Are you ready for a fight? Do you care? And what the heck does “citizenship” have to do with anything?

Judy Shklar claims that to be a citizen, you have to earn and vote. You can infer from reading Douglass that he believes another element, action, may be necessary to be counted as a citizen. I hold a different position altogether: that citizenship and standing are irrelevant to one another.

Douglass covertly emphasizes the importance of violence within the context of this action, too. However, I’m left to wonder, wait, doesn’t the notion of violence run counter to the notion citizenship? Being a citizen has been established as a coveted position, one where rights are conferred on the basis of standing, and that standing comes with privileges; one privilege that I would assume the presence of is the removal of the need for violence. However, the system is not perfect. T. Jefferson said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” I believe what TJ was getting at was that an imperfect system requires people who are willing to act. Am I saying that this kind of violence is what he means?
NO! He means a time will come when one is called upon to fight for the right to a certain standing. Ground is not gained without a fight. Douglass, beaten mercilessly by Covey, proceeded this way: “Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me, and could do what he pleased; but at this moment– from whence came the spirit I don’t know–I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him. My resistance was so entirely unexpected that Covey seemed taken all aback. He trembled like a leaf. This gave me assurance, and I held him uneasy, causing the blood to run where I touched him with the ends of my fingers,” (begin, “Douglas”, p.393). Douglass fought! He fought with all his might, and made known to his masters he held a certain standing of respect among them. We’ve hashed over the notion that this was perhaps a necessary element of becoming a “citizen”: action.

This begs the question: is this standing elemental to “citizenship”? Or is it something different that we’re confusing with citizenship? I believe our definitions are switched. Standing as a general term is more important than citizenship. Standing is a de facto position, while citizenship is a de jure term. Standing regards what practical treatment is like, while citizenship is some mythical reward that people born in the US receive as a blessing for their “high birth” (as citizens of this ‘Great Nation’). In Douglass’s position, speaking of his legal place in society, he was still a slave; but practically speaking, his place became equal with Covey that day. From then on, he was never whipped again. The perception of citizenship is flawed in that it looks to connect apples to oranges. Shklar, Douglass, and others operate under the assumed that citizenship is the goal, an important achievement. However, the intangibles of reputation and respect are more important. Perception supersedes codifications  in real importance. For example, when a soldier saves the lives of all the members of his unit and receives the Medal of Honor, do the men he saved value his bravery or the medal? They value the bravery. The Medal in itself is useless to them, a fledgling, failing attempt to capture what really matters in a small hunk of crafted metal. No no, it is the perceived that bears the weight of reality, not what men write down in books of Law.

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3 Responses to Are you ready for a fight? Do you care? And what the heck does “citizenship” have to do with anything?

  1. hengk says:

    I like your argument, and agree with a lot of the things you said. But I don’t think citizenship is some mythical reward, whereas standing is your reputation (and what really matters). I think it still has to be remembered that a major aspect of citizenship is voting, which is in line with your classification of citizenship as de jure. I am not sure what Douglass would think about your suggestion of reputation as more important. Gaining standing in society was monumental for him, but voting was just as important! I still agree with what you’re saying, but I put standing and citizenship in equal categories.

  2. kbreit4 says:

    I really like this take on citizenship and its importance. We haven’t really discussed much views contrary to those that we’ve read, so this was refreshing.
    I agree with you that standing is very important; possibly more important in the short term than citizenship. Our society very much values standing above probably all else. We value beauty, good jobs, quality things (objects), and strong personality traits. I would say those things contribute to achieving Shklar’s objectives of citizenship.

    I don’t think that you can put the two in completely different categories, though.

    You need standing to be a citizen. In America’s case, being born here, or gaining citizenship through other means is enough. This kind of standing is obviously very different; not much work is necessary to achieve it, but they are still qualifications.

  3. arlaurin says:

    I also agree standing may be separate from citizenship. Shklar recognizes standing as having the right nationality, being a good/active citizen and the ideal republican citizen. Going off the last comment, I think it is actually hard to achieve what Shklar fully lays out for standing. And I myself, may not even be considered to have standing then because I can’t say I am fully involved. I vote, but no, I am not one to do things such as protests. Shklar sounds like standing includes you being the ideal citizen, but an example of where many us could fall out of the category is in not following every single law (I mean, who hasn’t caught themselves speeding while driving?!?! If you say you never have, I don’t believe you one second). So yes, I am not seeing a difference between citizenship and standing.

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