You may be a citizen of a certain country, but does that country “own” you? One would think so considering the way national governments sometimes treat their own citizens, but in truth the opposite is true. You hold a collective ownership in your country just as the stockholders of a corporation are technically its legal owners. True, the stockholders elect a board of directors, but the board of directors however serves at the wish of the collective stockholders. The same thing is true of a country. The citizens are the “owners”, and the government (board of directors) serves at the pleasure of the citizen-owners. This is the way it is supposed to be, although in nearly all countries today those who now govern the country operate under the delusion that they in fact are the “owners”. In their viewpoint the citizens exist only to serve the country and its “masters”. In fact, when you get down to it, as “serfs”… Or “helots” as they are referred to by the Spartans. The Spartans being a militaristic society that conquered their surrounding neighbors, effectively enslaving them. Similar conquests and enslavement appear to be quite common, mainly because in order for one group of individuals to escape manual toil, it was necessary to force others to do the necessary tasks. Slavery was thus commonplace until relatively modern times when the development of machinery made it effectively obsolete. The last strongholds of slavery being in agriculture where it survived until the issue was resolved here in the USA by the Civil War. Slavery is still rather common in the more “backward” parts of the world, where it still exists today, often with Muslims enslaving Christians as we see in Africa.
These ideas of the State owning its “subjects” doubtlessly rose from the fact that many early societies were in fact ruled by a “warlord” whose domination depended upon the use of armed force against any opposition. The same armed force was used to extract labor from the people under his rule. With time the warlord became a Pharaoh, King, Emperor, Caliph, or whatever the ruler’s title was. He was “master” and the people existed as his “serfs”. Later on, nobles in some countries were able to force the ruler to share his power with them as given in the Magna Carta in 1215 A.D. in England.. The Roman Republic was a good example of shared power among powerful wealthy families. Effectively rule by a wealthy elite who ruled in the name of the people of Rome until Julius Caesar, whose “family” effectively ruled Rome after his death, when Rome became an “Empire”, a “Republic” only in name. The idea of “subjects” comes from the past where it was the common idea that people were indeed the “subjects” of their monarchs. An interesting viewpoint that shows how the people were “seen” by those who ruled them. As a matter of fact, the people of monarchies, even those where the ruler is a “figure head”, are still yet referred to this day as “subjects” even in countries where some form of democracy exists.
The concept of citizen rule however starts with that of Classical Athens of the sixth century B.C. The Greeks of the time were divided into city states of no great size, which perhaps is why Greek political thinking was the way that it was. In any case, Greece, not Rome, was where the basic idea of “democracy” originated. Rome, even before the Emperors, was not ever a society where the common people had much real say in how their society was run. The basic idea of a free people, a free city, is Greek. Of Classical Athens for those curious.*
*By the standards of the time. Only men could be citizens. Slavery was also commonplace in this era. The Greek word for slave apparently was doulos . Helot was the word for serf in lands controlled by Sparta there on the other side of Greece from Athens. The Spartans however were the legendary warriors who “saved” Greece in the nick of time from being taken by the Persians which would have changed history in ways that can only be guessed at. 300 Spartans up against a Persian force of thousands survived just long enough for other Greek forces to muster and force the Persians back out of Greece proper…
The idea of a sovereign citizen, a free person, not the property of the State, dates from this time and place. The word “democracy” is drawn from the word “demos” which means the “people” (AKA “citizens”) rule. “cracy” is defined as the political system. So we have a political system where the people rule. As opposed to political systems where someone else than the people rule. Note however that this was not an elective political system, as democracy as practiced by the citizens of Athens was selection of political representatives by a lottery, or “Demarchy” as defined by Wiki. The Greeks had already had their bad experiences with elective selection of representatives, as they had found that financing of electoral campaigns by the wealthy resulted in representatives who tended to serve those responsible for paying for their campaigns. Just as we are finding out today that when the wealthy and big business finance campaigns, that those elected more often than not ignore the wishes of the people (those who elected them) in favor of serving the interests of those who provided the money for their campaign. Therefore the Athenians did not believe that elections produced democracy, but rather tended to produce “oligarchy” or eventual rule by a privileged few (according to the definition of the word on Wiki) for those curious.
The United States of America is officially a “Republic”. However the meaning of the word “republic” relates to Rome before the Caesars when the Senate ruled. The Roman Senate however was a group of aristocrats, similar to the “House of Lords” in present day England. It is safe to assume that our Founding Fathers, who had a fixation upon Roman ideas, also thought that having a “Senate” was a good idea as the Roman Senate was a deliberative body that took its time considering legislation. They also favored however a “House of Representatives” based upon the same institution back home in 18th Century England. As for the idea of “democracy” in the Athenian sense, they would have been totally opposed!*
*It was referred to as “mob rule” by those responsible for the new United States of America, something that they were totally opposed to. This is why they had the restrictions upon who was allowed to vote. Which Republicans of today still favor!
Bringing this all together, it appears that the idea of the sovereign citizen is of Greek Athenian thinking. The Romans did not view citizenship in the same context as did the Greeks. Which means that the libertarian viewpoint of citizenship is actually Greek, not Roman. Although to the Greeks, allowing minorities and women to vote would have been “unthinkable”… But they have gone down in history as the inventors of Democracy, of the idea of equality among citizens. Citizen who had the final say so as to what government was allowed to do. Something we take for granted today, but should appreciate more!