Jason Neidleman, associate professor of political science, gave a lecture on citizenship to students in the doctoral program Saturday in LaFetra Hall.
Neidleman’s lecture, “We Are All Idiots,” drew from his book “General Will is Citizenship: Inquiries into French Political Thought,” published in 2000.
Using his research on Jean Jacques Rousseau, a political philosopher of the French Revolution, Neidleman answers three main questions: Who is a citizen? What is citizenship? How strong is our civic identity?
“For him citizenship was an act of participation,” Niedleman said, “When people are not participating, people’s interests are not going to be accommodated. Rousseau believed there should be a bond amongst citizens.”
But what does citizenship mean to us?
Rousseau believed that the goal of the government should be to protect freedom, equality and justice for everyone within the country, Neidleman said.
Rousseau believed that achieving this goal could be done by relying on the general will of each citizen to do good for the society as a whole.
The concept of general will is further explained in an essay by Rousseau called “Social Contract,” written based on man and society.
Rousseau’s work emphasizes freedom and equality of citizens.
Neidleman pointed out that many of our citizens have been excluded from the decision making process – including those without property or education.
He continued his lecture by explaining inequality and defining “opting out.”
The expression opting out is used when the wealthy become part of private communities, schools and healthcare and luxury boxes at sports events.
When the wealthy opt out, they decided they do not want to pay taxes for the larger society. When this occurs, there is no bond within the society.
“No citizen should be so rich that he can buy another and none so poor that his compelled to sell himself,” Neidleman said quoting Rousseau. “For citizenship to work, inequality must be kept to a minimum.”
Niedleman said that in today’s society, many tend to see getting involved as too demanding or ineffective.
To illustrate this notion, he showed a picture of protesters on a city street holding anti-taxes signs.
In the background, arrows are pointing to everything citizens taxes pay for including street signs, sidewalks and street lights.
“Once we become active, we care for the public good more. We must be civically active to appreciate the public good,” Neidleman said.
In other words, one must participate in something that promotes the wellness of their society while not always placing individual interest first.
“(Neidleman) speaks about something our society is removed from,” said Laura Espinoza, a public administration graduate student. “It was interesting when he showed the picture of protesters against taxes and arrows pointing to everything on the street our taxes pay for.”
Toward the end of his talk, Niedleman explained why he used the word “idiot” in his title. “Idiot” in Greek means one who concentrates on his or her private affairs and neglects the public realm.
“His lecture was very interesting,” graduate student Charles Nelson said.
“He gave us a very different perspective on the meaning of citizenship. I was wondering why he titled his lecture using the word idiot and when he explained it, it made sense.
“I tried to be open to everything he was saying and absorbed everything like a sponge,” Nelson said.
Neidleman received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles and later received his doctorate in government from Harvard University.
Aisha Gonzales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.