A Global Civics: Necessary? Feasible?

Hakan Altinay
Hakan Altinay Former Brookings Expert

June 30, 2010


In its conventional use, “civics” refers to the familiar constellation of rights and responsibilities emanating from citizenship in a nation-state. But what about global civics? Would this be feasible—or even desirable?

There are several plausible objections to the concept of global civics. One can argue that allowing for even a modest level of responsibility toward all the world’s 6.7 billion people is so overwhelming that it is a nonstarter. Furthermore, it can be argued that any meaningful experience of pan-global solidarity among human beings is nascent at best, and therefore cannot form the basis for a formidable constellation of rights and responsibilities, and that the experience of being a global citizen is restricted to a few activists and international elites like those who gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos. Finally, one can argue that civics assumes effective enforcement and a state, and since we do not have a world government, any talk of global civics is whimsical. 

Notwithstanding such skepticism, I will attempt to demonstrate that it is in fact possible to imagine global civics. First I consider the unhelpful views that have impeded fruitful consideration of the concept of global civics. Then I outline the rationale for global civics and offer two thought experiments to operationalize this new concept. 

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