- The New Civic Politics:Civic Theory and Practice for the Future
We see before us an emerging civic politics, along with an emerging intellectual community, a field, and a discipline. Its work is to understand and strengthen civic politics, civic initiatives, civic capacity, civic society and civic culture. It is emerging in many disciplines and fields of human endeavor.
What does it mean to put the civic idea at the center of one’s concerns in this way? And what is its connection to citizenship? What, finally, is the relevant meaning of citizenship?
Citizenship as a form of membership (separating those who are in from those who are out), with its associated rights and duties, is not the relevant notion; and certainly not citizenship as a form of membership in the state. Our understanding of citizenship derives instead from a distinctive civic ideal and set of practices involving creative agency and a form of loyalty—a commitment to a civic minded co-creation.
This civic ideal builds on two elements:
• Public spiritedness, or the commitment to the public good, the res publica (to make explicit the republican roots of this idea in the Western tradition), a certain form of patriotism, a loyalty directed toward political communities.
• The idea of the citizen as a creative agent, not simply acquiescing in the demands of the political community, but also working to reform [End Page 206] and improve it. A citizen is the co-creator of the worlds to which she or he belongs.
The political community in question is not to be associated exclusively with the state or the nation (or the regime or the country): there are various small local polities as well as global ones, with multiple crosscutting boundaries. Civic initiatives can occur at various levels, forming a mosaic of crisscrossing – and sometimes contradictory—efforts, a layered and complex democracy, drawing on such principles as federalism and subsidiarity.
When citizens are genuinely willing to express their opinions about diverse options or past practices, they may find themselves in conflict with one another. Learning how to structure debate and discourse so greater understanding is achieved by digging down and finding out about the core reasons for conflict may lead citizens to design new ways of relating to one another over the long run so that they avoid sources of past conflict in the future. This is not an easy lesson. But, if citizens do not learn how to gain better understanding of the sources of conflict, they may find themselves in physical conflict and violence.
The dominant ways of thinking about human action and human agency, about power and politics do not support the efforts of citizens understood in this way as co-creators of the structures of power (large and small) that govern us and the systems of culture that give meanings to our lives. The division of intellectual labor into disciplines has scant room for a field in which the civic ideal would be elaborated, and its components tested; and which would serve as a forum for the discussion, evaluations, and work of different conceptions of the civic ideal and of its various components.
We do find, but only at the margins of various disciplines, efforts to think deeply about the issues that face civic initiatives and about what we must understand, and how we should see the world, in order to support them. We need a civic intellectual community, a discipline, a forum for debates, in which these issues will be central.
Two central commitments:
We propose two central identifying commitments for this intellectual community.
• First, it is an effort to understand human action as a human creation, a product of design based on skills, not simply a product of causal structures (e.g. power structures).
• Second, those skills are taken to include the elaboration of ends, not just instrumental rationality. [End Page 207]
Consider first the distinction between structure and agency. Human action is partly a product of causal structures. Human action is also a product of human engagement and skill, institutionally organized and guided by systematic and disciplined thinking. Some of...