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Aristotle Citizenship Essay

Aristotle’s Criteria for granting citizenship:

Aristole’s in his Book ‘Politics III’ set forth the criteria for granting citizenship. It can be classified into two categories-

Essential qualification is the, ability to participate in deliberative and judicial functions is perquisite to become a citizen.

Non-Essential – Non essential qualifications are those conditions which are compulsorily not required to be present, it is desirable such as

  • Residence
  • Enjoyment of legal rights of suing and being sued
  • Descent from a citizen

However, with regard to the essential qualifications, important question arises that what kind of ability is required to participate in deliberative and judicial functions? Aristotle believes that it is the ability and capacity to rule and to be ruled. It is important to mention here that only the capacity to rule does not qualify a person to become a citizen rather along with the ability to rule, the ability to be rules is also required in a person to qualify for citizen. According to Aristotle merely the ability to rule does not make a good citizen. This proposition of Aristotle gives rise to another question i.e. what makes a person capable to rule and to be ruled? It is leisure which cultivates virtues in a person. Aristotle believes that if person is occupied with business or trade in order to earn the livelihood, he would not be in a position to devote his energy into state duties, and in order to have leisure ‘slaves’ are required[1]. So it can be said that Aristotle demands two  conditions in order to enjoy leisure.


Aristotle believes that in order to cultivate leisure, a person should be free from manual labour. He argues that slaves are very important element required for a person to cultivate its citizenship because slaves take care of worries of daily life and a person is able to deliver his functions as juror and legislator.


Aristotle has advanced following arguments in favour of holding property in order to enjoy leisure.

  • In order to develop virtue speculation is required and a poor man does not have time for speculation because a poor man is always engaged to earn his livelihood.
  • A poor man is not able to associate himself with the responsibility of state, since he is property less and does not need state protection for his property. State is alien concept to a poor person.
  •  An efficient management is required   for property so is the requisite for state affairs. And a poor man lacks such managerial skill.

             For Aristotle ‘residence ’i.e. the criteria that all the resident of state should be granted citizenship, can’t be the ground to define or determine citizenship and therefore he excluded aliens, slaves outside the purview of citizenship. For him state means collective body of citizens. Apart from this  it is also very clear from Aristotelian philosophy that- residence and civil rights are not the determinants of citizenship because these rights are available to aliens also. For him citizen can only be that person who enjoy the right to share in the deliberative or judicial offices and was able to exercise his political rights effectively. A citizen also enjoyed constitutional rights under the system of public law.

It is important to mention here that Plato distinguished between “an active ruling group and a political community.”[2] Though Aristotle did not make any such distinction. He placed young (children) and old outside the category of citizenship because they do not possess the deliberative faculty and leisure to understand the dynamics and working of politics. It is important to mention here that though working class do not possess the virtues acquired for citizenship but still they were placed into the category of citizenship by some states.

According to Aristotle a good citizen apart from being capable to shoulder civic responsibilities, a good citizen should possess the quality and capability to rule and to be ruled.

Qualities of Citizenship according to Aristotle:

  • Who lives in harmony with the constitution.
  • Should have leisure time so that he can discharge his duties and responsibilities of citizenship.
  • Since the civic body hampers diverse interests, a government can be said good only when it attains the balance of these interests.
  • Virtues or moral goodness is prerequisite qualities of a citizen, these qualities help in realising a selfless and cooperative civic life.
  • Education is essential for citizenship according to Plato and Aristotle.[3]

 For Aristotle there are two component of state-

  • Integral part of the state and
  • Necessary condition

            Integral part of the state as per Aristotle is those individual who take part in the government since they possess means and leisure to share in the deliberative and judicial activities of the polis.

[1] Aristotle’s theory of slavery is found in his book Politics and Nicomachean ethics.Aristotle in his argument has established that slavery is natural and it is not conventional. It is natural in the sense that some people are naturally slaves and some people are naturally masters.

[2] Plato in his creation The Republic has argue that society is composed of distinct class such as clothiers, farmers, builders, etc. Further, according to the value of their role and capability they contribute in the common good of the society. But the smooth operation of the whole society will require some additional services. Therefore, carrying the principle of specialization one step further, Plato proposed the establishment of an additional class of citizens, the guardians who are responsible for management of the society itself.

[3] To quote Sushila Ramaswami  and Subrata Mukherjee, 2006, A History of Political Thought : Plato to Marx, Prentice-Hall:  New Delhi,both Plato and Aristotle pleaded for responsible and effective form of education for citizenship. Education for them was a cure for the corruption and political instability of their times. They were equally critical of the causal manner in which the Athenian  state regarded the task of citizenship. As a corrective measure, both prescribe state managed and state controlled educational system by selecting teachers only from among those who were willing to teach the laws and traditions of the state in a manner determined by the ‘guardians’. They believed that different styles of civic education should be used for different purpose. Plato emphasised training in self sacrifice for rulers and obedience for the ruled while Aristotle emphasised to match the educational objectives to the form of the government.

Since the state is organized and the government is established for the welfare of the citizen, it becomes essential that we should know the meaning of the term “citizen”. The term ‘citizen’ can be understood in a narrow or in a broad sense. In a narrow sense, it means the resident of a city or one who enjoys the privilege of living m a city. While in a broad sense citizen means a person who resides within the territorial limits of the state.

Speaking in terms of Political Science, citizen means a person who is the member of the state and who enjoys social and political rights. In our country an adult of twenty-one years of age enjoys, regardless of the distinction of caste, colour and creed, education, property and residence, etc.

As a matter of fact, the concept of citizenship goes back to the ancient city- states where the population was divided into two classes —the citizens and the slaves. The citizens enjoyed both civil and political rights. They directly or indirectly participate in all the functions of the civil and political life of the state.

Whereas the slaves enjoyed none of such rights and suffered from all kinds o political and economic disabilities. In this way in ancient Greece the term ‘citizen’ was used in its narrow sense. Only those who enjoyed the civil and political rights and who participated in the functions of the civil and political life of people were regarded as citizens.

Since every individual of the total population privileged to enjoy these rights, the number of the slaves was far in excess of citizens. The number of the citizens comprised 20,000 of the total population and the rest were regarded as slaves who did not enjoy any such rights.

In short, we can say that in ancient Greek states this right to citizenship was enjoyed by only a selected few persons. Much similar process was followed in ancient Rome. People belonging to only rich class, known as Patricians, were privileged to enjoy the civil and political rights.

Only the Patricians participated in the functions of the civil and political life of the state. The rest of the population was not privileged to enjoy any of such rights. Much similar process was adopted in the medieval age. But in modern times, the dawn of democracy has turned the tables in most of the states. In such states every adult enjoys the right to vote. This process is being adopted in India. Canada, Sri Lanka, Japan, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, Lanka, Australia, United States of America, etc. Even in the communist countries almost all the adults are enjoying the right to vote.

The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc., are some of the states where the policy of adult suffrage has been adopted. In Switzerland, women are not privileged to enjoy the right to vote. In Pakistan and in many backward Afro-Asian countries citizens are not privileged to enjoy a number of civil and political rights. It is hoped that in due course of time people will enjoy all the rights in these countries also. The U.N. is trying its best in this respect.

Definition of the citizen:

According to Aristotle, citizen is he “who has the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of any state is said by us to be a citizen of that state”. Vattal has defined citizens as, “the members of a civil society bound to this society by certain duties, subject to its authority and equal participants in its advantages”. “Citizenship”, according to Laski, “is the contribution of one’s instructed judgment to the public good”.

On the basis of definitions given above, we arrive at the conclusion that in order to become a citizen one must have the following:

(1) The membership of the state.

(2) The Social and Political rights.

(3) Sentiment of devotion to the state.

Distinction between an alien and a citizen:

There is a marked distinction between an alien and a citizen. A citizen enjoys civil and political rights in his own country. Whereas an alien is not privileged to enjoy the political rights of the country but sometimes he is privileged to enjoy a few of the social rights. It depends entirely on the government of the country, in which he lives, to permit him to enjoy the social rights or not.

Aliens are of three types:

(1) Resident aliens;

(2) Temporary aliens;

(3) Ambassadors.

The people who have left their native land and have settled in the foreign countries are known as resident aliens. For example, a number of Indians have permanently settled in Sri Lanka, Burma, Canada, South Africa, Australia, U.S.A., England, etc.

They are no more the citizens of India. But it depends on the government of the respective states to grant these residents the citizenship of their country or not. Temporary aliens are those people who visit foreign countries in order to serve their purposes and when their purposes are served, they go back to their native land.

For example every year a number of students go to foreign countries in order to receive higher education. Traders visit foreign countries for the purpose of trade. When their purposes are served, they come back to their home.

Ambassadors are those aliens who settle in foreign countries as the representatives of their governments. For example, the representatives of foreign countries live in India and the representatives of Indian government live in foreign countries.

Foreign friends and enemies:

Every country has some friends and some enemies. Friendly countries are called foreign friends and enemy countries, foreign enemies. For example, during the Second World War, France, U.S.S.R., America, Canada, Australia, etc., were foreign friends to England; and Germany, Japan and Italy were foreign enemies to England.

We do not have good relations with South Africa and China and they can be called foreign enemies of India. On the contrary, we have good relations with U.S.S.R., U.S.A., Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Egypt and so they can be called our foreign friends.

Previously, we did not have good relations with Pakistan and the result was Indo-Pak conflicts in 1965. But Tashkent Summit held in January, 1966 resulted in an agreement between Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister of India, and President Ayub Khan of Pakistan.

The agreement could remain effective only for a bit longer. The relations between the two countries were once again strained and the result was the second Indo-Pakistan conflict in December, 1971. But historic Simla Summit held in July, 1972 resulted in an agreement between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Bhutto. In spite of that Pakistan continued hostile attitude towards India.

How can the citizenship be acquired?

Citizens are of two types: natural born and naturalised. Natural born citizens are those who are the citizens of a state by virtue of their birth or blood relations. Naturalised citizens are those foreigners who are granted the citizenship of the country on the fulfillment of some conditions laid down by the respective country.

A person who desires to be the citizen of a foreign country has to give up the citizenship of his native country. No persons can be the citizen of more than one country at the same time. Any person can acquire the citizenship of a foreign country after having fulfilled the condition laid down by that country for this purpose.

How the Citizenship is lost?

A person loses his citizenship in the following manner:

(1) If a person willingly gives up the citizenship of his country and becomes a foreign citizen;

(2) A woman loses her citizenship if she marries a foreigner;

(3) A person loses his citizenship if he remains absent from his country for a longer period of time. But if he gets his citizenship renewed every year through the embassy of his country, he does not lose his citizenship;

(4) A person can be deprived of his citizenship if he proves a traitor to the country or if he runs away from the army;

(5) A person loses his citizenship if he joins a foreign service or receives a foreign honour without the permission of his own government.

Qualities of a good citizen and hindrances in the way of good citizenship:

The following are the qualities of a good citizen:

(1) Social sentiment;

(2) Good health and sound physique;

(3) Sentiment of world citizenship;

(4) Moderate thinking and self-control;

(5) Unselfishness and helpful attitude to others;

(6) Patriotism and the elimination of untouchability:

(7) The proper use of adult suffrage.

The following are the hindrances in the way of good citizenship:

(1) Selfishness;

(2) Favouritism and Nepotism;

(3) Indifferences;

(4) Feeling of groupism;

(5) Idleness;

(6) Illiteracy;

(7) Poverty,

(8) Capitalism;

(9) Feeling of Untouchability;

(10) Provincialism, Communalism and aggressive nationalism.

A good citizenship can be established only after eliminating the hindrances mentioned above. So every state is adopting measures to eliminate these evils. Ideals citizenship can lead to the progress of the country and to the security of world-peace.

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