‘The Citizen’ on Paper and in Reality

In David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric, chapter one, Fleming emphasizes the cultural and geographical implications of the definition of the word ‘citizen’ as well as the difference between politics and political theory. Fleming begins with his discussion of the meaning of a citizen by outlining what it means, on paper of course, to be an American citizen. Fleming quotes the National Standards of Civics and Government, a government document created in 1994 stating that, “The identity of an american citizen is defined by shared political values and principles rather than by ethnicity, race, religion, class, language, gender or national origin”(20). Fleming takes this ideal and brings it into reality, with his argument that it is not political similarities and principles that are the driving forces of America’s citizens, it is much more so their background. The race, ethnicity, gender and age of a person plays a much larger role in who they are as a citizen and how they act, than do the collective founding principles of an American.

This being said, if the citizens political drive is less influenced by the founding principles of the country then it is more founded by their own individual background and culture. This act of individualization proves to negate the generalized definition of ‘the citizen’. Consequently, the citizen becomes less ‘the citizen’ and more ‘a citizen’, acting in a way that is less aligned with each other, and more aligned with their perspective background, therefore dividing a society that is supposedly founded on the same principle values. The question that arises from this division, is how a government is supposed to provide opportunity to a society in which its citizens vary so greatly, and, if the government is able to provide such provisions, will certain groups fall through the cracks?



Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America. Albany, NY,

SUNY Press, 2009.

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