A (Re)View of the Notions of Citizen and Citizenship in the Athens of Aristotle

‘Goke Akinboye


The notions of citizen and citizenship have been understood in different senses. When Barrack Obama was campaigning for his presidential election some years back, many conservatives peddled conflicting stories about his US citizenship. Some of the stories alleged that: his birth certificate was forged, he had dual citizenship in both the US and Britain and his country of birth was either Kenya or Indonesia, not Honolulu in Hawaii where he was actually born. Thus citizenship today denotes a link between a person and his state of birth with the rights to work, trade, reside and participate in the civic life of the community.
Compared with the ancient world, citizenship, with regard to the state, conveyed deeper meaning. The ancient Greeks believed that the state is a creature of nature. By nature, man himself is a political animal, only capable of relating to humanity through his rights to participate in the affairs of the state. The state is a multifaceted entity, made up of citizens. Therefore, without the citizens, there is no state and without the state, no citizens. It then follows that the extent to which a state is good is proportional to the nature of its citizens and vice versa. For the Greeks, like Aristotle, the city-state should be the only proper setting for man’s greatest good (summum bonum).
In view of the above and in the face contemporary realities in African states, it becomes imperative to look again at the roots of citizenship in order to understand both its historical and cultural context. Using Aristotle’s Politics as a template, this paper reviews the concept of citizenship by providing insights into the workings and attitudes of the citizens of the state of Athens, the city that served as “education to all Hellas”. Simultaneously, the paper presents a view into the civic mind of Aristotle, the greatest scholar of the Socratic school whose clinical and critical study of his society has continued to influence the modern thought.


Citizen; Citizenship; Rights; Obligations; Aristotle

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/%25x


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