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Citizens: A Manifesto

This is a guest post by Benjamin Ramm

Is it possible to live in a democracy, if we do not live democracy? The concept of citizenship provides us with a template to ‘make flesh’ the ideal.

This manifesto, in two parts, explores structural and habitual approaches, and invites citizens to develop these themes. Here is the introduction:

Democracy lies dormant, yet even in slumber the term ‘citizen’ retains a sense of wonder.

To act as a citizen is to give expression to an egalitarian ideal; to be civic-minded is to be conscious of the influence of individual action. This manifesto sets out to sketch the central tenets of citizenship, and outline some of the barriers to greater civic participation. The approach taken is suggestive rather than prescriptive, in the belief that behaviour is not codified in law but cultivated by those ‘habits of the heart’ that are formed by our environment and our ethics.

The citizens of a modern nation state inhabit a domain of instant connection, and yet we feel disconnected, as if bypassed by the central networks of power. Ours is a life once removed, with a diminished sense of civic space; of a realm in which individuals declare a public interest, and recognise each other as citizens. The concept of democracy as a shared project has been supplanted by an outlook that roots human motivation in the drive for competition, and speaks of ‘the individual and society’ as if they are in opposition. This vision nurtures an attitude of mutual suspicion, and explains how a society of such achievement can have become so sceptical about its potential. The ‘cynical chic’ of recent fashion is a cloying syrup
that seeps into every pore of the body politic, weakening the sinews and sapping the spirit. As we attempt to revive the social ethic, it is worth heeding the advice of an anonymous citizen:

“Let’s leave pessimism for better times”.

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