Genuine politics – politics worthy of the name, and the only politics I am willing to devote myself to – is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community, and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility, expressed through action, to and for the whole.
According to Walzer (1989), “a citizen is, most simply, a member of a political community, entitled to whatever prerogatives and encumbered with whatever responsibilities are attached to membership. The word comes to us from the Latin civis; the Greek equivalent is polites, member of the polis, from which comes our political” (p. 211). Becoming a citizen, assuming the rights and responsibilities of membership in a social group, is a marker of attaining adult status in many societies. But what prepares people to assume those responsibilities? How do they come to understand and exercise their civic rights? What motivates them to become engaged in civil society?
The project discussed in this chapter, Adolescents’ Interpretation of the “Social Contract,” addresses such issues. We focus on the roots of citizenship and ways that young people develop a commitment to the commonwealth. By the social contract we refer to the set of mutual rights and obligations binding citizens with their polity. We contend that there is an intergenerational bargain implied in the process of social integration, that is, a promise that one will enjoy the rights and reap the benefits of the social order if s/he lives by its rules and fulfills the responsibilities of membership. Of course, social change upsets the conditions of the bargain.
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