Civics is the study of the 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. In the United States, Civics classes starts in 7th grade.

Traditions in civics

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.

Civics and government

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. Powerhouses 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, a historical view of civic theory in action suggests that the theories be ranked as follows:

Philosophy Description Example
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 freedom should be maximized as much as possible.  
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
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.

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