Marco D’Eramo in Sidecar: Aux armes, citoyens! So begins the refrain of ‘La Marseillaise’, adopted as the French national anthem by the Revolutionary Convention of 1795. No longer serfs, nor subjects, nor vassals, but equals. Citizen: a political category that had vanished with the ancient world (cives romanus sum) re-emerged to encapsulate the rights won by the Revolution and bind together the imagined community of the nation-state. The rights of citizenship would be augmented over time (the right to education, right to health, right to work…) along with their corresponding duties (conscription, jury duty, tax impositions…). Herein lies a key distinction with contemporary human rights: the aim to give positive content to an equality that is otherwise formal and theoretical, as expressed in the principle of ‘one person, one vote’.
This conception of citizenship – and thus of the state – peaked in the 1960s, and then began to decline. It continues to be considered a form of belonging, one that can be conferred by birth (ius soli), by bloodline (ius sanguinis) or by an extended period of residence. Yet citizenship has ‘thinned’, as the expression goes. Rights were diminished (the demise of the welfare state) and duties shrank (easing the tax burden), when they were not abolished entirely (conscription). With the triumph of neoliberalism it was transformed into a commodity, that is, into something that can be bought and sold. There is now, as the American sociologist Kristin Surak writes in The Golden Passport, a ‘citizenship industry’ spanning the globe. The book contains a treasure trove of information, data, and first-hand accounts of the history of this industry’s first forty years.