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Monday, March 30, 2009

The duties of a citizen

The duties of a citizen

The word citizen has three shades of meaning. It may mean to town-dweller as distinguished from a villager; or, secondly, the member of a city, who has recognized municipal privileges and duties – as, a citizen of Manchester, or of Bombay; or lastly, it may mean the subject of a sovereign state, in which sense we speak of an English citizen, or a French citizen.

The first meaning may be left aside here; for the subject is concerned with the second and third meanings only. What, then, are the duties of a citizen to his city and his country?

A citizen is the member of a community, whether that community is a town or a great country: and as the member of a community he has both privileges and duties. We may think of a community as existing for the sake of its individual members, or, the individual members as existing for the sake of the community. The first view, held by individualists, emphasizes the privileges of a citizenship. One says, the State exists for the good of the citizen – and that is true; the other says, the citizens exist for the good of the State – and that also is true. Both views must be combined and a citizen must recognize that the State he belongs to has a duty to him (his privileges) and that he has an obligation to it (his duties).

However, as we are in no danger of forgetting our privileges as citizens, it is wise to emphasize our duties.

The first obvious duty of a citizen is loyalty to the country of his birth or adoption. Patriotism does not mean “My country, right or wrong”; but it does mean that in a national crisis or danger, a citizen must be prepared to support and defend his country even, if necessary, with his life.

Secondly, it is the duty of a citizen to obey his country’s laws. He must have no sympathy with crime, which is a breach of law. He may consider some laws imperfect, unwise and even unjust; and he may, and should, use all constitutional means in his power, such as public speaking, writing to the press, organization, and the use of his vote, to get such laws reformed or abolished. But so long as a law is a law, he must obey it.

Thirdly, he must do more than keep the law himself, he must, as occasion arises, actively assist the guardians of the law in the performance of their duty in putting down crimes and arresting criminals. Criminals must be made to feel that they have, not only the police, but also all respectable citizens against them.

Fourthly, he ought to take an intelligent interest in politics; for as a citizen he has a vote, and he is responsible for using that vote for the good of his country as a whole. He must form definite opinions as to what is best for his country, and what men are the best to rule it, and what new laws and reforms it needs, and then actively use such influence as he has to forward such measures.

Lastly, a citizen must be ready, if he has the ability and is called upon to do so, to render active voluntary service to his city or country, by serving on municipalities, education committees, and other public bodies, or even in the central legislature. Good citizens have no right to leave the management of local or national institutions to professional politicians.

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