by Larissa V. Brown
A patriotic cosmopolitan is not an oxymoron. A parochial cosmopolitan is. I am an American who grew up as a cosmopolitan, because my father's work took our family to live all over the world, because my mother came to the United States only after marrying my father, because I learned foreign languages and studied foreign cultures. I was married for a time to a foreigner and neither I nor my then husband ever wanted to change our nationalities, because they were not irrelevant to us. On the contrary, they were integral to our mutual attraction.
I would argue that patriotism and cosmopolitanism are sensibilities and emotional attachments that arise fundamentally out of experience. They have moral, intellectual, and political dimensions, but the most important source of their power is that they are forms of love. Teachers can help people learn to understand and think more clearly about their own society and the world, but formal education cannot make a patriot, and certainly cannot make a cosmopolitan.
A cosmopolitan sensibility arises out of the experience of living among people formed by a different history, culture, and language from one's own. But it is not simply that, because there are plenty of people, from all societies, who live abroad in expatriate subcultures and never become cosmopolitans. A cosmopolitan is curious and respectful of other cultures, but most importantly, he delights in their otherness. At the same time, the cosmopolitan has his own national identity, just as he has a familial and cultural identity. To delight in the variety of human societies is more than a recognition of common human needs and desires. It does not mean a drab moral relativism and abdication of criticism. A cosmopolitan can admire, respect, and enjoy some aspects of a foreign culture and despise others. What a cosmopolitan sensibility is most likely to produce is an understanding that all societies have their own internal debates and struggles about how best to be themselves, whether and how to change.
Patriotism is an emotional attachment to place, to culture, tradition, and often language, symbolized in a political nation. It is not necessarily or most importantly about hierarchy and competition -- "who's number one?" Many of the essayists who wrote in defense of a less desiccated and pernicious version of patriotism than Nussbaum presented still focused on the virtues of the American democratic tradition. Are there no decent patriots in undemocratic countries? Is patriotism simply a loyalty to a particular system of government?
My view of patriotism has an old-fashioned value at its core: the idea of honor. Patriotism is about the honor of a nation. What makes someone a patriot is that she cares about her nation's honor, even though patriots might quarrel over what acts or actions honor or dishonor the national community. This is the sense in which patriotism has moral content for me. Not "my country right or wrong," but "I wish right for my country and I wish my country to do right." In this sense, it is not necessary to be a cosmopolitan to have the sense of moral responsibility to other nations and cultures for which Nussbaum argues.
This brings me to the practical question of how and what to teach students. I don't believe you can teach anyone to be cosmopolitan. However, I'm all in favor of teaching about other societies, particularly those traditionally neglected in our educational system. I spent nearly fifteen years of my life teaching the history and culture of Latin America before abandoning academia. However, I found that studying Latin America was much harder for many students than it had to be because they are very ignorant about the history of their own society and the interplay of dominant and minority cultural traditions within it. This is exactly the same problem encountered by teachers of foreign languages who find that college students incapable of identifying the parts of speech in English have a hard time learning another language.
The important thing that students can learn from other societies is that other peoples have their own distinctive and formative historical, linguistic, and cultural traditions. They don't always agree with us and it's worthwhile to find out what makes them think the way they do. I agree with Nussbaum that learning about others also helps us understand ourselves better. It promotes a certain humility, but also the best kind of patriotism, which is a pleasure and pride in our own distinctive struggles and achievements, along with a capacity to face the hard questions of how we as citizens and our nation as a whole must behave in order to do right.