Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why cosmopolitanism is sexy

At tonight’s seminar I was once again confronted with the received view that cosmopolitanism lacks inspirational power and that it remains but an "empty category". Without the flesh and blood of national communities, people are thought to experience a rootless nihilism that will render them incapable of all moral and political action.

Admittedly, this is a topic for an article rather than a blog post.

Yet, I would like to have a shot at it by suggesting that, by the end of the day, cosmopolitanism may turn out to be a lot "sexier" than we normally think. Let me start by means of a parallel case.

In democratic theory it is sometimes argued that "people" want a return to the local, a return to a time when political decisions came with clear alternatives and that they now feel alienated by the growing international complexity (be it linguistic, diplomatic or economic). In order to rescue democracy, it is argued that we need radical political and economic decentralization.

To me, this line of criticism has always said more about how certain political theorists tend to view "people" than about the views actually expressed by those people. Everyone who has travelled abroad knows what a mind-opening experience it can be. Everyone who has learned to master a foreign language and found that "weave of stretched out hands" knows its magic. Everyone who has stood in awe wondering how society at all can possible does not want reductionism or simple answers.

Clearly, the recipe for the future should be to embrace this brave new world in which we are asked to grow instead of withdrawing. By taking individuals, and not states or ethnic communities, as the basic ontological building blocks, cosmopolitanism recognizes that the other side of those romanticized images of the local community is spelled social control. Even if it can be argued that cosmopolitanism today remains an elitist project, that does not mean that we should not try to extend its reach. In my view, communitarianism speaks to the past and not the future of humanity.



Blogger //M said...

I've said it before and I'm gonna say it again, read Waldron, Jeremy. 1995. "Minority Cultures and the Cosmopolitan Alternative." In The Rights of Minority Cultures, ed. W. Kymlicka. Oxford: Oxford University Press (also available in the 1992 issue of University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform).

I'm gonna say it again. And again.

9:39 am  

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