Global constitutionalism and citizenship
The reconfiguration via a global historical self-critic

Research Project

Diogenes of Sinope's proclamation, ‘I am a citizen of the world (‘kosmopolitês’)’, is an often repeated cliché amongst travelers, bloggers, romantically open-minded and pragmatically cosmopolitan individuals. While one can possess, for instance, French, Chinese or Mexican citizenship—perhaps even acquire several different passports—an all-encompassing holistic world citizenship has, as of yet, no legal meaning.  Despite the lack of a legal correlate, the idea nevertheless reflects a certain socio-political reality—one connected with the erosion of borders, the rise of digital and consumerist lifestyles, and the evolution of mentalities toward cosmopolitism in the face of the resurgence of nationalistic crises and fears.

Ironically, this trendy aspiration continues to spread at a time when so few EU nationals have a sense or awareness of their actual EU citizenship—a status established by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. And when juxtaposed to the paradoxical evolution of statelessness, a state of legal non-existence affecting over ten million people in the world who can only hope to one day obtain citizenship somewhere, this development is all the more puzzling.     

Since law reflects societies, the sensibility for a transborder citizenship is actually conveyed on a legal level. Constitutional principles and, more precisely, the rights of the individual are indeed increasingly linked to trans-state topics, such as the environment or new technologies. This evolution shakes our common assumptions of ‘national sovereignty’ and constituent power – both polarised around the concept of state – from which constitutionalism in the West developed in the 18th century. Such trans-state issues deface the current concept of citizenship, demonstrating the unsuitability of the concept when it comes to describing actual social and legal evolutions. The notions of 'constituent power' and 'citizen' need to be rethought in light of our globalised era, in which governance itself is now exercised beyond the constitutional borders of the state. The evolution of the international order toward the integration of founding principles, such as sovereignty or the balance of power, is a strong sign of a movement in the direction of establishing a global constitutionalism. This apparently common ground, however, is deeply challenged by the crises afflicting Westphalian international law, which calls for post-modern constitutionalism – insofar as it can be called ‘modern’.  

In line with the old travel metaphor for comparative studies, this project intends to both explore different periods, via an in-depth historical perspective, and go beyond Western geographical and cultural borders, in this case by examining the late Ottoman Empire’s diverse constitutional thoughts. By taking up citizenship within the framework of global constitutionalism, the global approach used here aims to address the main points of critique – the result of Eurocentric and state-centric distortions – lodged against the latter, thereby furthering the effort to grasp it anew. Moreover, the project also sheds light on topical debates raised by the current constitutional crises and the issues of citizenship tied to them, for instance, in connection with the recently observed in the post-Soviet uprisings, during the 'Arab Springs' or more recently the events in Hong Kong.

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