Cooper, “Citizenship, Inequality, and Difference”

Debates about religious accommodation often pose two values against one another: equality and freedom. Equality suggests that the state should apply the law uniformly to all citizens, without exceptions. Freedom, by contrast, suggests that citizens should be accommodated in their religious beliefs and practices. Balancing these two values, which often lead to different results, proves difficult in many cases.

A new book from Princeton University Press, Citizenship, Inequality, and Difference: Historical Perspectives, by NYU historian Frederick Cooper, shows that the debate on what equal citizenship means, and how equality relates to other values like multiculturalism, goes back a very long way. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

A succinct and comprehensive history of the development of citizenship from the Roman Empire to the present day.

Citizenship, Inequality, and Difference offers a concise and sweeping overview of citizenship’s complex evolution, from ancient Rome to the present. Political leaders and thinkers still debate, as they did in Republican Rome, whether the presumed equivalence of citizens is compatible with cultural diversity and economic inequality. Frederick Cooper presents citizenship as “claim-making”–the assertion of rights in a political entity. What those rights should be and to whom they should apply have long been subjects for discussion and political mobilization, while the kind of political entity in which claims and counterclaims have been made has varied over time and space.

Citizenship ideas were first shaped in the context of empires. The relationship of citizenship to “nation” and “empire” was hotly debated after the revolutions in France and the Americas, and claims to “imperial citizenship” continued to be made in the mid-twentieth century. Cooper examines struggles over citizenship in the Spanish, French, British, Ottoman, Russian, Soviet, and American empires, and he explains the reconfiguration of citizenship questions after the collapse of empires in Africa and India. He explores the tension today between individualistic and social conceptions of citizenship, as well as between citizenship as an exclusionary notion and flexible and multinational conceptions of citizenship.

Citizenship, Inequality, and Difference is a historically based reflection on some of the most fundamental issues facing human societies in the past and present.

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