David Fleming, in his City of Rhetoric, claims that civic identity and interaction are more closely linked to physical locations than one might think. This claim is grounded in “Part One” of his book which is titled, “The Geography of Politics.” Fleming further splices his argument into two chapters named “The Placelessness of Political Theory” and “A New Civil Map of Our Time.” In order to make his argument, Fleming first defines the complexity of civic identity and then how it fits into various environments ranging from enormous nation-states to local neighborhoods. In full, his claims speak volumes towards the polarization of the American political climate and the change in day-to-day interactions between American Citizens.
“The Placelessness of Political Theory,” before addressing contemporary political beliefs, aims to first define what it means to be a citizen. Fleming first introduces a standard definition posed by the federal government linking meaning to citizenship, but the definition forces us to “bracket our most fundamental worldly differences when we enter the political arena, our identity there independent of, even transcending, our otherwise divisive particularities” (page 20).
In other words, we are stripped of all of our differences, all of our experiences, and all of the characteristics that govern the way we live. Once we are separated from our uniqueness, only then are we citizens. Fleming then points out how problematic this is when applied to contemporary political beliefs all around the country. The latter half of this chapter focuses on the differences in beliefs of different political parties and how experiences can vary among demographics. If we all followed the same definition posed by the federal government, is anyone in the United States really a citizen?
In the second chapter, “A New Civil Map of Our Time,” Fleming develops his argument by illustrating the way that the unique traits that make up who we are play out within the scope of a specific environment and how physical space can ultimately transform citizen interactions. He argues this by saying, “Territorial publics can be distinguished by how much we know about and are familiar with them; the extent to which we have affinity for and derive emotional sustenance from them; how likely we are to have a voice and be heard in them; how open they are to our differences and conflicts; the extent to which they are independent of other publics; and how effectively they solve their own problems” (page 38).
And thus, we project ourselves a certain way in a certain place and that place affects us in a similar fashion. Once we understand this, we can begin to imagine how different spaces of different physical capacities affect us differently whether positively or negatively.
If people never leave a location where they have spent most of their life in, if they don’t meet others that come from a different walk of life than they do, then what is the point of anything? What is the point of this country? What is the point of democracy? We live in a unique country that affords us the right to speak for or against anything and anyone. If we don’t wish to fracture the republic further, if we don’t wish to destroy our democracy and everything that makes it work, we should at least consider what Fleming is trying to pose.