Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

Are Citizens national, natural, or civic?

Posted Sep 13, 2013 by Marvin Brown in The Civic, No Comments

How interesting that one becomes a national citizen through naturalization, rather than through nationalization as one would expect.   This deserves some reflection:

So each one of us is born of a woman.  That’s natural.  Most of us were born as a member of a family, and maybe a clan.  That’s close to natural. We are born somewhere.  That’s chance.  We were born in a social world determined by class, race, religion, and so on.  Social worlds, by definition, are beyond nature, although they may be grounded in nature.  We may be social animals, but we socially construct the worlds in which we live, even the world of nation-states. 


Awareness of our common humanity does not make us citizens, but it should carry some weight in our dealings with others. We always understand this common humanity, of course, from our own worlds, never as it is in itself.  (Right now in English among other things.)  Still, in a process of engaging in conversations with people from different social worlds, we can sometimes grasp our common humanity as the basis for our efforts to understand each other.


In such conversations, residing between our common humanity and our social differences, there emerges what I call a civic space; a space for us to work out how we should live together.  By participating in this space, we become citizens.


The classical meaning of citizen is quite simply “a member of a city.”  So what is the city?  It is not just what is build or even patterns of interaction.  It is a space for deciding how to live together.  Who decides?  Property owners?  No, property ownership no longer equals civic membership.  You can own city real estate, but you cannot buy your participation in the civic. “Members only” is clearly written over the entryway.

Prior to being a national citizen, you already are a civic citizen.  This is the ground upon which we can build a city that promotes moral equality and reciprocity.  Especially the United States—as an immigrant country, with its legacy of enclosure of common land and enslavement of peoples—should know better than to pretend that people need “naturalization” to become citizens.  We already belong to nature; to a common humanity. 

The question is how we are going to live together in our cities given our common humanity and our social differences. As we engage in conversations answering this question, we will become neither naturalized nor nationalized, but rather civic citizens.


Leave a Reply


Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

Adam Smith Atlantic trade banks biosphere citizen Citizens United city civic civic conversations civic economy civic membership civilizing the economy common citizen Commons corporate citizen corporation as property corporations democracy disagreement economics of dissociation economics of provision Egypt future health care reform invisible hand John Locke Kant libertarianism membership money moral equality ownership property property relations protection reciprocity Scotland slavery Smith and slavery Smithian economics sustainability taxes the civic tobacco trade Wall Street

Cambridge University Press
Local Bookstores
Barnes & Noble