Citizenship means the shared political belonging of those living in the same state and all this belonging involves in terms of rights and duties. One cannot however say that all members of a state are necessarily citizens: in and absolute monarchy one speaks of subjects, in a dictatorship one would speak of the people or fellow countrymen, but not precisely citizens.
The word citizenship in fact, not only describes the belonging to the same political unit, but also indicates the legislative outline of this belonging. Citizens are those who not only share a political destiny, but also contribute to forging it, participating directly, or more often through representatives, in the drafting of the laws they are then obliged to obey. In other words citizens are the co-authors of the political system that hence can only be a democratic one.
Citizenship and democracy are broad words, to the extent that the fullness of citizenship within a state defines also the fullness of democracy in that state. If the number of citizens, hence of those who are not only subject to the authority of the law, but also contribute to its drafting thanks to the right to exercise political rights, is small compared to the number of inhabitants in the state, democracy would be equally limited. If only white, Christian males, with a certain income and education hold active and passive political rights, then all other social categories (women, the poor, Jews, black people, foreigners) become “subjects” as far as state law is concerned, subject to its provisions but with no say in drafting these laws.
It is thus that the long history of extended voting rights in the course of the 19th and the 20th Centuries is also known as the conquest of citizenship by classes and groups previously excluded on the basis of various reasons, usually linked to the identification of the ideal type of citizen having some of the characteristics and capabilities belonging to the dominant classes. The battle for universal suffrage were therefore battles for achieving democracy based on the criticism of the factors considered indispensable for citizenship. The broadening of citizenship had to overcome prejudice concerning the pre-conditions for defining someone as a citizen. Neither class, nor the degree of education, religion, gender or race can become legitimate obstacles to the acknowledgment of a member of the political community as a citizen, hence the holder of political rights as well as subject to political duties.
While generally speaking citizenship is understood, within the universalistic political vocabulary, as democracy and liberalism, it has however always preserved a degree of ambiguity since it is implicitly also a reference to national belonging. In this sense, the concept is used to differentiate an “us” from a “them” according to state borders. This more particularistic dimension of citizenship recently emerged in discussions addressing on one hand immigration, and on the other global justice. In democracies, a part from minors, immigrants are the only subjects without political rights. Access to citizenship of the host country is more or less complicated depending on the level of openness in the democracy referred to.
The distinction between citizenship based on the ius sanguinis and based on the ius soli differentiates more “particularistic” and nationalistic citizenship from more political and universalistic concepts. Analogously, recent studies on global justice show two main positions, with numerous intermediate elements. On one hand there is the cosmopolitan idea according to which the subjects of justices are individuals, regardless of contingent conditions concerning political belonging, and on the other there is the idea according to which only those sharing a destiny of citizenship, and are the co-authors of the laws they must then obey, are the appropriate subjects of justice. Citizenship is therefore acknowledged as the indispensable basis for the attribution of social rights, but thereby becomes a factor of exclusion for non-citizens and those outside the state.