- 1.A Brief Critique of Cosmopolitanism – Part 1
- 2.A Brief Critique of Cosmopolitanism – Part 2
The battle for the future is waged ever on the grounds of the past.
The fundamental and necessary presupposition of cosmopolitanism, no matter what kinds of ethical or political or epistemological relativisms it appears to adopt or affirm, is the moral and practical superiority of the cosmopolitan ideology over every other worldview, and the consequent desire to realize cosmopolitanism as a concrete political reality. But cosmopolitanism, for reasons we have touched upon in the first part of this essay and at greater length in the aforementioned essay on the open society, is unique among ‘ideologies’ in not only abstractly desiring a homogeneous world state, as communism did for instance, but in absolutely requiring one for its full and proper establishment. Without a single world government, cosmopolitanism is beset by insurmountable difficulties in its implementation; and without cosmopolitanism, the single world state necessarily takes on the aspect of an intolerable dictatorial order. The ideology of cosmopolitanism and the ideal of a single world government are complementary and mutually reinforcing.
We closed the first half of this essay with the question of the degree to which an authentically free man could or should desire the establishment of such a world state. It goes almost without saying that the goal of establishing such a state is happily presupposed by the better part of today’s so-called ‘liberalism’; even where ‘liberalism’ appears to qualify this aim (by speaking for instance of global federalisms or world governing organizations in the place of world government per se) it sneaks the homogeneous world state into its final political philosophy in one form or another. The ‘end of history’ is meaningless in the absence of universal ‘liberal’ order, and this order is understood to be desirable, not to speak of tolerable, on account of its perfection of the Enlightenment ideals of freedom and equality and its ability to marry these two political ends in a socio-political order spanning the entirety of the globe.
The homogeneous world state defends its viability via cosmopolitanism. Its superiority to every other form of government is presumed to reside in its being the single social order to avoid any definite pronouncement on the good or the evil of human ways, and the consequent liberation of human beings to live as they please; it is the single social order to permit any and all human ways, and thus the single universal, as opposed to particularistic, social order. Its quality is to be discovered in its breadth, its largeness. It is the only truly universal view available to man from the political perspective. It attains this marvellous result through its primary virtue of tolerance, which virtue permits to all human beings the liberty to do as they list and to live as they will.
So much for the claims made by cosmopolitan ideals on their own behalf. In point of fact, no cosmopolitan state, no open society, no liberal regime can function save as all or the great majority of its members adhere to the principles which make such a state possible. All or almost all of the citizens of the world village must be tolerant, for in the lack of this basic condition, democratic processes can easily be made to turn against the liberal order, instating illiberal orders of a variety of kinds and leading directly to the collapse or even overthrow of the cosmopolitan order. But the values promoted by the ‘virtue of tolerance’ are not universal values; they are values which attach to a single ideology alone of all the ideologies, worldviews, philosophies or outlooks available to a human being: they are precisely and specifically cosmopolitan values. Cosmopolitanism feigns universality and bases its tremendous social and political demands on this quality; but in the final analysis, it is evident that cosmopolitanism, like every other proposed human regime, is in fact a closed and narrow order, replete with its own limited and limiting ideas about how a man ought to live, behave and think; it is furthermore evident that it, no less than any other human regime, will enforce its values through a variety of more or less evident means, and will suppress or oppose any views, ideas, or movements that might threaten it even intellectually. But then the cosmopolitan global state proves to be a particularistic regime, and not a universal regime, per its claim. It therefore does not suffice to defend cosmopolitanism on the basis of its ‘openness’; if it is to be defended, it must be defended on the basis of its points of superiority over other possible regimes.
Any open-eyed man is therefore compelled to submit cosmopolitanism to the same rigorous critique to which one would submit any ideological proposal for world government. Such analysis can only come through the comparison of cosmopolitanism with the real and actualizable alternatives to cosmopolitanism. But it is precisely these which cosmopolitanism, more than almost any other modern ideology, renders invisible and inaccessible.
Take Europe as an example of this. It was once the case that Europe was composed of a rich and variegated medley of societies, which, though they shared certain common traits when compared to the great South or East or Middle East, nonetheless were characterized by fundamental incompatibilities as well, of such depth and number that Europe has almost without stint been at war with itself in some form or another since the very earliest moments of its recorded history. But beyond the strife which such differences fomented, they also provided the possibility for a breadth of view which was available in few other parts of the globe. There is a sound reason that a European tour was once considered essential part of the education of European gentlemen, for instance – practice to which an older and finer generation of Americans also once clove: by experiencing the diversity of European orders and ways, the perspective of the future governors might be widened accordingly, and these leaders would therefore be in a finer position both to appreciate, but also to critique, their birthland.
This possibility no longer exists, or at least has been refined to the point of vanishing. It has vanished in Europe on account of the universal adoption in European states, both on the political level and on the social and private level, of liberal beliefs and mores – process which has been exacerbated, though in no way caused, by the advent of the European Union. To travel from one corner of Europe to another today certainly gives one a satisfying survey of its geographical, linguistic and (at least in historical districts) architectural diversity; but one is liable to find a remarkable unity of opinion on the fundamental political things which one would never have found even remotely so thoroughly implanted in past times, the recent phenomenon of ‘populism’ notwithstanding.1 Laying aside the distant promise which might be contained in this ‘European levelling’, Europe today runs the risk of becoming every bit as closed and provincial as the United States and Canada, whose members, for a mere geographical accident, have almost no access whatsoever to any kind of really foreign reality, if not in Mexico. On account of the largeness of their territory and their lack of really distinctly different neighbours, the citizens of the great North American Anglo-Saxon states easily fall prey to a fundamental error of perspective, by which they are persuaded that their special way of viewing things must be universal to the whole of the race. This has played no small part in the adventurousness of the United States abroad, particularly in its programme of worldwide ‘regime change’; Americans in many cases simply cannot fathom that there might be human beings, indeed entire societies in the world, that would consciously disclaim democracy and detest the pedestrian kind of legalistic liberties which Americans so easily confound for human freedom. Europe will not be saved from this democratic fate by the variety of languages which compose it; indeed, this would be nothing more than another temptation to succumb to such a narrow outlook.
These are but illustrative cases of the inevitable effects of cosmopolitanism, wherever it becomes the attitude of the mass. Cosmopolitanism, for reasons we have suggested, has a dangerous ability, which all other kinds of statefare have so far lacked, to shutter the minds of its citizens and simultaneously to convince them of their unique open-mindedness. It is true, for instance, that men in many nations have been raised to take pride in their very prejudices and closures: but cosmopolitanism alone is able to imbue a man with such blinding pride together with the delusion that he is a paradigm of receptivity and tolerance. As but an example of this difference, the most zealous Crusader of the most zealous eras of Christendom had a tenfold clearer vision of the real nature of Islam and its adherents than does the cosmopolitan urbanite today; the conflict and opposition which characterized the relations of the Crusader to the Muslim impelled him to an in many ways intimate understanding of his foe, which understanding, while for obvious reasons had to remain incomplete, nonetheless far outstrips the shallow and utterly hollow notion which a contemporary liberal entertains of the Muslim as being representative of a simple brotherly ‘culture’ which is fundamentally equal, compatible to, and even interchangeable with all other ‘cultures’.
This blindness exists among us even today, and encroaches upon us all the more rapidly with each passing year; how much the greater then would be its power over men if it were permitted to become the single ruling order of all the world?
Philosophy, that peculiarly Western discipline, first emerged in the wake of the emergence of history, taking this word in its original acceptation, as an investigation or an inquiry. This history was first carried out by men who were given to travelling – voyagers who sojourned in foreign lands and spoke to the inhabitants thereof, and brought back with them the stories of wildly different religions, practices, viewpoints and customs. These reports blew open the natural parochialism of Greek city-states, even that native to Hellas herself, and forced the question of why human ways should differ so dramatically from place to place, and how these differences were to be interpreted – whether as the right customs to radically incompatible types of beings, for instance, or as partial and fragmentary views of the full and just order of human beings as such. But this in turn brought thinking men to a point of view from which they might critique also the limitations in their own political orders; it marked the advent of political philosophy. The homogeneous world state would eradicate this potential by establishing in the place of the present rich and beautiful variety of human ways a single dogmatic and monolithic state, a true ‘global village’ which would force human beings back into the essential ignorance of tribal existence, even while infusing them with the delusion that they had never been so open to the truth.
To men in such conditions, travel would avail naught; real conversation with ‘foreigners’ would be rendered, not only practically impossible, but illusory, by the very eradication of the fundamental difference standing between what is domestic and what is foreign. A man in such a state could travel the width and breadth of the world and return to his starting point none the wiser for all his experience, and every bit as slavish as when he had departed. Indeed, examples of such somnambulistic travellers are common enough already in our own times, in which there still exists at least some potential to break out and to see totally different societies, even within Europe itself if one knows where to go and how to go about it; how much the moreso then would the global cosmopolitan order be subject to such suffocating constraints? This ‘freest’ society of all societies, which indeed makes a cult of ‘freedom’ as no society before it, would be revealed as naught but a prison whose dimensions are coeval with those of the globe itself.
Men, to liberate themselves of the global village, would have but a single recourse remaining them: and that would be the study of the past, of human history, of the radically alternative ideas of the ancients and the tales which have come down to them of previous ‘unfree’ human societies. History once more would provide the doorway into philosophy – only this time, history understood in a much more modern sense. But the availability of this history would in its turn depend on a variety of factors which are far from being given. In the first place, it would require a capacity within the cosmopolitan soul, a kind of faculty for ‘voyaging through time’ – something analogous if not identical to what has been called the ‘historical sense’. For it is the easiest thing in the world to contemn the past for being past, particularly if one lives at the ‘end of history’. A man who would free himself would then have to bring with him into his studies a keen and even unusual capacity to acquire a feeling for past eras, an ability, not only to put himself into the shoes of past humanity, but even to at least momentarily embody in his own being these past ways of seeing and sensing the world. He would have to possess a great fantasy, and more than that a will to forget the present and to let the past infuse him, if only for a a moment, an hour, a day. All of these traits, while they can to some extent at least be cultivated, are far from common even in our own time, which still to some extent cultivates the old nineteenth-century pride in ‘historical sense’. Modernity even now likes to preen itself on its unparalleled knowledge of history. How much the rarer would these gifts become then in a society which would no longer see any real purpose in truly comprehending the past, convinced as it would be that that past had been definitively ‘left behind’, ‘overcome’, ‘consummated’?
If this were the single danger, of course, it would represent only a qualified difficulty, albeit a very grave one; for a man of sufficient individuality and courage could potentially wrench free even of such strong spider webs as these. The much more decisive problem however lies a bit deeper still. Any society which believes that it not only represents but consummates the ‘end of history’ necessarily takes history as its central concern, but history understood in a new and totally negative sense: history as the sum total of what has been surpassed and overcome, history as the mass of error, superstition, warfare, and needless want, squalor, suffering and hardship lying (scientific and economic progress be thanked) behind us. Such a society must possess an adversarial attitude in the face of history, and this is a germ from which easily may spread a pandemic: the infection, that is to say, of suspicion of the past, hostility toward the past, hatred for the past. Such phenomena are not unusual even in our own time; it is totally unnecessary to list here the many slurs which have been invented in modern times – no small number even in recent years – to slander entire epochs and eras of our history, nor the clear manifestation of an antihistorical attitude in such episodes as the tearing down of statues or the rewriting of history books in a new and ‘politically correct’ fashion.
Equally, the ‘end of history’ makes for a deep mistrust of the future; on the fundamental level, nothing can be improved in a society which has culminated history; at most, all that remains to it is the final elaboration of its system, a kind of rounding off and polishing of what has already been attained. The cosmopolitan world order would thus prove itself to be an emphatically ‘conservative’ order, not insofar as it wishes to put the brakes on the mercurial technological or social shifting of its society, but rather insofar as it would be fundamentally and dogmatically closed to any principles, values, philosophies or ideas that stand contrary to it. It would see in all such, not the expression of human individuality or freedom, as it likes to claim in our day, but rather the menace of retrogression and backsliding; for the necessary conclusion to be drawn from the very idea of the ‘end of history’ is that the best social order has been attained, which means necessarily that all alternative social orders represent the inferior, the past, the outdated and overcome. The cosmopolitan world order could not help therefore but see in all contending ideas, all non-cosmopolitan critiques of the social order, all suggested or hypothesized foils to cosmopolitan lifestyles and viewpoints – it cannot help but see in everything which even slightly opposes it sign of ignorance, stupidity, or wanton and stubborn irrationality. What then could possibly compel a cosmopolitan world order to resist the temptation of using its gargantuan and unchallenged political power, its almost universal social support and accord, and its wondrous technological advancements to absolutely crush and undermine the residual signs of even intellectual opposition to its continued existence?
Such a cosmopolitan despotism is still held in check in our time by the fact that tradition has yet to be totally uprooted and the ‘open society’ has yet to be fully implemented; there is still a great mass of people in the lands of the West who possess at least a vestigial reverence for the past and who are not willing to lightly give up the little that remains of memory in our day. But in a homogeneous world state, particularly one of any duration, who could hope that these conservative elements would or could continue to hold the line against the deep corrosion and rot of cosmopolitan antihistoricism? Who or what could finally stop the single world state from establishing a parallel universal system of mandatory ‘education’ or standards for ‘entertainment’, for instance, which, far from training men in the liberal arts, would rather seek to shamelessly (indeed, righteously) inculcate them into the narrow cosmopolitan perspective, as if it were the one and only valid human perspective? Who could stop it from truly bringing the ‘end of history’ – by murdering the same?
The battle for the future is waged ever on the grounds of the past: the revolutionary fervour so characteristic of modern times is every bit as much a desire to forget as a will to change. Cosmopolitanism, that seemingly widest and most magnanimous of all possible human perspectives, is nothing but the wretched glance out of a mere nook and cranny, a squinting view that intentionally blocks out and wilfully ignores the better part of the world in order to provide a safe space for its own crippled notions. In making men equal it would make them equally slaves; in rendering them nationless it would make them perhaps irredeemably fragmentary. By making the world one it would eliminate the very preconditions for a true shift in perspective, and in concluding history, it would transform the past into a grave. Whatever else he might be, the ‘world citizen’ is no longer even a rudimentary human being; he is certainly worlds away from being the consummation and elevation of the same.
1The nearest one might have come to this was the unity reigning in the time of Christendom; yet while this certainly formed a kind of fundamental European religious unity, it was ever qualified on the one hand by the aforementioned variety of European countries, dynasties, cities, peoples etc., and on the other by the existence of the Muslims as an indispensable ‘other’, whose opposition demonstrated with clarity both the physical and ideological boundaries of Christianity. What is peculiar to cosmopolitanism, as we have already noted, is its ability to convince a man that such boundaries do not exist in any but the most imaginary sense.