Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Utopian citizenship

With a moment to spare, I penned a version of this to my new Prime Minister, and posted it today (as an old fashioned letter as they have, I am told, more effect). She stated in her recent party conference speech that people who claimed to be citizens of the world, in fact, were citizens of nowhere and did not understand what 'citizenship' meant:

It is perfectly clear to me, if not to your scriptwriter, what people can mean when the say they are a citizen of the world. It can mean that they owe an allegiance to a reality that transcends their particular place or context (however important that might be), say, to a common humanity sharing a common home or even to a transcendent good. 

This is not a new sentiment both the Roman philosopher and statesmen, Seneca: "Life must proceed on the conviction that “I am not born for a single cranny; this whole universe is my homeland,” and Jesus, the Son of Man, who has no place to rest his head except in the bosom of the Father, held it and yet both would have been consigned to being protagonists of ‘nowhere ’by the test you offered in your conference speech. Yet the former practiced statecraft within the Roman Empire. You see you can have more than one identity! And, for the latter, we can hardly suggest that Our Lord would have been better off limiting himself to serving in the Nazareth equivalent of IKEA? [Or, as an aside, I was presuming that the daughter of a clergyman could not].

Being a citizen of the world may be simply a pious sentiment but thinking so can also have real and beneficial consequences. You can champion universal human rights or imagine that science should only be swayed by the truth in a free flowing shared exploration that transcends national boundaries or you might spend your career serving the needs of the poor wherever you have been called to serve. The possibilities are literally endless, limited only by your imagination. 


Seeing yourself as a citizen of the world can be a profound, guiding maxim, and is perfectly compatible with being a particular citizen of a given country with the special obligations and protections of that place. You do not have to demean the former to discuss the realities of the latter. To do so is to limit, not extend, our vision of human possibility.

You have, spinning to the contrary, inherited a kingdom divided against itself. Encouraging such divisions may be (in the short term) politically acute but are morally bankrupt.

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