justice was transferred from household patriarchs, tribal chiefs, military nobles, literate priesthoods, or hereditary kings to the political community centering in the city­state (polis or polity). While some of the outward forms and terminology of tribe and clan were often kept for the sake of ethnic pride, the Creek polls dropped the essentially ascriptive characteristics of kinship ties typical of traditional folk societies and established citizenship in the polity as the overarching tie of unity that bound the community together. The bonds of sentiment and loyalty to the territorial state became the primary forms of social cohesion, superior to family or kin, class or caste, or any kind of voluntary association. The key personality in this fundamental change was the powerful Athenian statesman, Cleisthenes, whose political reforms apparently were affected in the last decade of the sixth century B.C.

This transfer of legitimate authority from kinship lineage to polity is nicely described by Robert Nisbet, Schweitzer Professor Emeritus of the Humanities at Columbia:

What we see, therefore, taking place with revolutionary suddenness and sweep is a total transformation of a social system. Instead of the traditional, kinship­based pluralism of Athenian authority, there is now a monolithic unit that arises from a governmental system reaching directly down to the individual citizen. Instead of a system of law based upon immemorial tradition, its interpretation subject to the elders of kinship society and always slow and uncertain, we have now a system of Athenian law that is prescriptive, that is made, rather than merely interpreted out of tradition, and that is deemed binding upon all Athenians irrespective of kinship lineage. We see, too, a growing commonality of all Athenians, one that did not and could not exist so long as the sense of community rose primarily from the fact of generation, through tribe or clan. And finally, there is in the new Athens a manifest individualism, sprung from the fact that henceforth the individual, not the kinship group, was the irreducible and unalterable unit of the Athenian military-political system. 10 
While Nisbet is pleased to refer to the new polity as a "monolithic unity," the rise and decline of the Greek polis from 800 to 300 B.C. would scarcely justify universal application of such a description, especially for Athens. In the seventh century, independent farmers were drawn into the rolls of citizens to fill the ranks of infantrymen alongside the mounted cavalrymen of nobles. And under Cleisthenes propertyless artisans and sailors in the mercantile and military navy also gained citizenship. These trends provided a broader base of citizenship in Athens than in many other Greek polities, leading to its boast of becoming a democracy. And the florescence of drama, art, architecture, literature, and philosophy that was the glory of fifth century Athens both sprang from and centered upon the polls as the symbol and culmination of a citizen's fulfillment.

A classic statement of the high ideal of citizenship was expressed by Pericles in his funeral oration in the first year of the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C. While it was indeed an idealized version, nevertheless it laid claims upon the loyalties and commitments of Athenians similar to those that Lincoln's address on the battlefield of Gettysburg came to have for Americans:

Our constitution... favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if to social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes.... But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens... We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality....

Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot originate, and instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any action at all. 11 

Here, then, was the ideal that all citizens could become "fair judges of public matters." This Periclean view of the ideal fifth century Athenian citizen as described by the historian Thucydides was destined, however, to be eclipsed in much of subsequent history by other conceptions of Greek citizenship formulated by Plate and Aristotle, both of whom wrote their influential treatises during the decline and crises besetting the Greek city-states in the fourth century B.C. After a long and exhausting war with Sparta, the Athenian polity was weakened and eventually overcome by the Macedonian kings, Philip and Alexander. Plato attributed this decline and fall to a rampant individualism, a resurgence of traditional kinship and religious beliefs, a preoccupation with personal and private wealth, and the prejudices and ignorance of the common people (the demos) whose impulsive passions as citizens led to successive injustices and tyranny over the best and the brightest.

It was in this setting that Plato drew up his ideal political community in The Republic, but it surely was no "high" ideal of citizenship. Impressed by the discipline and military superiority of the authoritarian Spartan state in contrast to the factional rivalries of democratic Athens, Plato visualized a state which would be ruled by a class of relatively few wise, just, and well educated guardians who could subordinate their passions for the good of the state. In contrast to the Periclean ideal that each citizen would alternately work, fight, and rule, Plato argued that justice required all persons to do only that for which they were best fitted: workers to work, warriors to fight, and guardians to rule. In a loose sense, good citizenship consisted in each class doing what it was best fitted for; in a strict sense, the only genuine citizens were the aristocratic class of guardians, selected and trained by a rigorous system of state-controlled education to perform their roles as philosopher-kings. They were the only ones who could surmount the passions of the body, the confining ties of family, kinship, wealth, and religion, and grasp the genuine truth, beauty, and goodness of the real world of ideas by means of a higher education achieved through the intellectual discipline of mathematics, metaphysics, and dialectics.

Plato's vision of the aristocratic and essentially dosed political community does indeed illustrate Nisbet's term "monolithic unity." Thus, it has perennial appeal to those who have wished to overcome the excessive individualism and freedom and passions of the masses of people in the interests of "higher" intellectual and moral virtues, as these are defined by the well-educated upper classes who have been privileged to contemplate and grasp the true ideas of reality that lie beyond the ebb and flow of practical experience.

But the other powerful voice that defined a classical view of citizenship was that of Aristotle whose Politics and Ethics were enormously influential in shaping the high ideal of citizenship, despite their prosaic and pedantic quality in comparison with Plato's poetic, even mystic, vision of utopia. Aristotle's views were much more pluralistic. He outlined three major forms of government, a classification that proved to be a starting point for political philosophers for some 2000 years. The government, which is the supreme authority of the state, may be in the hands of one, few, or many. Aristotle found some good in all three forms. In each case, there is a true form that unhappily may degenerate into a perversion or corrupted form. In a true form the rulers are ruling on behalf of the common good, while in the corrupted forms the rulers are ruling on behalf of their own private interests. So the paradigm becomes:

True Forms: (Serving the public good)
One Monarchy
Few Aristocracy
Many Republic or Commonwealth

Corrupted Forms: (Serving the private interest of the rulers)
Tyranny The King
Oligarchy Wealthy property owners
Democracy Needy and poor

Aristotle thus did not unequivocally prefer any one of the true forms of government, but his biases generally came down on the side of aristocracy or constitutionalism. His aristocratic leanings showed when he confined citizenship to the "free man," thereby ruling out not only women, children, and slaves but also mechanics, traders, and farmers who had to work for a living and who therefore did not have the native ability or the education or the leisure to engage fully in the task of ruling. But when he spoke about the citizen class itself, Aristotle sounded very much like a constitutionalist or a republican. All citizens were equal in their political rights and responsibilities.

All citizens hold the "office of citizen." There are two kinds of office. One type has fixed terms and is determinate in length; these offices are held by the government officials who are elected or appointed to a specific office for specific functions. The other "office of citizen" is of indeterminate, indefinite, or continuous duration, applying to the duties and responsibilities that all citizens possess equally in their capacities as rulers, deciders, judges in the legislative assemblies and courts of the commonwealth. Aristotle thus dearly distinguished free and equal citizens who share in ruling the state from the "subjects" who have no voice in their government and no legal rights of redress or protection. Slaves are entirely subjected to the absolute rule of their masters, and children are subjected to the benevolent rule of their parents. In contrast, citizens engage in self-government, taking turns in ruling and being ruled by their equals:

[The citizen's] special characteristic is that he shares in the administration of justice, and in offices. Now of offices some are discontinuous, and the same persons are not allowed to hold them twice, or can only hold them after a fixed interval; others have no limit of time--for example, the office of [juryman] or [assemblyman]. Let us, for the sake of distinction, call it "indefinite office," and we will assume that those who share in such offices are citizens. This is the most comprehensive definition of citizen.... He who has the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of any state is said by us to be a citizen of that state; and, speaking generall a state is a body of citizens sufficing for the purposes of life. 12  [All Athenian citizens were members of the popular assembly throughout their adult life. The assembly had judicial as well as legislative functions.]
Despite their differences as to the essential qualities of the truly just state (Plato's more absolutistic and Aristotle's more pluralistic), they agreed on two major characteristics that I would like to stress. One was that the political community was viewed as the most important means for human fulfillment and justice. The other was that education should be a public function of the polity rather than a private preserve of family, kinship, or religious groups. On the first point, Aristotle put it this way:

Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good ... But if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a higher degree than any other, and at the highest good. 13 
Since the ultimate object of the state is the good life, then the citizens must be led to virtue by the inculcation of virtuous habits and rational principles:

A city [state] can be virtuous only when the citizens who have a share in the government are virtuous, and in our state all the citizens share in the government. 14 
And how is this to be achieved? By a common public education con- ducted for all citizens by the state. The ideas concerning citizenship contained in the preceding quotation and in the following quotation were expressed over and over by the framers of the American republic in the late eighteenth century:

No one will doubt that the legislator should direct his attention above all to the education of youth; for the neglect of education does harm to the constitution. The citizen should be molded to suit the form of government under which he lives. For each government has a peculiar character which originally formed and which continues to preserve it. The character of democracy creates democracy and the character of oligarchy creates oligarchy; and always the better the character, the better the government.

... since the whole city [state] has one end [virtue], it is manifest that education should be one and the same for all, and that it should be public, and not private--not as at present, when every one looks after his own children separately, and gives them separate instruction of the sort which he thinks best; the training in things which are of common interest should be the same for all. Neither must we suppose that any one of the citizens belongs to himself, for they all belong to the state, and are each of them a part of the state, and the care of each part is inseparable from the care of the whole....

That education should be regulated by law and should be an affair of the state is not to be denied, but what should be the character of this public education, and how the young should be educated, are questions which remain to be considered. 15 

Unfortunately, Aristotle did not get around in his Politics to telling us what should be the proper political education for citizens beyond mentioning the usual elementary subjects taught in most city-state schools: reading and writing, gymnastics, music, and possibly drawing. It would have been interesting to see how he would have prescribed differently for the education of citizens in each of his types of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and constitutional republic. We do, however, get some insight into Aristotle's views of higher education in his Ethics, where he outlines the proper subjects of study for a free man, that is, a liberal education.

When it came to a higher liberal education, Aristotle the philosopher and scientist won out over Aristotle the political theorist and realist. In his Ethics Aristotle argued that the highest form of virtue was pure speculation. Man as knower and thinker was higher in the scale of human values than man as doer and citizen. Man's rational nature has a higher aspect and a lower. The higher consists of the intellectual virtues and the lower of the moral virtues. These moral virtues, which are the outcome of habit formation, constitute the character of persons and are molded in the earlier years of life and schooling.

The higher intellectual virtues, which are the outcomes of teaching, are also of a higher and lower type. The more noble is the theoretical reason, which aims at knowledge for its own sake, formulates the first principles that describe the unchanging reality lying behind human nature, physical nature, and the universe, and determines the truth or falsity of propositions that define the unchanging aspects of existence. The liberal studies that best aid the intellectual faculties to discover these first principles are ranked from higher to lower: theology, metaphysics, ontology, cosmology, physics, astronomy, psychology, biology, mathematics, and logic.

The lesser virtue of the intellectual faculties is the practical reason, which aims at knowledge having to do with action or conduct (prudence) or the making and producing of things (art). The practical reason thus deals with the changeable and the variable in events as an aid to guiding human conduct and formulating rules for action. Here are the guides to the citizen through the study of politics, ethics, economics, rhetoric, and the arts.

In this preference for the theoretical studies as over against the "practical" studies Aristotle lent the weight of his influence to that of Plato in forming a Western intellectual and academic tradition that has long viewed theory as more to be valued than practice in a liberal education, truth­seeking to be a higher goal than the goals of morality and justice, and acquisition of organized knowledge to be preferred to the development of normative judgments about right and wrong.

This is one of the great ironies of the Greek tradition of philosophy as represented by Plato and Aristotle. Although both of them found the highest form of human collective life to reside in the political community rather than in traditional family, ethnic, kinship, religious, or warrior/military communities, and although both agreed that education was a prime function of the political community, neither developed a curriculum that focused on an education that would directly promote a democratic state. Plato despaired for democracy and directed his guardians to contemplate the pure reality that lies behind the rough and tumble of practical affairs. Aristotle found more of value in republican government, but he too came down on the side of scientific knowledge and theoretical speculation as more noble than moral and practical reason.

Perhaps this is to be expected of philosophers and scientists whose views of the just and authoritative political community have little place for freedom and none for equality, except within very limited and circumscribed conditions. Both thought of citizenship as belonging to a small minority of persons resting on the backs of large populations of workers, aliens, and slaves. The mainstream of the Western intellectual traditional found this tradition to be very largely congenial until the democratic revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries began to widen the conception of citizenship to an ever broader constituency.

There was a major exception to this Platonic-Aristotelian philosophic tradition, and it had a considerable influence upon educators of the Roman republican period, but it apparently could not compete during Roman imperial times and the Middle Ages. This was the rhetorical tradition exemplified by the great Athenian teacher of rhetoric, Isocrates, a contemporary of both Plato and Aristotle. Isocrates carried on a running battle with the philosophers and the philosophical schools of his day. He had little good to say about what he deemed to be the abstract and irrelevant "academic" studies of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum.

Isocrates argued instead that the fateful problems facing the Athenian polis following the Peloponnesian War could only be remedied by an education that faced head­on the problems posed by factionalism, excessive individualism, poverty, overpopulation, corruption, and despair. Isocrates agreed that the highest human good was to be realized in and through the political community and that the chief forms of human excellence rested in service to the polity. The chief human means to this end resided in man's reason, which gave him the ability to conduct discourse that could lead to sound practical judgments. Man may be "a political animal," as Aristotle said, but his genius is that he can be "a persuading animal," communicating with others to establish political communities under the rule of law.

The ideal citizen is thus the rhetor, or orator, not the philosopher or scientist. He heaped scorn on the idea that the good citizen can be formed by long years of immersion in purely abstract academic studies like mathematics, science, or metaphysics. In contrast, the orator is a man who is devoted to public affairs, accepts the duties and obligations of citizenship, and informs himself thoroughly by a broad range of studies, including not only rhetoric, but logic, literature, history, political science, and ethics. With this kind of "practical" education the orator is ready to develop a sense of good judgment about the problems facing the polis and to enter into reasoned discussions in the public forums with other citizens determined to arrive at just decisions of public policy.

One matter of special note was that Isocrates was an ardent advocate of Pan­Hellenic union among the warring city­states as the indispensable solution to the international competition, rivalry, and warfare pandemic among the many, small, individualistic city-states. But Isocrates lost his campaign for e pluribus unum through voluntary efforts of the several city­states. The Greeks left it to Macedonian conquerors and later to the Roman conquerors to impose a kind of external order upon the political pluralism which they could not overcome.

Isocrates' proposals were apparently too slow and too democratic for his times. He argued for the process of public discussion and discourse as the means of arriving at accurate and valid judgments based upon persistent study of relevant factors and rational influence free from emotional bias. He admitted that man cannot achieve irrefutable, certain knowledge in human affairs.

But in the recurring crises of the fourth century B.C. that plagued the several city-states of Greece, people wanted social, moral, and political certainties. Some people found these, they thought, in philosophy, in mysticism, in religion rather than in the political community. Others found or tried to find greater certainty in a new kind of political community that stressed the centralized authority of large scale empire, first under the Macedonian Empire that extended from Greece to India and Egypt and then under the Roman Empire that extended from the Middle East and Egypt to Britain.

The one point I wish to make here is that the early Roman experience paralleled somewhat the Greek shift from kinship to polls. For example, during the Roman Republic (from the fifth to the end of the first century B.C.) the authority of the Roman state was overlaid upon an extremely powerful network of authority that rested very largely in the hands of the father of a family (pater familias) or household, which often consisted of relatives, clients, servants, and slaves as well as wife and children. This authoritarian structure of authority and protection centered in the power of the father (pater potestas) who was responsible for the safety, security, and welfare of the kinship group. The family rather than the individual was the basis of legal and religious as well as social unity:

The family, not the individual, was the irreducible unit of tradition and law in the Roman Republic down until the time of the Augustan reforms.... Until very late in the history of the republic, the family was made to bear responsibility for most individual offenses, and it was the prime agency for retribution for injuries suffered by one of its members. Something akin to a highly stabilized, fully accepted blood feud existed under the patria potestas.... Offenses such as murder, assault, arson, trespass, and injury were held by the Romans to be private offenses, to be privately negotiated and not, as we today regard them, crimes against the state itself. 16 
Thus the family had great autonomy and collective power in law, in religion, and in property and wealth. Individuals could not own property except with the express authority of the pater familias. This autonomy also prevailed in education. By custom the sons of upper class patrician families were educated in and through the family, whereas the children of plebeian classes seldom had very much schooling of a literate sort. But the power and autonomy of the kinship groups under the Republic began to give way during the third and second centuries B.C. as a result of the blows of incessant foreign wars and then of the civil wars of the first century B.C. Finally, in 27 B.C. the Empire officially succeeded the Republic when the general Octavian became the emperor Augustus.

As Nisbet points out, the military necessity of soldiers to obey their commanders rather than their fathers was a key element in this transition of authority from kinship group to the state, a transition somewhat akin to that performed by Cleisthenes in Athens some 500 years earlier. Legitimate authority was transferred from the family to the state, now in the person of the emperor rather than in the Senate or the Assembly. And the power of law was directly enforced upon individuals rather than mediated through families as in the Republic. The efforts of a Cicero at the end of the Republic or a Quintilian at the height of the Empire to espouse the educational ideas of Isocrates could not withstand the autocratic and authoritarian pressures of Imperium. When rhetoric had little role to play in public policy making, it became an embellishment for an ever more refined oratorical style cultivated for its own sake rather than the art of political persuasion among free citizens. The law replaced philosophy and rhetoric in the idea of citizenship.

In the course of the next six or seven centuries the Roman law of the Empire was interpreted and developed in ways that made it enormously influential when the nation-states of the modern period began to be formed. Nisbet applies the term "political intellectuals" to those lawyers, teachers, textbook writers, and advisers to the emperor who contributed to the basic ideas of the Roman law. The culmination of this work was the Corpus Juris Civilis, a masterly codification undertaken by a commission of jurists headed by Tribonian, an adviser to the Emperor Justinian. Between 529 and 565 A.D. several volumes were published, consisting of constitutions promulgated by the emperors since Hadrian in the second century A.D., the collected opinions of jurists, and a general textbook of the law.

Generally known as the Justinian code, these volumes, handed down throughout the Middle Ages, became part of the revival of classical learning, which stimulated the growth of cathedral schools and universities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. One of the great ironies, however, was the fact that the Roman civil law gave great comfort and justification to those rulers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who were seeking to establish the political legitimacy of national states supreme in their own right and free from subservience to the overall authority of a universal Roman church or a revived Holy Roman Empire modeled upon Justinian's own vision of a Universal Christian Roman Empire.

Nisbet defines four central~political principles of the Roman law that are useful for our purposes. 17  The first is that the political order has sovereignty over all the other groups and interests in society: sovereignty involves the state's monopoly of legitimate force and a high degree of centralization of authority. The second principle is that no other form of association lawfully exists in society unless it is conceded the right to exist by the political sovereign. The third is that of contract, whereby the interpersonal relations of citizens are considered legal only if based on willing consent; hence, hereditary, ascriptive, traditional customs have no status in law unless they can be converted into contractual relations. This applies to the original "social contract" by which human beings were presumed to have founded collectively the state itself. And, fourth, the only politically recognized units in the society are individual citizens upon whom the rights and responsibilities of citizenship rest.

I began this quick review of the idea of citizenship by making two points about its origins in the Graeco-Roman period. The first was that citizenship arose with the rise of political communities based on man-made laws, which took precedence over the customs and conventions of kinship, religion, or inherited status. This idea prevailed when the Greek polis replaced tribal groups and when the Roman Empire replaced the Roman Republic, which had largely recognized the kinship authority of pater potestas. But kinship relations and tribal authorities were reestablished in the geographic domain of the Roman Empire when and as it succumbed to the Germanic invasions of the fourth to the eight centuries A.D. For some 1000 years during the Middle Ages, citizenship in a political community was eclipsed by the pluralistic memberships that characterized medieval society:

Kinship had almost as much sway [in medieval society] as it had had in earliest Rome, during the period of the republic, and in earliest Athens, prior to the Cleisthenean reforms. Medieval society was a vast web of groups, communities, and associations, each claiming jurisdiction over the functions and activities of its members. The church was powerful; but, so, after the twelfth century, were guild, profession, monastery, and manor. It would be hard, finally, to think of two more unlike structures than feudalism, decentralized and localized in essence, and the kind of imperial Roman society that had given rise to the system of law we are here concerned with. 18 
So, after some 1200 years of varying fortunes (roughly from the sixth century B.C. to the sixth century A.D.), the idea of political citizenship went into decline during the next 1000 years of the Middle Ages. Beginning in the Renaissance the idea of citizenship was revived, refurbished, and eventually incorporated in major Western societies as they formed a series of modern nation-states. In contrast to the long career of the general idea of political citizenship in the Graeco-Roman period, the second point I would make is that classical democratic citizenship had only a fairly short career of a century or two, and preeminently in Athens. It was an idea whose time had definitely not come. It could not withstand the attacks upon it from the side of pluralistic traditional kinship and religious ties nor from the side of monistic absolutistic, authoritarian controls exercised by military, political, or religious sovereigns who claimed to rule by higher authority than the consent of the people. It was this vox populi that was eventually revived, refurbished, and reconstituted by the "political intellectuals" of the eighteenth century democratic revolution.

Continue to Chapter 3, Part B

1. Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986), p. 3.  back 

2. Dennis F. Thompson, Political Participation (Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, 1977); William E. Connolly, The State and the Public Interest (Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, 1977); and John Scharr, Equality: Its Bearing on Justice and Liberty (Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, 1978).  back 

3. Richard Flathman, "Citizenship and Authority: A Chastened View of Citizenship," News for Teachers of Political Science, Summer 1981, pp. 9-19.  back 

4. See, e.g., Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future, new enl. ed. (New York: Viking Press, 1968) and The Origins of Totalitarianism, 2nd enl. ed. (New York: Meridian Books, 1963); Benjamin R. Barber, Strong Democracy: Politics in the Participatory Mode (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); Carole Pateman, The Problem of Political Obligation (Chichester, N.Y.: Wiley, 1979); Dennis F. Thompson, The Democratic Citizen (London: Cambridge University Press, 1970); John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971); and Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1983).  back 

5. Michael J. Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Ronald Beiner, Political Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); and A.O. Hirschman, Essays in Trespassing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981) and Shifting Involvements: Private Interest and Public Action (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982).  back 

6. Amitai Etzoni, An Immodest Agenda: Rebuilding America Before the Twenty-first Century (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983); Robert N. Bellah, Varieties of Civil Religion (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980); Robert N. Bellah and others, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Morris Janowitz, The Reconstruction of Patriotism: Education for Civic Consciousness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); and Manfred Stanley, The Ivory Commonwealth: A Case for Civic Higher Education (in preparation for University of Chicago Press).  back 

7. J. Roland Pennock, "Rights and Citizenship," News for Teachers of Political Science, Fall 1981, pp. 12-23.  back 

8. See the following articles in this Constitution, A Bicentennial Chronicle, published by the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association, 1527 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036:


9. See, for example, the pages of Philosophy and Public Affairs, Ethics, and The Public Interest back 

10. Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought (New York: Thomas Crowell, 1973), pp. 32-33.  back 

11. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. by Richard Crawley (London: J. M. Dent, 1910), pp. 121-124.  back 

12. Aristotle, Politics and Poetics, trans. by Benjamin Jowett and S. H. Butcher (New York: Heritage Press, 1964), pp. 80-81.  back 

13. Ibid., p. 5.  back 

14. Ibid., p. 251.  back 

15. Ibid., pp. 267-268.  back 

16. Nisbet, Social Philosophers, p. 36.  back 

17. Ibid., pp. 121-123.  back 

18. Ibid. p. 125.  back 

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