Varieties of Citizenship and the Moral Foundations of Politics

Debates about citizenship tend to confuse more than they illuminate political discourse because they trade on two different conceptions whose relationship is not immediately apparent. Citizenship has legal meaning, which concerns an individual’s relationship to a particular government. However, citizenship can also invoke deeper moral claims regarding identity and the common ethical commitments that define a community. Various rights, obligations, and benefits can be attached to citizenship conceived both in juridical and moral terms. However, attending to the varieties of citizenship is difficult given the primacy of the modern state as a political unit. Upon examination, what conventional political debates illustrate – whether they concern economic distribution, cultural identity, or cosmopolitan travel – is that questions of citizenship ultimately concern the bounds of communities and the moral convictions that constitute them.