World Citizens?

13th March, 2010

The possibility of frugal Germans paying for the profligate behaviour of their neighbours has added an edge to the concept of European citizenship.

Suddenly EU citizenship has costs as well as benefits. The responses to a Europe wide national anthem or a European constitution have already shown the difficulty of seeking allegiance to anything higher or greater than national loyalty.

It therefore seems a tall order to argue for global citizenship, to ask people to elevate their loyalties beyond their country to the entire world.

‘Global Citizens’ by Mark Gerzon makes this case. It argues that identification beyond the nation state is vital if we are to deal with the vast challenges in our economy and environment. The author fails to make a compelling case, but does pose some provocative questions that make this book a valuable read.

Integration between different nation states and their citizens has massively increased because of the impact of global trade and the communications revolution. The author then argues that ‘Our well being and in some cases our survival, depends on recognising this truth and taking responsibility as global citizens for it’.

In fairness, the book recognises that the development of global citizenship will not be automatic or organic. For many, if not all, it will be an act of choice.

The author outlines how this choice can be made. Global citizenship can be developed through witnessing, learning, connecting and geo-partnering. This last form of partnership involves collaboration across boundaries (often national in nature) between groups and individuals that are different from each other.

If these steps are taken it will allow participants to elevate their loyalties beyond themselves (Citizens 1.0) to ‘loyalty to the earth and all living things’ (Citizens 5.0).

Ultimately, I believe this is a few steps too far. At a time when most are struggling with the demands of national citizenship it is inconceivable that many will embrace the world. The recent process of European integration amply demonstrates the difficulty of asking people to look higher than their capital city.

Citizenship also implies institutions that will allow the provision of leadership and the mediation of conflicting loyalties. The book is silent on the development of such bodies, probably because the creation of a world parliament is so unlikely as to be absurd.

That said, there is value in this argument. At a time of crisis countries and governments are retreating home. Global banks and companies are focusing on home markets. Governments are side stepping international treaties to focus on domestic markets and economies.

Embracing the world is too much. But continual engagement with other countries is the only option for a sustainable economy and environment. The costs of this engagement, though outweighed by the benefits, will be apparent soon. This book does not convince me of the need to embrace the world but does emphasise the need to engage with, as opposed to dismiss, the difficulties facing Greece.

If no man is an island, then it should be obvious that no country can live in isolation. The fact that retreat to national boundaries is now an option makes ‘Global Citizens’ more relevant than I initially thought.