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The Good Society 12.1 (2003) 31-34

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European Citizenship and the Republican Tradition

David Jacobson and Zeynep Kilic

What is the end of government?

The political philosopher Hannah Arendt asks this question in her essay on that enigmatic phrase, "the pursuit of happiness," which appears in the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase had a twofold meaning, she suggests, for the revolutionary generations of the United States and France. The one meaning, at first predominant, was that of "public freedom," the right to public happiness, the pursuit of well-being as a participator in public affairs. This is implicit in the term common-wealth, as in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Public freedom was not "an inner realm into which men might escape at will from the pressures of the world, nor was it the liberum arbitrium which makes the will choose between alternatives." Freedom for the revolutionaries "could exist only in public; it was tangible, worldly reality . . . it was the man-made space or market-place which antiquity had known as the area where freedom appears and becomes visible to all" (Arendt 1990 [1963]: 124, 133). The absence of political freedom under enlightened despots was not so much the absence of personal liberties, at least for the upper-classes, but the "invisibility" of the world of public affairs.

The second meaning is apparent fairly early on, and gains momentum after the revolutions, and that is the right to the pursuit of private happiness. Indeed, to the contemporary reader, by this point it is "self-evident" that the pursuit of happiness is about one's own, personal happiness. In this context, the role of government is to protect the rights of its subjects in their pursuit of private happiness. Freedom no longer inhabits the public realm, but lies in the private life of citizens and consequently must be defended against the public and public power. "Freedom and power have parted company, and the fateful equating of power with violence, of the political with government, and of government with a necessary evil has begun" (Arendt, 1990 [1963], 137)

This change, as Arendt was only too aware, threatened to eviscerate the idea and practice of citizenship, at least in its traditional republican sense (see Arendt 1958:22-78). Take the pursuit of private happiness to its logical end—a point we have not reached but, until recently at least, may have been approaching—and it suggests the end of any purposively public role. The place of "law" would be purely regulative, to facilitate private pursuit, rather than law as constitutive, whereby the members of the body politic decide on their collective self. And, indeed, law as regulations has expanded massively in the last three to four decades (an expansion itself an upward loop in a century long expansion), including international law. Such law is "expressed" through judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative bodies. The European Union, we argue, in its judicial and administrative organization, is an especially notable example of this phenomenon.

In the near-absence of a purposive public role for the individual, collective or national boundaries themselves become potentially amorphous, for the very sense of a "public persona" through which nationhood has been expressed becomes rather tenuous. Thus it is no surprise that in the last decade, issues of citizenship and immigration have become contentious: different "logics" are being contested-the more traditional logic of citizenship and nationhood versus transnational human rights, or rights detached from citizenship per se. This normative struggle is also expressed in institutional struggles between different branches of government, and between national governments and regional or international institutions.

The EU is a notable—indeed prime —example of this shift towards governance that is largely regulative and judicial, and relatively weak in terms of the "public persona" implicit in a nation-state and in republican notions of citizenship. Broad discussion on the "democratic deficit" of the EU institutions highlight this phenomenon. In supposedly providing popular legitimacy, European citizenship as a concept (if still only in limited ways institutionally) is designed to counter the widely felt "democratic deficit...


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