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Universal Citizenship Is Necessary and Possible


by Ricardo Jiménez

Universal citizenship: A delusion, a possibility, or a need? The author of this story offers us undefeatable arguments in favor of what for some is an absurd illusion to be defeated, and for others is an indispensable, although complex need already being spearheaded by migrants’ movements ...



Nelson Mandela was known to say that things were always impossible until we did them. Things that are necessary and possible can happen, or not. That will depend, precisely, on what is done by peoples and societies: universal citizenship is a historical need, difficult and gradual, but possible and necessary.

Humankind set up universal institutionalism (the UN) in the twentieth century and since then has generated, non-stop, international covenants and conventions recognizing ever-growing rights, for humans, indigenous peoples, migrants, women, nature, etc. Before the twentieth century, this was unthinkable for material and technological reasons related to communication connections and the productive capacity to guarantee those minimum rights for all. These material conditions are here now, are constantly being developed, and are interacting with a new and different human universal consciousness, which although still very far from complete, has made considerable headway.

Por ser pobreThe need to move forward from “minimal common” agreements … and those who are opposing this path

The diversity, the contradictions even, among countries, societies, and economies… is an objective, inescapable difficulty that imposes, precisely, gradual progress and momentary setbacks, as with any deep historical change. A homogeneous idea of universal citizenship is neither viable nor desirable. Historical practice shows that progress comes from minimal common grounds, respecting large degrees of political, cultural, economic, etc. diversity, respecting, above all, peoples’ self-determination. In practice, these minimal agreements have always begun on a regional scale, facilitated by a common or kindred geopolitical and cultural position, but respecting diversities and even contradictions among the countries involved.


A greater difficulty is posed by the powers that be, which concentrate wealth and power to the detriment of the well-being of the majority of people and the environment, and do everything they can to hinder these minimal common-ground agreements, which would be much easier to reach were it not for these powerful, operational, selfish, and contrary appetites. We simply have to learn how to fight and to conquer these powers, as is already being done gradually and with difficulty.

Three conditions to make universal citizenship a reality

Universal citizenship has something in common with pollution and climate change: it may not be possible to control, but if we do not, we know that sooner or later there will be irreparable disasters for humankind itself. We can say the same in all certainty about the social sustainability of a global order without universal citizenship.

The conditions for a universal citizenship are the existence of a material, objective human community, that is to say, truly universal and growing interconnections. This is being increasingly allowed by communication and transportation technologies. Secondly, interaction as it happens in any area and people of the planet affects all the others in some way or another, for better or for worse, which is also already and increasingly happening (economic and environmental crises, pandemics, etc.). Finally, there is also growing consciousness among all peoples, with whom we share the same fate as a species of the planet.

From regional citizenship to universal citizenship

It is the geopolitical dynamics and that of the hyper-competitive global market that are themselves accelerating the objective, material need to form regional integration agreements as blocs in order to be able to enter the global arena with minimum development conditions, and those blocs are socially impossible if they do not integrate regional citizenship. [1] In the end, it will probably be on the basis of these extended citizenships that we will progress step by step, along a complex path, first as large regions of the world, toward universal citizenship. All of us can make an effort to contribute to this transition.

See, too, the story “Our Country Will Be the Universe”.


Photos: Todos somos inmigrantes and ...Por ser pobre by Álvaro Herraiz San Martín

[1] The European Union, UNASUR and MERCOSUR, for instance, are already moving in this direction.

Published on: 19 January 2011
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