I believe...emphasis on patriotic pride is both morally dangerous and, ultimately, subversive of some of the worthy goals that patriotism sets out to serve--for example, the goal of national unity in devotion to worthy moral ideals of justice and equality. These goals...would be better served by an ideal that is in any case more adequate to our situation in the contemporary world, namely the very old ideal of the cosmopolitan, the person whose allegiance is to the worldwide community of human beings.

- Martha Nussbaum, "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism"

The essay from which I selected the above is representative of a recent resurgence, which many call reactionary, of Kantian concern with universal moral obligation over and against the politics of difference which seems to be emerging to dominate American political sentiment, especially since "America's New War" on terrorism began in earnest after 9/11. Nussbaum describes the tendency of this new sort of patriotism to devolve into "us versus them" dichotomy of thinking.

To avoid over-emphasizing Nussbaum's particular brand of the idea, Cosmopolitanism can be defined as a general philosphy of politics simply seeks to balance local devotion and commitment to a greater sense of global citizenship. As Nussbaum describes, this idea dates back to ancient philosophy, exemplified especially by Diogenes the Cynic who asserted, "I am a citizen of the world," rather than be identified with any particular locality. The same mode of thought was caught up by the Stoics, in the hands of Seneca and Plutarch. Both of these thinkers expressed clearly the cosmopolitan 1st commandment, that "We should recognize humanity wherever it occurs, and give its fundamental ingredients, reason and moral capacity, our first allegiance and respect" (Nussbaum).

Both these Greek philosophers as wel as modern cosmopolitans admit the power of local allegiance, and the virtue of patriotic love of one's nation, but disagree that this must necessarily come first in terms of loyalty. Nussbaum's dissenters complain that a gobal identity is too sterile, too distant from the individual person to inspire true devotion, and that compassion must start from the inner circle of one's family, community, town, nation and proceed outward, implying a lessening devotion along this distension. In one response directed to Nussbaum's essay, Robert Pinsky (professor at Boston University) claims that "the utopianism of her formulations" are too "bloodless", and could never claim the love of the individual at home ("Eros against Esperanto").

The cosmopolitan response that I think best addresses these concerns is described by Nussbaum's phenomenology of awareness. In her rebuttal essay she points out the an infant is not imbued with a natural love for only her family members, let alone the United States of America in which she happens to be born. Such relationships are incidental to her being as a human being. For a child, "a smile from a human being elicits a reactive smile," the infant learns to tell apart particular humans as her family members and natural circle of protection. Thus there is no reason to imbue any form of nationalism with a special mythos of love or devotion. The first devotion a human being feels is that sympathy towards others of its kind.

This is not to say that patriotism (in its healthy, constructive form--not the us-them formulation) does not deserve a proper measure of respect for its power to drive people to cooperation and achievement. It is rather to encourage the complimentary power of the universal community of human beings, and assure its priority in the education of American's citizenry.

Cos`mo*pol"i*tan*ism (k?z`m?-p?l"?-tan-?z'm), n.

The quality of being cosmopolitan; cosmopolitism.


© Webster 1913.

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