The Meaning of Citizenship in A Democratic Nation – History Essay

The Meaning of Citizenship in A Democratic Nation – History Essay
The meaning of citizenship depends of course, on what context that it is used in most democratic countries it is associated with civil and not religious or moral

rights that advocate the rights of freedom of exchange, belief and choice. It is generally accepted that contemporary citizenship theory started in Britain with TH Marshall in post-WWII. Were Marshall divided citizenship into three sets of citizen rights. Civil rights, which developed in the eighteenth-century which included free speech, access to the legal system, rights to a fair trail, and rights of contract and property. Political rights which included the extension of the vote, the right to hold office were developed in the nineteenth-century, (but only for men). Social rights that were formed in the twentieth-century and are entitlements to social security when faced with unemployment, sickness, and other forms of hardship this is when the welfare state made its appearance (TH Marshall, Citizenship and social class. 1950: 46). It is the role of the welfare state and the social rights of people that we will be more concerned with here.

So what was the thinking behind the development of the welfare state, the most obvious answer is that it was intended to provide for a greater level of equality among classes, and a protection for those who were worst hit by the excesses of capitalism. This is however a debatable point. Brian Abel Smith argued that the welfare states “were never intended as great institutions of equality” and that they “did not intend to try to create a more equal society, but to establish a floor of protection at the bottom” (Brian Abel Smith, The major problems of the welfare state. 1985: 32). In many ways, the concept of a welfare state is the peak of a social democracy, seemingly balancing the benefits of capitalism and socialism without the extremes of either. The theory seems to be almost perfect, with the state playing a large role in the area of social policy, working to alleviate the problems and inequalities created by the capitalist market economy.

This seems to be supported by the fact that all the earliest reforms related to social insurance were set up for those who were injured in the workplace. It would appear that the rationale behind the welfare states varies depending on which political ideology that one subscribes to. For conservatives, the welfare state was a way of avoiding unrest among the poorer classes and a means of maintaining political stability. Liberals believed that it was simply a means of solving the problems of an unequal and illiberal society, and of the victims of that society. While socialists believed that it was merely a step in the right direction towards the ultimate goal of a classless society (David Held, Models of democracy. 1996: 235-236). Apart from the political ideologies the welfare state can be seen as a result of the merging of the new capitalist system and the new mass democracies in which citizens were politically active. In essence it was an attempt to compromise the beliefs of the capitalist ruling class with the rest of society (Flora & Heidenheimer, The historical core and changing boundaries of the welfare state. 1981: 22).
This was the reality of the welfare state, an institution which tried to resolve the conflicts within the class-based society. The first stage came in the 1920s, which was a period of social experimentation (Hecio, Towards a new welfare state. 1981: 386-387). It was during this period that the institutions of the welfare state were created. Social insurance was instituted, and advances in the fields of health and education provisions were made. The second stage was one of consolidation between the 1930s and 1940s. This stage was the inevitable follow-on from the period of experimentation. Many of the ideas which had been put forward in the first period were revolutionary and challenged the relationship between the state and its citizenry. While the second period allowed for a consolidation of the achievements that had been made, it was also a time in which the seeds were sown for the huge expansion in social rights that were to come.

In the immediate post-WWII period, Britain was in the process of constructing its social welfare system. Marshall was attempting to justify the national provision of social benefits. He focused on the major contradiction between formal political equality and individual freedom, on the one hand, and the significant social and economic inequality on the other (Bryan Turner, Outline of a theory of citizenship. 1992: 48-51). This paved the way for the future expansion of the welfare state. This expansion came in the years between the 1950s and the mid-1970s. After World War II, the amount government spending that was spent on social policy soared. There were a number of reasons for this firstly, there was an increase in the number of dependants within society, a rise in the number of the elderly, which increased the cost of maintaining health care and pensions. The other major reason was that this period was one of unprecedented economic growth and thus finding the funds to pay for these services was possible.

However by the late 1970s the welfare state had come under severe pressure and its very existence was in question. How did this come about only a few years after its halcyon days? Basically, the expansion of the welfare state was too much too soon. Were the expansion of social rights that existed during a period of economic prosperity simply could not be maintained in a time of recession. With a fall in economic growth and a rise in unemployment increased pressure was put on the welfare state. The funds that were there during the good times dried up and states started to question the costs involved. There was a genuine feeling that the investment in the future security of society, on which the welfare state was founded, was seriously threatening its economic security (Hecio, 1981: 400). As the level of government indebtedness rose, people began to resent paying out for services that were formally their entitlements and the sense of solidarity and consensus of the post-war period began to wither.

Indeed there are now some grave concerns over the future of the welfare state. Dismayed at the very high levels of persistent unemployment, and constrained by the monetary policies of the EU, many policymakers are thinking that a developed, welfare state is no longer possible within a global economy (David Held, 1996: 251). Hecio lists three main reasons for the decline in the welfare state and its impact on the social rights of citizens: pointing to high costs, ineffective spending and the over-regulation of the welfare system (Hecio, 1981: 399-400). The social rights that most people enjoyed and have come to depend on in times of prosperity do not hold up in times of hardship. It goes without saying that it is the most vulnerable of people in society that are worst affected when the social safety net is removed.

Given the growth of social exclusion it is not surprising that many writers on social citizenship are concerned about the deindustrialisation, and the spreading of inequalities. Increasingly, conservatives as well as moderates are emphasising the obligations of people, and not their rights or entitlements. Dahrendrof, believed that citizenship is a body of rights and duties a status that defines full membership of a society; that by very its definition is removed from the whims of the market. Although there are obligations that all citizen should and must obey such as the law, taxes, etc, but these obligations have be limited so as not to infringe on either personal or civil rights. Dahrendorf argued that the most tangible evidence concerning the loss of citizen entitlements can be seen in the development of an underclass in the wealthy OECD states (Ralf Dahrendorf, The changing quality of citizenship 1994: 10-19). These groups are the long-term unemployed, the persistent poor, disadvantaged and ethnic groups and refugees that have fallen through the safety net.

Another failing of the state is that the welfare state has done little to make Europe a classless society. Indeed, instead of abolishing inequalities it has perpetuated them: the extension of many benefits and payments to large sectors of the middle class during the expansionary period did little to improve the relative life chances of the working class. On the charge that the welfare state is over-regulated, we need only look at the size of the bureaucracies established to run the system for its verification. These organisations have become detached from the people whose needs they are supposed to represent. A “them and us” mentality has developed with the welfare state being seen as faceless, and the recipients being seen as charity cases.

As Turner noted, citizenship, despite the claim of universality excludes as well as incorporates. Social citizenship requires equality but is incompatible with individualism since equality requires a bureaucracy and in turn that bureaucracy destroys individualism (Bryan Turner, Citizenship and social theory. 1994: 24-29). Taken together, the failings of the system represent near fatal flaws and explain the decline of the welfare state and its effect on the rights of citizenship. A number of theorists have focused on a more expansive definition of citizenship. In part, its emphasis is due to the various developments of capitalism. Prior theories assumed that developing capitalism necessarily corresponded with modernisation, which argue that economic rights are part of the larger struggle for citizenship.

This assumption can no longer be considered to be completely true, as capitalism can flourish under traditional societies and settings (Turner, 1992: 24). Furthermore, in post-industrial societies, there is deindustrialisation, deskilling, and continued inequality and poverty. Finally, there are some counter-trends of growing nationalism and ethnic conflict, on the one hand, and globalisation on the other. In response to these mixed trends, writers on citizenship take different ideological viewpoints, ranging from basic human rights, as in what people have rights to, because of what they share in common as human beings. To human identities that are deeply imbedded in community, to common agency, rights, understandings and shared purposes (Martin Bulmer, & Anthony Rees, Citizenship Today. 1996: 79-83).

Turner defines citizenship in a sociological context as a set of practices: juridical, political, economic and cultural that define a person as a competent member of a society and which as a consequence shape the flow of resources to people and social groups. The emphasis here is very much on practices. Indeed, citizenship changes historically as a consequence of political struggles for better access to life’s chances. Thus defined, citizenship is centrally concerned with inequality, power, and social class; it is inevitably bound up with the problem of the unequal distribution of resources. Therefore, citizenship is essentially concerned about the nature of social membership within modern political collectives, in short, social movements. Turner focuses on the spaces within capitalist economies for the growth of social movements seeking citizenship rights.
There is considerable variation in contemporary capitalism, thus, the real changes in capitalism will come through the democratic process. Gradual changes in consumption, welfare, will come more as a consequence of collective resistance and pressure to improve conditions and expand the civil rights of minorities (Turner, 1992: 44). He argues that welfare rights are more than merely a pacifier for class differences rather they have fundamentally transformed the nature of the class struggle itself. The condition of the working class has improved immensely over the last century, despite the persistent of inequalities. There is the emergence of new classes and the ambiguous location of the middle classes, the changing nature of class consciousness and class imagery. Turner sees multiple social movements, minorities, feminists, and the aged. Although Turner believed that class was important, he believed that it was not the complete story (Turner, Citizenship and capitalism. 1986: 105).

Hugh Hecio believed that a transformation is taking place with the idea of social inclusiveness. Despite gaps and inconsistencies, the prevailing ideology during the twentieth-century was to expand the circle of people who were considered to be equal in terms of life goals and aspirations. Marshall’s concept of social citizenship was not only to reduce poverty but to make society more equal and just. It was an expression of solidarity a sense of citizenship. The concept of social solidarity, the recognition of individual dignity, expressed a defining aspiration a presumption of inclusion that was a remarkable and unique development. In contrast to earlier generations that routinely accepted and defended exclusionary practices, in the post-WWII, the moral sense had changed. To be sure, there were gaps and inconsistencies in the ideal, but they were not endorsed.

The overall goal of the post-WWII social welfare state was the economic security of the family. The nation state was the appropriate political organization to achieve these goals. Those assumptions are now being questioned, as a normal working life is no longer assured, especially for the most vulnerable in society. Nations are no longer in control of their economies. Global economic forces and cross border migrations are threatening state welfare programs. Instead of the protection and reconciliation of individual diversity in the common community, there is the reassertion of local political and economic interests, and ethnic and racial identities. The concept of inclusion is increasingly contested. As the economies of both the US and Western Europe continue to produce growing inequalities, increased social divisions, and continues to threatening universal citizen rights.

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