Describe the model citizen in democratic theory and explain the concept.

Chapter 10. Political Socialization: The Making of a Citizen

Learning Objectives

· 1Describe the model citizen in democratic theory and explain the concept.

· 2Define socialization and explain the relevance of this concept in the study of politics.

· 3Explain how a disparate population of individuals and groups (families, clans, and tribes) can be forged into a cohesive society.

· 4Demonstrate how socialization affects political behavior and analyze what happens when socialization fails.

· 5Characterize the role of television and the Internet in influencing people’s political beliefs and behavior, and evaluate their impact on the quality of citizenship in contemporary society.

The year is 1932. The Soviet Union is suffering a severe shortage of food, and millions go hungry. Joseph Stalin, leader of the Communist Party and head of the Soviet government, has undertaken a vast reordering of Soviet agriculture that eliminates a whole class of landholders (the kulaks) and collectivizes all farmland. Henceforth, every farm and all farm products belong to the state. To deter theft of what is now considered state property, the Soviet government enacts a law prohibiting individual farmers from appropriating any grain for their own private use. Acting under this law, a young boy reports his father to the authorities for concealing grain. The father is shot for stealing state property. Soon after, the boy is killed by a group of peasants, led by his uncle, who are outraged that he would betray his own father. The government, taking a radically different view of the affair, extols the boy as a patriotic martyr.

Stalin considered the little boy in this story a model citizen, a hero. How citizenship is defined says a lot about a government and the philosophy or ideology that underpins it.

The Good Citizen

Stalin’s celebration of a child’s act of betrayal as heroic points to a distinction Aristotle originally made: The good citizen is defined by laws, regimes, and rulers, but the moral fiber (and universal characteristics) of a good person is fixed, and it transcends the expectations of any particular political regime.*

Good citizenship includes behaving in accordance with the rules, norms, and expectations of our own state and society. Thus, the actual requirements vary widely. A good citizen in Soviet Russia of the 1930s was a person whose first loyalty was to the Communist Party. The test of good citizenship in a totalitarian state is this: Are you willing to subordinate all personal convictions and even family loyalties to the dictates of political authority, and to follow the dictator’s whims no matter where they may lead? In marked contrast are the standards of citizenship in constitutional democracies, which prize and protect freedom of conscience and speech.

Where the requirements of the abstract good citizen—always defined by the state—come into conflict with the moral compass of actual citizens, and where the state seeks to obscure or obliterate the difference between the two, a serious problem arises in both theory and practice. At what point do people cease to be real citizens and become mere cogs in a machine—unthinking and unfeeling subjects or even slaves? Do we obey the state, or the dictates of our own conscience?

This question gained renewed relevance in the United States when captured “illegal combatants” were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques”—an Orwellian euphemism for torture—during the Bush administration’s war on terror following the 9/11 attacks. One prisoner was waterboarded 183 times (strapped to a board with towels wrapped around his head while water was poured slowly onto the towels until he smothered).* Other harsh interrogation methods were also used.

 Politics and Pop Culture Zero Dark

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