On Being a Citizen of the World
Said an American politician, speaking to an international audience:
“I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world. I come with the heartfelt wishes of my people for peace, bearing honest proposals and looking for genuine progress.”
I mean can you imagine? Didn’t this politician know that he was an American? What kind of internationalist claptrap was he peddling?
Thankfully there are a number of folks issuing correctives to such odd ways of thinking.
As Victor Davis Hanson noted
I would not speak to anyone as “a fellow citizen of the world,” but only as an ordinary American who wishes to do his best for the world, but with a much-appreciated American identity, and rather less with a commonality indistinguishable from those poor souls trapped in the Sudan, North Korea, Cuba, or Iran. Take away all particular national identity and we are empty shells mouthing mere platitudes, who believe in little and commit to even less.
And James Lileks:
Novel sentiments aside, “World citizen” is used as a badge of empathy that carries no responsibilities. The more it’s used, though, the more it dilutes actual national citizenship, which naturally takes second place to World Citizenship…To say you’re a citizen of the world and a citizen of America places the latter in the primary slot, no?
Or as J.D. Longstreet of the Conservative Voice said this week:
I have a lot of difficulty relating to anyone who claims citizenship in the world. Frankly, that person is frightening. Saying one is a citizen of the world negates one’s actual citizenship as’ well, a native of the country within which he/she was born and, to which, he/she owes allegiance. Saying you are a citizen of the world is too’well’ vague.
I mean really what was Ronald Reagan thinking?!?
The horror of the phrase is just about too much for me to bear.
Update: I mistakenly left off the links to the quotes last night, and that problem has been fixed.
I will also step back from glibness for the moment and point out that there is, no doubt plenty of things in the Obama speech that can be criticized, especially from a Republican/conservative point of view. However, my point with this post is that to attack the phrase “citizen of the world’ (which has been jumped on by many in the conservative commentariat) is a bit silly, as it is an empty phrase that is frequently used, and not just by persons of a particular ideological persuasion.
If anything, there is not world “citizenship” as there is no global legal entity. And regardless of what one may think about Obama, he isn’t going to be working towards One World Government.
In short, I find the fixation on the phrase to be interesting. Partially because it reflects, I think, an enhanced nationalism in some portions of the right post-9/11 and partially because it strikes me in terms of pure politics to be a pretty poor line of attack. On the last point I think that if one of the best attacks that pro-McCain folks can make about Obama’s trip was that he used the phrase “citizen of the world” then it must have been one heckuva successful trip.