Citizens and citizen money – Why the citizen money is not citizen money

All of Germany is talking about citizen money. Reason enough to think about the citizen in the constantly growing welfare state. He has little to do with the sovereign citoyen of yore.

The word citizen money suggests that the citizen money makes the citizen, which is demonstrably wrong.

Michael Gstettenbauer / Imago

What is a citizen these days? If we were to follow the logic of citizen income, which is currently a topic of conversation in Germany and Italy, a citizen would define himself as needing the welfare state to make ends meet. At least one can assume that the creators of the term have this image of citizenship, because it remains an open question whether people who do not receive citizenship money – but finance it through their taxes – are also considered citizens.

Claudia Wirz is a freelance journalist and author.

Claudia Wirz is a freelance journalist and author.


Or to put it in a question: does citizen income mean that only those who receive citizen income are citizens? And are people who do not receive citizen income not citizens?

A linguistic mistake

You may think that’s a quibble, but the word citizen money is a misnomer. It suggests that the citizen money makes the citizen, which is demonstrably wrong. It is therefore understandable that the citizen’s income is sometimes brought close to the unconditional basic income. It would also be such if it were actually paid out to all citizens.

This has not yet clarified what a citizen is – especially in the welfare state, whose care is becoming ever more excessive. The citizen has gone through a long conceptual history. Etymologically, it derives from a fortified settlement, which indicates a privileged status. In the Middle Ages, the term described the better of a city. As an “establishment,” citizens regulated access to civil rights. One of the prerequisites for inclusion in the elite circle was the ability to support oneself and not to be a burden on the community, as the city historian Karsten Igel writes.

citizens and businessmen

In the light of the Enlightenment, the citizen developed away from the collective towards a self-determined individual who – be it as a political citoyen or as an entrepreneurial business citizen – actively helped shape the community and thereby followed the ideal of a liberal society.

However, the new social class of educated and business citizens was not free from arrogance, and it took a while before the idea of ​​free and equal citizens could be implemented. Nevertheless, the sovereign, active citizen stands at the beginning of modern democracy and the social market economy. As a type, he is a proud, self-determined character who is also committed to the common good, which is reflected in the militia system. This citizen no longer wants to be a subject.

At the mercy of politicians and officials

The bourgeois image behind the citizen money does not have much in common with this emancipated type. This type of citizen is a dependent whose fortunes are decided by politicians and administrators who are in the permanent election campaign. Instead of haggling over benefits and constantly inventing new subsidies, the aim of enlightened politics should be that as few citizens as possible become dependent on this; and that those to whom this happens can free themselves as quickly as possible. In times of a shortage of skilled workers, the economic conditions for this would be more than good. But the election campaign follows its own logic.

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