Translating Citizenship Outside the State

by Peter Spiro

Alex Alenikoff and John Fonte pose contrasting challenges about where citizenship goes beyond the nation-state. Alex argues in effect that citizenship will move up the territorial chain:

[W]hile it is perhaps true that the nation-state form is evolving (even declining), what is ascendant is not a set of other non-political associations; we are not witnessing the rise of world anarchy or the end of history. Rather, we are likely to see the development and strengthening of other political institutions—regional, transnational, some global. These political organizations, institutions, associations—exercising what will be perceived as legitimate legal and coercive authority—will have (and need) members. That is, a decline in citizenship in the nation-state is likely to be accompanied by new kinds of citizenships associated with “polities” that tax and spend, organize armies and police, establish courts, and promulgate what are perceived to be binding norms. There is no reason that standard accounts of citizenship that link governance and a people cannot be stated at the appropriate level of abstraction to apply to new forms of political association.

For his part, John wonders if liberal democracy is possible beyond the state as constituted by citizens.

I think I come out somewhere in between. I agree with Alex that citizenship most readily translates to other forms of territorial governance. Citizenship in the European Union, for example, doesn’t pose a major theoretical challenge. It doesn’t look all that different from citizenship in federal states such as the US.

But anything else is much trickier. I’m hardly proposing the end of history here. But conflict and group definition will increasingly be drawn along non-territorial lines. How does citizenship translate to church, corporate, NGO and other nonstate contexts? Not so clear. Nor does citizenship on the state model translate to the institutions of global governance (no one-worlder me). A major purpose of the book is to start to train sights on these other locations of governance, and to see how we might deploy the lessons of citizenship. That’s already happening; witness all the recent domestic law scholarship on private governance (like this paper), as well as IL work considering democracy and accountability in international institutions (see for instance this recent piece by Grainne De Burca, and this from Bob Keohane). As Cristina notes in her more recent post, “[t]he fact that we are in unmapped territory does not mean that we shouldn’t attempt to think beyond our nation-state centered worldviews.” Perhaps it needs to be more sytematically addressed under Chimene’s heading of “Beyond Citizenship Studies”!

On this score, though, I understand John’s concerns. It’s not clear how one directly transfers core elements of liberal democracy in settings other than the nation-state. Take one person-one vote. To the extent it’s not a fable in the first place, it’s not easy to see how it can be put to work in the new international order (however much Andy Strauss and Richard Falk would have us believe otherwise!). But whether or not democratic citizenship translates to the new order, it won’t help simply to wish it away. That’s where the danger lies, in not recognizing the migration of authority to nonstate and suprastate institutions and allowing abuses of power to go unanswered.

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