What Does it Mean to be an American Citizen? A Review of “Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America”
Carol McNamara and Trevor Shelley, eds. Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America. Lanham: Lexington Books 2022.   Today’s polarizing debates in America about immigration, critical race theory, and COVID restrictions are really about citizenship: what constitutes it, who has it, and what does it mean, especially in this age of globalization? Some claim that citizenship… The post What Does it Mean to be an American Citizen? A Review of “Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America” appeared first on VoegelinView.

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Carol McNamara and Trevor Shelley, eds. Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America. Lanham: Lexington Books 2022.

 

Today’s polarizing debates in America about immigration, critical race theory, and COVID restrictions are really about citizenship: what constitutes it, who has it, and what does it mean, especially in this age of globalization? Some claim that citizenship is dying, while others believe it can be revigorated by providing a pathway for millions of undocumented workers. Regardless of where one stands on these issues, the topic of citizenship is both a timely and enduring one with which Americans are currently wrestling.
Carol McNamara’s and Trevor Shelley’s Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America is a collection of essays that addresses these questions. McNamara is associate director for public programs for the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University and Shelley is an instructor and assistant director of graduate studies there. In this book they have gathered political philosophers, public intellectuals, journalists, university administrators, and professors from a variety of disciplines to examine the subject of citizenship.
The first set of essays addresses how citizenship is foundational to the political community by engaging the works of Aristotle, Locke, and Rousseau. Susan Collins explores in Aristotle the tension between the political and philosophical lives that we have to choose; Michael Zuckert defends Locke’s “liberal citizenship” against the criticism of Patrick’s Deneen; and Clifford Orwin calls for a simulacrum of Rousseauian citizenship by having people reclaim power from a globalized elite. While these thinkers disagree among themselves about the rights and duties of citizenship, they all agree that political participation is essential for a good and happy civic life.
The next set of essays examines citizenship in the American context by asking what the prerequisites and requirements of character of citizens and leaders are. Greg Weiner looks to Madison in the Federalist Papers to argue that the virtues of reasonableness, deference, vigilance, fortitude, humility, and public-spiritedness are required for our leaders. Trevor Shelley focuses on Tocqueville’s mores to understand American citizenship and how religion and the family are key institutions to instruct Americans in self-governance. Henry Olsen returns to the classical virtues to analyze American citizenship and believes Americans are largely prudence and courageous but lack temperance and justice.
The third set of essays revolves around the place of citizenship in the American Constitution. Kurt Lash reviews the debates about the Citizenship Clauses of section one of the Fourteenth Amendment and points out that historians have struggled to identify the original meaning of these clauses. However, what is clear is that the clauses reflect antebellum constitutional theories long before the Civil War: all persons had the equal natural right not to be wrongly deprived of life, liberty, and property, and every person born within the jurisdiction of the United States was a citizen entitled to the rights of the Constitution. Roger M. Smith also examines the Fourteenth Amendment to argue that both the political left and right should support policies that “foster greater civic inclusion in public institutions without rigid racial quotas and, with on balance, positive impacts on the opportunities available for all Americans.” For Ann Ward, the key concept is that American citizenship is a national rather than global because the American judiciary plays a pivotal role in defining and cultivating citizenship. Employing Montesquieu and Hamilton, Ward argues that judicial review arises not from history but rather “from the foundational act of consent of the American people,” thereby placing a limit of short-term popular preferences about who is and is not a citizen.
The next set of essays explores the effect of globalization on American citizenship.  Richard Lowry makes a case for national citizenship based on a shared culture and geography and that civic nationalism—a community of equal, right-bearing citizens without a shared culture—is nothing more than an illusion. Henry Thompson concurs with Lowry but makes an argument for economic nationalism as illustrated by counties’ behavior during the COVID pandemic. Finally, Christopher Caldwell points out the problem that dual citizenship poses to nations because this new class undermines the loyalty to any one.
Taking issue with these thinkers is Shikha Dalmia who speculates that a “top-down” nationalism, whether in the United States or India, will backfire because it replaces American’s “organic love” for their country. Tomás R. Jimènez also challenges Lowry’s, Thompson’s, and Caldwell’s arguments by claiming that the United States “never had an immigrant policy aimed at integrating waves of foreign-born individuals” and instead relied upon the education system and labor market to socially integrate these people. Given that the United States will not have an integration policy anytime soon, Jimènez calls for mass legalization of immigrants because American schools and its economy will be able to absorb the blow.
The fifth set of essays investigates the problems and challenges of contemporary civic life, including issues of race and identity. Glenn C. Loury argues that Americans can transcend their racial lens to view citizens as Americans—not some hyphen version—in order to overcome their racial biases. Angela D. Dillard looks to the life of Reverend J. H. Jackson as an example and resource of black conservativism and from which we learn how to navigate importance civic differences across communities. Peter C. Myers make the case that the principles of the American Founders made possible for their descendants to address racial injustice in the future. Elizabeth Corey questions whether the theory of microaggression actually causes more harm than help in identifying and countering forms of racism that still persist; and Susan McWilliams Brandt raises the question about the role of civic education, and the need to expand American political imagination, in forming and cultivating citizens.
The volume concludes with a debate between Peter Levine and Wilfred M. McClay who both advocate for a more robust civic education as a foundation for civic renewal. However, they disagree about how to implement this. Levine advocates for a curriculum that add promotes “how to coordinate behavior, deliberate disagreements, and nonviolently address unjust boundaries.” In other words, praxis over theoria. By contrast, McClay argues for a common set of stories and symbols centered around the Constitution to form citizens—theoria before praxis.
Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America is a much-needed book for our politically polarized age. What we discover is that for democracy to work, it cannot rely upon the political class alone. All citizens must engage in the robust conversation about what constitutes citizenship, who belongs to it, and what does it mean. This book introduces the reader to do this.

The post What Does it Mean to be an American Citizen? A Review of “Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America” appeared first on VoegelinView.

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