“A man with a gun is a citizen. A man without a gun is a subject.” –Rep. Allen West on the Difference Between a Citizen and a Subject
My Take on the Difference Between a Citizen and a Subject
What is the difference between a citizen and a subject? Is it mainly the right to bear arms, as Rep. Allen West said? Or is it the ability to express your opinions without fear of government reprisal? Or, maybe the right to elect your representative?
All of those views are partially accurate, but none of them are holistic enough to fully characterize what it means to be a citizen, so they don’t really answer the question of the sometimes ambiguous difference between a citizen and a subject.
In my view, being a citizen rather than a subject means being able to live a life free from unwanted and undue control. Yes, you still have to obey just laws. That’s the social contract that allows nation-states to exist. But, if those laws become unjust, citizens can throw off the shackles of unjust rule, as the Founding Fathers did and wrote about in The Declaration of Independence. Subjects, on the other hand, can’t. They’re slaves to the system.
So, that difference boils down to a number of aspects of daily life. Citizens can own guns to defend themselves from tyranny. Subjects can’t. Similarly, citizens can voice their opinion in the public square. Even if no one listens, they still have the right to do so. Subjects don’t have that right; they have to be content with what the government says. And, as a final example, citizens have the right to be represented in the government by elected representatives. Subjects, on the other hand, aren’t represented. Instead, they’re ruled.
Essentially, it’s the difference in philosophy between The Libertarian Reader and Leviathan. Libertarians want to be treated as citizens; they want to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit. Hobbes, on the other hand, envisioned a system where ruling elites made choices for their subjects, the mass of peasantry deemed unable to live without government interference.
Today, the difference between a citizen and a subject can clearly be seen when capitalist and socialist nations are contrasted. In capitalist nations, consent rules. People can’t be compelled to live a certain way, other than that they must follow basic laws. In socialist nations, on the other hand, non-governing elites are mere subjects; compulsion rules and tyrannical governments take full advantage of that, imprisoning and killing their helpless subjects at the slightest whim of a tyrannical dictator. With capitalism and gun-owning citizens, that is impossible; citizens can defend themselves from tyranny.
Strive- and demand- to be a citizen, not a subject. Today, far too many people are ignorant of the difference. Because of that, they are somehow okay with their governments not obeying the will of their respective citizens. Brexit and the coup against Trump are the main examples I used, but there are many others. If we don’t start standing up for our right to be treated as citizens, then soon that right will disappear for good as the technocratic elite further entrenches itself. Be a citizen, not a subject!
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