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Ethics of Citizenship: Immigration and Group Rights in Germany

Ethics of Citizenship: Immigration and Group Rights in Germany

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Who is to be included in a political community and on what terms? William A. Barbieri Jr. seeks answers to these questions in this exploration of the controversial concept of citizenship rights—a concept directly related to the nature of democracy, equality, and cultural identity. Through an examination of the case of Germany’s settled “guestworkers” and their families, Ethics of Citizenship investigates the pressing problem of political membership in a world marked by increased migration, rising nationalist sentiment, and the ongoing reorganization of states through both peaceful and violent means.
Although some of Germany’s foreign workers have gradually attained a degree of social and economic legitimacy, Barbieri explains how they remain effectively excluded from true German citizenship. Describing how this exclusion has occurred and assessing current attitudes toward political membership in Germany, he argues for a just and democratic policy toward the tax-paying, migrant worker minority, one that would combine the extension of the individual rights of citizenship with the establishment of certain group rights. Through a dissection of ongoing public “membership debates” over issues such as suffrage, dual citizenship, and immigration and refugee policy, Barbieri identifies a range of competing responses to the question of who “belongs” in Germany. After critiquing these views, he proposes an alternative ethic of membership rooted in an account of domination and human rights that seeks to balance individual and group rights within the context of a commitment to democracy and equal citizenship.
Indispensable for scholars of German studies, Ethics of Citizenship also raises questions that will attract moral philosophers, constitutional scholars, and those interested in the continuing, global problems associated with migration.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822320715
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 04/20/1998
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

William A. Barbieri Jr. is Assistant Professor of Social Ethics at the Catholic University of America.

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Ethics of Citizenship

Immigration and Group Rights in Germany

By William A. Barbieri Jr.

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-2071-5


The Making of Boundaries

Although they are as a rule born and raised in Germany and fluent in the language, the children of migrant workers are in many ways less than the equals of their classmates. A class field trip to Switzerland, for example, may be out of bounds for them for reasons having to do with citizenship, residence permits, and visas. Their history and cultural heritage receive little or no attention in textbooks that chronicle the accomplishments of the German Volk. Their chances of eventually finding an apprenticeship or winning a spot at a university, statistics show, are slim. Beyond the classroom, the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination, the poor social and economic possibilities, and the administrative hurdles and legal barriers do not cease. In the only world they know, these children remain outsiders, their existence marked indelibly by the marginalized status of the foreign resident.

Any attempt to understand how and why this marginalization has occurred must begin in a historical vein. The boundaries that have come to separate migrant worker families from other German residents have emerged through the conjuncture of two processes: the complex definition over the past several centuries of what it means to be German, and the more recent formation of the migrant worker minority in German society. Through an analytical treatment of these two processes and the forms of human agency they have involved, we may gain a picture of the norms and structures that have enabled the establishment of a subordinate status for Germany's foreign residents.

Toward a History of German Membership

An analysis of the historical process through which membership in the German context has been defined necessarily begins with the question, What is German membership? In answering this question, the first step must be to establish the meaning of its terms. Logically, the notion of membership suggests an entity in which membership is held by a group of persons satisfying a given set of criteria. Much depends, therefore, on which entity one specifies and on which criteria, as well as on who does the judging. Membership may be ascriptive or voluntary; it may also be a matter of degree. The case of German membership provides an excellent illustration of these inherent complexities. Is a German one who speaks German as his or her native language? One who has German forebears? One who was born on German territory? One who lives in a German society? One who identifies him or herself as German? One who possesses German citizenship?

Each of these criteria plays an important role in the context of this study, for each points to a crucial aspect of what we might call German belongingness – the normative basis for the distribution and denial of those goods and burdens associated with being German. Historically, who has counted as German has been shaped by a number of diverse factors, among them the development of an ethnic and eventually a national German consciousness, the formation of a succession of distinct German political entities, the economic transformations and migrations associated with the transition to industrial capitalism, religious conflicts, the establishment of compulsory education and the standardization of a German national culture, the growth of a German citizenship with an accompanying administrative apparatus, the presence at times of other ethnic minorities in German states, and the construction of a modern welfare system. A full account of the complex interplay of these factors, in short, a history of German membership, would take us far afield. Nonetheless, some such account is essential for an inquiry into the nature of membership in Germany today. What follows is an outline of a set of historical theses regarding German membership and then, to illustrate the theses, a selective overview of developments bearing on membership in the last two hundred years of German history.

1. German membership is best understood for political purposes in terms of three overlapping but distinguishable communities: the German ethnic group or Kulturnation, the German state society, and the German citizenry. These three strands of German membership have informed one another considerably and at the same time have remained distinct. Their distinctness is perhaps best captured with reference to one of the distinguishing aspects of the concept of membership itself: Membership implies both inclusion and exclusion, and we may always ask, of whom and on what basis?

- The first membership group, the ethnocultural nation, differentiates among persons on the basis of ethnicity. Although ethnic identity is a notoriously intractable topic, we may say provisionally that this group includes those who speak German, have a German heritage, are of German stock, and are identified by others and by themselves as Germans. Excluded as a rule are those of other ethnic or national groups: the French, Russians, Turks, Native Americans, Kurds.

- The second membership group, the state society, differentiates on a structural basis. Its members are included in various ways and to different degrees, but in general they participate in society, enjoy rights, and receive benefits, all in economic, social, and political ways. State societies are administratively and territorially distinct from other states and may deny admission and residence to members of other states.

- Membership in the German citizenry is defined in terms of both ascriptive identity and common political commitment. The community of German citizens has the character of a club open only to persons belonging to both the ethnocultural nation and the state. Eligible are those who take part in the life of the state society, who belong to the German cultural group, and who are prepared to assume the responsibility of political control and to sacrifice their lives if necessary for the defense of the German state. This group excludes German ethnics in other countries and members of German society who lack the requisite German ethnocultural membership. The definition of German citizens is, as we shall see, in some ways an unhappy compromise between the other two groups.

2. Historically, these three groups have been formed through interrelated yet analytically distinct processes. The context in which these groups interact is the modern system of nation-state capitalism, and it follows that their nature and scope have been decisively shaped by the political, social, and economic processes through which our present global society of sovereign nations has emerged. The rise of nation-states has been the topic of a considerable body of scholarship, which may be drawn from to show how each of the three German membership groups has undergone its own process of development – for the first group, a process of nation-building, for the second group, of state-building, and for the third group, of what I call "civitas-building" – the construction of a distinct community of citizens.

- Nation-building in Germany has thus involved, independent of a fixed political basis, the origins and growth of a sense of ethnic community and shared culture, as well as the definition of enemies and perceived threats to a unified German identity.

- German state-building has been characterized by the gradual but thoroughgoing establishment of centralized control over a territory and populace, through military and other coercive means, the construction of a unified market and a highly industrialized economy, the ambitious pursuit of state and ethnonational interests in foreign policy, and the eventual construction of a comprehensive welfare systems.

- The central dynamic in the German process of civitas-building has been the development of a distinction between natives and aliens (Inländer and Ausländer) and the evolution of an accompanying set of privileges and controls.

These three processes have of course been closely intertwined. For example, the case of nation-building has been aided decisively by the administrative homogeneity and compulsory education required for effective state-building. Cultivation of the German language has been of central significance to all three groups. Each, however, has exhibited individual features that it is important to identify in order to grasp the tensions inherent in German membership policy today.


When people speak of Germans, it is usually taken for granted that the word refers to a concrete, identifiable group, be it a kinship organization, a community of native speakers, or a group of initiates into a cohesive cultural entity. Particularly when employed in contrast to other comparable groups – Turks, for instance – references to Germans seem to have a relatively clear meaning and fixed referent. At the same time, the problems associated with concepts such as culture, identity, race, and ethnic groups are well known. And although the attribute "German" may seem to indicate an objective, ahistorical category, the elusive nature of this concept becomes clear as soon as borderline cases, such as black Germans or German-Soviet Jews, are examined. The German ethnic classification has not always been distinct, but is rather a historical product that even now encompasses a highly diverse group. The degree of homogeneity and unity responsible for the coherence of the term "German" is the outcome of a long process of cultural and political inclusion and exclusion, of identification and differentiation – of, in a phrase, ethnic boundary making. Such boundary making, problematic though it may be, is a universal phenomenon. The hallmark of the German process is that its cultural and political aspects have been largely independent of one another.

Thus, the sense of ethnic identity and community among Germans considerably predates the existence of the modern German state. On the one hand, we can identify a cultural entity based on a common language, certain general traditions, and the occupation of a specific territory in central Europe. The collective consciousness of this group has been to a great extent created by intellectuals. On the other hand, this territory was marked by a number of different types of political organizations, and it was only relatively late, after comparable developments had occurred in France and England, that a modern nation-building process characterized by a widespread attempt to create a homogeneous national culture was launched. The characteristic goal of nation-building is to "increase the loyalty, commitment and acquiescence" of the people in order to strengthen community bonds for purposes of both defense and political control (Tilly 1975b, 78-79) and is pursued through the standardization of language, religion, and education, as well as through the writing of history. This state-initiated process has gone quite far in Germany, but it has not wholly replaced the ethnic basis of identity, evidenced by the continuing recognition of German minorities left out of the nation-building process but nonetheless identified as German.

While the term "German" referred originally to a speech group distinguished from Latin speakers, most accounts locate the cradle of German national consciousness in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation founded by Charlemagne. The political consciousness that developed at this early point was, however, as Werner Conze argues, decidedly not a national consciousness in the modern sense of nation-states (1985, 27). Rather, the political framework in which German consciousness found expression was that of an empire within which Germans as a people were distinct from other component groups. Moreover, the sense of identity as German was not particularly strong in relation to other memberships. The climate of the times did not reinforce this sense, for as Charles Tilly notes, the Europe of the fifteenth century was in the degree and scope of its homogeneity comparable only to imperial China, while the primary memberships and bases of loyalty were overwhelmingly local and religious (1975a, 18). Following the Renaissance and the Reformation, a gradual increase in ethnonational German consciousness occurred (Conze 1985, 28-30), yet by the middle of the eighteenth century the notion of a distinct German nation had become centuries removed from any organizational reality.

At this point, however, two important developments in German identity occurred, largely in response to developments in France. While the spread of the universal values of the Enlightenment culminated in a revolution in France that heralded the birth of a modern political conception of "nation," early critical reflection on the notion of "nation" in the German principalities tended to emphasize the cultural aspects of nationhood, as reflected for example in Herder's definition of "Volk" or Schiller's notion of an "inneres Reich." The prevailing intellectual environment, which to that point was exemplified by the benign cosmopolitanism of Goethe, began increasingly to celebrate the particularity, the nobility, of being German. This growing national consciousness was abruptly politicized following Napoleon's conquest of Prussia in 1806. A surge of patriotic sentiment in reaction to the French occupation glorified German cultural particularity and portrayed it as being suppressed by the alien, universalist ideas of the French regime. A seminal role was played in this process by Fichte's Reden an die deutsche Nation, which, in its evocation of a suppressed German spirit ("To have character and to be German are clearly synonymous"; cited in L. Hoffmann 1990,77 [my translation]), helped mobilize resistance to the French, culminating in the War of Liberation from 1813 to 1815.

In the wake of liberation, the prior individual German states were restored. This restoration, however, did not prevent the newly invigorated sense of collective purpose from developing further through movements in philosophy and literature. Romantic writers, in their emphasis on feeling over rationality, on the significance of "thick" tradition and cultural unity over hollow, soulless universalism, at once crystallized and valorized a new German identity. Thinkers such as Friedrich von Savigny, Leopold von Ranke, and G. W. F. Hegel contributed to a conception of the German nation as an individualized organic entity, a Volksgeist expressed in a unique language and set of customs. The state was required as the expression of the organic spirit of the people, its logical outcome; but the people were prior. While the military, political, and geographic realities of central Europe worked against the formation of a comprehensive German state, as the fate of the 1848 revolution illustrated, Romantic notions of the ethnocultural unity of the German people formed an ideology that eventually served as a legitimating basis in the formation of the German nation-state.

With the founding of the German Reich following a second victory over France, a new era of nation-building as a concerted effort to homogenize the population and culture began. In the new Prussian-dominated state, German national feeling was harnessed in an effort to build a unified and loyal populace (Kocka 1985). As a result, Germanness was intimately linked to the military buildup and foreign policy adventures of the late nineteenth century. The presence of minorities in German territory, in particular the Poles, was exploited to sharpen the sense of being German and to fuel a need for ethnic unity. This was reflected in the energetic prosecution of the Kulturkampf against the Catholic influence in Germany, as well as in the alarmed identification of an Überfremdungsgefahr (the danger of too strong a foreign presence) and the widespread implementation of Germanization policies directed against ethnic minorities (Hagen 1980, 120-50; Herbert 1986, 24-25; Woydt 1987,17-18). At this point, the prevailing notion of Germanness was not simply a matter of language, birthright, tradition, or place of residence, although each of these played a role. Rather, the ideas of intellectuals describing the German Volk as a sort of cohesive reality unto itself, or at least a prospective reality that was to be gradually implemented through the cultural consolidation of a German polity, had begun to take root. Being German was a question of quality, and other ethnic or national groups in German society were often distinguished aslesser or inferior (Lepsius 1985, 51). In effect, following the creation of the German Kaiserreich, a cultural group was continuously constructed in which Germans were not simply members but also components of a higher ontological unit, the people (Bauer 1975). The sense of peoplehood led at the turn of the century to a volatile Pan-German movement as well as to calls for the assumption of sovereignty over Austria. The actual basis of belonging to the German ethnocultural group remained intangible. Yet as Lutz Hoffmann argues, even if no German "people" existed prior to political consolidation in fact, once the ideology of an age-old, living Volk became internalized politically, such a national group became a social reality (1990, 86).


Excerpted from Ethics of Citizenship by William A. Barbieri Jr.. Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: "Guestworkers" and the Ethics of Political Membership,
Chapter One: The Making of Boundaries,
Chapter Two: Membership Debates,
Chapter Three: Political Anthropologies,
Chapter Four: Inequality, Nondomination, and Human Rights,
Chapter Five: Citizenship and Group Rights,

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