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CR: The New Centennial Review 1.1 (2001) 1-21

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Citizens of Modernity from a Cosmopolitan Point of View

Jan Plug
University of Wisconsin-Madison

IN ORDER TO PARTICIPATE IN TODAY'S DISCUSSION 1 IN GOOD CONSCIENCE, I need to preface my remarks by saying that I am not a citizen. Certainly not in this country. Perhaps not at all. Or just barely. Although I hold a Wisconsin driver's license; although I could show you (should you want to see it) a copy of a lease to an apartment there; and although, most importantly perhaps, I pay both federal and state taxes, I am considered a nonresident alien. Nonresident. I live in the United States without living there, which in the end may be the only way one can inhabit that curious national space. And things are not much better in the country of my so-called citizenship. Upon leaving the country to "reside" elsewhere, I was expected to relinquish that most cherished of Canadian rights—the right to "universal" health care—knowing that should I return to my native Ontario I would have to wait three months before having it reinstated—before, it would seem, being Canadian enough to merit health care once again. During another stint in the United States a number of years ago, a national referendum was held on a new constitution that then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney hoped would bring Quebec into the fold of a constitutionally, if not culturally or otherwise, unified Canada. [End Page 1] Faced with an interesting voting opportunity and eager, like many, to send a message to Mr. Mulroney, I tried to vote in absentia, from the United States. But the Canadian government was having none of that, none of us outsiders. Undaunted, I asked to be registered at my permanent address in Canada, the address on my yearly tax returns, even after I "resided" in the United States. No again. To vote, one had to be residing in Canada. Like now, I was neither here nor there, which may describe precisely what it means to be Canadian.

In fact, and I'll end my preface with this, it was while living in the no-man's-land of Buffalo that I learned just what it means to be a citizen, a Canadian citizen, and perhaps a citizen of modernity. A friend (American, to be sure, as will soon become apparent) told me about a Canadian radio station holding a contest that asked listeners to call in and complete the phrase "As Canadian as...." Now, one can easily imagine any number of possible responses. As Canadian as the maple leaf. As Canadian as hockey—eh! Or, my favorite, as Canadian as sovereignty debate. But none of these won. The winner, who could only have been Canadian, called in with the response, "As Canadian as... possible under the circumstances." This may, in the end, define what it means to be Canadian, which is also the impossibility of being Canadian, of being anything more than as Canadian as possible in a given situation. It may well be impossible to be Canadian, or a citizen in general, if such a thing exists, but also, therefore, impossible not to, and not only for those of us who are Canadian but not, not in Canada, citizens but not, not members of the city.


Apparently it all depends upon where one finds oneself, upon one's point of view. There may, in fact, be no other way to look at it. No other way to look at "citizens of modernity" but from a cosmopolitan point of view. In suggesting this, however, I do not intend to suggest prematurely the necessity of what we today call globalization, a world economy, or the global hegemony of a certain culture, perhaps an American one. For before we can say that the only way to look at citizens of modernity is from a cosmopolitan point of view, we need to understand each of the terms invoked in that phrase— [End Page 2] citizen, modernity, and their relation...


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