Citizenship and civil society are important concepts in the study of political science. In this lesson, you'll learn what citizenship is and what it means for people that hold it. You'll also learn about the important role of civil society in a democracy.
Meet Calvin. He holds different types of citizenships. Citizenship is a status held by a person that entitles the person to certain rights, privileges and protections of a state, and also imposes duties and obligations on the person to the state. A state is a political entity that establishes law, order and provides security to a geopolitical area. You can think of it as simply the institutions of government over a particular population and geographic region.
The United States is a state. Each state determines its own requirements for citizenship. In the United States, citizenship can be established in two different ways. First, all persons born in the United States are citizens. Second, foreign persons can become citizens through naturalization, which is a legal process to become a citizen.
Duties & Obligations
Calvin is a citizen of the United States. His citizenship entitles him to protection from the United States as well as certain rights. A government will protect its citizens from domestic crimes, terrorism, and foreign, economic and military threats. In the United States, many of Calvin's important rights are outlined in the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. Some other rights are established through federal legislation, such as social insurance programs and anti-discrimination laws.
Citizenship also comes with obligations and duties to the state, such as following the laws of the state. Calvin's most important duty as a citizen is allegiance - a duty of loyalty. Calvin must not put the interests of any other state above the interests of his own. Doing so may constitute treason, which is a breach of one's allegiance to the state and a serious crime. During times of a war, Calvin may even be called on to serve in the military. In some countries, citizens are required to serve in the military for a mandatory period of time.
Calvin's citizenship is not just restricted to the United States. He's also a citizen of New York, which is a political unit of a state that happens to be called a state. In the United States, a person is a citizen of the state where the person resides. Since Calvin lives in New York and is a citizen of the United States, he is also a citizen of New York State.
Calvin can even be a citizen of more than one country. Dual citizenship is simply when a person is a citizen of more than one state. While some countries do not permit dual citizenship, many do, including the United States. For example, Calvin actually is a citizen of both the United States and Canada. This doesn't pose much of a problem because of the long and friendly relationship the U.S. has with Canada, but dual citizenship can create problems if the two countries aren't so friendly. Remember, a citizen has a duty of loyalty to his country, so dual citizenship can create conflict in allegiance.
Civil society can be thought of as associational life. It's the organized activities and institutions in which people with shared interests and values participate. Civil society is neither based on for-profit business or the government. Civil society, instead, is somewhere in between the public sector and the private sector. In fact, some refer to it as the third sector. Examples of associational life include participation in organizations and institutions - such as business associations - charitable organizations, unions, social movements, community organizations and political advocacy groups.
Civil society may also be viewed as a necessary component of a 'good society.' Active civil participation in civic associations can support a democratic, free and just society if the members of the civic associations have those values as its interests and goals. However, a strong civil society does not necessarily lead to a democratic, free and just society. Of course, some civic organizations may support violence, bigotry and other values that most would view as far from good.
Finally, civil society can be viewed as a forum for public discussion, debate and deliberation. The institutions and organizations that make up civil society provide a place where members with similar interests and values can meet, discuss and debate the great issues of the day, including social problems and public policy. For example, Calvin is a real estate agent that belongs to a real estate association whose members are always debating the problem of homelessness in the community and what can be done to provide affordable housing.
Importance of Civil Society
Civil society is a way in which we can join together with like-minded people and try to shape society in ways we believe it should be shaped. This may mean volunteering at a local soup kitchen through a service or church organization, or protesting a government action as a member of a political advocacy group. It may mean helping a new member of your profession get on her feet through programs offered by a professional association. And it may mean just joining the local neighborhood watch or building a stronger community by joining a bowling league or community organic farming project. It is the act of civic engagement and participation through associational life that leads to a civil society and the benefits that may be derived from it.
Let's review what we've learned. Two important concepts in political life are that of citizenship and civil society. Citizenship is the status held by a person that entitles the person to rights and protection from a state and imposes upon the person certain duties to the state, including allegiance to it. Citizenship in the United States is based either upon birth or the naturalization process. Sometimes a person can be a citizen of more than one state, which is known as dual citizenship.
Citizens often engage in civil society. Civil society can be thought of in three different interrelated ways. First, civil society can be viewed as a goal in itself that results in a 'good society.' Secondly, civil society can be viewed as associational life where individual citizens come together voluntarily to engage in shared interests and activities, which is outside both the purely public or purely private business sector. Finally, civil society provides a framework wherein citizens come to debate, discuss and deliberate on the great social and political issues and problems of the day.
When this lesson is over, you should be able to:
- Define citizenship
- Describe the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship
- Identify what a civil society is
- Recognize the actions of a civil society