On Saturday 13th October 2018, the Academy of Ideas held a debate on national identity, looking at what it means to be a citizen of a nation state.
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In 2014, the British government stripped the ISIS terrorists Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elshiekh of their UK citizenship. This is just one of several issues that have recently highlighted questions of citizenship, from the Windrush scandal – in which people who arrived in Britain from the Caribbean 50 years ago were suddenly told that they did not have rights as British citizens – to the ongoing negotiations over free movement and the future rights of EU citizens in the UK. Some opponents of Brexit have expressed the hope that individual UK citizens might choose to retain EU citizenship, but it is not clear what this would mean in practice. Would it effectively be a glorified work permit or something more symbolic, the Remainers’ version of the much-mocked blue British passport that was said to motivate Leavers?
In some respects, we are seeing a clash between a cosmopolitan view of citizenship and a national one. For example, critics of populism frequently assert that citizens and foreigners should enjoy the same privileges. This seems to be based on the belief that the exclusion of non-citizens from, for instance, welfare rights or electoral franchise is similar to discriminating against someone on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. When Theresa May declared that people who call themselves “citizens of the world” don’t know the meaning of citizenship and are in fact “citizens of nowhere”, she caused outcry. Many interpreted this as a post-Brexit return to patriotic xenophobia and responded by reasserting their desire to be world citizens or, indeed, “citizens of nowhere”.
But, what can citizenship mean if it is divorced from place and detached from any special rights and duties? How can democratic decision-making work unless citizens interact with one another within a geographically-bound entity? As the political philosopher Hannah Arendt argued: “Nobody can be a citizen of the world as he is the citizen of his country… A citizen is by definition a citizen among citizens in a country among countries. His rights and duties must be defined and limited, not only by those of his fellow citizens, but also by the boundaries of a territory… laws are the positively established fences which hedge in, protect and limit the space in which freedom is not a concept, but a living, political reality.”.
Some argue that national citizenship is the mechanism that allows citizens to forge bonds and allows a sense of solidarity to develop, essential for taking responsibility for the future of their society. But, if one side argues that, despite differences, citizens are bound by a deep sense of commonality, others worry that this privileges those who share a culture and history at the expense of new cultural identities.
So, does citizenship by definition demarcate as well as unify? Is citizenship ultimately necessary, or is it a relic of a less-connected world? Is citizenship more robust when based on an American-style civic ideal to which anyone can subscribe? Should we understand citizenship primarily as a practical matter of rights and responsibilities or as a more elevated matter of identity and allegiance?
Click on the following links to:
– watch the video from the live stream
– go to the page for our other live event at the BoI
– to find out more about the Battle of Ideas festival, which this debate forms part of
Kate Andrews – Associate Director, Institute of Economic Affairs & Columnist, City A.M.
Mihir Bose – Award-winning Journalist & Author of Lion and Lamb: a Portrait of British Moral Duality
Jacob Mchangama – Executive Director of Justitia & Host and Narrator of Clear and Present Danger: a History of Free Speech Podcast
James Panton – Head of Upper Sixth and Politics at Magdalen College School, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Open University & Co-Editor, From Self to Selfie: a Critique of Contemporary Forms of Alienation
Angus Kennedy – Convenor of The Academy & Author of Being Cultured: in Defence of Discrimination
This debate was live streamed and a recording of the live stream can be found at the top of this page.
We also live streamed Democracy under siege from the Battle of Ideas and you can watch this debate on its event page and find out about all other TTT debates by following us on our social media and/or media platforms, where we post information on forthcoming events and publish all new recordings
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This debate forms part of the Battle of Ideas. The Battle of Ideas is a huge annual festival of debate at London’s Barbican Centre. This festival prides itself on challenging accepted points of view and putting forward provocative arguments and promises to provide new perspectives.
This debate has been organised by:
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