In Western thought, the relationship between the moral and political domains has been dominated by a version of political philosophy which, based on the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’, argues that the moral is different from the political. In parallel, and related to this, has been a delineation of the ‘political’ as concerned with structural aspects of representative democracy, privileging electoral behaviour in particular. We challenge this distinction on the basis that it is not useful for addressing the motivational dimensions of political behaviour, which are crucial for crafting citizenship education. We explore the ways in which the concept of citizenship has become contested in the realities of the range of contemporary political engagement, and how current debates, for example that between liberals and communitarians, expose the underlying moral perspectives behind their theory and their prescriptions. Emerging from this we present an argument for three different modes of civic engagement; voting, helping and making one's voice heard, in which the moral and political play out differently. This model is explored through data from a study of British young people's involvement with civic issues and actions.