Center for Civic Education

Democracy and the New Millennium

Social Change, National and Transnational Citizenship, and Political Education

Günter C. Behrmann

A paper presented at
Democracy and the New Millennium
International Conference
Malibu, California
October 2000

1. Social change in a French rural area.

In 1972 a sociologist and I worked together with several other people in a research programme. In the late summer of the same year she invited our small group for a weeks holiday to the south of France. Her father was a sculptor and her mother a painter. In a small village North-West of Avignon they had rebuilt a deserted farmhouse equipped with studios for the summer. This is how I first saw the Vivarais a chalk plateau in the Western fringe of the Rhone, which is up to 300m high and cut by a number of canyons. Despite its closeness to one of the main traffic routes in France, the Vivarais, was at that time, an abandoned place, even though vine, fruit, and lavender was still grown on the remaining land between the vast shrubberies. Most of the isolated farms, however, had been desolated for decades and were beginning to crumble and in most villages and small towns only some of the houses were still inhabited. For this reason it was possible to purchase a beautiful old ruin for only a few thousand Deutschmarks or Dollars. Strangely enough, the prices that were given in Francs counted two digits more than usual, because people here still used the "old Franc" that no longer existed. Accordingly, when in the village bakery, where they still fired the oven with wood from the nearby forest, I bought baguettes and croissants for our group that should have cost me 15 Francs, the baker's wife charged me 1500 Francs. Besides the families of the baker, the mechanic, the bricklayer and the owner of the local bistro, there were also three farmers' families in the village, who grew their crops in the traditional way. Apart from growing wine they also cultivated their own vegetables. Every farm kept several goats for cheese and beehives for the production of honey.

At the end of our week in Vivarais I decided to stay a few days longer. I spent my days dreaming of a life in the countryside, and strolling around in the surroundings I looked at desolate farm houses, beautifully situated and covered by fig-leaves and gooseberries. At the end of the year and after a story that I cannot tell here I myself was the owner of such a ruin. It was hidden in a small village between the neighbouring villages of Montclus and Orgnac l'Aven. Montclus, a medieval community built around a castle had about 500 inhabitants before World War I. Now there were hardly 50 people living there, most of them elderly. Orgnac l'Aven had not been as severely affected by people moving away and general decline as close by a limestone cave attracted tourists from spring to fall. For that reason the place offered two small hotels, a bakery shop, a butcher, a grocery store, a wine company and quite a unique post office.

My memories of the first visits to the villages came back recently when I was able to spend two weeks with my wife at our vacation resort after a longer absence. In the meantime it had been almost entirely rebuilt. Still, many things have hardly changed at all in the past 30 years. Again this year, as they have been doing for many years, the hunters started the hunting seasons with fireworks and the noise of their dogs' barking. Just like 30 years ago they started to harvest the wine in the second week of September. The croissants and baguettes look exactly like they did 30 years ago and they even taste the same. On one of my first shopping expeditions I met Madame Ducros who -after 30 years- still leads the Ecole Maternelle d'Orgnac. A lot of other things could be mentioned that have hardly changed at all. And yet, the students of Mme Ducros` grow up in a world entirely different from the one their parents and grandparents knew.

These days you can drive or walk for a long time through the Vivarais or similar regions of Southern France before you find a desolate ruin, either inside or outside villages or small towns. In many places almost all ruins have been reconstructed and big houses have been built all around the villages, the residents of which are mostly locals. The rebuilt farmhouses and old bourgeois houses, however, are owned by Swiss, Belgian, Dutch, German, English or French people from Paris. Some 25 years ago I had to ride to the above-mentioned odd post office of Orgnac to make calls to Germany. It used to be in the Mairie, quite a shabby town-hall in the centre where an 80 year old lady sold odds and ends of all sorts, from toothbrush to sewing needles, from rat poison to children's toys. There was an old-fashioned telephone with many cables next to her counter. With this telephone she tried to call a similar old-fashioned office in the district capital, which then had to further connect to Germany. This could take up to one hour. These days, unless you have a mobile phone, you can make calls from phone boxes in the town hall which has now undergone a sophisticated renovation.

On one of the last days of our holiday, walking through the vineyards close to our house, we met Carinne Ducros, the 21 year old daughter of the director of the local kindergarden and preschool. We had a chat and talked told about her grandfather Marius Ducros, who died in the 80ies. He used to be our closest neighbour. Only 3 times in his life Marius Ducros had left Orgnac and his farm for a extended period of time: The first time when he went to the army, the second when he had to defend France against the invading German troops and was taken as a prisoner of war for several years, and the third time when in old age he had to undergo a knee operation. This way he could keep going to his fields with his old tractor or 2 CV every morning.

In contrast to her grandfather, Carinne, who will probably take over the farm her father now runs, has travelled all over Europe. She gave an account of the financial benefits of a harvest machine and told us that after the harvest she was going to visit her younger brother in Buffalo. He has won a scholarship and started his studies on artificial intelligence a couple of weeks before.

When we said goodbye she said she was going to quickly send him an e-mail and then take a two hour break despite all harvest stress to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

2. "Is Multinational Citizenship possible?"

In 1974, nearly 30 years ago, the Social Research magazine asked the French expert of political sciences and publicist Raymond Aron to write an article on the question "Is multinational citizenship possible?" This question was triggered by a discussion about perspectives of the rather stagnant process of European integration. Aron tried to answer this by comparing the declaration of human and civil rights of 1789 with the UN-human rights declaration of 1948. He then listed some rather historical and rather systematic observations and considerations: His first observation was the occurrence of the following 5 categories of rights to be found in both documents:

  1. The Principle of equality
  2. The principle of democracy (sovereignty of the people, division of power, equal rights for all citizens to participate in political decision-making and legislation)
  3. rights of freedom (freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion, information, assembly, place of living, emigration and return)
  4. rights before the Court (basic assumption of innocence, Court rules, prohibition of backdirected legislation)
  5. social rights (right of property, adequate salaries, social security, etc.)
Furthermore, he pointed out differences, such as the weakening of the principle of democracy, the limitation of the citizen's rights and the extension of the social rights fixed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Finally, following Marx and Hegel, he drew a demarcation line between state citizen and economy citizen within an economic community that surpasses any state borders. While the economy citizen is not automatically obliged to others, the state citizen has to be ready for "la défense de la patrie", i.e. to defend his motherland at any time.

Given that a state citizen can enjoy advantage of his rights only under the condition that they are realized within the state and defended from the outside, there is an equivalence of citizen's rights and duties for both citizen and state. For that reason, a European citizenship is unimaginable to Aron.

"Although the European Community shows a tendency to guarantee the same economic and social rights for all citizens of the member states, there is no such thing as a European citizen. There are only French, German and Italian citizens", at least as long as Europe does not develop into a federal state- a perspective for which, according to Aron, no conditions are fulfilled. Also the citizen of a European federation would not be a multinational citizen but a state citizen of Europe. However, in the Treaty of Maastricht, the citizen of the federation was born. Who is this? Is he an artificial product of a European politician or a baby-citizen, supposed to grow up to become a true citizen of a future-federally united Europe, or is he something entirely different?

3. Limits to national citizenship and national political education

When I started restoring the acquired farmhouse in Vivarais in cooperation with skilled workers from the surroundings, we found a coin from 1791 under the kitchen doorstep, formerly the most important room of the house. 1791 was probably the year the house was constructed, as can be deduced from other clues. If its first owner had become a "citoyen" by means of the French Revolution, if he was for or against the revolution or if he showed little interest in the political happenings of his time instead dedicating himself entirely to the raising of silk worms and the construction of houses, we do not know. However we can be certain that the citizen's rights, declared in 1789, had not been admitted to all inhabitants of France. According to common view up to the 19th century, the democratic rights were to be restricted to the members of the first, second and third class: to aristocrats, clerics and to male citizens owning property. Indeed the constitution of 1791 distinguished between active and passive citizens. Article 6 of the Declaration of Human and Citizen rights had claimed: « Tout les citoyen… sont également admissibles à toutes dignités, places et emplois publics selon leur capacité et sans autre distinction que celle de leurs vertus et de leurs talens. » Article 1.7 of the Republican Constitution of 1793 stated : « Le peuple souverain est l'universalité des citoyens francais .»

There is no time here to further describe how in practice citizen's rights were rendered universal. We all know that this process in many states has continued until the 20th century and in some parts is still going on. We also know that rendering universal citizen's rights was closely connected with their nationalization. This implied two things: On the one hand citizenship and the membership of a nation were reduced to one and the same meaning (= a nation in the original French definition). According to this concept only the members of the nation had citizen's rights. On the other hand along with civil rights becoming universal as well as national in the 18th century came the so-called state - and national education, which meant the realisation of compulsory school attendance and the national-civil education in comprehensive schools.

In 1974 Raymond Aron who claimed to be somewhat old-fashioned, once again strengthened the classical understanding of the French national state. He did not leave unmentioned the process whereby international economic interrelations, living conditions and styles in EU Europe and moreover in the whole world (especially in the OECD-region) were becoming increasingly similar, and that by then millions of migrant workers were living in the EU- states, where they did not have any citizen's rights at all. According to Aron, however, this did not affect the national state and citizenship.

4. Transnational Citizenship and Education for the World-Citizen/Global-Citizen

Probably Aron would still argue that way today. In any case, even today there are still famous French politicians and intellectuals who share similar views. But just as the whole of Western and more recently Middle Europe have profoundly changed during the last decades, so has France as a national state and the French people as a nation. The differences between city and countryside that still existed 30 years ago, have largely vanished. For example, Carinne Ducros and her mother no longer keep goats nor grow vegetables in their garden, like Carinne's grandmother did. They simply drive to one of the shopping centres, which are present even in smaller towns, and buy most of their groceries in the Supermarché of one of the large European market-chains. For the vine-farmers in the Vivarais the decision making in Brussels is often more important than national policy. And for Ludovic Ducros it almost goes without saying that he will continue his studies of mathematics in Buffalo, though he started it in Paris. The fact that they do not really think about it indicates that for Carinne and for Ludovic Ducros like for many others of their age the alternative of a Europe of separate nations or a European federation is simply out of question.

As a matter of fact it seems as if the discussions within politics, political science and political education that still focus on this alternative, do not lead anywhere. On the one hand, it is hard to imagine a European federation with now 15 and maybe soon 20 or even more former national states, each having rather different traditions in their constitutions, party systems, political cultures, political history, and above all different languages. As an abstract remote state machinery it is not even something to wish for. On the other hand it is only partially possible to keep the European national states from losing more and more of their sovereignty. When this loss of sovereignty is a result of supranational policy, which strengthens peace and increases prosperity, it is even desirable. Therefore, deliberations about a transnational democracy and citizenship could lead the way out of the dead end which policy, political science and political education have reached. We got into this dead end because we thought the national state could only be overcome by a state, such as a European federation or even a global state.

The idea of transnational democracy and citizenship is based on the assumption that we will keep living in existing or developing national states for a long time and that there will be possibilities and democratisation on all levels of supranational politics, such as the introduction of participation and political decision rights for the citizens.

The unified citizenship in the European Union seems by now to be the most sophisticated most advanced example of transnational citizenship and democracy. Also the increasing possibilities of participation in NGO`s (UN, World Trade, etc.) must be taken into consideration.

State schools according to the grand syllabus from the 18th century were supposed to educate pupils to be state citizens and world-citizens. On the contrary, however, state schools have often promoted nationalism and chauvinism because global citizenship has remained some abstract ideal. Perhaps the best way to change this would be to construct an education system that shifts political education towards transnational ideals in order to create the transnational citizens of the future.

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