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Civics is the study of the great theoretical and practical aspects of citizenship, its rights and duties; the duties of citizens to each other as members of a political body and to the government. It includes the study of civil law and civil code, and the study of government with attention to the role of citizens ― as opposed to external factors ― in the operation and oversight of government.
Within a given political or ethical tradition, civics refers to educating the citizens. The history of civics dates back to the earliest theories of civics by Confucius in ancient China and Plato in ancient Greece. In China also along with Confucianism developed the tradition of Legalism. These traditions in the East and in the West developed to an extent differently, therefore, with bringing in the past different concepts of citizens rights and the application of justice, together with different ethics in public life. This was mainly valid before the translation of the Western legal tradition to Chinese which started in 1839 after which influence by Western tradition was brought to China, with periods of restoration of traditional Chinese law, influence by Soviet law; specific is the common ordinary language used in Chinese laws which has significant educational role.
Of special concern are the choice of a form of government and (if this is any form of democracy) the design of an electoral system and ongoing electoral reform. This involves explicitly comparing voting systems, wealth distribution and the decentralization of political and legal power, control of legal systems and adoption of legal codes, and even political privacy — all seen as important to avoid social (civil) dystrophy or a lapse into some undesirable state of totalitarianism or theocracy. Each of these concerns tends to make the process of governance different, as variations in these norms tend to produce a quite different kind of state. Civics was often simply concerned with the balance of power between say an aristocracy and monarchy—a concern echoed to this day in the struggles for power between different levels of rulers—say of the weaker nation-states to establish a binding international law that will have an effect even on the stronger ones. Thus world government is itself properly a civic problem. Also, it is the study of duties and rights of citizenship.
On smaller scales, modern human development theory attempts to unify ethics and small-scale politics with the urban and rural economies of sustainable development. Notable theorists including Jane Jacobs and Carol Moore argue that political secession of either cities or distinct bio regions and cultures is an essential pre-requisite to applying any widely shared ethics, as the ethical views of urban and rural people, different cultures or those engaged in different types of agriculture, are irreconcilably different. This extreme advocacy of decentralization is hardly uncommon, and leads to the minimal theory of civics – anarchism.
Civics refers not to the ethical or moral or political basis by which a ruler acquires power, but only to the processes and procedures they follow in actually exercising it.
Recently, the concept of global civics has also been suggested as a way of applying civics in the highly interdependent and globalized world of the 21st century. Many people feel that increasing knowledge and awareness of individual citizen's rights can enhance global political and economic understanding. Nations such as the United States have been criticized for minimizing public civics education opportunities in the past several years.
Examples of different types
Most civic theories are more trusting of public institutions, and can be characterizing on a scale from least (mob rule) to most (the totalitarian) degree of trust placed in the government. At the risk of extreme oversimplification, an historical view of civic theory in action suggests that the theories be ranked as follows:
|Ochlocracy (aka: Mob Rule)||Trusting of the instincts and power of large groups—no consistent civics at all.||Lynching|
|Anarchism||No government or other hierarchy, a common ethical code enforced only by personal governance (self-rule) and voluntary association.||Anarchist Catalonia|
|Minarchy||A minimal hierarchy—e.g. sometimes said to include Eco-anarchism|
|Libertarianism||A philosophy based on the premise that all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and that personal and economic freedom should be maximized as much as possible without Government intervening in personal and business matters. The purpose of Government would only exist to protect and defend the freedom of the people. Another term would be Constitutionalism set forth by The United States Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights. The people would live through Voluntary association through the Free market, This is commonly known as Limited government. Not to be confused with Anarchism.||as advocated by Ron Paul|
|Direct democracy||Decisions made directly by the people without guidance or moral suasion, usually relying on multiple choices laid out by experts||as advocated by Ross Perot|
|Deliberative democracy||Decisions made by locally grouped citizens obligated to participate in consensus decision making process||as advocated by Ralph Nader|
|Representative democracy||A political class of elected representatives is trusted to carry out duties for the electors – these may be responsible to any group in society, or none, once elected||United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, USA, France, Germany, India|
|Technocracy||Reliance on castes of bureaucrats and scientists to rule society, and define risk for the whole society – sometimes generalized into anticipatory democracy. Can be interpreted as leading to or including kleptocracy||China|
|Aristocracy||General trust in one class in society to rule and protect, e.g. members of particular noble families that have worked for and/or defended the community across many generations (i.e. "old" money), upholding traditions, standards of living, art, culture, commerce, and defense. Not to be confused with plutocracy, where rule is based solely on financial wealth.||Ancient Greek city-states were by 700s B.C., generally ruled by an aristocracy. The Roman aristocratic class spearheaded the Roman Republic. The aristocratic families of Republic of Venice and Republic of Genoa held sway during most of the history of the mentioned Italian city-states. See also Patrician (post-Roman Europe), Republic of Ragusa.|
|Theocracy||Government led by religious beliefs or culture. Theocracies are led by powerful religious figures and follow rules based on religious documents.||Vatican City, Islamic Republic of Iran|
|Constitutional monarchy||A monarch, possibly purely symbolic and devoted to moral example, avoiding vesting such popularity in any less trustworthy political figure—typically tied to at least some deliberative institutions, and making the monarch a tiebreaker or mediator or coach||United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Canada, and the Netherlands|
|Absolute monarchy||A monarchy who carries absolute power, with no requirement to answer to the legislature, judiciary, or the citizenry. Rule is generally hereditary.||Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Oman|
|Dictatorship||A political or military ruler who has the powers of the monarch(people), but whose basis for rule is not hereditary, but based upon military or political power.||Benito Mussolini, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Julius Caesar, Francisco Franco, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Seyed Ali Khamenei, Ferdinand Marcos|
|Note: examples are included only to help familiarize readers with the basic idea of the scale—they are not intended to be conclusive or to categorize these individuals other than the civics that they exercise or exemplify.|
Criticism of civic education
Sudbury schools contend that values, social justice and democracy included, must be learned through experience as Aristotle said: "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." They adduce that for this purpose schools must encourage ethical behavior and personal responsibility. In order to achieve these goals schools must allow students the three great freedoms—freedom of choice, freedom of action and freedom to bear the results of action—that constitute personal responsibility. The "strongest, political rationale" for democratic schools is that they teach "the virtues of democratic deliberation for the sake of future citizenship." This type of education is often alluded to in the deliberative democracy literature as fulfilling the necessary and fundamental social and institutional changes necessary to develop a democracy that involves intensive participation in group decision making, negotiation, and social life of consequence.
- Frederick Converse Beach, George Edwin Rines, The Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts and sciences, literature, history, biography, geography, commerce, etc., of the world, Volume 5, Scientific American compiling department, 1912, p.1
- "The Russian Paradigm of Lacking Freedoms in the Context of the Global “Inversion” of Human Rights" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-03.
- "theocracy" Online Entomology Dictionary. 2001. Online Entomology Dictionary.
- "Anarchy" Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.
- Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America - A View from Sudbury Valley, "'Ethics' is a Course Taught By Life Experience." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
- Greenberg, D. (1987), The Sudbury Valley School Experience, "Teaching Justice Through Experience." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
- Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America - A View from Sudbury Valley, "Democracy Must be Experienced to be Learned." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
- Greenberg, D. (1987) Chapter 35, "With Liberty and Justice for All," Free at Last — The Sudbury Valley School. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
- Bynum, W.F. and Porter, R. (eds) (2005) Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations. Oxford University Press. 21:9.
- Greenberg, D. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience "Back to Basics - Moral basics." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
- Curren, R. (2007) Philosophy of Education: An Anthology. Blackwell Publishing. p 163.
|Look up civics in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Annenberg Classroom The civics education site of the Annenberg Public Policy Center
- Civic Action Project A practicum for high school students in civics and government.
- iCivics Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's education site
- Center for Civic Education Promoting the Principles and Practice of Democracy
- CIVNET.org – in their own words, "a worldwide online civic education community of civic educators, scholars, policymakers, civic-minded journalists, NGOs, and other individuals promoting civic education"
- Facing History and Ourselves Engaging students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry
- From fallacious politics to sound civics An essay on discovering civics beyond politics.
- Word List: Types of Government A Thinking Place