what is the “good citizen”?

As we work our way through voluminous readings at the third annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies, I like to ask how various authors understand citizenship. Here is a brief sample of their (hypothetical) definitions of “the good citizen”:

Elinor Ostrom: the designer or improver of techniques and processes that solve collective-action problems. For instance, someone who figures out how not to over-fish a local public lake is a very good citizen.

Vaclav Havel: anyone who has a “heightened feeling of personal responsibility for the world” and who is aware “that none of us as an individual can save the world as a whole, but that nevertheless each of us must behave as though it were in our power to do so.” Each of his or her acts (even if “tiny and inconspicuous”) is informed by this belief.

Aristotle: the man (but nowadays it could be a woman) who is skillful in both ruling and being ruled, who deliberates and judges on matters of official policy, voting and then obeying the results of each vote, and thereby serving the safety of the constitution. Also, the good citizen abstains from participation in the marketplace.

Jurgen Habermas: a person who comes together with diverse peers to decide collectively what ought to be done, giving and hearing reasons but refusing to use threats or incentives to obtain agreement.

Michael Schudson: the question is misleading because each stage of political history requires a different kind of citizen.

More coming ….

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.