The Decline of American Citizenship Part I

Updated: Feb 27


James Madison stated in 1778, "We have staked the whole future of American Civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God (Federer, 2006, p411). "


There is nothing new under the sun is an old axiom that persists in modern times. When the Founding Fathers were seeking to establish a new government in America, they looked to many historical systems and sources including Ancient Greece, Rome, and most importantly Jerusalem.  The Forefathers were purposeful and deliberate in their efforts as they formed the new nation and colonists became citizens of the new government, no longer serfs under King George III.


A Look at Citizenship


Defining citizenship is not difficult but has different meanings to different people based on their worldview. For example, a secular ethic has different character qualities that define a citizen than a Judeo-Christian ethic.  Nonetheless, citizenship is a very fragile concept and rare in history as well as not common today.  Thus, citizenship has to be protected and held in the highest esteem.


Citizenship separates residents of one nation from all other nations uniquely identifying a person as a member of a nation.  Often citizens are referred to by the host nation where they reside; French, Germans, or Americans.  American citizenship separates a person from serfdom, slavery, or being a subject and exalts the individual above nobility and aristocracy. This requires individuals, American citizens, to participate in government. When citizens fail to participate in government, do not vote, and do not make decisions for themselves then there is a void in which trouble rushes in.  The void is filled by a variety of tyrannical leadership to include aristocrats, bureaucrats, technocrats, theocrats, monarchies, oligarchies, patriarchies, and other forms of tyranny.  More than half the world's population lives under some form of tyranny.


Citizenship has to be nourished and protected. Americans have to invest in their stake having the gifted natural rights that are protected by the nation-state. The American people have responsibilities to protect the Constitution, to vote, and to make sure people understand the customs and traditions of the United States that identify a person as a citizen.


The History of Citizenship 


Citizenship is a very rare concept and not the norm in the course of events throughout history. Roughly 180 countries in the world are not democratic or they are not consensual, meaning that, the citizens do not determine their own laws, determine how the laws will be enforced, their economy, their social structure, or their political system. They are either serfs or subjects or in some ways a modern equivalent of a slave as they are not empowered citizens.


The concept of citizenship did not arise simultaneously with the appearance of civilization. With the emergence of palatial cultures in Egypt, the ancient east, and near East like in Mesopotamia with monumental architecture, static populations, and agricultural bounties around 6,000 to 7,000 BC, there is no mention of citizens. The people who are mentioned in cuneiform tablets are subjects or serfs. All laws were from on high and the king, monarch, or theocrat dictated.


Ancient civilizations, whether in the West, Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, Europe, China, or India did not discover the idea that individual people could determine the course of their own future. With the collapse of the Mycenae culture and after the collapse of the palatial culture, we had a Dark Age. During this time circa 1200 BC, 80 percent of the population vanished because they weren’t accustomed to living on their own as scattered nomadic tribes. There was no central control of palaces like in Mycenae, Thebes, Pilos, or Glaus. Out of the Dark Ages, civilizations re-emerged under very different auspices. Some 1500 city-states in what the Greeks called a Polis (Corinth, Athens Thebes, etc…) started to pop up in the inland valleys of Greece. These city-states began to have Constitutions or written laws that were not government edicts. The word Polis is the root of all our modern terms for citizenship in the sense of what is political.  We are talking about a concept that emerged in Greek states about the 8th century BC then spread to Rome under Republican auspices.


Citizenship was not perfect at inception.  Over the next 200 years, an increasing number of people who did not have money or owned land participated in citizenship reaching the apex during the 5th Century in Athens with the creation of a pure democracy. Everybody who was a free citizen, born to two parents, and then later one parent had the duty to vote in the assembly, serve on juries, pay taxes, and determine how tax money was spent. 


The idea of private property ownership was most likely the greatest catalyst for citizenship.  For the first time in history, a person could own a parcel of land and plant their own crop but needed to protect the investment of capital, time, and labor as well as the inheritance to a son or daughter.  The protection of private property drove laws that insured the citizen’s natural right to land and inheritance.  


We all come into this world the same as everyone else. Despite being born as equals all of us have different energy levels, different health statuses, different talents, some people have good luck while others have bad luck. Some people die younger than others who live beyond 90 years old.  The government realized during the ancient agrarian world that outcomes were not always equal due to factors like those discussed. The great philosophers and thinkers in the Greek world such as Plato and Socrates realized the necessity to create equality in perpetuity because the middle class is an essential element of citizenship that needed protection and stability.  Thus,  they resorted to government coercion to force people who were more industrious or talented or luckier to not be so industrious, talented, or lucky in order to lift up others. In this way, they were curbing individual liberty. 


The American Forefathers saw things in a different light. They staked the American society on self-government and the natural order that require every person to participate in governance and to self-regulate. They bolstered the individual and the middle class. The system they created had the opportunity to lift oneself out of their station in life to a new station. The most humble person could rise up to perform greatness and change their own station. They did this by creating the American Citizen.


In Part II, we will explore the challenges and the struggle of citizenship.


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