Citizens of the Universe? Maybe.
November 29, 2007 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Cosmopolitanism is as old as the Stoics, but it is being perpetually renewed: Ulrich Beck, Seyla Benhabib, Martha Nussbaum, and Kwame Anthony Appiah weigh in.

The Beck article has theses. You know you like theses:

1. Globalisation is anonymous control
2. A new perspective for a different approach to action
3. Only capital is permitted to break the rules
4. We, the consumers, constitute the counter-power
5. Sacrifice autonomy, gain sovereignty
6. A state towards which the nation is indifferent
7. Convert walls into bridges!

Profit!
posted by anotherpanacea (13 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read through this post and couldn't find a single way to improve my sex life. What gives, cosmo?
posted by arnold at 10:46 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


That Martha Nussbaum! I would have said it is virtually impossible even in the 21st century to redeem American Classicism from its sins as one of the main fountainheads of intellectual and moral justifications for slavery (look at the relative number of place names in the South drawn from Greek and Roman sources for one indication of this), but she makes the case extremely well.
posted by jamjam at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2007


relative number of place names in the South drawn from Greek and Roman sources

Or in Syracuse, Ithaca, Utica, Seneca, New York? This country was founded on classicism. You're going to indict every effort at learning from classical political thought with the taint of Athenian slavery? Wow.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:20 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I would have said it is virtually impossible even in the 21st century to redeem American Classicism from its sins as one of the main fountainheads of intellectual and moral justifications for slavery\

I would have said it is virtually impossible even in the 21st century to find an actual human being who would profess such a cartoonish view, but I guess I was wrong. Shall we also try to redeem the English language, the human brain, and the very earth the slaveholders walked on and the air they breathed for abetting their sins? Sheesh.
posted by languagehat at 11:31 AM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wish Harvey Mansfield's essay, 'Machiavelli's Virtue', was on line. It does a good job of explaining why Machiavelli pointed in the opposite direction.

Machiavelli claims that the essence of politics, and maybe human nature as well, lies in its partisan character. Power and authority are relatively synonymous, there is no 'legitimacy' to confuse the issue. And factions can't have power unless their members are willing and capable of getting things done, which is one explanation of Machiavellian virtue. The most extreme example of this is the willingness to die for the cause. And I don't think too many of us believe that defenders are motivated by mottoes espousing universalism. In that context, people are pretty partisan, "my country", "my family" and "my men". Beck's claim that "the negative juxtaposition of "us" and "them"" will no longer be a central element in our identity is pretty dubious. There will always be those who have less, and the drive to acquire or maintain power automatically divides us.

In Nussbaum's image of the concentric circles, the task of 'somehow' drawing them together is futile, especially as a mass project. She wants the background to have the energy when it has been apportioned to the figure. The smaller circles draw our energy because, in Martha Nussbaum words, it "is full of color and intensity and passion". How can there be any contest between that and the conclusions we reach through reason?

Towards the end of Mansfield's essay he points out that despite Machiavelli's admiration of the Romans, the psychology that is presupposed in his work is at odds with the Stoic one. He favors, or at least recognizes the necessity of, animus. Cultivating detachment towards the passions, weakens the individual's bonds with the faction and decreases the investment in the group.

I'm pretty partial to the Stoic take myself. But the program for mass education and Beck's pronouncement on the state of the world comes across as unrealistic. Beck's piece in particular seem half-baked. It has a breathless sort of quality to it, like it needs exclamation marks, "bridges must be erected in human minds, mentalities, and imaginations". And if homogenization is not shared "systems of norms (human rights)" and shared "institutions (the European Union, for instance)", then what does it consist of? And it's not that homogenization is automatically worthy of contempt, but let's call it what it is. Cosmopolitanism is an alluring worldview. It seems completely reasonable because of its abstract universal character, but there are limits to how far it can extend. People prefer their own. Even when the definition of "own" changes from moment to moment.
posted by BigSky at 12:39 PM on November 29, 2007


My, my, I've certainly caused some 'hot wind to blow hard,' as someone once said-- but fortunately for me it's a bit of a chilly day here.

Perhaps you might be interested in a recent exhibit by the New York Historical Society, anotherpanacea, titled "Slavery and New York." From the associated webpage:

For most of its history, New York has been the largest, most diverse, and most economically ambitious city in the nation. No place on earth has welcomed human enterprise more warmly. New York was also, paradoxically, the capital of American slavery for more than two centuries. In October, 2005, The New-York Historical Society begins an unprecedented two-year exploration of this largely unknown chapter of the city's story.

Slavery in New York, the first of two exhibitions, spans the period from the 1600s to 1827, when slavery was legally abolished in New York State...

posted by jamjam at 1:12 PM on November 29, 2007


Nussbaum vs. Mansfield on Manliness.
posted by homunculus at 1:19 PM on November 29, 2007


It was probably unfair to Beck to put him in the company of the others, though his little editorial was the impetus of my post.

The thesis at the heart of the seven theses is that the only power left in global capitalism is the power to 'do nothing,' leaving a region uninvested in capital and letting the outflow of workers do the rest of the work to garner obedience. He suggests that as consumers we can avail ourselves of this power as well, by utilizing the 'weapon of nonpurchasing.' It's consumer cosmopolitanism, i.e. an interesting notion. (But good luck dis-investing in Sudan or Saudi Arabia.) The rest of it is basically pot-head philosophy, from the man who brought us the very good theory of the 'risk society.'

Machiavelli claims that the essence of politics, and maybe human nature as well, lies in its partisan character.

I'm quite taken with Machiavelli, as I generally try to work on cosmopolitan issues from within a civic republican framework. However, it doesn't do to discount Montesquieu and Madison on possible alternatives to violent partisanship: if we contend for wealth rather than for domination, we'll satisfy the human need for partisanship and strife while engendering economic growth. If the alternative to political power is to quietly grow rich, some of man's bloodier urges will be sated. But since the pursuit of the commercial republic has its own potential to lead to depredation and strife, we must still find ways to quell the inequalities and resentments it creates... and that takes us back to the challenge of solely national citizenship in a world governed by global capital. Global problems require global solutions.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:11 PM on November 29, 2007


jamjam,
I think you missed anotherpanacea's point entirely. He wasn't saying that there was never slavery in New York; he was saying that it's ridiculous of you to talk of American Classicism, or Classicism in general, as if it had some "taint" because of slavery. Which it is. "Classicism", as languagehat notes, it just a tool or a world view. People used the ideas of the ancient Greeks, or what they saw as the ideas of the Ancient Greeks, for all kinds of purposes, from rationalizing slavery to the Enlightenment, but that says nothing about the view itself.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2007


It's been a couple of days, but this is my first chance to reply. Machiavelli is not an overwhelming counter to cosmopolitanism. I did not mention that essay thinking it was a complete refutation but rather that it was a nice counterpart.

it doesn't do to discount Montesquieu and Madison on possible alternatives to violent partisanship: if we contend for wealth rather than for domination, we'll satisfy the human need for partisanship and strife while engendering economic growth. If the alternative to political power is to quietly grow rich, some of man's bloodier urges will be sated. But since the pursuit of the commercial republic has its own potential to lead to depredation and strife, we must still find ways to quell the inequalities and resentments it creates... and that takes us back to the challenge of solely national citizenship in a world governed by global capital.

I like this, better in fact than Beck's essay. In particular it's this, "But good luck dis-investing in Sudan or Saudi Arabia", aspect that bugged me the most. He makes more of this capability than is there and doesn't address its limitations. In a way, making a purchase is like voting, you're signaling that you want more. Not just more of the product but more of the process that created it. We can argue that nonpurchasing has the opposite effect but there is a much weaker cause and effect relationship there. It can take a very long time for some countries to come around to policies that are to their own economic advantage, e.g. Zimbabwe.

-----

homunculus,

I read that thread, and Nussbaum's review last year. While I haven't read 'Manliness', I'm skeptical that Nussbaum's review really addresses the claims of the book. Mansfield is a respected scholar and his work is all about finding the seeming discrepancies in a text and showing those discrepancies to be in some way only apparent and in other ways necessary for the correct presentation of the material. His overall position may not be favorable to feminism but I doubt it as ham handed and ignorant as Nussbaum makes it out to be. This appears to me as little more than an uncharitable reading.
posted by BigSky at 11:40 AM on December 2, 2007


I think we're on the same page, BigSky.

His overall position may not be favorable to feminism but I doubt it as ham handed and ignorant as Nussbaum makes it out to be.

I fear that it is. While he attempts to work out a theory of philosophical rather than physical courage, I think his attempt to do philosophy without the crutch of exegesis makes him look foolish and uncareful. He may well have been writing something aimed at a popular audience so as to cash in on the controversy, for retirement or some such. What he should have written was Linda Rabieh's Plato and the Virtue of Courage, but I guess she wrote it, instead.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:06 PM on December 3, 2007


That's a good review. Rabieh's book sounds interesting, I'll put it on my list. I don't have any intent to read 'Manliness' as it comes across as both dogmatic and a little goofy, but I find it a bit surprising that someone who asks the set of interesting questions presented in that review, would write a book of such little merit. What really made me question Nussbaum's review were her claims of Mansfield routinely misreading others, "every paragraph in Socrates' heart". Before I'll believe that about Mansfield someone would have to show deep faults with his work on Machiavelli and De Tocqueville. But that's not what you claim, and it was just as I typed out this reply that I narrowed in on 'crutch'. OK, now I can see how the book could be lacking.
posted by BigSky at 12:51 PM on December 4, 2007


it was just as I typed out this reply that I narrowed in on 'crutch'.

Well, I'm a big cripple too, by the standard I set out above: I'm not knocking exegesis. Perhaps a better way of framing the problem is that he consciously decided to work on 'manliness' rather than 'courage.'
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:14 PM on December 4, 2007


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