On Universal Citizenship

From high over the planet in a space capsule, all boundaries on earth disappear. It looks like one unified system below. But you better not land your craft just anywhere. You need an adequate landing field with a reception posse that does not immediately arrest you for trespassing.

The borders that separate the some 200 countries on this planet are, geographically, oceans, rivers, mountain ranges, or surveyor’s lines. When we see colorful international variety on display, say, at the Olympic parades, we become aware both of national differences and of the fact that the contestants run the same races or vault over the same bars. By winning or losing these competitions, they separate themselves from each other by a standard of excellence that transcends all the boundaries.

Why would it not be a good thing, many ask, if we discarded the political frontiers? We could all be citizens of the same world-government. Why do we not just love each other no matter what? Why is there not an international citizenship that gives the “right” of passage and residence to everyone, everywhere, and at any time?

Have not all men evolved to be equal? Are not all differences of color, race, sex, religion, and culture mere accidents? Why should we not work for this ideal of everyone being welcomed everywhere no questions asked? Why cannot we be hospitable to everyone at all times in all places? Is this openness not our natural “right”?

We are now constitutionally free to believe whatever we want. Why can’t we live wherever we choose, and as we choose, according to our own lights?

utopia-01

The ancient Romans used to talk of one law, one language, and one brotherhood. Nations were still allowed to practice their own quaint habits of dress, language, and religion – provided they did not conflict with the higher law. St. Paul, a Roman citizen, could travel all over the Mediterranean world speaking mainly Greek and preaching Christ crucified. Apparently, in the end, it cost him his life.

Thomas More had a somewhat similar experience in the sixteenth century. More’s “Utopia” came to symbolize a world in which all that is not good is removed. All religions say pretty much the same things – a kind of happy getting along together. Everyone welcomes everyone else. No dogmas are unchangeable. The impediments of property arrangements, race, and class structures are all removed by universal citizenship in the world state of general well being for all. Everything has been rendered safe for human exchange on a worldwide scale. No distinctions that would separate us remain.

Mankind is tired of all this violence. It causes wars. Wars are caused by distinctions, by differing religions, by racism, by poverty, by genderism, by property. Let everyone have access to everything. We can eliminate evil. This is the “right” of every world citizen if given his due.

Above all, no set “doctrines” exist, no “sins,” except for the denial of world citizenship without restrictions. We can now control mankind’s numbers, his earthly “environment,” his physical and mental well-being. We can decide what we want, all of us. Marx was wrong: Not “Workers of the world arise,” but “Citizens of the world arise!” Nothing escapes us that we cannot explain. We are the masters of our fate now. Technology/science enables us to make and freely distribute everything to everyone.

This one earth is both our home and our stepping-stone to the cosmos and its riches that await us. The reign of the gods is over. The reign of mankind is upon us. We have nothing to fear. No commandments are found that we do not make ourselves. Our judgments decide the terms of our universal citizenship. Mankind (to coin a phrase) is within a step of reaching its destined perfection when all is given to all.

Yes, we are no longer Gentiles or Jews, Romans or Greeks, barbarians or civilized, Christians or Muslims or Hindus, or Chinese. Nothing is above us. Nothing is below us. We are impatient. We have waited long enough! We are at home everywhere. Nowhere is alien to us.

I look at these claims as a reader of Augustine. He already understood most of these things in the fifth century after Christ. He thought them all mostly true – but only after this life. Here, we are in a vale of tears, a broken world. We are not asked to save the world, but to save our souls in a world mostly at odds with what it means to save our souls.

We are given commandments to keep, not to oppose. The only “universal citizenship” is in the City of God begun in this world following the plan of divine providence, but completed in the next. The meaning of our times is straightforward. We refuse to accept the world for which we were created. What we see about us is the universal citizenship of our collective refusal.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, and, new from St. Augustine's Press, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught.

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