In the second chapter of his book City of Rhetoric, David Fleming discusses the place of the modern citizen and how their identity and location relates to their place in politics. He analyzes the concepts of republicanism, liberalism, and postmodernism, arguing that none of them are suitable for society today. If the common goal is to make a community in which people can be active participants and legitimate decision-makers, Fleming urges that the citizen, in its political aspect, must be redefined.
According to Fleming, the current situation of the individual is not one that is conducive to high political efficacy. When participating in debate and action on the issue of governance, it is assumed the individual is coming from a place of removed rationality: “In this country, in other words, we bracket our most fundamental worldly differences when we enter the political arena, our identity there independent of, even transcending, our otherwise divisive particularities” (20). This might describe an ideal, inclusive community, but Fleming believes that without these distinctions that separate, people would likely have little reason to come together to find common ground and a pathway forward.
Three schools of thought have dominated the approach to political life in the past and present, Fleming asserts. Republicanism, in which the citizen is heavily depended on to participate for a functional government, is too time consuming for an individual with other responsibilities. Liberalism then, which gives the citizen the choice of opting out in pursuit of their own self interest, fails in its ability to generate any civic participation and passion at all. Postmodernism is the current reigning school of thought, because it pushes interconnectedness, the idea of the citizen as part of a social entity, over territorial concerns. This, similar to the naively ideal definition of citizen, ignores physical realities that greatly affect and influence the lives of the people that are supposed to participate.
If all of this is wrong, how do we fix it? Fleming believes that we need to reevaluate our relationship with the physical world around us. “Despite our fractured subjectivity, our insistently networked existence, and our hybrid culture, the ground under our feet remains surprisingly important to us and desperately in need of our care” (33). In an actual place that is familiar to you but also to others, you can present yourself as a whole and connect or contend with the people who share similar spaces. The differences that tradition has told us to ignore in the political arena should be embraced as the reason we are coming together to converse in the first place. Commonplaces, the spaces where these conversations can occur, are the way forward for productive communities.
Political culture has not been encouraging to reasonable citizen engagement; we have struggled to find a balance between the individual and society as a whole. Our disregard for the built environment and disregard of differences is creating an overall negative impact that can no longer be overlooked. Fleming proposes that by embracing the individual in a public space, people will “share a world and a relation of equality that allows them to manage that world in freedom” (34).
Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric. Albany: SUNY, 2008. Print.