Responses to Nussbaum
Loyalty to Humanity
My father was a Ghanaian patriot. He once published a column in our local
newspaper under the headline "Is Ghana worth dying for?" and it
was clear that his answer was yes. But he also loved Asante, the region
of Ghana where he and I both grew up, a kingdom absorbed within a British
colony and, then, a region of a new multi-ethnic Republic; a once-kingdom
that he and his father also both loved and served.
When he died, my sisters and I found a note he had drafted, and never quite
finished, last words of love and wisdom for his children. After a few paragraphs
reminding us of our double ancestry -- in Ghana and in England -- he wrote
these words: "Remember, always, that you are citizens of the world."
And he went on to tell us that this meant that wherever we chose to live
-- and, as citizens of the world, we could choose to live anywhere -- we
should make sure we left the world "better than we found it."
My father's example demonstrates for me, more clearly than any abstract
argument, the possibilities that the enemies of cosmopolitanism deny. We
cosmopolitans can be patriots, loving our homelands (not the states where
we were born but the states where we live); our loyalty to humankind --
so vast, so abstract, a unity -- does not deprive us of the capacity to
care for lives nearer by; the notion of a global citizenship can have a
real and practical meaning. Martha Nussbaum's notion of a cosmopolitan education,
and her arguments for it, begin to flesh out further what it would mean,
in a practical way, to raise up a generation of cosmopolitans within the
But my father's example also makes me suspicious of one of Nussbaum's moves:
the move that argues against patriotism (my father's Ghanaian patriotism,
which I want to defend) on the grounds that nationality is, as she says,
"a morally irrelevant characteristic." Later on, she argues that
in "conceding that a morally arbitrary boundary such as the boundary
of the nation has a deep and formative role in our deliberations, we seem
to be depriving ourselves of any principled way of arguing to citizens that
they should in fact join hands" across the "boundaries of ethnicity
and class and gender and race."
I can only say what I think is wrong here if I insist on the distinction
between state and nation. Their conflation is a perfectly natural one for
a modern person, because -- even after Rwanda, Sri Lanka, India, Bosnia,
Azerbaijan . . . -- we so readily identify state and nation. But the yoking
of nation-state in the Enlightenment was intended to bring the arbitrary
boundaries of states into conformity with the "natural" boundaries
of nations; the idea that the boundaries of the state could be arbitrary,
while the boundaries of the nation were not, is easy enough to grasp, once
we are reminded of it.
Not that I want to endorse this essentially Herderian way of thinking: national
identities are not "natural" things that grow independently of
states and politics. A nation is an "imagined community" of culture
and ancestry running beyond the scale of the face-to-face and seeking political
expression for itself. And all the nations I can think of that are not coterminous
with states are the legacy of older state arrangements; as Asante is in
what has become Ghana; as are the Serbian and Croatian nations in what used
to be Yugoslavia.
Indeed, I want to emphasize the possibility of distinguishing nation and
state to make a point entirely opposite to Herder's: namely that, if anything
is morally arbitrary, it is not the state but the nation. Since human beings
live in political orders narrower than the species; and since it is within
those political orders that questions of public right and wrong are largely
argued out and decided, the fact of being a fellow-citizen of yours -- someone
who is a member of the same order -- is not morally arbitrary at all.
The nation, on the other hand, is arbitrary; but not in a way that permits
us to discard it in our moral reflections. It is arbitrary in the root sense
of that term; because it is, in the Oxford English Dictionary's formulation,
"dependent upon will or pleasure." Nations often matter more to
people than states: non-existent mono-ethnic Serbia makes more sense than
existing multicultural Bosnia; a Hutu (or a Tutsi) Rwanda makes more sense
than a peaceful shared citizenship of Tutsi and Hutu; only when Britain
or France became nations as well as states did ordinary citizens come to
care about being French or British. But notice that the reason nations matter
is that they matter to people. Nations matter morally, when they do, in
other words, for the same reason that football and opera matter: as things
desired by autonomous agents, whose autonomous desires we ought to acknowledge
and take account of, even if we cannot always accede to them. If people
were to give up their more brutal attachments to the nation -- as Nussbaum's
cosmopolitan education would surely make them do -- the nation would come
to matter less.
States, on the other hand, matter intrinsically: they matter not because
people care about them, but because they regulate our lives through forms
of coercion that will always require moral justification. As Hobbes saw,
the state, to do its job, has to have a monopoly of certain forms of authorized
coercion: and the exercise of that authority matters even in places where
people have no feeling for the state at all.
There is, then, no need for the cosmopolitan to claim that the state is
morally arbitrary, in the way that I have suggested the nation is. There
are many reasons to think that living in political communities narrower
than the species is better for us than would be our engulfment in a single
world-state: a cosmopolis of which we cosmopolitans would be not figurative
but literal citizens. It is because humans live best on a smaller scale
that we should defend not just the state, but the county, the town, the
street, the business, the craft, the profession, the family, as communities,
as circles among the many circles narrower than the human horizon, that
are appropriate spheres of moral concern. (Nussbaum agrees with this when
she says that "the student in the United States, for example, may continue
to regard herself as in part defined by her particular loves . . . even
for her country.")
We should, in short, as cosmopolitans, defend the right of others to live
in democratic states of which they can be patriotic citizens; and, as cosmopolitans,
we can claim that right for ourselves. Martha Nussbaum's global education
would not only make us care more than we do about human beings elsewhere,
it would provide us with the knowledge to bring that concern respectfully
and intelligently to bear in thinking about how our state -- and the many
narrower and wider associations of which we are a part -- should act in
relation to others.
Harvey C. Mansfield
Martha Nussbaum is one of the most eminent female philosophy professors
of our time, but when it comes to politics, she's a girl scout. Indeed,
she has less useful acquaintance with American politics than a schoolchild
of either sex who has recently been exposed to the Declaration of Independence
and the Constitution -- unless, thanks to the foolish cosmopolitanism she
encourages, these items are no longer in the curriculum.
I can see why Professor Nussbaum rejects the groundless patriotism of Richard
Rorty, which is truly liable to being perverted into jingoism or worse.
But she seems to agree with him that a reasonable patriotism is impossible,
and so she leaps to the opposite of patriotism and concludes that we all
ought to become citizens of the world. For this acrobatic counter-move to
Professor Rorty she claims the support, or the authority, of the Stoics
and of Kant. Why does she ignore the liberalism and the constitutionalism
of the country in which she lives?
The Declaration of Independence is not jingoistic. It shows a "decent
respect for the opinions of mankind." It explains that the independence
of America is not "morally arbitrary," as Professor Nussbaum loftily
asserts, but rather the result of the consent of the people. Their consent
is the exercise of a right they have in virtue of their human nature; so
the particular is not arbitrary but rooted in a universal. The Constitution
is also the result of consent. It represents, said Alexander Hamilton, an
attempt to provide a model for mankind of good government from "reflection
and choice" as opposed to "accident and force." It provides
a structure carefully designed to empower reasonable majorities and to frustrate
In sum, the cure for noxious patriotism is not cosmopolitanism but democratic
government. Has Professor Nussbaum not heard the commonplace truth, available
in Kant as well as the magazines, that democracies do not fight one another?
Of course, democracy is not a guarantee of perfection, as we know from American
history; but it accords better with the facts of our nature than does cosmopolitanism.
Although we are arbitrarily born in this country rather than that, we are
necessarily born in a country, not in "the world." Our purview
is limited. We can be generous to other countries, but rather out of self-respect
than for the sake of universal justice by which any foreigner has the same
claim on us as a fellow-citizen. A bored observer might like to see a presidential
election in which the Democrats nominate Aristide and the Republicans, Fujimori;
but I can't think this would improve our children's education.
Professor Nussbaum badly misrepresents Stoic cosmopolitanism. It was not
intended as the basis of politics, as she maintains; it was disdainful of
politics. It did not care about global hunger, ecology, women's liberation,
abortion, or any other of Professor Nussbaum's causes. It addressed the
reason in every man, expecting to be heard, however, only by the few who
give themselves entirely to reason. Only the philosopher could be a citizen
of the world. No possible government could ever be impartial enough to be
truly cosmopolitan; hence the Stoics were compelled to entrust the government
of the world to divine providence, which is not mentioned by Professor Nussbaum.
She seems to have contracted a bad habit of trying to make philosophy edifying
-- of calling it to the aid of her politics. In this she agrees once again
with Professor Rorty, who notoriously believes in the priority of democracy
Martha Nussbaum begins and ends her essay with stories of marriage. In the
first, a woman is seduced by nationalism -- and a nationalist -- only to
recognize that she ought more properly to have submitted to her (cosmopolitan)
husband, the feudal landlord. In the closing story, a woman finds her fulfillment
in public copulation with her (cosmopolitan) husband. In each story's "happy
ending" the woman submits herself entirely to the will and superior
judgment of her husband.
To turn these stories into parables of cosmopolitanism Nussbaum has to overlook
feudalism, patriarchy, the strategic course of nationalist struggles in
India, and any questions that might arise concerning the virtues of public
copulation. To make the case for cosmopolitanism, she has to overlook a
little more. The great scriptural religions that treated all men as brothers
saw it as their duty to extend that fraternity indefinitely. The 19th century
colonizers who sought to spread the light of democracy, constitutionalism,
and fair-play to the benighted domains of Oriental despotism, saw their
deliberate attempts at acculturation and assimilation as efforts to achieve
the end that Nussbaum assigns to all virtuous cosmopolitans.
Our task as citizens of the world, she writes, will be to make "all
human beings more like our fellow city dwellers." Cosmopolitanism here
collapses into a parochialism narrower than nationalism, and species-being
uniformity becomes the end of a project of cultural cloning. Self-subversion
and moral dangers do not appear to be limited to nationalism.
Cosmopolitanism, then, has some of the vices Nussbaum fears in nationalism.
Moreover, nationalism has the capacity to cultivate virtues: the same virtues,
in fact, that Nussbaum claims are so well served by cosmopolitanism. Nationalism
teaches a sense of limits. A sense of limits discourages us from the simple
vices of theft and adultery, cultivates the more subtle virtues of temperance
and toleration, and encourages qualities which, if they are not virtues,
are highly admirable: decency, a sense of propriety, and elegance. The recognition
that there are lands that do not belong to us discourages nations from conquest
as it discourages individuals from theft. The recognition that there are
practices that are not proper to us is necessary to a sense of decency,
while the recognition that those same practices belong to others obliges
us to acknowledge that what is indecency in us may be not only decent but
beautiful and admirable in another. Nussbaum, for her part, appears to admire
the ascetic Gandhi and the exhibitionist Crates. The public copulation that
appears virtuous (or at least impressive) in the case of Crates would be
no virtue in Gandhi. There are different moral goods and morally good lives,
and these are not always consonant with one another -- that, too, is a lesson
one can learn from nationalism.
Eros Against Esperanto
When I saw the title of Martha Nussbaum's essay, I was excited because I
admire the author and because the two words yoked as her topic raise essential
matters. My disappointment with what she has written is balanced by respect
for what she begins to open.
The patriotic and the cosmopolitan: these are not mere ideas, they are feelings,
indeed they are forms of love, with all the terror that word should imply.
In many ways they are opposed forms of love, suggesting a primal conflict:
if patriotism suggests the pull of a parental home, cosmopolitanism suggests
the pull of the marketplace, the downtown plaza. (I am told that the oldest
meaning of kosmos is "village.") Nussbaum's essay expresses fear
toward the eros of patriotism, but fails to imagine a counterbalancing eros
of the cosmopolitan. For the cosmopolitan she substitutes the universal,
a more abstract, less historical conception. This error is like confusing
an historical tongue such as English with a construct like Esperanto.
The cosmopolitan is local, and it is historical.
The conflict between home and marketplace, hearth and agora, known and unknown,
may have some special poignancies for the United States. Genres we invented
like the Western and the gangster movie appeal in an almost formulaic way
to rapid change across generations that migrate outward and away from what
was home. The forms of jazz and rock embody the eclectic, syncretic interchange
of colliding origins. Never united by being a single folk culture, still
less united under any ancient aristocracy, we have at our best improvised
an ever-shifting culture palpably in motion -- a culture, I would say, that
clarifies the fact that all cultures are motion. Insofar as the chauvinist
refers to any human group or making as a static purity, the chauvinist elevates
At our best, we contain multitudes -- multitudes not merely of souls, but
of patrias: the paradox of a culturally polyglot, ever more syncretic homeland
-- a cosmopolitan patria. At our worst, we protect some thin idea of our
homeland with the fierce, despairing paranoia of the profoundly rootless.
This is a basic, ancient conflict. The paradoxical ideal of reconciling
the pull of home and of market, the patriotic and the cosmopolitan, is an
underlying energy of the Odyssey, epic of seagoing pirate-traders who believed
both in venturing out on Poseidon's ocean -- the hero learns the ways of
many different peoples, say the first lines -- to seek profit and gloss,
and in coming home to Ithaca. Martha Nussbaum raises the pertinent question
of what this conflict should mean in the present.
But alas, her essay is provincial; it stays within the language and conceptions
of a narrow place. In her first paragraph, she defines the cosmopolitan
as "the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human
beings in the entire world." Based on her "experience working
on international quality-of-life issues in an institute for development
economics connected with the United Nations," she defines knowledge
of other countries as "their histories, problems, and comparative successes."
She suggests that the young study these "problems and comparative successes"
and that they "be taught that they are above all citizens of a world
of human beings with the citizens of other countries." She sees India,
of all places -- India, container of many universes of mores, arts, sights,
smells, languages, dances, poetries, sexualities, colors, gods, horrors
and ecstasies -- as one of a series of concentric circles, with its problems
of hunger and pollution related to "larger problems of global hunger
and global ecology." On behalf of the largest, outer circle of the
universal, she reassures us that "we need not give up our special affections
and identifications, whether ethnic or gender based or religious."
My criticism of these arid formulations is not merely stylistic, though
their sterility points to their weakness. Nussbaum is a gifted writer, but
the sentences she lapses into here present a view of the world that would
be true only if people were not driven by emotions. These formulas about
concentric circles and global community would be valid only if cultures
and nations were as static and lucid as so many bar graphs and pie charts.
We do share only one world and set of resources, but we cannot deal with
such facts by declaring, as by UN resolution, that we are a community.
I have the impression that some of the fiercest nationalisms and ethnocentrisms
of the world are fueled in part by resentment toward people like ourselves:
happily situated members of large, powerful nations, prosperous and mobile
individuals, able to serve on UN commissions, who participate in symposia,
who plan the fates of other peoples while flying around the world and staying
in splendid hotels. Shouldn't this reality be the starting place of such
discussions? -- or at least included in them? Shouldn't we recognize that
our own view, too, is local?
In short, Nussbaum falls into the formulation of one peculiar province,
the village of the liberal managerial class. I do not mean to be excessively
scornful towards this conceptual village, a realm where the folk arts are
United Nations institute reports and curriculum reform committees and enlightened
social administration: like other villages it has within it valuable customs
and individuals. But its inhabitants characteristically fail, as Nussbaum
so spectacularly fails, to achieve precisely what she calls for -- understanding
others, comprehending the eros of what is different from home through the
eros of home. To put it very simply, I think that her essay fails to respect
the nature of patriotism and similar forms of love.
Nussbaum quotes Marcus Aurelius: "Accustom yourself not to be inattentive
to what another person says, and as far as possible enter into that person's
mind. . . . Generally, one must first learn many things before one can judge
another's action with understanding." The weight of these quotations,
for me, is to warn us how extreme an act of imagination attention to the
other must be, in order to succeed even a little. Embedded in what Marcus
Aurelius says is a caution against the arrogance that would correct your
provinciality with the cosmopolitanism of my terms. The Muslim or Marxist
or Rastafarian might draw Nussbaum's same Stoic diagram of concentric circles,
but the labels would build toward a different, less cozy idea of the universal.
Lecturing us about "jingoism" is but another form of provinciality.
Attachments to homeland or group are forms of love. I have spoken of the
terror that word entails. When patriotism takes horrible forms, the ruling
force is not some logical error, but the distortions of passion. Until Nussbaum
follows the advice of Marcus Aurelius and understands "as far possible"
the erotic component of the assassination of the World Cup player whose
blunder caused his country's defeat, she is only talking to her fellow villagers
-- which is to say, she is only talking.
Yet her project is noble, for she is asking, implicitly, whether there is
in fact an eros of the marketplace equal to the eros of patria. Levi-Strauss
raises this question more darkly in Tristes Topiques by positing the idea
that the marketplace removes differences, reduces distinctions, and effaces
delicate structures. Does the place of interchange destroy cultures by homogenization,
or does it foster culture by a kind of chemical reaction? Unwittingly, the
aridity of Nussbaum's Universal -- a realm where even "copulation"
becomes a matter of principle -- suggests the bleaker likelihood.
Nussbaum presents her ideas as a set of suggestions for educating the young.
The utopianism of her formulations is so bloodless that I would sooner stick
with what is: with the varying, feeble mixture of vague "basics"
and half-hearted, constantly changing special area "studies" that
the young presently get from -- well, from the marketplace. By omission,
Nussbaum makes an inadvertent argument for studying works of imagination.
As to the threat of our own patriotism, the erotic spirit of the cosmopolitan
does exist, to balance it or temper it. Maybe it is the powerful seduction
of the marketplace that creates a defensive, viciously paternal protectiveness
in nationalism, ethnocentrism, and other "patriotic" ideologies.
Yet, certain other instances of regionalism, ethnic pride, afición,
even outright patriotism, can seem cosmopolitan to me -- maybe because I
grew up when many immigrant families routinely flew the flag on national
holidays, with no meaning of self-righteousness or reactionary politics.
Even the very flag itself: this summer, in the hilly farm country around
Saratoga, New York, near the Erie Canal, I saw a line of laundry hung between
a telephone pole and the window of a tidy-looking apartment over a country
grocery store -- the classic procession of clean clothes in the sun, and
pinned at the end nearest the window an American flag. The informality and
idiosyncrasy of this gesture -- practical, intuitive, inventive, and resourceful
in the way of Odysseus -- seemed in the spirit of the cosmopolitan to me,
as patriotic gestures go, because it put the flag into the world of daily
life, flapping above the market downstairs.
In order to discuss afición, it may be necessary to risk the accusation
of sentimentality. For me the spirit that reconciles the homeward and outward
forms of eros was represented, before I had any of these terms, by the Brooklyn
Dodgers: the team of Jackie Robinson and of Roy Campanella, the Italian-African-American
catcher, the team adored by a borough that was in certain ways to New York
as New York was to the country: historic and raw, vulgar and urbane, many-tongued
and idiosyncratic, a borough of Hispanic blacks and Swedish carpenters,
provincial enough to have its own newspaper yet worldly beyond measure,
commercial and outward, a marketplace if there ever was one.
This ideal is not universal, but historical. It is not provincial, yet it
is local. It is not chauvinistic, but generous and egalitarian. It is an
act of the imagination, and it corresponds to reality.
One might object that actual Brooklyn was far uglier than I supposed in
my afición for the Dodgers. One might add that not only was I a child,
but except for trips to Ebbetts Field I was not even in Brooklyn -- I was
in a small town on the Jersey Shore. Nevertheless, that Brooklyn of the
Dodgers is a cultural reality shared by many, and I am proud to be among
them. Call it patriotism.
The Brooklyn of the Dodgers has changed, it is gone, as gone as the Dodgers
are gone. But it was always gone, everything is going, going, gone, because
culture is change, it is movement: that is the knowledge of the cosmopolitan,
and only the embrace of this form of change has the erotic appeal to counterbalance
patriotism. And there is a present, successor Brooklyn that presumably contains
some excellence that we can predict no more than the aged Henry James could
predict, in the streets of the East Side that overwhelmed and depressed
him, the already living soul of George Gershwin. It is the appeal of unknown
coasts and islands that counterbalance the love of our Ithaca -- which is
itself an unknown island, terrible and alluring.
For the Sake of Reason?
Like most of my contemporaries, I have inherited or acquired more than one
"identity" -- I am an American, a practicing Jew, a late 20th
century philosopher. But it would never occur to me to say that I am a "citizen
of the world." If I were asked, for example, why discrimination is
wrong, I would not say "because we are all citizens of the world."
Martha Nussbaum's challenging piece has forced me to think about why this
To a fellow theist, I might say "because we are all made in the image
of God." To someone to whom this would seem absurd, I might quote Dickens's
beautiful remark (in "A Christmas Carol") about Scrooge's coming
to see other people as "fellow passengers to the grave," or mention
Primo Levi's haunting statement that the look an official in the concentration
camp gave him "was not the look a man gives a man." (Cora Diamond
called both of these passages to my attention.) That someone is a fellow
human being, a fellow passenger to the grave, has moral weight for me; "citizen
of the world" does not.
But why not? Well, I can understand the idea of patriotism as loyalty to
a good constitution (written or unwritten), but there is no such thing as
a world constitution. Nor is there any such thing as a world way of life
(thank God). But what is wrong with Martha Nussbaum's idea of "universal
reason" as that to which the "cosmopolitan" owes loyalty?
This sounds to me like "Voltaire's conception of enlightenment as being
identical in essentials wherever it is attained," a conception that
implies that "Byron would have been happy at table with Confucius .
. . and Seneca in the salon of Madame du Deffand" (Isaiah Berlin).
I am no cultural relativist. There is such a thing as reasoning well about
moral issues, but it does not need a funny something called "universal
reason" to guarantee its possibility. And actual reasoning is necessarily
always situated within one or another historical tradition. To be sure,
members of different traditions can enter into discussion and debate. But
in such discussions we typically find ourselves forced to renegotiate our
understanding of reason itself. It is, in part, because "reason"
calls for such endless renegotiation that it cannot function as a neutral
source of values for "world citizens" to live by, while they view
their cultural inheritances as if they were merely the loved (to be sure)
but regrettably parochial family one happens to have. We all have to live
and judge from within our particular inheritance(s), while remaining open
to insights and criticisms from outside.
Martha Nussbaum's eloquent essay has a more convoluted background than appears
in her text. Richard Rorty's attack on American intellectuals on the left
for lacking patriotism responded to a piece I had written for The New York
Times questioning the value of the National Endowment for the Humanities'
"National Conversation." After this exchange, and presentations
on the MacNeil/Lehrer news program by NEH chairman Sheldon Hackney, myself,
and others, the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago organized a meeting attended
by various people who figure in this debate.
At this meeting, it was clear that the government people wanted to dissociate
themselves from the red-baiting overtones of Rorty's attack. Forty years
ago, the repressive assertion of "American" values and the primacy
of America among nations prevented serious debate about fissures within
American society; the current NEH program, like US Information Agency (USIA)
efforts to present America abroad hopes instead to acknowledge the fissures
while asserting the common ground of American identity in which they occur.
What could possibly be wrong with such an open, truly liberal effort?
Martha Nussbaum says she is made "very uneasy" about this project
because the nation "is a morally arbitrary boundary." Her cosmopolitanism
is global in scope, and its moral inclusiveness is practical as well, since
the United States belongs to a global economy and ecology. Nussbaum's essay
is suffused with a Kantian optimism; she believes particular human interests
are best served by thinking of humanity as a whole. My objections to the
projects launched by the NEH and the USIA come from a darker sense of cosmopolitanism
in the conduct of everyday life.
Early Christian writers thought concern for others arose from recognizing
the insufficiencies of the self. Only when we have come to acknowledge the
fractures, self-destructiveness, and irresolvable conflicts of desires within
ourselves will we be prompted to turn outward, St. Augustine wrote -- to
cross boundaries, to care for others unlike ourselves. Milton's Paradise
Lost retells that Christian homily in Adam and Eve's expulsion from the
Garden: the first humans lost Paradise because of their bodily desires;
but in their unhappiness they became adults rather than God's children,
interrogating an unbounded, unfamiliar world. This is cosmopolitanism in
the Christian sense: openness to the needs of others comes from ceasing
to dream of this world made whole.
The Christian ethos of the sinner turning toward others supposed a different
understanding of the human body than that evoked by Martha Nussbaum when
she speaks of the Stoic belief in "the entire world of human beings
as a single body, its many people as so many limbs." For St. Augustine,
each human body is incoherent in sensation; the human limbs of the social
body do not function coordinately in perception. The ethical faculties of
human beings respond to such bodily disorder; malfunctioning human bodies
turn toward one another in mutual need.
This traditional ethic of mutual need may seem far from current culture
wars: it put a positive value on shame and guilt in human affairs, while
those who today assert the dignity of their race, gender, or desire aim
precisely to remove the burdens of shame and guilt from their identities.
Moreover, this self-despairing openness conflicted over the course of history
with the desire of believers to establish exclusively Christian nations
or pure Christian communities. And yet, I think, to reflect on cosmopolitanism
in relation to human insufficiency has great meaning in a secular era.
The identities asserted in the culture wars do not and cannot make for coherent
and complete selves; they arise from fissures in the larger social fabric;
they contain its contradictions and its injustice. If we remove the burden
of guilt or shame the larger society places on these identities, they still
remain necessarily incomplete versions of any individual's particular experience.
One response to this incompleteness is to attempt closure, to treat race,
gender, or sexual desire as constituting something like national boundaries.
Another is to accept incompleteness, treating the fragments of identity
of which every life is composed as creating a mosaic, a condition which
Stuart Hall calls "hybrid identity."
Much of what passes for multiculturalism in the United States pursues the
first course, and rejects the second. But this weakens the political potency
of difference -- as when Afrocentrism affirms the coherence of racial identity
rather than challenging the prejudicial biology of race itself, or when
queer theory affirms the unities of homosexual experience rather than deconstructing
the boundaries between homosexuality and heterosexual desire. Power's most
seductive weapon of repression is to divide experience into authorized territories.
To reject the territory allotted us, to say our lives are insufficient on
any one terrain, is to insist on a more sociable, truly cosmopolitan existence.
It's a sociological error to think that unity is the necessary result of
social exchange, a liberal error to imagine that the more people interact,
the more they become well disposed to one another. If there is a need for
discussion about the differences which exist in our society, a full and
probing discussion is unlikely to lead to the result desired by Sheldon
Hackney, Arthur Schlesinger, and other celebrants of national unity and
"the American character." Indeed, the patriotic pride espoused
by Rorty and the more open liberal agenda of the government strike me as
exercises in nostalgia. The cosmopolitan values affirmed in Martha Nussbaum's
essay are more truly contemporary, addressing the problem of how to live
in difference, not how to transcend difference. Christians turned to each
other out of guilt; perhaps our sociability will take root in confrontation,
and anger will modulate into mutual recognition. St. Augustine knew that
human lives were necessarily, irremediably incomplete; we need to re-learn
that lesson in other, secular terms. Cosmopolitanism is both a very old
and a very new ethical vision.
Benjamin R. Barber
Writing in the great tradition of Kant and the Stoics, Martha Nussbaum deploys
the noble ideal of cosmopolitanism against the manifold parochialisms of
patriotism, nationalism, and ethnicity. She is especially unhappy with recent
American attempts at adducing a national identity because they risk substituting
a "colorful idol for the substantive values of justice and right."
She wants us to emulate Tagore's Nikhil and resist the temptations of an
American Bande Mataram, which she sees lurking behind the appeals of Sheldon
Hackney or Richard Rorty to a national conversation about values and a new
I have two problems with Nussbaum's admirable exercise in Kantian universalism.
First, she underappreciates the success of the American experiment in grafting
the sentiments of patriotism onto a constitutional frame defined precisely
by the "substantive values of justice and right" she prizes. And
second, she underestimates the thinness of cosmopolitanism and the crucial
humanizing role played by identity politics in a deracinating world of contracts,
markets, and legal personhood. Patriotism has its pathologies, but so does
cosmopolitanism. Because she misjudges these two elements, she is unduly
alarmed about what has been a remarkably successful and undogmatic constitutional
exercise in American exceptionalism and unduly frightened of efforts to
refocus American patriotism and community in an era of individualism and
privatizing markets. In an overly tribalized world, cosmopolitanism might
be a useful counterpoint. But ours is a world disenchanted in which Gemeinschaft
and neighborhood have for the most part been supplanted by Gesellschaft
and bureaucracy. What we require are healthy, democratic forms of local
community and civic patriotism rather than abstract universalism and the
thin gruel of contract relations. I will comment in turn on these two misjudgments.
American national identity has from the start been a remarkable mixture
of cosmopolitanism and parochialism. The colonists and later the founders
understood themselves to be engaged in a novel process of uprooting and
rerooting. In his celebrated Letters from an American Farmer, St. John Crevecoeur
sets the tone for America's new form of patriotism, conceived precisely
to counter the religious parochialism and persecutions from which immigrants
to America were fleeing. American patriotism was itself the counter to the
very evils Nussbaum associates with American patriotism. Crevecoeur solemnizes
the creation of a "new man" in "the great American asylum
[where] . . . everything tended to regenerate [men] . . . new laws, a new
mode of living, a new social system: here they are become men; in Europe
they were so many useless plants . . . [here] they have taken root and flourished."
How has that happened? "By what power hath this surprising metamorphosis
been performed? By that of the laws." American civic identity is invented
to bar the confessional wars Nussbaum fears it will occasion.
Jefferson himself echoes Crevecoeur when he writes "Let this be the
distinctive mark of an American, that in cases of commotion he enlists under
no man's banner, but repairs to the standard of the law." And just
a few years later the feisty English emigrant Frances Wright, herself unable
to vote, nonetheless joined in celebrating the new American patriotism,
seeming to remonstrate explicitly with Nussbaum: "What is it to be
an American?," Wright asks. "Is it to have drawn the first breath
in Maine, in Pennsylvania, in Florida, or in Missouri? Pshaw! Hence with
such paltry, pettifogging calculations of nativities! They are Americans
who have complied with the constitutional regulations of the United States.
. . . wed the principles of America's declaration to their hearts and render
the duties of American citizens practically to their lives." Still
more recently, Justice Frankfurter spoke of the need "to shed old loyalties
and take on the loyalty of American citizenship" which is a kind of
"fellowship which binds people together by devotion to certain feelings
and ideas and ideals summarized as a requirement that they be attached to
the principles of the constitution."
Elsewhere, I have tried to sum up this approach to Americanism by suggesting
that "from the outset, then, to be an American was also to be enmeshed
in a unique story of freedom, to be free (or to be enslaved) in a novel
sense, more existential than political or legal. Even in colonial times,
the new world meant starting over again, meant freedom from rigid and heavily
freighted traditional cultures. Deracination was the universal experience.
. . . To be an American was not to acquire a new race or a new religion
or a new culture, it was to possess a new set of political ideas" (An
Aristocracy of Everyone).
The American trick was to use the fierce attachments of patriotic sentiment
to bond a people to high ideals. Our "tribal" sources from which
we derive our sense of national identity are the Declaration of Independence,
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Inaugural Addresses of our
Presidents, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King's sermon
at the 1963 March on Washington ("Free at Last") -- not so much
the documents themselves as the felt sentiments tying us to them, sentiments
that are rehearsed at July 4th parades and in Memorial Day speeches. If
Sheldon Hackney wants to recreate a sense of such patriotic rhetoric among
ordinary Americans, he surely is more likely to strengthen than to imperil
the civic fabric and the American commitment to cosmopolitan ideals.
At times, Nussbaum seems to come close to recognizing as much, acknowledging
that even among cosmopolitans the circles must be drawn towards the center.
But she is distrustful, worrying that in the end patriotism, however conceived,
is "close to jingoism." She seems diffident in the face of the
actual ideals that animate American patriotism -- however little realized
they may be. Yet it is precisely these ideals that give parochial America
its global appeal, these ideals that afforded Lincoln the opportunity to
claim that America might yet be the "last best hope" for people
everywhere, these ideals that draw peoples damaged by toxic patriotisms
elsewhere to American shores. Justice Hugo Black captured America's patriotic
idealism in the phrase "constitutional faith." More recently,
Sanford Levinson wrote a lively testament to Black's idea -- also called
Constitutional Faith. At its best (it often is not at its best), America's
civic nativism is, then, a celebration of internationalism, a devotion to
values with cosmopolitan reach. The cosmopolitanization of such values has
even gotten America in trouble (in Mexico under Wilson, in Vietnam under
Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, perhaps now in Haiti as well) -- a reminder
to Nussbaum that cosmopolitanism too has its pathologies and can also breed
its own antiseptic version of imperialism.
My second objection to Nussbaum's worries is that, though she is not entirely
unmindful of the problem, she finally understates the thinness of cosmopolitanism.
Like such kindred ideas as legal personhood, contract society, and the economic
market, the idea of cosmopolitanism offers little or nothing for the human
psyche to fasten on. By her own admission, it "seems to have a hard
time gripping the imagination." Not just the imagination: the heart,
the viscera, the vitals of the body that houses the brain in which Nussbaum
would like us to dwell. No one actually lives "in the world of which
the cosmopolitan wishes us to be good citizens. Rather, we live in this
particular neighborhood of the world, that block, this valley, that seashore,
this family. Our attachments start parochially and only then grow outwards.
To bypass them in favor of an immediate cosmopolitanism is to risk ending
up nowhere -- feeling at home neither at home nor in the world. This is
the lesson of America's tempestuous multicultural politics: to become an
American, women and men must first identify as African-Americans or Polish-Americans
or Jewish-Americans or German-Americans; to acquire the dignity of natural
citizens they must first take pride in their local communities. Diogenes
may have regarded himself a citizen of the world, but global citizenship
demands of its patriots levels of abstraction and disembodiment most women
and men will be unable or unwilling to muster -- at least in the first instance.
Like Ibsen's Pastor Brand, Nussbaum urges her parishioners up the harsh
and lonely mountain to an abstract Godhead they cannot see. As ordinary
women and men, they soon fall away from the quest and return to the loving
warmth of their hearthsides in the valley below. Brand continues on his
selfless mission, to which he has sacrificed wife, child, and parish, only
to discover, too late, too late, on the mountain top, at the moment of his
death, that God to whom he has given all is not the master of an abstract
universe but the God of love who wants nothing more for Brand than that
he love and care for those in his immediate circle down in the valley.
Nussbaum acknowledges that "becoming a citizen of the world is often
a lonely business" and her mentors (Marcus Aurelius, Emerson, Thoreau)
are not only solitary intellectuals who march to a different drum, but heroic
figures like Brand. Nussbaum's cosmopolitanism also has something of the
heroic about it, a Nietzschean quality that seems intolerant of ordinary
needs and the democratic taste for the neighborhood. For the American everyman
(everywoman), the representative poet is not Emerson but Whitman, not Thoreau
but Woody Guthrie, bards who praised the handiwork of Lincoln and Roosevelt
and who would have us travel together as comrades, drinking in the immediacy
and the immensity of the American landscape, celebrating the neighborhood
while urging neighbors to extend their circles of fellowship.
Nussbaum defines the cosmopolitan as a "person whose primary allegiance
is to the community of human beings in the entire world," but Whitman's
allegiance is initially to the farmer, the sailor, the miner, and the shipwright.
And when Guthrie sings of the American land, he sings the specifics: "This
land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York
Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters . . ." Is
Guthrie's rooted love of America incompatible with justice? Hardly. In nearly
every song, he transmutes that love into a demand for justice. The poetry
of Langston Hughes practices the same patriotic/civic alchemy when it pleads:
"Let America be America again," appealing not to disembodied cosmopolitanism,
but to the unrealized American values that are the country's embodied soul:
O, let America be America again --
The land that never has been yet --
And yet must be -- the land where everyone is free.
The land that's mine -- the poor man's, Indian's
Negro's, ME --
Whitman, Guthrie, and Hughes have "sung America" in a voice of
loving devotion that insists the country live up to its aspirations. The
old cliché has it that those who love humankind in general often
cannot abide individual women or men in particular (Moliere's Misanthrope).
Our wise American poets prudently ask us to kindle an affection for the
general by reveling in the particular.
I recommend Whitman and Guthrie and Hughes to Nussbaum. They will remind
her that love of homeland is not just a matter of "color," the
odd term she employs repeatedly in trying to rally a little sympathy in
herself for patriots. As if she were a tourist from some black and white
rationalist utopia touring the technicolor slums of some National Geographic
tribal culture teeming with multi-hued, brightly-feathered natives. But
patriotism is more than color, and when it is reduced to color, the color
is all too often blood-red: for it speaks to the power of the visceral human
need to belong -- if only by virtue of imagined identities and contrived
"others" whose exclusion (or extermination) helps draw the boundaries.
The question is not how to do without patriotism and nationalism but how
to render them safe. A civic patriotism that eschews exclusion but meets
the need for parochial identity can provide an alternative to the many pathological
versions of blood kinship that are around today in places like ex-Yugoslavia,
Romania, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Nigeria, the Ukraine, and Afghanistan, to name
just a few. I am completing a study of this kind of fractiousness, which
I subsume under the term Jihad (the book is called Jihad versus McWorld,
"McWorld" being my name for the toxic cosmopolitanism of global
markets). But Jihad is a sickness of the national body and cannot be treated
with remedies aimed at detaching the soul from it. Pathological patriotism
can be cured only by healthy patriotism, jingoism only by a pacific constitutional
faith, destructive nationalism only by liberal nationalism (in the title
of Yael Tamir's new book), separatist, exclusionary ethnicity only by multicultural
ethnicity. If the tribes of traditional community are dangerous, then we
need to find forms of egalitarian, democratic, and voluntarist communities
that render tribalism safe. Cosmopolitanism as an attitude may help us in
that effort, but cosmopolitanism as a political destination is more likely
to rob us of our concreteness and our immediacy and ultimately can only
benefit the less wholesome aspects of the yearning for community and identity.
Of course Nussbaum may wish to say that if (as I have argued) parochialism
is the safest way to cosmopolitanism, cosmopolitanism can also be a road
to parochialism. That at least is the lesson I draw from her final citation
from the noble Crates. Cosmopolitans who copulate in public and then go
off to dinner parties? This is the kind of cosmopolitanism even the earthiest
of parochials can understand.
Neither Patriotism, Nor Cosmopolitanism
The merits of patriotism and cosmopolitanism are not abstract, and certainly
not universal. We live in a deeply unequal world. As a result, the options
we have vary according to our social location, and the consequences of acting
as a "world citizen" are very different depending on time and
space. Had there not been swadeshi, India would still be a British colony.
Would this have served Kantian morality more? This Gandhi understood, and
Tagore did not.
Those who are strong -- strong politically, economically, socially -- have
the option of aggressive hostility towards the weak (xenophobia) or magnanimous
comprehension of "difference." In either case, they remain privileged.
Those who are weak, or at least weaker, will only overcome disadvantage
(even partially) if they insist on the principles of group equality. To
do this effectively, they may have to stimulate group consciousness -- nationalism,
ethnic assertiveness, etc. Mandela's nationalism was not morally the same
thing as Afrikaner nationalism. One was the nationalism of the oppressed
(Blacks oppressed by Whites) seeking to end oppression. The other started
as the nationalism of the oppressed (Afrikaners oppressed by English speakers)
but developed into the nationalism of the oppressor (apartheid).
What is the concrete situation in the United States today? As of 1945, the
United States became the hegemonic power in the world system -- by far the
most powerful nation economically, militarily, politically, and even culturally.
Its official ideological line was triple: America is the world's greatest
country (narrow nationalism); America is the leader of the "free world"
(the nationalism of the wealthy, White countries); America is the defender
of the universal values of individual liberty and freedom of opportunity
(justified in terms of Kantian categorical imperatives).
The US government and moral spokesmen saw no difficulty in making all three
assertions simultaneously. Most persons were unaware of the internal inconsistency
of this triple stance. But "others" -- at least certain others
-- saw the stance as nothing more than a justification, a legitimation of
US privilege and domination. They often found it easiest to attack the hypocrisy
of American "Kantianism" by asserting the liturgy of national
The world has moved on. The United States is not as strong as it was. Western
Europe and Japan have caught up to, even overtaken, the United States in
economic terms. They are in the process of detaching themselves politically.
The collapse of the USSR has further weakened the United States, insofar
as it has undermined the major political hold the United States had over
western Europe and Japan.
Within the United States the voice of oppressed groups has become more stridently
"ethnic," using far less appeal to universal values than it previously
had. In response to both US geopolitical decline and the more "ethnocentric"
style of US oppressed groups, the defenders of privilege have resorted to
demands for an "integrating" patriotism, and Rorty's arguments
simply reflect a cave in to this noxious argument.
But the response to a self interested patriotism is not a self congratulatory
cosmopolitanism. The appropriate response is to support forces which will
break down existing inequalities and move towards creating a more democratic,
egalitarian world. The stance of "citizen of the world" is deeply
ambiguous. It can be used just as easily to sustain privilege as to undermine
it. One needs a far more complex stance, constantly moving towards and away
from defensive assertion of the group rights of the weak as the political
arena changes the parameters of the battle.
What is needed educationally is not to learn that we are "citizens
of the world" but that we occupy particular niches in an unequal world,
and that being disinterested and global on the one hand and defending one's
narrow interests on the other are not opposites but positions combined in
complicated ways. Some combinations are desirable, others not. Some are
desirable here but not there, now but not then. Once we have learned this,
we can begin to cope intellectually with our social reality.
"Proponents of nationalism in politics and in education," Martha
Nussbaum writes, "frequently make a thin concession to cosmopolitanism."
They say that "although nations should in general base education and
political deliberation on shared national values, a commitment to basic
human rights should be part of any national educational system. . . ."
Nussbaum identifies me with this position, which she says is "a fair
comment on practical reality" but not a sufficient moral ideal. The
nationalism she describes is not my position. More importantly, it neither
fairly reflects practical reality nor expresses an attractive moral ideal.
Practical reality is far worse, and a moral ideal demands far more.
Most nations do not teach, let alone practice, anything close to basic human
rights, which include rights to freedom of speech and religion, due process
and equal protection under the law, education and economic security, and
equal representation in a genuinely democratic politics. As this incomplete
list indicates, basic human rights are so extensive that teaching them cannot
be fairly characterized as a thin concession to anything. If most nations
effectively taught basic human rights, practical reality would be immeasurably
better than our present reality.
The same cannot be said for basing education and political deliberation
on shared national values, whatever those values happen to be. This nationalistic
view is abhorrent. It's strange, to say the least, that Nussbaum associates
my defense of democratic humanism with such a view. How does she manage
to do so? She identifies as nationalistic the idea that a public educational
system should teach children the skills and virtues of a democratic citizenship
that dedicates itself to furthering liberty and justice for all. She then
translates this idea into the advocacy of teaching national values, whatever
they happen to be. But such advocacy would clearly be incompatible with
a commitment to the teaching of democratic humanist values.
What are democratic humanist values? They subsume basic human rights but
also go beyond them in morally important ways. All children -- regardless
of ethnicity, religion, gender, race, or class -- should be educated to
deliberate together as free and equal citizens in a democracy that is dedicated
to furthering social justice for all individuals, not just members of their
own society. Are democratic humanist values "national values,"
as Nussbaum suggests by way of criticism? Only in the innocuous sense that
they recommend themselves to be taught within the United States and every
other society as part of its common public education. But in this sense,
Nussbaum's cosmopolitan values are also national values, and can be misleadingly
tarred by the same nationalistic brush. Putting labels aside, I suspect
that Nussbaum and I agree that children should be taught to respect the
dignity of all individuals. They should also be empowered as democratic
citizens. Both are necessary (and compatible) conditions for a just democracy.
The constitution of just democracies, in turn, is necessary to achieve justice
in the world.
This is also the cosmopolitan view of Kant, but it is a cosmopolitanism
that roundly rejects Nussbaum's claim that our "primary allegiance
is to the community of human beings in the entire world." Yes, we have
duties to respect the rights of individual human beings the world over,
and schools the world over should teach children (not indoctrinate them)
to appreciate these duties. But it does not follow that we are "citizens
of the world" or that our primary allegiance is to the community of
human beings in the entire world. This cosmopolitan position might be attractive
were our only alternative to give our primary allegiance to the United States
of America, or to give it to some other politically sovereign community.
But we have another alternative, which Nussbaum neglects (and does not recognize
as the position defended by democratic humanism): to reject the idea that
our primary allegiance is to any actual community, and to recognize the
moral importance of being empowered as free and equal citizens of a genuinely
Why not empower individuals as citizens of the entire world? We can truly
be citizens of the world only if there is a world polity. Given what we
now know, a world polity could only exist in tyrannical form. Nonetheless,
we need to be citizens of some polity to be free and equal, and we need
therefore to be educated to those (particular as well as universal) skills,
understandings, and values that secure full participation and equal standing
in our own polity. Being empowered as a free and equal citizen of some democratic
polity should be an opportunity open to all individuals. Democratic citizenship
is an essential demand of justice in the world as we know it, and individuals
the world over recognize it as such.
Does this emphasis on democratic citizenship imply that students in our
society should therefore "learn that they are above all citizens of
the United States" (another repugnant position that Nussbaum seems
to attribute to me)? Far from this being a sufficient standard for a democratic
humanist education, such teaching is clearly antithetical to it. It is one
thing to say that publicly-subsidized schooling should teach students the
rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship (something Nussbaum
never clearly recognizes) and quite another to say that it should teach
them that they are "above all citizens of the United States."
Our primary moral allegiance is to no community, whether it be of human
beings in our world today or our society today. Our primary moral allegiance
is to justice -- to doing what is right. Doing what is right cannot be reduced
to loyalty to, or identification with, any existing group of human beings.
Morality extends even beyond the current generation, for example, requiring
that we consider the well-being of future generations.
Suppose that we leave behind both the view that Nussbaum articulates --
that the community of human beings in the entire world commands our primary
allegiance -- and the view she mistakenly attributes to democratic humanists
-- that "national boundaries are morally salient." We are left
with an important distinction, which Nussbaum collapses in her criticism,
between taking national boundaries as morally salient and recognizing them
as politically salient, and likely to be so for the foreseeable future.
A philosophy of democratic education rejects the idea that national boundaries
are morally salient. If they are politically salient, however, then public
education ought to cultivate in all students the skills and virtues of democratic
citizenship, including the capacity to deliberate about the demands of justice
for all individuals, not only for present-day citizens of the United States.
Deliberating about the demands of justice is a central virtue of democratic
citizenship because it is primarily (not exclusively) through our empowerment
as democratic citizens that we can further the cause of justice around the
What is Nussbaum's cosmopolitan alternative? To teach students that their
primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world.
Where is there any such community? There are human beings throughout the
world and they are entitled to be treated as equals, according to principles
of right and justice. If this is what Nussbaum means by community, she is
agreeing with what democratic humanists say. If she means to refer to a
community with claims that take precedence over these rights, a community
that requires its members to respect those claims "above all"
because they are "above all" citizens of the world, then she is
recommending a vision that we should reject. It is another parochial form
of nationalism, this time on a global scale. Its parochialism may be concealed
by the fact that Nussbaum supplies little or no content to the world community's
values. She talks about how we should understand more about other people's
"histories, problems, and comparative successes," but this does
not address the question of what the world community's moral values are.
Understanding other people's situation, however important, is not the main
aim of moral education. Respecting every person's claims of justice is.
What are those claims? Nussbaum does not say. Were she to give cosmopolitanism
content, I suspect that it would look a lot like democratic humanism.
Democratic humanism supports an education that empowers citizens to deliberate
about justice as part of their political culture -- justice for their fellow
citizens as well as their fellow human beings, who are citizens of other
societies. What is the cosmopolitan alternative? Publicly-subsidized schools
could teach students that it is their duty as individuals, regardless of
their role as citizens, to further justice. We do have duties of justice
quite apart from our role as citizens. But this lesson is incomplete, both
morally and politically speaking, and its incompleteness helps explain why
democratic citizenship is morally important. Our obligations as democratic
citizens go beyond our duties as politically-unorganized individuals because
our capacity to act effectively to further justice increases when we are
empowered as citizens, and so therefore does our responsibility to act to
further justice. Democratic citizens have institutional means at their disposal
that solitary individuals, or "citizens of the world" only, do
not. Some of those institutional means are international in scope, but even
those (the United Nations being the most prominent example) tend to depend
on the cooperation of sovereign societies for effective action.
By teaching students to deliberate about justice as democratic citizens,
not only as individuals, schools can encourage citizens to support effective
institutional ways of moving toward both a better society and a better world.
Schools should also teach students that there are demands of morality and
justice that do not depend on democratic citizenship for their realization
-- for example, the demands of family and friendship. But to teach either
lesson with intellectual integrity, schools must move beyond the morally
misguided and politically dangerous idea of asking us to choose between
being above all citizens of our own society or above all citizens of the
world. We are, above all, none of the above.
No Place Like Home
Professor Nussbaum's article articulates a worthwhile, noble, and idealistic
goal, but not, I think, a practical one. We learn about the greater via
the particular, not the other way around. Culture, that mechanism by which
groups of people actively share certain assumptions about the way life should
be lived, requires reciprocity. It is not sufficient to embrace the world
-- the world must embrace back, and I don't foresee that happening unless
there is universally perceived to be a temporary common danger that forces
cooperative and group thinking. Now, of course, there truly are such dangers
-- overpopulation, AIDS, pollution -- but for most people they are too abstract
and remote, too secondary to the exigencies of daily subsistence and emotional
gratification, to translate into internalized rather than self-conscious
Culture tends to be of a place, and for most of us -- either because of
deficiencies in our own educational background or because the alternative
is simply too overwhelming to cope with -- our "place" is delimited
to a territory smaller than the entire planet. Culture is not necessarily
a matter of race (Nussbaum's "why should a Chinese person be a citizen
and thus matter more when in America but not when in China" argument
is weak and self-evident) or economics, but it does depend on frequent interaction.
Perhaps, with the advanced technology of communications, we will all someday
individually feel more connected to events far away, but I don't see much
evidence of that happening at any time soon. The Discovery Channel on cable,
for instance, offers a 24-hour-a-day open window on other societies, but
not all that many viewers tune in.
Perhaps the most telling bit of experience that informs my skepticism about
Nussbaum's cosmopolitan educational emphasis comes from my first ethnographic
field work, conducted among Athapaskan speakers in Alaska in the 1970s.
Before heading out, I naively assumed that people in a small, isolated village
would be fascinated with the diversity of the world, and therefore welcome
me warmly if I introduced them to it. Consequently, I brought along postcards
and pictures that showed where I came from, and that illustrated some of
the natural wonders and cultural artifacts that have long been the pride
and delight of tourists and travelers -- sandy beaches, urban skylines,
Balinese dancers, even photographs of the earth taken from outer space.
Were the residents of the tiny subarctic community where I spent two years
interested in these sights they were surely seeing for the first time? Not
especially -- though, in the manner of friends who come for dinner and then
are "treated" to a slide show of the host's recent trip to Australia,
they were sleepily polite. This bored attitude changed abruptly after I
had been in the village for a while and took photographs of the local landmarks
and inhabitants. When those developed snapshots came back, the people were
endlessly fascinated and amused and stimulated to story-telling and historical
recountings. They could handle the familiar; the exotic was . . . exotic.
Like most other human beings, they were most interested and stimulated by
a universe in which they were firmly on center stage. The process of acculturation
was for them to instruct me how to see locally, not for me to lead them
into a broader world view -- a world, by the way, that, if it was aware
of them at all, probably would not regard them with much respect or interest.
Were they wrong? Was their educational system lacking? Were they less participant
in theoretically universal human traits and aspirations -- typically delineated
and controlled in their extensions, after all, by the Western elite -- by
insisting upon defining themselves in the most specific of "we"
terms? I think not. By being secure and well-versed in themselves, they
were able to tolerate the paradoxes of a multicultural world and still have
pride in their own accomplishments, highly significant within their context
but irrelevant elsewhere. If they paid too much attention to what they weren't,
they would have lost who they were.
The reality of diversity -- the subtle and hard to cross-culturally communicate
aspects of a group of people that make them unique -- is no less valuably
human than those traits and attitudes which, perhaps, we as a species share
in common. The tension between the two, between the most narrow parochialism
(to study "Nigeria" or "India," after all, is but a
small and often misleading step toward the actuality of the hundreds of
separate and distinctive tribal traditions still very much alive in those
huge countries) and the broadest, blandest cosmopolitanism, is one of those
dangerous challenges that are virtually always creatively out of balance.
Kantians in Every Culture?
Consider that it may be a mistake to declare one's affiliation by declaring
an order of priorities: I am "x" first and then "y."
It may be that the ordering of such identifications is precisely the problem
produced by a discourse on multiculturalism which does not yet know how
to relate the terms that it enumerates. It would be a great consolation,
I suppose, to return to a ready-made universal perspective, and to compel
everyone to identify with a universal moral attitude before they take on
their various specific and parochial concerns. The problem emerges, however,
when the meaning of "the universal" proves to be culturally variable,
and the specific cultural articulations of "the universal"work
against its claim to a transcultural status.
This is not to say that there ought to be no reference to the universal
or that it has become, for us, an impossibility. On the contrary. All it
means is that there are cultural conditions for its articulation which are
not always the same, and that the term "universal" gains its meaning
for us precisely through these decidedly less than universal conditions.
This is a paradox that any injunction to adopt a universal attitude will
encounter. For it may be that in one culture a set of rights are considered
to be universally endowed, and that in another those very rights mark the
limit to universalizability, i.e. "if we grant those people rights
we will be undercutting the foundations of the universal as we know it."
This has become especially clear to me in the field of lesbian and gay human
rights where "the universal" is a contested term, and where various
cultures and various mainstream human rights groups voice doubt over whether
lesbian and gay humans ought properly to be included in "the human"
and whether their putative rights fit within the existing conventions governing
the scope of rights considered universal.
Consider that to claim that there are existing conventions that govern the
scope of rights described as universal is not to claim that that scope has
been decided once and for all. In fact, it may be that the universal is
only partially articulated, and that we do not yet know what forms it may
take. The contingent and cultural character of the existing conventions
governing the scope of universality does not deny the usefulness or importance
of the term "universal." It simply means that the claim of universality
has not been fully or finally made and that it remains to be seen whether
and how it will be further articulated. Indeed, it may well be politically
important to claim that a given set of rights are universal even when existing
conventions governing the scope of universality preclude precisely such
a claim. Such a claim runs the good risk of provoking a radical rearticulation
of universality itself. Whether the claim is preposterous, provocative,
efficacious depends on the collective strength with which it is asserted,
the institutional conditions of its assertion and reception, and the unpredictable
political forces at work. But the uncertainty of its success is not enough
of a reason not to make the claim.
One might enter various domains of culture in order to find there "examples"
of world-citizens, and then to cull from those examples the self-same lesson,
the self-same universal bearing. But is the relation between culture and
the universal appropriately construed as that of an example and the moral
dictum that it is said to support? In such cases, the examples are subordinate
to the universal, and they all indicate the universal in the same way. But
the articulation of the universal can happen only if we find ways to effect
cultural translations between those various cultural "examples"
-- to see which versions of the universal are proposed and how and whether
they might be reconciled with one another. When competing claims to the
universal are made, it seems imperative to understand that cultures do not
exemplify a ready-made universal, but that the universal is always culturally
articulated, and that the complex process of learning how to read that claim
is not something any of us can do outside of the difficult process of cultural
translation. This translation will not be an easy one in which we reduce
every cultural instance to a presupposed universality, nor will it be the
enumeration of radical particularisms between which no communication is
The risks will be that translation will become an imposition of a universal
claim on a culture that resists it, or that those who defend the universal
will domesticate the challenge posed by cultural differences by culling
from that very culture an example of its own nascent universality, one which
confirms that such a universality is already achieved. What kind of cultural
imposition is it to claim that a Kantian may be found in every culture?
For whereas there may be something like a world-reference in moral thinking
or even a recourse to a version of universality, it would sidestep the specific
cultural work to be done to claim that we have in Kant everything we might
want to know about how moral reasoning works in various cultural contexts.
Importantly, then, the task that cultural difference sets for us is the
articulation of universality through a difficult labor of translation. That
labor seeks to transform the very terms which are made to stand for one
another, and the movement of that unanticipated transformation establishes
the universal as that which is yet to be achieved and which, in order to
resist domestication, may never be fully or finally achievable.
Martha Nussbaum puts the case for the moral and rational superiority of
cosmopolitanism with uncommon lucidity, conviction, and eloquence. It is
heartening, in an era of erupting nationalisms, to recall the eminently
rational Greek concept of the world citizen. Since classical antiquity,
she reminds us, that wise, secular ideal has been available as an alternative
to humanity's habitually fierce parochialism. Can there be any doubt that
our planet would be a better place to live if more people gave primary allegiances
"to the community of human beings in the entire world"?
And yet, having said this, I must admit that the beautiful, clear-cut simplicity
of Professor Nussbaum's thought is disconcerting. She achieves that crystalline
clarity by situating her argument, as moral philosophers since Plato have
done, in an abstract realm of largely affectless rationality. She removes
her key ideas, cosmopolitanism and nationalism, from their actual history,
detaching them from the kinds of group interest -- the tendrils of power
and politics -- that cling to all ideas held by living people. She seems
reluctant to acknowledge the significance of experience that has little
or no moral or rational justification. Thus she casually dismisses the importance
of most people's place of birth -- hence their national identities -- as
merely "accidental," "local," "non-necessary"
aspects of their lives. But to disregard the role in human experience of
the contingent and the irrational, unfortunate as that role may be, is to
risk adopting merely visionary, hence infeasible, programs of action.
The abstracted, hothouse character of Professor Nussbaum's discourse, its
distance from the actual record of cosmopolitanism and nationalism, provokes
a host of skeptical questions. If cosmopolitanism is as superior, among
conceivable views of the world as she persuasively demonstrates, why has
it so rarely been adopted? Why has its appeal been so largely restricted
to small, eccentric, avant-garde, or elite groups? Why have institutions
like the League of Nations or the United Nations, or movements like the
World Federalists, failed to elicit wide- spread support? Why do more parochial
-- nationalistic -- creeds usually carry the day? Doesn't the historical
record over millenia give credence to the primacy, in the hierarchy of entities
capable of eliciting actual human allegiance, of the local? How shall we
account for most people's lifelong, intense, emotional, sensuous, aesthetic
attachment to their native places and cultures? How explain the astonishing
loyalty of whole populations to terrains and ways of life that seem, by
most other peoples' standards, uncomfortable, grim, forbidding, intolerable,
even life-threatening? Does it make sense to pin our hopes on a doctrine
which prides itself on being superior to -- makes so few concessions to
-- the powerful, nearly universal affection that most human beings have
for their native places?
It is one thing to establish the rational and moral superiority of cosmopolitanism,
but quite another to get it adopted. If most people really chose their beliefs
according to those criteria, nationalism would have disappeared long ago.
Professor Nussbaum's case for cosmopolitanism would be a lot stronger if
she acknowledged, and somehow dealt with, the deep non- or extra- or ir-
rational roots of its triumphant rival, nationalism. As a result of the
history of the two concepts of over some three millenia, cosmopolitanism
has been -- still is -- associated with urban sophistication, learning,
privilege, high status, and a quasi-aristocratic intellectuality and aestheticism;
on the other hand, nationalism has been -- still is -- identified with the
relatively straightforward, passionate, anti-elitist programs of land-oriented,
populist mass movements. When we consider the roles the two actually have
played in cultural history, choosing between them becomes a far more intractable
problem than Professor Nussbaum suggests. It is bound to generate a deep,
discomfitting ambivalence in left-wing intellectuals.
Her neglect of historical particularities also mars Professor Nussbaum's
views of the American case. She seems to regard American nationhood as indistinguishable
from other routine embodiments of nationalism. But the originating concept
of the American republic was exceptional in at least two respects. First,
unlike virtually all other nations, the United States was founded on precisely
defined political principles; and second, those principles, as set forth
by Jefferson and his committee, were not selected for their particular local,
ethnic, racial, cultural, or geographic relevance, but rather for their
putatively universal moral and rational validity. Whatever the record of
actual American practices since 1776, the fact is that this nation initially
was -- and in principle remains -- dedicated to an Enlightenment brand of
cosmopolitanism. When Professor Nussbaum asks why we should think differently
of Chinese people when they become Americans, the answer that the founders
would have given is clear: these people of Chinese origin are different
because they ostensibly have sworn allegiance to the universal principles
of American republicanism. Unlike adherents of most forms of nationalism,
we Americans have endorsed an exacting set of standards by which we would
have our national behavior judged. (Those standards embodied in our founding
documents and institutions, incidentally, provide a useful basis for repudiating
the cruder, more jingoistic expressions of American patriotism of our constitution.)
It is odd that Professor Nussbaum should ignore her own country's unique
commitment to the kind of cosmopolitan, supra-nationalistic and eminently
rational principles she would have humanity embrace.
Richard Rorty's thoughts on intellectuals and patriotism are a useful corrective
to Martha Nussbaum's overly abstract but otherwise impressive argument.
To be sure, Rorty is inaccurate and needlessly provocative in singling out
today's academic left as peculiarly "unpatriotic"; several other
groups in our society are more deserving of that charge. But his overall
conception of patriotism is more realistic and pliant, finally, than Nussbaum's.
She all but dismisses patriotism as indistinguishable from jingoism; Rorty
recognizes that most people genuinely and not unreasonably want to take
pride in their own country; he also recognizes how politically self-destructive
it can be for left-wing intellectuals to allow themselves to be cast as
Rorty's viewpoint suggests how Professor Nussbaum might formulate a more
down-to-earth argument. He hints at the potentially ideal status of American
patriotism as an historic halfway house between the old irrational, ethnically
defined brand of nationalism, and an emergent, innovative form of global
cosmopolitanism. What makes the American republic distinctive, after all,
is that its citizens are not asked to pay their primary allegiance to any
one group of people; rather they are required to declare their allegiance
to a particular kind of multicultural polity, a polity "dedicated,"
as Lincoln put it at Gettysburg, to a "proposition" -- a rational
and moral principle. Doesn't this constitute an important step in the direction
that Professor Nussbaum would have the world take? I would expect her to
be something of a patriot. As an American citizen, she has an unusual option:
she can be patriotic and, at the same time, she can give her primary allegiance
to a principled cosmopolitanism.
Patriotism, Not Chauvinism
Martha Nussbaum wants to encourage a cosmpolitan sense of identification
with all countries, not just with our own. She also wants to encourage human
rights. But she doesn't tell us which want comes first. Here and there can
be found countries whose observation of human rights is less than splendid.
Should our cosmopolitan identification with all the world oblige us to respect
the practices of such countries and to view the unsplendid dictatorships
as legitimate governments? Or should a feeling of cosmopolitanism oblige
us to try to overthrow dictatorial governments wherever they exist? Should
we try to revolutionize the cultures of the many traditional societies where
women or minorities are spectacularly oppressed? The space between those
different understandings of cosmopolitanism seems to me deep, and Nussbaum's
argument falls into it, and does not come out again.
The classic left in the 19th and early 20th centuries used to favor cosmopolitanism,
too; but the classic leftists favored cosmopolitanism only as an extension
of their deeper values, which were democratic, libertarian, socialist, and
so forth. Perhaps those are the universal values (in a modern version) that
Nussbaum wishes to revive under the name of cosmopolitanism. But if we are
going to resurrect the old left-wing idea, we shall also have to revive
the equally classic left-wing distinction -- mention of which is fatefully
missing from Nussbaum's essay -- between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism
is a chauvinistic feeling of ethnic superiority over others; patriotism
is a healthy feeling of solidarity with one's country. Nationalism is the
beginning of strife; patriotism is the beginning (a beginning, anyway) of
community, locally and more-than-locally. I am glad that Nussbaum opposes
mindless nationalism; but when she throws out patriotism, too, I think she
has lost the baby with the bathwater.
Something should be said about the particular patriotism that is American.
In the last 200 years American patriotism has come in three main varieties.
There is the chauvinism of the white race (a nationalism, really), which
sometimes wraps itself in the stars-and-stripes. There is the self-interest
of business (not even nationalism but merely greed) which sometimes wraps
itself likewise. But there is also the third kind, equally wrapped in the
flag, but for very different purposes. It is the patriotism that you see
in the writings of Abraham Lincoln, who defined America's identity as a
commitment to democracy, not just as our own quaint local custom but as
a principle for the entire earth. You see that same idea -- of American
patriotism as a commitment to democracy at home and everywhere in the world
-- in the poetry and prose of Walt Whitman.
Patriotism in Lincoln and Whitman's sense already comprises the cosmopolitan
feeling of identification with the entire world that Nussbaum wishes to
encourage. But it affirms that identification in the name of democracy and
human rights, not in the name of a value-free all-accepting respect for
anything whatsoever. When Richard Rorty writes about American patriotism
as a valuable sentiment which ought to be embraced by the American left,
he plainly means patriotism in the Lincoln-Whitman sense. American patriotism
thus understood is a step toward, not away from, the old universalist dream
of a worldwide egalitarian and democratic solidarity.
So I can't agree with Nussbaum's contention about patriotism and cosmopolitanism.
But I do admire the verve in her essay. Any argument that begins with Rabindranath
Tagore and concludes with ancient Greek philosophers copulating in public
and enjoying dinner parties can't be all bad.
Patriotism Without Hypocrisy
David A. Strauss
Suppose you were trying to persuade people not to discriminate against homosexuals.
You might make arguments based on our common humanity and on the equality
of all human beings. But you might also be tempted to make a more parochial
argument: that there is something un-American about discriminating against
gays and lesbians, because America, more than any other country, stands
for tolerance and diversity. Martha Nussbaum acknowledges that the latter
form of argument will sometimes be more effective. But her compelling essay
urges that such patriotic arguments are "morally dangerous" because
they narrow our vision and in the end subvert even patriotic ideals.
I am not sure that Nussbaum is right about the bad consequences of making
patriotic arguments of this kind. Perhaps patriotic appeals do not tend
to degenerate into tribalism; historically the best way of overcoming tribalism
has, I suspect, often been not to appeal to common humanity but to transfer
loyalties to a bigger tribe. And the best way to get Americans to pay attention
to people elsewhere is probably to make the more parochial argument: that
the United States is a nation of refugees with a tradition of helping the
wretched of the earth. In any event, so far as consequences are concerned,
there is no way to stop jingoists and scoundrels from making patriotic arguments,
and it may do more harm than good to cede the terrain to them.
But one powerful current in Nussbaum's essay is that quite apart from good
or bad consequences, it is cynical and manipulative to make arguments of
this kind. When we make patriotic arguments, Nussbaum says, we "depriv[e]
ourselves of any principled way of arguing to citizens that they should
in fact join hands across" boundaries of race, gender, religion, class,
and nationality. It is disrespectful to our fellow citizens to play on patriotic
sentiments when our real reasons for holding the positions we advocate are
grounded in a more cosmopolitan morality.
This concern, important and plausible as it is, seems to me in the end unwarranted,
for reasons that shed light on the nature of political discussion in liberal
societies. Suppose a citizen has arrived at her views about welfare policy,
or abortion, or capital punishment, or intervention abroad, on the basis
of her religious beliefs. But then when she wants to persuade her fellow
citizens, she uses a secular moral argument that is consistent with her
religious views, and that she also believes to be correct -- but that is
different from the religious beliefs that actually moved her to hold her
views. This does not seem to be a cynical or manipulative way for a citizen
to act; to the contrary, it may be a duty of good citizenship to be prepared
to defend one's positions in terms of the common ground among citizens,
rather than simply asserting religious or other sectarian reasons.
By the same token, it is not necessarily cynical or manipulative to appeal
to shared national traditions or institutions in trying to persuade one's
fellow citizens to adopt views that one has come to hold, oneself, for moral
reasons. Without being dishonest, we can believe, and say, that intolerance
of homosexuals is not just a moral wrong but a violation of distinctive
American traditions of openness and respect for liberty. Ideally, perhaps,
as in Nussbaum's vision, such an appeal to historical traditions should
not be necessary. Ideally there should be enough agreement on moral principles
that we need not resort to national customs and traditions. And on certain
relatively abstract principles -- the legitimacy of democratic government,
the general regime of toleration and racial nondiscrimination -- that basic
moral agreement may exist in our society, and in other well-functioning
But on many issues, like the ones I've mentioned, the moral dissensus is
too great. To put the point in the language of John Rawls's Political
Liberalism, while there may be an overlapping consensus on liberalism as
the conception that is to govern the basic structure of society, there is
no comparable overlapping consensus on many of the issues of day to day
politics. If we are to find common ground with our fellow citizens on those
issues, we may need to look to distinctively American practices and institutions,
and arguments drawn from them, rather than exclusively to moral principles
that appeal to all reasonable people.
Since we are seeking bases of agreement that will support a just political
order, there is nothing wrong with emphasizing those elements of our national
traditions that promote justice and respect for humanity, and casting out
ugly traditions as unworthy of us. This was the tactic of generations of
English polemicists, including the common lawyers from whom our legal system
is descended and the radical Whigs who inspired the American Revolutionaries:
they were determinedly parochial, but they were often effective at defending
some important human liberties. They did this by identifying the liberties
as peculiarly English. Appeals of the kind I am describing may have a chance
for success only in societies with liberal traditions. But since we have
such traditions, why not take advantage of them, and try to identify values
of respect, compassion, and mutual acceptance with the American self-conception?
Our Country, Right or Wrong
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
In an ideal world, Martha Nussbaum's generous and enlightened appeal would
be exactly right. But we must deal with the world we have; and in that world
frail and erring mortals give their allegiance not to praiseworthy abstractions
but to specific and familiar communities.
This is surely why patriotism remains the most potent political emotion
in today's world. Unquestionably powerful forces move the planet toward
cosmopolitanism: the world market, electronic technologies, instantaneous
communications, fax machines, CNN -- all undermine the nation-state, rush
across frontiers, and foster a world without borders. Yet it is these very
internationalizing pressures that drive people to seek refuge from threatening
global currents beyond their control and understanding. The more people
feel themselves cast adrift in a vast, impersonal, anonymous world, the
more desperately they sink into some warm, intelligible, intimate, protective
human unit: the more they crave a politics of identity.
Integration and disintegration, cosmopolitanism and patriotism, are thus
opposites that feed on each other. The more the world integrates, the more
people cling to their own in groups increasingly defined in this post-ideological
era by national, ethnic, and religious allegiances. Cosmopolitanism, as
Nussbaum concedes, does not command the imagination; "it offers only
reason and the love of humanity, which may seem at times less colorful than
other sources of belonging."
Yet this is the world we have, and it is the world of Calvin, not the world
of Condorcet. In this imperfect world, perhaps our best hope for the time
being is to follow the precept of Carl Schurz: "Our country, right
or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right."
The Occidental Tagore
Martha Nussbaum's thought provoking essay helps persons like me to think
more critically and clearly about multiculturalism and, more generally,
about the representation and politics of difference. She asks whether our
efforts to come to grips with multiculturalism use the language of cosmopolitanism
-- the "citizen of the world" language of Stoic ethics and of
Rabindranath Tagore's The Home and the World, -- or Richard Rorty's language
of American patriotism -- the language of Jefferson, Emerson, Lincoln, Dewey,
and Martin Luther King.
Nussbaum and Rorty seem to differ over the truth claims and practical consequences
of universalism and particularism. Nussbaum's cosmopolitanism is a matter
of being a world citizen, of identifying and empathizing with the other
as a fellow human, and considering first and foremost the good of the global
community. Rorty's particularism operates at the level of nation-states;
it affirms an American identity, and it asks those who support multiculturalism
to consider whether a conversation about what they share and how they can
get along is a condition for the cultivation and pursuit of difference.
Are the differences between universalism and particularism, between being
a citizen of the world and being an American citizen, as great as Nussbaum
claims? Do Jefferson's American language of universal equality and rights
and a decent respect for the opinions of mankind; or Lincoln's concern to
reconcile order and justice; or King's efforts (inspired in part by Gandhi)
to forge a non-violent model of inclusive citizenship really hinder Americans
from becoming citizens of the world?
Most people, most of the time, have more particular allegiances. How, then,
have successive generations since the Stoics -- America's founders or Bengal's
bhadralok, located as they are in time, place and circumstance -- acquired
ideas and practices enabling some of them some of the time to know, appreciate,
and practice universal values? The world is indebted to Eleanor Roosevelt,
whose conscience was rooted in her American experience, for the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, and in considerable measure to US law and policy
for the increasing global presence of human rights. How and why did this
Perhaps national citizenship itself created the mentality, commitments,
and constituencies for imagining the requisites of world citizenship. In
Democracy in America, Toqueville tells us about the importance for liberty
of pluralistic rather than mass participation. He does so through an account
of associational life -- of the civic, political, cultural, and opinion
communities that constitute a civil society. Pluralistic participation,
he held, was particular, directly experienced, empowering; mass participation
was general, abstractly experienced, isolating. Following Tocqueville's
suggestion, we may need a transnational civil society to get from national
citizenship to world citizenship. Creating the space and mentality to tackle
global issues and participate in world politics may require the kind of
transnational pluralistic participation that human rights, environmental,
health and a host of other such transnational associations now provide.
Martha Nussbaum invokes certain Stoics and Rabindranath Tagore to make her
moral case for the naturalness of the possibility for world citizenship.
I want to raise some questions about the naturalness of the Stoics' and
Tagore's intentions by probing their provenances.
I very much appreciate this passage: "[the Stoics] suggest that we
think of ourselves... as surrounded by a series of concentric circles"
starting with the self and including immediate family, extended family,
neighbors, local groups, "one's fellow city dwellers, one's fellow
countrymen" -- and "we can easily add to this listing groupings
based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender, and sexual
identities." But Nussbaum seems to take back this conception of layered,
multiple communities, each with its own identity, moral life, and interests.
"Outside all these circles," she continues, "is the largest
one, that of humanity as a whole. Our task as citizens of the world will
be to 'draw the circles somehow toward the center' making all human beings
more like our fellow city dwellers [my emphasis]. . . ." I read this
sentence as a Pygmalion like invitation to those who are different -- the
other -- to become like us; "why can't a woman be more like a man?"
Col. Higgins asks Eliza; why can't all human beings be more like us? the
civilized "city dwellers" ask all (other) human beings.
A student in the United States must, Martha Nussbaum advises, "learn
. . . to recognize humanity wherever she encounters it, undeterred by traits
that are strange to her. . . . [and] learn enough about the different to
recognize common aims . . . to see how variously they are instantiated in
. . . many cultures and histories." Nussbaum seems to insist on looking
for the universal in the particular rather than crediting different forms
of life with their own truths, their own good. Somehow out there among all
the diversity there is a natural truth, a natural good. Down deep, ultimately,
they are like us -- the "city dwellers" -- if only we and they
work hard to make it so. Aren't the "city dwellers" of the Western
world, us, being asked to civilize them, the other? Are heathen idolaters
once again being asked to give up their barbaric ways so that they can realize
their true and best selves? Nussbaum treats foreignness as superficial;
knowing and appreciating difference becomes a way of going beyond it; ultimately
difference impedes rather than facilitates becoming and being a cosmopolitan,
"the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings
in the entire world."
We are told that Rabindranath Tagore was such a person. According to Nussbaum,
his novel, The Home and World, shows that he understood and was able to
convey Stoic truths about the politics of difference. "Nationalism
and ethnocentrism" defeat "reasonable and principled cosmopolitanism"
in Tagore's novel and in Satyajit Ray's film of the same name. "Only
the cosmopolitan stance of the landlord Nikhil . . . has the promise of
transcending these divisions [being an Indian, an upper caste landlord,
a Hindu, etc], because only this stance asks us to give our first allegiance
to what is morally good -- and that which, being good, I can commend as
such to all human beings."
E.P. Thompson's posthumous book about his father, Alien Homage: Edward Thompson
and Rabindranath Tagore, was reviewed recently1 by the Indian novelist Amit
Chaudhuri. What can we learn about Tagore's relationship to particularism
and universalism from Chaudhuri's account?
The senior Thompson was a clergyman who spent 13 years (1910 1923) as vice-principal
of a college in an "obscure Bengali village" (Bankura) and as
a teacher of English literature at the high school. He first met Tagore
at Shantiniketan. In 1913, he was 27 and the only English person present
when the 52 year old Tagore learned that he had been awarded the Nobel prize
for literature. Thompson for a time admired Tagore, and translated some
of his stories from Bengali into English.
Thompson reports that at news of the prize "'a frenzy of worship seized
them [boys, servants, teachers] and they, one after another, threw themselves
down and touched his [Tagore's] feet. . . . I could have done it myself
almost; but I am an Englishman, and have a stern contempt for the fools
who pretend they are easterners.'" Chaudhuri says that Thompson's "stern
contempt" "is his way of acknowledging the 'difference' that both
limits and enriches cultural relationships; it also undercuts 'universalist'
ideas of 'human nature' which both Englishmen and Indians, Tagore included,
were at that time so keen to believe in."
Thompson's and Tagore's friendship didn't flourish. Tagore never visited
Bankura as he said he would. Thompson's translations "were never properly
acknowledged . . ." "Thompson is interesting to us today,"
Chaudhuri writes, "by being the first Englishman to realize that Tagore
was now orientalizing and exoticising his translations from his own work
'to suit Western taste.'" A week after Tagore's death, on 16 August
1941, Thompson wrote: "'More and more he toned down or omitted whatever
seemed to him characteristically Indian, which very often was what was gripping
and powerful. He despaired too much of ever persuading our people to be
interested in what was strange to them.'"
The literary estimate of Tagore in the West was based on his "pseudo-Biblical
and, frankly, bad translations of a tiny, unrepresentative sample of his
work," a book of lyrical and devotional poems akin to the songs of
the Vaishnavas called Gitanjali. Yeats wrote an introduction for it; it
was probably the only text the Nobel prize committee read. After the great
war, when Yeats, like most western writers lost interest in Gitanjali's
"universal" message, no attempt was made to discover the provincial
Tagore, the Bengali Tagore, whose poetry, Chaudhuri says, "contains
some of the most striking records of the details of Bengali life ever written."
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Thompson did not value the "universal"
in Tagore, but what was individual and Bengali and "different."
The idea of Tagore as a "world poet" -- an idea propagated by
his Indian and western admirers -- was a "harmful falsification, symptomatic
of a time when western humanism presumed the translatability of all cultures
into one another's terms, and the existence of a generalized 'human' sensibility;
in short, it required the Tagore it invented." Nussbaum has brought
this Tagore, the invented "world poet," back to life by naturalizing
him as an apostle of world citizenship.
To conclude, I want to bring my concerns about understanding difference
to patriotism itself. Patriotism is not always and everywhere the same.
It lives in different histories and different narratives. Martha Nussbaum
seems to neglect these differences: she detests patriotism and admires cosmopolitanism.
Richard Rorty and Sheldon Hackney, she says, affirm patriotism. Patriotism
for her is aggressive, exclusive, intolerant nationalism; it can lead to
the kind of hatred and violence toward the other practiced by Hitler in
his time and Slobodan Milosevic in ours.
This is not how I read the Rorty and Hackney effort to recover a common
American language, a language that can transcend and inform recognition
of and respect for difference in America. Martin Luther King articulated
and affirmed American patriotism in his inclusivist, non-violent pursuit
of civil rights for African Americans. Today, his legacy helps gays and
lesbians, single mothers, and new immigrants to claim civil rights and contributes
to the discourse and practice of human rights in world arenas.
Instead of going after Rorty and Hackney, who share many of her concerns,
Martha Nussbaum might do better to go after the scoundrel patriots of our
time, the Oliver Norths, Pat Buchanans, Pat Robertsons, and Jerry Falwells.
Their patriotism excludes difference and speaks the language of hate and
Empires of Reason
Martha Nussbaum preaches well, and her message is an important corrective
to forms of communitarianism that risk relegitimating the worst aspects
of an American nationalism that liberals and progressives rightly assailed
in the 1960s. Moreover, as someone deeply committed to renewing the liberatory
aspects of Judaism, I see in Nussbaum's project deep resonances with the
insistence of Torah that all human beings are created in the image of God,
and the insistence of the Prophets that God is the God of all nations. That
this universalism can emanate from a particularist tradition, and that Jews
have been among its most consistent exponents in the past 200 years (despite
other post-Holocaust Jewish voices that despaired of universalism and reverted
to a narrow particularism) carries an important message: it should remind
us that building strong particularist identities, and shoring up ethnic,
religious, and national identities as foils to the extremes of contemporary
American individualism-run-wild, need not be counterposed to extending our
circle of caring to the larger world, or to fostering the cosmopolitan identity
that Nussbaum rightly advocates.
Yet in her excitement to extend our circle of caring and identity to include
all other humans on the planet -- a goal which I share -- Nussbaum ignores
the historical experience of the human race with those who used ideals of
a universal culture and caring as a rallying cry to justify new forms of
In the ancient world, it was precisely the Hellenistic culture that Nussbaum
so valorizes that used a hegemonizing discourse and sought to impose a cosmopolitan
truth, forcing itself on Jews and on so many other cultures unable to defend
themselves from Greek and later Roman imperialism. The various succesor
regimes to Alexander the Great established a close connection between cultural
imperialism and economic and political imperialism. By the time the Stoics
had begun to call for "universal citizens," the Jews rightly understood
that this new demand would, in effect, be yet another assault on their own
right to exist as a people with distinctive cultural and religious practices
and a special historical legacy.
The same imperializing logic was inherited by some trends within Christianity.
In Christ there would be neither Jew nor Greek, but only a new cosmopolitan
identity open to all, one which supposedly recognized the inherent value
of each individual. Though the original Christian universalism did not insist
on the obliteration of cultural differences, it wasn't long before Christianity
became a force for cultural totalitarianism and the consequent repression
not only of Jewish particularism, but of indigenous cultures that valued
an earth bound spirituality, and women's knowledge and power, and that felt
uncomfortable with the patriarchal or world-denying aspects of Christianity.
Crusades, inquisitions, and the burnings of witches and Jews followed apace.
Similar distortions in the universalism of post-Lenin communist parties
led to an assault on Zionism and other "rootless cosmopolitans"
and the suppression of national cultures.
Today, capitalist culture plays the analogous role to Hellenism. Multinational
corporations will likely adopt some version of Nussbaum's cosmopolitanism
to undermine the moral authority of national regimes that seek to put constraints
on the flow of capital. As third world countries empower previously colonized
peoples, and as democratic movements in the industrialized world give voice
to the world's workers, the multinationals have sought to escape and denigrate
the narrow particularism of national regimes that might place restrictions
on the rational movements of the free marketplace. Before we undermine the
authority of any particularist reality, we ought to check what other resources
are available for putting constraints on the hegemonizing and homogenizing
media that are the vanguard of this latest version of totalitarianism.
A cosmopolitan education to recognize humanity wherever we encounter it
is a necessary precondition for the creation of an international movement
capable of resisting the totalitarian tendencies inherent in contemporary
media and market. But another precondition for such resistance will be the
growing recognition that market-driven cosmopolitan totalitarianism frustrates
our needs to be parts of communities of meaning and purpose that transcend
the individualism and selfishness of the competitive market. Such communities
of meaning, fostering loving commitments to family and community, are far
more likely than an abstract commitment to "reason and the love of
humanity" to provide the psychological basis for necessary movements
of resistance and transformation. The Jewish renewal movement is one of
many movements of renewal now struggling to ensure that the historical distortions
associated with those communities -- their patriarchy and chauvinism --
can now be transcended without abandoning the nourishing particularist spiritual
and emotional riches that might counter the totalitarian potential of cosmopolitanism
-- a potential that Nussbaum does not support but may unintentionally serve.
Patriotism for Cosmopolitans
I find much to agree with in Martha Nussbaum's discussion -- in particular,
the forceful rendering of the cosmopolitan moral ideal and the call for
a systematic effort to broaden the moral horizons of American children beyond
the boundaries of a national society whose public culture too often inclines
toward a complacent inwardness. Nussbaum's new articulation of a very old
theme is significant and timely.
About the relationship of cosmopolitanism and patriotism, however, I believe
there is more to be said. Cosmopolitanism is, first of all, a question of
moral principle; patriotism, of self-conception or moral identity. The connection
between principle and identity bears examination.
Cosmopolitanism holds that we inhabit one moral world, regardless of differences
in social position or religion, gender or race, or nationality; any person's
standing in that world, as a possible subject of rights and obligations,
is the same as anyone else's. At the most fundamental level of morality,
your neighbor is not more important than a compatriot who is a stranger,
and a compatriot is not more important than the most distant foreigner.
As Nussbaum observes, cosmopolitanism isn't naive; it acknowledges that
these differences can matter in contexts of practical choice. The cosmopolitan
principle insists only that we need a justification for treating a difference
as significant, and that the justification be reasonable from a point of
view in which all interests (neighbor or stranger, compatriot or foreigner)
are treated with equal concern. This is a serious qualification, but even
in this qualified form, cosmopolitanism is a powerful and even a revolutionary
principle; for example, it certainly calls into question the comfortable
acceptance of global inequality found on nearly every part of the American
political spectrum today.
The implications of cosmopolitanism for the question of moral identity seem
to me legitimately controversial. The dominant tendency in the cosmopolitan
tradition has been to denigrate all forms of particularism, on the grounds
that sectional loyalties (Bande Mataram) can only undermine a commitment
to the good of humanity as a whole. Tolstoy's case against patriotism is
possibly the most extreme example of this, though not unrepresentative of
the larger tradition: he saw patriotism as a virulent, aggrandizing chauvinism,
dangerous in its tendency to induce war and aggression, and pernicious as
a device for mobilizing masses of people to act against their own best interests.
In contrast, many cosmopolitans have thought it possible to sustain extensive
and powerful loyalties to both neighbors and compatriots without giving
up the universality of moral concern that distinguishes cosmopolitanism
as a moral principle. Against Tolstoy, these more moderate cosmopolitans
would observe that patriotism per se needn't be either morally obtuse or
subversive. Everything depends on the content: whether the patriot's institutions
are just or unjust, and whether allegiance to them is understood as one
loyalty among several, at varying degrees of abstraction, or as exclusive
of all others.
The more moderate view is more persuasive: a patriotism based on loyalty
to a just constitution, and which acknowledges obligations to outsiders
that could override obligations to compatriots, seems plainly consistent
with cosmopolitan morality. Of course, this would be no more than a nice
philosophical point in a world without (more or less) separate states. But
states are what we have, and although states are hardly sovereign in the
way the great theorists of statehood once imagined, they are still the standard
unit into which humanity is organized politically.
This fact has two consequences that cosmopolitans should attend to. First,
if human flourishing requires a political setting, including institutions
that allow a reasonable prospect of self-government and organized social
cooperation, then that setting, for the moment, is likely to take the form
of (something like) a state. The state's capacity to enlist the cooperation
of its citizens, and the people's willingness to participate actively in
public life, will be essential conditions of human flourishing. And some
degree of communal loyalty -- though certainly not an uncritical loyalty
-- is plausibly a precondition of a successful public life.
Second, the prominence of the state in the world's political geography --
or at least that of the industrial democracies -- means that most of the
practically effective efforts to address urgent human suffering beyond a
state's borders will involve the state, either directly or as a contributor,
as a vehicle. But without the ability to motivate collective sacrifice,
the state will be incapable of playing a constructive global role.
Patriotism, therefore, poses a more complex challenge to cosmopolitans than
it may seem. For cosmopolitan reasons, we should recognize the intrinsic
and consequential significance of patriotic loyalties, and reflect more
intently than we have done on what a reasonable patriotism would be like.
(Indeed, it seems at least as important for cosmopolitans to be concerned
about the content of civic education as about cosmopolitan education.) At
the same time, we must understand that patriotism shares the morally imperialistic
proclivities of all other loyalties, and be prepared to lean against them
when they appear.
As a matter of educational practice, I suspect that the international doctrine
of human rights can serve as a valuable organizing principle for a form
of moral education that is both civic and cosmopolitan -- certainly more
valuable than Nussbaum's puzzling comments about human rights allow. It
is a mistake to conceive of human rights doctrine as "a thin concession
to cosmopolitanism" that serves mainly to mask nationalistic values.
For better or worse (and for philosophical reasons one might wish it were
otherwise), the doctrine of human rights is the closest the international
community has come to a cosmopolitan moral language; there is simply no
alternative remotely as legitimate. And, for all its philosophical shortcomings,
the language of human rights is surprisingly successful in drawing attention
to the common elements of the human condition that constitute us as a single
moral community. To propagate a form of civic education that took seriously
the state's responsibility to respect human rights of persons everywhere
would be no small accomplishment.
"I know noble accents/And lucid, inescapable rhythms," wrote Wallace
Stevens in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." The Stoic
writers to whom Martha Nussbaum refers have given us some of the most sublime
and inspiring passages I have ever read -- passages whose loftiness is tempered
by a toughmindedness of style and substance that militates against sentimentality.
Seneca's prose, writes Phillip Lopate, "is thorny . . . and it leaves
a sort of dry almond taste from all those chewy aphorisms." Thus my
first response to Martha Nussbaum's "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism"
is the desire to agree with her (and through her with my beloved Stoics)
that the vision of the kosmou politês is not only noble, but lucid
Not that Nussbaum is the first educator to conceive of such a project. Some
schools are trying to teach children to think globally, and have been committed
to such a goal for some time. The bumper stickers that read THINK GLOBALLY,
ACT LOCALLY did not appear yesterday. Schools, however, are more complex
than slogans. When Nussbaum writes that "Our nation is appallingly
ignorant of the rest of the world. I think that this means that it is also,
in many critical ways, ignorant of itself," what, in practical terms,
does one proceed to study first? I would not chauvinistically argue against
studying "about India and Bolivia and Nigeria and Norway and their
histories, problems, and comparative successes." I would merely caution
that syllabi, like canons, are not infinitely expandable. Something has
to go -- and although Nussbaum does concede that global thinking can be
lonely and difficult, I doubt if she fully faces the practical, rather than
emotional, challenges that accompany it -- the challenges and agonizing
The passage from Stevens continues, as if with a sigh, "But I know,
too,/That the blackbird is involved/In what I know" -- lines that speak
to me in a voice of chastened self-knowledge about something like the impossibility
of transcendence. And with these lines I arrive at my second and truer response
to "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism," which is to be wary of its
idealism, its curiously unStoic lack of toughmindedness. Nussbaum has noble
tidings and hopeful proposals for us. But however attractive these are,
they depend on a remarkably benign and optimistic view of human nature.
Or is it just a blurry view? Here is one example of what I mean.
The stance of the kosmou politês, Nussbaum writes, "recognizes
in persons what is especially fundamental about them, most worthy of respect
and acknowledgment, namely their aspirations to justice and goodness and
their capacities for reasoning in this connection." The sentence is
ambiguous. Are those "aspirations to justice and goodness" "worthy
of respect and acknowledgment"? Assuredly. Are such aspirations "fundamental"
in the sense of being universal? (And if Nussbaum doesn't mean that, what
does she mean?) I do not know how various Stoic thinkers would have answered
the question of the universality of aspirations to justice. But I believe
that if Nussbaum is, as she appears to be, assuming such universality, then
she is assuming a great deal. Speculations about the intrinsic goodness
of human nature are dialectical, dynamic, unstable; they change according
to the character, circumstances, and experience of those who engage in them.
A brief passage in Primo Levi's The Reawakening dramatizes such discontinuities.
Two Auschwitz survivors, thrown together amidst the chaos immediately following
the Liberation, are confounded by their differences in outlook. Levi writes:
"His life had been one of war, and he considered anyone who refused
this iron universe of his to be despicable and blind. The Lager had happened
to both of us; I had felt it as a monstrous upheaval, a loathsome anomaly
in my history and in the history of the world; he, as sad confirmation of
things well known."
At the same time as I was pondering Nussbaum's essay, I happened across
two pieces of writing that address similar issues -- of education, ethics,
policies, above all action in the world in the present and the next century.
How should we live? How can we coexist? How can we protect the planet? What
should we do? The questions are not easy to formulate; and I sense behind
them an anguish (maybe mere fin-de-siècle angst, maybe not) which,
though strikingly absent from Nussbaum's piece, permeates the words of Albert
Gore speaking at Harvard's 1994 Commencement, and of Alex DeWaal, writing
in the 1 July 1994 number of the Times Literary Supplement.
Neither Gore nor DeWaal advocates the narrow, self-congratulatory patriotism
that Nussbaum criticizes in Richard Rorty and Sheldon Hackney. Equally striking,
Gore and DeWaal both see the world as a fearful place. Gore, if I understand
him rightly, would actually dissuade us from dwelling on the horrors of
Bosnia and Rwanda, because too much chaos and bloodshed merely feed cynicism
and choke off the precious resource of hope:
Make no mistake. Just as repeated injuries to our national esteem jeopardize
our ability to solve the problems that confront us, so at the global level
the convergence of too much chaos and horror in the world, of too many Bosnias
and Rwandas, can seriously damage the ability of our global civilization
to get a grip on the essential task of righting itself and regaining a measure
of control over our destiny as a species.
Averting our eyes from carnage may seem a counsel of despair; but DeWaal,
an expert on African affairs, expresses the disconcerting opinion that even
those who intervene in those affairs are in a sense averting their eyes.
Of recent events in Rwanda, he writes:
. . . At times, those guiding the international diplomacy seemed to be closing
their eyes and wishing the extremists away.
Before April 6, Rwanda had one of the most vigorous human-rights movements
in Africa. Six independent human-rights organizations cooperated in exposing
abuses by government and rebel forces. They also invited an International
Commission of Inquiry. . . . The Commission visited Rwanda in 1993 and compiled
a comprehensive and courageous report, documenting violations and naming
Democracy implied justice. The individuals named were promised an amnesty,
but knew that their actions were under scrutiny. Their strategy to escape
justice was to kill all those who had collaborated in human-rights investigations.
They killed most of them. It is a shocking reminder of just how high the
stakes are in the human-rights business.
I would not wish to conclude from this that all human beings are irredeemably
evil. But the wide-angled gaze of the citizen of the world, the outward-rippling
concentric circles stretching from the self to all the rest of humanity
-- however noble these may be, they are attended by grave questions. How
much can we see? How much should we see? What good does our seeing across
national boundaries do if we do nothing to intervene? What good does it
do if our interventions appear to worsen the situation? What do we do about
Bosnia, Rwanda? What about Somalia?
I am not a politician, and these are not questions to which I have very
good answers. But they do not seem to be questions Nussbaum is even prepared
to ask. The author of the distinguished study of Greek tragedy The Fragility
of Goodness seems, at least in this essay, to have a vision of a remarkably
A final point: though I am far less learned than Nussbaum in the literature
of Stoicism, I do not always concur with her depictions of the Stoics. I
read Marcus Aurelius, for example, as a beleagured man often desperately
uncomfortable in his role as ruler, grappling to make the best of nearly
impossible circumstances, daily exhorting himself to expect selfishness,
ignorance, and boorishness from his fellow men (and to be surprised if one
day these qualities fail to make an appearance). And Seneca, though a less
beleagured figure, still has few illusions about the world of power, and
impatiently advises us to commit suicide when we've had enough. Nussbaum
has less saturnine views. But then who wouldn't rather be a professor of
philosophy than a Roman emperor, much less Nero's tutor?
Cosmopolitanism and Difference
William E. Connolly
If I had to choose between Martha Nussbaum's cosmopolitanism and Richard
Rorty's quest for national identity, Nussbaum would win hands down. Our
schools, churches, media, and sports events already function as identity
maintaining machines which idealize America and define its identity by forging
a complex of races, faiths, states, peoples, and sexualities that contradict
it, or threaten it, or need its tutelage, or provoke its disgust. Unfortunately,
this depiction of difference as inherently foreign, dangerous, needy, or
destitute has haunted America from its inception. Alexis de Tocqueville,
often idolized as an early chronicler of American diversity, conveys this
mentality in his portrait of the Indian. He treats the Angloid conquest
of America as crucial to the advance of civilization itself. Before that
North America was only inhabited by wandering tribes who had not thought
of exploiting the natural wealth of the soil. One could still properly call
North America an empty continent, a deserted land waiting for inhabitants.
. . . In this condition, it offers itself not to the isolated, the ignorant,
and barbarous man of the first ages, but to man who has already mastered
the most important secrets of nature, united to his fellows, and taught
by the experience of fifty centuries. 1
Neither Rorty nor Nussbaum concurs with Tocqueville. Rorty pursues a generous
identity grounded in our highest national impulses. But he also disparages
of the "politics of difference." And that shows how oblivious
he is to the intimate connection between the construction of identity and
the production of difference. Tocqueville, who precedes him in his quest,
explored Christianity, democracy, reason, agriculture, and localism as sources
of national identity. But this very combination pushed Indians, atheists
and others beyond the pale. Where will Rorty look? How will he relate to
the differences he manufactures?
Nussbaum appeals to justice, universal reason and the love of humanity to
stretch our identifications beyond America. This combination is promising
-- as long as she also focuses on how the protean love of humanity repeatedly
finds itself at odds with operational practices of justice and reason. For
the history of justice and reason suggests that their every consolidation
"as such," while indispensable to the moral life, embodies presumptions
and precepts that push innocent constituencies into obscurity or misery.
You can't leave identity, reason, or justice behind, of course. I invoke
them even as I suspect closure and provincialism in them. But it might be
possible to develop a cosmopolitan ideal by acknowledging the deep ambiguity
of all three. You might come to see how every identity you participate in
-- say, as American, white, atheistic, heterosexual, male, and professional
-- depends significantly upon the difference it produces to sustain itself.
And you might develop ethical strategies to ward off the temptation to elevate
your own identities by automatically defining the differences that enable
them as inferior, needy, evil, or abnormal. As you proceed you might learn
how your previous practices of identity unconsciously manufactured Indians.
Take homosexuality. In the 1950s conservatives defined it as a sin to punish
and liberals as a sickness to cure. Because both naturalized heterosexuality
neither construed alternative sexualities as positive identities to be treated
justly. Surely there are similar absences within justice today that still
remain obscure to most of us.
We need an ethic of cultivation grounded on recognition of identities as
complex artifices constructed out of numerous differences. It would pursue
agonistic respect for the differences in which we are implicated, stretch
our current cultural imaginations, and foster care for diverse possibilities
of life even now coming into being. Such an ethic sustains a layered cosmopolitanism.
You might be loyal to the state in which you participate, but make that
loyalty contingent on how the state relates to the differences through which
it is organized. The differences you would resist most actively are those
fundamentalisms of nation, state, race, church, reason, gender, and sexuality
that define themselves as real and important by debasing everything else.
Such a layered cosmopolitanism embraces much in Nussbaum's fine essay, even
if it follows a slightly different route.
Limits of Loyalty
This comment on Martha Nussbaum's interesting article is being written just
after President Clinton's news conference announcing the change in our Cuban
refugee policy. Cuban refugees have for 30 years been favored, and this
favoritism, as against Haitian refugees, for example, has been criticized
recently as racist. (Previously it was criticized -- as were elements of
our refugee policies affecting Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, etc. -- as politically
biased, rejecting a universal and uniform standard in favor of refugees
from Communist regimes.) I wonder what one can make of this change of policy
in the light of the standard Martha Nussbaum would have replace the common
understanding, which she considerately calls "patriotism" rather
than "nationalism" or "chauvinism." In this prevailing
standard, the highest political loyalty is to one's country. Certainly it
was the interests of the United States President Clinton had in mind in
making this change. Were he truly a world citizen, what would this imply
about refugee policies?
I use the term "political" as in "highest political loyalty"
because I acknowledge that no loyalty should be higher than loyalty to one's
religion or to basic human values. But as I read Martha Nussbaum she is
not only arguing against the principle "my country, right or wrong."
We would all, patriots and cosmopolitans, allow that there comes a time
when our country's policies must be resisted (which policies, and how resisted,
would of course raise further difficult questions). She clearly has something
more than this in mind, as one sees when she presents as questionable the
sentiment, "I am an Indian first, a citizen of the world second."
This suggests that something like world citizenship should replace American
I have practical objections to this, but also, I believe, principled objections.
The practical objections are immediately raised by the example of the Cuban
refugees, and they are numerous. Is our government to treat the fleeing
Cubans the way it would, for example, American citizens, permanent residents,
immigrants who have gone through the proper procedures, refugees who have
established their bona fides as escaping from persecution, etc. . . ? If
so, then what distinctions should it make among those who wish to settle
in this country? Should it make none? Is this what the status of "world
citizenship" suggests or calls for?
Any immigrant or refugee policy presupposes a state, with rules that differentiate
among those who are allowed entry, in what status, and with what rights.
This presupposition does not mean that those outside the boundaries of the
state are without human claims, indeed rights, rights which have been in
large measure specified and defined by international protocols. We will
join in feeding the Rwandan refugees, perhaps join in protecting them, will
not give them rights to enter the United States, etc. All these commitments
to others' claims and rights involve costs, in money and lives, and these
costs are not assessed against the world, but against the citizens and soldiers
of a specific country, the only entity which can lay taxes and require soldiers
to obey orders. It is perhaps this reality which also gives them the ethical
right to make distinctions. It is hard to see, practically, how to move
beyond a situation in which the primary power to grant and sustain rights
rests with constituted sovereign states. I suspect that one reason why cosmopolitanism
could make sense to the philosophers Martha Nussbaum has studied is that
they were citizens of a "cosmopolis" -- a near universal state
and civilization -- whose uniformity in rights and obligations was mirrored
by a uniformity in city layouts and architecture. (Even their cosmopolitanism,
however, may have been stretched when they thought about the barbarians
and the Parthians.) But our situation is radically different.
The issue is more than practical. It is a problem of how far bonds of obligation
and loyalty can stretch. In some respects, as I've indicated, they can encompass
all men and women. Do we not sense, though, whatever the inadequacy of our
principled ethical arguments, that we owe more to our family members than
to others? The greater closeness of bonds to one's country and countrymen
need not mean denigration and disrespect for others. Certainly there can
be no argument with the position that we should know more about other countries,
that we learn more about ourselves in studying them, that knowing more may
help in dealing with international problems, that there are moral obligations
to the rest of the world. But there is a meaning to boundaries, in personal
life and in political life, as well as a practical utility. Most people
around the world seem to want their governments to be smaller and closer
than they are now. Consider how in this century empires have been reduced
to a host of squabbling countries -- the Ottoman, the Austro-Hungarian,
the Russian, with perhaps the Chinese next. Cosmopolitan values have made
great headway (resistance to them, we should recognize, is rather greater
in most of the world than in the United States). But cosmopolitan political
loyalty is another matter and I don't see how it can be practically implemented
or that the world would be better if it were.
Why Democracy Needs Patriotism
I agree with so much in Martha Nussbaum's well-argued and moving piece,
but I would like to enter one caveat. Nussbaum sometimes seems to be proposing
cosmopolitan identity as an alternative to patriotism. If so, then I think
this is a mistake. And that is because we cannot do without patriotism in
the modern world.
This necessity can be seen from two angles. The most important is this:
the societies that we are striving to create -- free, democratic, willing
to some degree to share equally -- require strong identification on the
part of their citizens. It has always been noted in the civic humanist tradition
that free societies, relying as they must on the spontaneous supportive
action of their members, need that strong sense of allegiance that Montesquieu
called "vertu." This is if anything even truer of modern representative
democracies, even though they integrate "the liberty of the moderns"
with the values of political liberty. Indeed, the requirement is stronger
just because they are also "liberal" societies, which cherish
negative liberty and individual rights. A citizen democracy can only work
if most of its members are convinced that their political society is a common
venture of considerable moment, and believe it to be of vital importance
that they participate in the ways they must to keep it functioning as a
This means not only a commitment to the common project, but also a special
sense of bonding among people working together in this project. This is
perhaps the point at which most contemporary democracies threaten to fall
apart. A citizen democracy is highly vulnerable to the alienation which
arises from deep inequalities, and the sense of neglect and indifference
that easily arises among abandoned minorities. That is why democratic societies
cannot be too inegalitarian. But this means that they must be capable of
adopting policies with redistributive effect (and to some extent also with
redistributive intent). And such policies require a high degree of mutual
commitment. If an outsider can be permitted to comment, the widespread opposition
to the extremely modest proposal for a health plan in the United States
doesn't seem to indicate that contemporary Americans suffer from too great
a mutual commitment.
In short, the reason why we need patriotism as well as cosmopolitanism is
that modern democratic states are extremely exigent common enterprises in
self-rule. They require a great deal of their members, demanding much greater
solidarity towards compatriots than towards humanity in general. We cannot
make a success of these enterprises without strong common identification.
And considering the alternatives to democracy in our world, it is not in
the interest of humanity that we fail in these enterprises.
We can look at this from another angle. Modern states in general, not just
democratic states, having broken away from the traditional hierarchical
models, require a high degree of mobilization of their members. Mobilization
occurs around common identities. In most cases, our choice is not whether
or not people will respond to mobilization around a common identity -- as
against, say, being recruitable only for universal causes -- but which of
two or more possible identities will claim their allegiance. Some of these
will be wider than others, some more open and hospitable to cosmopolitan
solidarities. It is between these that the battle for civilized cosmopolitanism
must frequently be fought, and not in an impossible (and if successful,
self-defeating) attempt to set aside all such patriotic identities.
Take the example of India that Martha Nussbaum raises. The present drive
towards Hindu chauvinism of the BJP comes as an alternative definition of
Indian national identity to the Nehru-Gandhi secular definition of India.
And what in the end can defeat this chauvinism but some reinvention of India
as a secular republic with which people can identify? I shudder to think
of the consequences of abandoning the issue of Indian identity altogether
to the perpetrators of the Ayodhya disaster.
In sum, what I am saying is that we have no choice but to be cosmopolitans
and patriots; which means to fight for the kind of patriotism which is open
to universal solidarities against other, more closed kinds. I don't really
know if I'm disagreeing with Martha Nussbaum on this, just putting her profound
and moving plea in a somewhat different context. But this nuance is, I think,
A Defense of Communal Values
The cosmopolitan, Martha Nussbaum tells us, is "the person whose primary
allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world."
The nationalist, by contrast, holds a primary allegiance to a narrower social
sphere, based on the idiosyncrasies of birth, residence, and upbringing.
The opposition between these two allegiances is stark, indeed excessively
stark. Later she affirms the subtler Stoic formulation of the cosmopolitan
ideal: To be a citizen of the world is not to "think of ourselves as
devoid of local affiliations, but as surrounded by a series of concentric
circles. The first one is drawn around the self; the next takes in one's
immediate family; then, in order, one's neighbors or local group, one's
fellow citydwellers. . . . Our task as citizens of the world will be to
draw the circles somehow toward the center. . . ." I shall use this
as a definition of cosmopolitanism in the remainder of my remarks.
The weakness in the cosmopolitan view is its implication that, in the ideal,
all our allegiances to individuals would be of equal importance, independent
of the accidents of particular life histories. As Nussbaum puts it, "One
should always behave so as to treat with equal respect the dignity of reason
and moral choice in every human being."
By contrast, I believe we are all better off if we take our social commitments
as dependent on the accidents of our particular life histories. Accepting
the "concentric circle" imagery, the alternative is to hold that
the various annuli representing our social connections have their ideal
positions and sizes, allegiance to which tends to promote the good of all.
I respond to the needs of some human beings more than to the needs of others.
I strive to help satisfy the aspirations and needs of my family more than
those of other human beings. I help a friend in a situation where I do not
help a stranger. I strive to improve the health, safety, and cultural vitality
of my community more than those of other communities. I devote more time
and energy to making mine a better country than I do other countries of
which I am not a citizen. I do this with reason, since I think it is morally
correct to do so, and with emotion, since my family, friends, ethnic heritage,
and country have made me what I am. I will call this view "communalism,"
although I do not know to what extent my use of the term conforms to its
Communalism is cosmopolitan in two senses. First, it makes a place in its
values for all human beings -- the outer annulus of the planetary system
of commitments. I do not know what precise weight to place on this annulus,
but I believe that it bids us to dedicate part of our resources to empowering
others to meet their communal obligations to families, friends, ethnic groups,
and countries of citizenship.
Second, communalism holds that if all people acted in this manner, we would
all be better off, and conversely, if we do not act in this way, we will
all be worse off. Why? My ability to affect the well-being of others --
either through altruistic acts on my part or through arrangements of reciprocal
aid -- diminishes with their social distance from me. I am in a better position
than a random individual to act on behalf of my parents, wife, and children
than I am on behalf of abstract individuals distant from me, whose personalities
are opaque to me, and whom I do not love with the love that comes from personal
association and blood relations. Thus it would take a considerably greater
dedication of effort and resources for an abstract individual of arbitrary
distance from my family to achieve the same effect that I can through my
personal efforts and by the use of my personal resources. Moreover, when
I fail in my duties to my family, they are in a better position to punish
my actions and prevent their recurrence than are abstract individuals when
I fail in my duties towards them. Similar remarks apply to my circle of
friends, my local community, and my country of citizenship.
In short, if we all committed ourselves to Stoic cosmopolitanism, the result
would be inefficient -- a great deal of wasted effort, a lot of defection
from our committed principles, and an inferior outcome for large numbers
But what about inequality? Suppose I am very poor and a person whom I do
not know is very wealthy. This person may then in fact be better equipped
to help my family than I am myself. Similarly, if my community or nation
is very poor and another community or nation is very rich, the latter may
be better equipped to help mine than mine is to help itself. If communalism
is more efficient, isn't cosmopolitanism more equitable?
I do not know the answer to the question if we assume that poverty and wealth
are immutable characteristics of groups (I shall use the term "group"
to refer variously to families, communities, and nations, and terms "wealth"
and "poor" to refer to general measures of group welfare). But
they are not immutable. Among groups that were relatively poor in the past,
some remain poor and some have become relatively wealthy, and conversely.
Communalism can be defended as an ethic for the promotion of the well-being
of even the nonwealthy. The argument is straightforward, and depends upon
analyzing the gains from defecting from the cosmopolitan as opposed to the
Suppose there are a number of groups of different wealth, and suppose the
wealth of a group can be affected by the actions of its members. In a cosmopolitan
world, the differences in wealth among groups are minimized by the charitable
acts of the wealthy. Moreover, all groups have an incentive to increase
their own wealth, whether or not they are donors or recipients of aid, since
all care as much about the well-being of others as they do about their own
But suppose groups can choose to defect from the cosmopolitan ethic by not
sharing if they are potential donors, and not improving their wealth if
they are recipients. Under plausible conditions a wealth-producing group
has an incentive to defect, since it will gain from not sharing, and a recipient
group has an incentive to defect by not improving its wealth-producing capacity,
for by improving it would not only lose subsidies from wealthier groups,
but would also become a donor to other groups. Thus cosmopolitanism is not
a socially stable ethic.
The same defect does not apply to a communalist strategy. Clearly groups
cannot "defect," since they are the architects of their own wealth.
What about individuals in groups? The narrower the group within which an
agent operates, the more the agent's personal well-being depends on that
of the group, and the greater are the pressures that the group can impose
on the agent to fulfill group obligations. Therefore, groups can be designed
to forestall defection of their members. In short, communalist groups have
an incentive to improve their wealth, and ceteris paribus, in a communalist
world, all are better off.
But ceteris are never paribus, which is why a concentric circle view of
our social obligations seems better than a purely myopic view. Small groups
often do better when they cooperate with others to form larger groups (economies
of scale), and the vagaries of nature bid groups to form alliances for mutual
insurance and sustenance. And the location of small groups within larger
groups allows individuals to defect from their communal obligations by exiting
to groups where they might expect to be better off. Consider a pertinent
example: "open borders" policies allowing unrestricted international
migration equalize world income.
The general progress in the improvement of living standards in the world
had been dramatic in the past thirty years. Average real GNP per capita
has grown by 1.73% per year, average daily caloric intake has increased
by 0.55% per year, and the mortality rate for children under the age of
five years has declined at a rate of 2.51% per year.1
But "uneven development" has been equally dramatic. Averaging
various measures, the percent of world income inequality that is between-nations
as opposed to within-nations is 75%: that is, if all inequality within countries
were eliminated, world inequality would remain at about 75% its current
level.2 Moreover, inequality has increased dramatically since the mid-19th
century, and recent trends show no signs of improvement; if anything, they
indicate a worsening in the past three decades.
Clearly, inequality rather than the general pace of development has been
a problem in the world economy. Wouldn't the cosmopolitan want, then, to
promote massive migration from poor to wealthy nations?
Here are some facts: (a) from 1989 to 1992, the number of people living
outside their country of origin doubled, from 50 million to 100 million;
(b) most are escaping poverty, and almost half of the migrants are women
seeking better economic opportunities; (c) about 20 million have fled violence,
drought and environmental destruction.3 Although very little of this movement
is defection of individuals from their families, much is defection of families
from their communities and nations (although migrants often remit large
amounts of money to their communities of origin, and often return under
auspicious conditions). Doubtless neither communalists nor cosmopolitans
will fault migrant families for choosing "exit" over "voice"
in improving their lot. But the ideal cosmopolitan would approve unconditionally
of the recipient country's acceptance of migrants, while the communalist
The communalist argues that a successful strategy of "open borders"
is likely to decrease world living standards and increase the degree of
equality of living standards in the medium and long run. To be sure, successful,
open borders would significantly equalize the wealth of nations in the short
run, as families move from lower to higher wealth-producing regions. As
long as all regions maintain a cosmopolitan commitment to increasing their
wealth-producing capacity, there is no problem. But then lower wealth-producing
countries have a strong incentive to defect to a selfish or communalist
strategy of exporting people and accepting remittances, rather than improving
the wealth of all. Similarly, a higher wealth-producing country has a strong
incentive to defect to a selfish or communalist strategy of closing its
borders and following an internal development strategy rather than improving
the wealth of all. In sum, the cosmopolitan ethic is not self-enforcing.
A communalist alternative may do better. It would require that poorer countries
identify the forces underlying their failure to share in the general rate
of economic improvement, and correct these failures, and that wealthier
countries determine their complicity in world inequality and modify their
behavior accordingly. It would also be just and desirable if the wealthy
countries transferred material resources to the less wealthy with viable
development policies. But their doing so is probably not a precondition
for successful development policies in the less wealthy countries.
Spheres of Affection
I think that I agree with each of Martha Nussbaum's arguments for a "cosmopolitan
education;" they are quite specific and sensible. I am less convinced
by her underlying and overriding world view -- perhaps because I am not
a citizen of the world, as she would like me to be. I am not even aware
that there is a world such that one could be a citizen of it. No one has
ever offered me citizenship, or described the naturalization process, or
enlisted me in the world's institutional structures, or given me an account
of its decision procedures (I hope that they are democratic), or provided
me with a list of the benefits and obligations of citizenship, or shown
me the world's calendar and the common celebrations and commemorations of
its citizens. I am wholly ignorant; and while a cosmopolitan education would
be a very good thing, I don't see, from Nussbaum's account, that it would
teach me the things that any world citizen would need to know. It would,
however, teach me things that American citizens need to know: why isn't
that good enough? Can't I be a cosmopolitan American (along with all the
other things that I am)? I have commitments beyond the borders of this or
any other country, to fellow Jews, say, or to social democrats around the
world, or to people in trouble in faraway countries, but these are not citizen-like
Nussbaum's image of concentric circles is more helpful than her idea of
world citizenship -- precisely because it suggests how odd it is to claim
that my primary allegiance is, or ought to be, to the outermost circle.
My allegiances, like my relationships, start at the center. Hence we need
to describe the mediations through which one reaches the outer circles,
acknowledging the value of, but also passing through, the others. That is
not so easy to do; it requires a concrete, sympathetic, engaged but not
absolutely engaged account of the inner circles -- and then an effort not
so much to draw the outermost circle in as to open the inner ones out. I
would read the Plutarch line that Nussbaum quotes as an opening of this
sort: "We should regard all human beings as our fellow citizens and
neighbors." That is, we begin by understanding what it means to have
fellow citizens and neighbors; without that understanding we are morally
lost. Then we extend the sense of moral fellowship and neighborliness to
new groups of people, and ultimately to all people. Nussbaum's cosmopolitan
works by analogy: "regard . . . as . . . " No doubt, commitments
and obligations are diminished as they are extended, but the extension is
still valuable, and that, I take it, is the value of a "cosmopolitan
I suspect that Nussbaum wants something more than this, and I am a little
surprised by the confidence of her cosmopolitan convictions. She is quick
to see the chauvinist possibilities of Richard Rorty's patriotism, and she
worries that he makes no proposal to cope with this "obvious danger."
Shouldn't her readers worry that she makes no proposal to cope with the
obvious dangers of cosmopolitanism? The crimes of the 20th century have
been committed alternately, as it were, by perverted patriots and perverted
cosmopolitans. If fascism represents the first of these perversions, communism,
in its Leninist and Maoist versions, represents the second. Isn't this repressive
communism a child of universalizing enlightenment? Doesn't it teach an anti-nationalist
ethic, identifying our primary allegiance (the class limitation, "workers
of the world," was thought to be temporary and instrumental) much as
Nussbaum does? A particularism that excludes wider loyalties invites immoral
conduct, but so does a cosmopolitanism that overrides narrower loyalties.
Both are dangerous; the argument needs to be cast in different terms.
Duties of Descent
Much that Martha Nussbaum says is wise and welcome. This is particularly
true of her educational proposals. The goal of a cosmopolitan education
is to acquaint students with the human soul -- with the great themes of
human living, and the ways in which different individuals and communities
confront them. In part an education of this kind will emphasize variety
and conflict: the variety of values, projects, and ways of life in which
human beings have found fulfillment, and the conflict among them. But what
cosmopolitanism stresses, above all else, is commonality -- the conviction
that this variety and conflict exists within the human soul and constitutes
our shared inheritance. It is commonality that matters most to Nussbaum
and her insistence on it is a welcome counter to the mood of insularity
and particularism that at the moment is quite strong among American educators.
Of course, Richard Rorty also means to emphasize the importance of commonality
in his defense of patriotism, and Nussbaum's criticism is merely that he
fails to carry his campaign far enough, defining what is common by America's
borders rather than humanity as a whole. In a broad sense, therefore, Rorty
and Nussbaum are allies. Their real adversary is the person who claims that
the values and experience of one or another particular group are incommunicable
to anyone outside it, and who insists that all talk of the human soul is
nonsense from the start. This is a popular view today, but a pernicious
one, and Nussbaum, like Rorty, wisely rejects it.
Nussbaum's remarks about patriotism are less convincing, however, at least
so far as they are directed at the American variety. Patriotism is a feeling
of primary allegiance to a particular group, membership in which is accidental.
In this respect, it resembles the loyalty people sometimes feel to their
families, which of course has often been the wellspring and model for patriotism
itself. To put such loyalties first -- to put them ahead of one's devotion
to humanity as such -- is, in Nussbaum's view, to make "the morally
questionable move of self-definition by a morally irrelevant characteristic,"
and often, she says, encourages people to do terrible things. In her judgment,
then, patriotism is both morally illegitimate and dangerous. Nussbaum concedes
that if the order of priority is reversed -- if a person's patriotism is
constrained by an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole -- these objections
vanish. It ceases to be either illegitimate or dangerous -- no more so,
anyway, than family affection -- but in that case it also ceases to be patriotism
as most of us understand it.
Whatever force Nussbaum's argument may have in other cases (like the Indian),
it offers too simple a view of American patriotism. To see why, it will
help to draw a distinction -- overlooked by Nussbaum -- between the content
of American patriotism and its emotive source. By the content of American
patriotism I mean the complex of ideals and practices that are most often
invoked when Americans who claim to be patriots are asked what their country
stands for, and hence how they define the substance of what Nussbaum calls
their "specifically American citizenship." From the very start
of the republic these ideals and practices have included a commitment to
the principle of equality, to freedom of movement and expression, and to
constitutional government (which itself is a composite ideal made up of
many parts -- democratic representation, the separation of powers, judicial
review, and so on). We have not always lived up to these ideals. Indeed,
sometimes we have failed miserably and even today the most that one can
say is that we are on the way to their achievement. But these ideals, however
imperfectly realized, derive from the Enlightenment and were framed in the
18th century's culture of stoic cosmopolitanism. In their institutional
specificity they go beyond the concept of "the moral community made
up by the humanity of all human beings," or Kant's kingdom of ends,
or the abstract notion of human rights. But they are consistent with all
these concepts, and may plausibly be viewed as a response to the challenge
of giving the broad generalities of cosmopolitanism a concrete and workable
form that is responsive to the complexities of human life -- as an effort
to bring cosmopolitanism down to earth. In this sense one might say that
the content of American patriotism and that of cosmopolitanism overlap or
But if that is so, it has often been asked, what is specifically American
about these ideals and practices? Any person may embrace them, any government
may adopt them. Our foreign policy, at its most idealistic moments, has
sought to show just this. Looking only at the content of American patriotism,
then, we will be hard-pressed to justify a feeling of supreme loyalty to
this one country, a willingness to put its claims above all others', as
contrasted with a loyalty to the cosmopolitan values that America endorses
but can never claim are peculiarly its own. If we look only at its content,
in other words, it is hard to see what can justify American patriotism at
The justification is to be found elsewhere -- in the historical struggle
of the American people to live up to their ideals and in the sacrifices
they have made to protect and promote them. This struggle and these sacrifices
are peculiarly American, even if the ideals themselves are not. They are
historical facts, not philosophical abstractions. They belong to the realm
of deeds, to the past, and not to the realm of speculation. They are part
of a national biography that is as distinctive as the biography of any individual,
and in these facts, these deeds, it is proper to feel a pride that is uniquely
Other historical facts, to be sure, make it proper to feel a shame uniquely
our own. But not everything in our history is shameful. There is much to
be proud of, much that is inspiring, and much that lays a burden on us --
the living -- to redeem the sacrifices of the past by perfecting the great
vision for whose sake they were made. This pride, this inspiration, this
burden is specifically American even if the vision is not. The content of
that vision -- and hence the content of American patriotism -- is cosmopolitan.
What justifies the feeling that America is special and entitled to a dominant
place among our loyalties is the singular historical record of struggle
and sacrifice which the American people have compiled on behalf of universal
ideals to which men and women everywhere may pledge allegiance. It is in
this historical record and not in the content of these ideals themselves
-- in history not in thought -- that the emotive source of American patriotism
This is Lincoln's point in the Gettysburg Address. America was dedicated
at its start to a cosmopolitan ideal -- "the proposition that all men
are created equal." But it is now engaged, Lincoln says, in a war "testing"
whether a country so committed can "endure," and great sacrifices
have been made to show it can. These are American sacrifices, peculiarly
our own, and they justify -- in Lincoln's view, demand -- a renewed dedication
to the ideal of equality itself. Everyone has a moral reason to affirm this
ideal. But we Americans, Lincoln insists, have another special reason for
such affirmation -- an historical reason based on the fact that we have
not only declared our commitment to equality but spilled blood to achieve
it. This gives our loyalty to the cosmopolitan ideal of equality a peculiarly
American character and transmutes it into patriotism, into a loyalty toward
the unique historical adventure that is America itself. Other documents
-- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the decisions of the
Supreme Court -- develop more fully the content of America's ideals. But
the Gettysburg Address, with its contrapuntal themes of commitment and history,
principle and sacrifice, ideals and blood, illuminates in a way these other
documents do not the emotive source of American patriotism and the justification
Still, one might wonder whether "justification" is the right word.
History and sacrifice may explain patriotic feeling, the sense of a peculiar
and deep loyalty to one's country. But can they ever -- even in America
-- justify it?
There are two things I would say about this. First, the world is at present
divided into states, and this is likely to remain true for some time to
come. No cosmopolitan authority is presently able to enforce cosmopolitan
ideals. The responsibility for such enforcement necessarily falls instead
to those states that endorse these ideals, and no state has larger responsibilities
in this regard than America. The best way of advancing the cause of cosmopolitanism,
for the time being at least, is to strengthen the commitment that Americans
feel to their country's own historical mission of promoting democratic constitutionalism
around the world. This commitment is not jingoism -- the belief that Americans
are better than other people and that their interests must always come first.
It is a patriotic appeal to take up, again, the universal cause for which
we have made particular sacrifices and taken particular risks in the past.
Given the division of the planet into nation states, the road to cosmopolitanism
must now and for some time to come run through local commitments of this
kind -- at least in countries, like the United States, whose deepest values
are cosmopolitan in nature. And if these commitments are to remain both
true and strong, young Americans must be trained to understand the universality
of their country's ideals and at the same time to feel the special obligation
that grows from its historical struggle to achieve them.
Second -- to return to the Gettysburg Address -- others who have gone before
us in America have taken huge risks and made enormous sacrifices in pursuit
of the vision of a continental nation composed of diverse peoples bound
together by a shared commitment to freedom and equality and the habits of
democratic government. It is up to us, Lincoln says, to redeem their sacrifices
-- in the only way we can -- by carrying this project forward. We owe it
to them to do so. This is not an obligation we owe to humanity at large,
but to specific individuals related to us by the accidental fact of our
common membership in the American community. In this respect, patriotic
duty resembles the obligation children owe their parents, though it is not
merely because earlier Americans provided for us that we owe them this duty
of support; it is because they worked and suffered to advance the country's
honorable values. Patriotism is a feeling of duty to the dead -- "the
mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave
to every living heart and hearthstone" (Lincoln's First Inaugural Address).
It grows from a sense of indebtedness to the dead, from the feeling that
living Americans owe their greatest moral treasure -- the special obligations
that our national biography creates -- to the sacrifices of the dead, and
from the conviction that this debt can be repaid only by meeting our inherited
obligations. This is what American patriotism is, and also the justification
I know that what I have just said will be unconvincing to many. In intellectual
circles, who feels much of an obligation to the dead these days? Or at least
an obligation to our dead? The dead belong to the past, to the world before
we entered it. We -- the living -- didn't make that world but found it already
in place. From our point of view, it is an accident, a piece of luck, that
we have the past (and the dead) we do. The most powerful moral conviction
in America today is the belief that what is accidental lacks ethical significance
and, more specifically, that it cannot be a source of rights and obligations.
The claim that Americans cannot have special duties on account of their
special but accidental past is a corollary of this fundamental conviction.
The only duties we can have, many now believe, are those that follow from
the requirements of reason, which are general and non-accidental. This is
the main theme of Kant's moral philosophy, and until that philosophy is
effectively challenged, patriotism of every kind, including the American,
is bound to remain under a cloud of suspicion.
Martha Nussbaum's attack on American patriotism is suffused with the spirit
of Kant's ethics. It is an irony that in her earlier writings she did so
much to revive the Greek idea of moral luck and to remind us of the limits
of an antifatalistic morality that discredits patriotism in all its forms
and a great deal else besides.
Empathy comes easy. Of course, our children should learn that all of humanity
shares common characteristics. They should understand that for some purposes
we are all limbs of a single body. This will do no harm, but it avoids the
only relevant question of political action: To what extent are we obligated
to help the needy who are strangers to our culture?
A true utopian would say that we and other rich nations should share our
wealth with the poor and suffering among the five billion people on the
planet. If we really believed that national boundaries are arbitrary, as
Nussbaum claims, we should have to apply John Rawls's difference principle
to all living people and insist that we justify an incremental American
wealth on the grounds of its benefiting the poorest group of people on earth.
This measure would, to say the least, test our commitment to the other limbs
of the earth's body politic.
But Nussbaum is not a true utopian universalist. It is not even clear that
she recognizes the problem of redistributing our wealth. She advises against
other countries' industrializing quickly without taking steps to protect
the environment. Apparently, she would be unhappy about a billion Chinese
and a billion Muslims driving to work every morning, using paper plates
and styrofoam cups, and generating tons of trash. The well-to-do among us
can do this, but they should not. But, she says, we should rear our children
to feel guilty about their privileged position in the world. That, in her
view, is what it means to "take Kantian morality at all seriously."
But, alas, it is not clear what our children, so sensitized, could or should
do to assuage their guilt.
There is no easy answer to the question of how much we should help strangers
in need. Neither Rawls nor Nussbaum has anything serious to offer on the
question. Our first obligation is to those who share our political and economic
fate -- to the Chinese, Africans, Latinos, and Jews who have become Americans.
And undoubtedly we owe something to their erstwhile countrymen who stayed
at home. But how much we owe to strangers abroad is open to debate. I have
heard philosophers argue that the standard should be one of decency. We
help refugees when our conscience bothers us. It makes more sense to debate
our obligation as a discounted version of what we owe those in our midst.
Yet neither of these approaches generates more than a haphazard approach
to foreign aid.
The most dramatic rescue missions in the second half of the 20th century
have occurred on the most patriotic soil. Germany's taking responsibility
for 17 million new citizens and their bankrupt economy is hardly an action
of universal brotherhood. It is an expression of Germany's commitment to
its own people, narrowly defined. That they would not dream of a similar
effort to help Romania or Bulgaria makes their actions no less noble. Israel's
absorbing a population from Russia and Ethiopia almost equal to its own
size speaks in a similar idiom of patriotism. Jews are committed not to
universal humanity but to helping each other. Would that Americans had some
of this commitment that Germans and Jews nurture in their patriotic culture.
Perhaps then we could repair the South Bronx.
The ideal is the enemy of the good. And Kantian universalism distracts us
from the localized solidarity necessary for political action. We cannot
provide health care for the entire world, but at least we can seek to provide
it for Americans. Those who dream of being citizens of the world should
look around them. Are they proud to be a citizen of the country where they
can actually make a difference?
In the end, Nussbaum's argument reduces to name-calling. Her case is a version
of the insult that anyone who takes patriotism seriously must be a crypto-fascist.
Her charges range from accusing her opponents of treating their country
as a god to their seeking "a surrogate parent who will do one's thinking
for one." There must be a better way to make the point that we must
help those close to us without forgetting those far away.
Martha Nussbaum's paean to cosmopolitan internationalism could hardly be
more timely. National boundaries are becoming increasingly less relevant,
both economically and environmentally. But far from calling forth concerted
action across national borders, these developments coincide with a resurgence
of ethnicity-based nationalisms in both the West and the developing world.
Appeals to such nationalisms have become an especially potent, yet pernicious,
force for political loyalty and mobilization.
Nor is American civic culture, as currently reproduced in schools, adequate
to cope with these trends. We are still woefully lacking in a grounded sense
of the human worth of members of other countries, especially those in the
developing world, or of the impact on the rest of the world of our own country's
"national interest" perspective on international affairs. As Nussbaum
points out, current anti-multicultural anxieties about national unity and
division just feed a national-chauvinistic narrowness.
At the same time, Nussbaum misleadingly characterizes the choices we face
and underplays the importance of striving for an enlightened patriotism.
She casts particularistic loyalties of nation -- and, by implication, smaller
communities (school, neighborhood, city, profession) -- as colorful, comfortable,
demanding little effort. They appeal, she implies, only to dangerous, superficial,
and base passions, and are often little better than forms of, or masks for,
egoistic self-aggrandizement. At best, national and local ties are construed
as sources of personal meaning, but not as themselves sites of struggle
for justice and the recognition of others' humanity, an ethical goal that
Nussbaum appears to confine to the international domain.
We need some distinctions here. Everywhere today we see a contest over the
meaning of "nation" (and thus of "patriotism"). At a
time when virtually no national borders are confined to single ethnic groups,
securely ethnically-inclusive conceptions of nationhood are a vital necessity.
Criticizing such a goal as insufficiently internationalist simply leaves
the field of patriotism and the definition of nationhood to the likes of
Le Pen, Milosevic, Zhirinovsky, Baruch Goldstein, and Oliver North. A patriotism
that strives for multicultural inclusiveness -- and, more broadly, strives
to live up to the ethically highest ideals found within the traditions of
a multicultural nation -- is far from easy and comfortable. It frequently
demands as much lonely and unselfish devotion as Nussbaum sees in the true
Richard Rorty's chastisement of "the left" for its failure of
patriotism contains a salutary, even if only strategic, lesson, despite
Nussbaum's apt critique of his narrow chauvinism. It is dangerous to turn
one's back so much on local and national ways of life, loyalties, and political
and cultural reference points that one loses the ability to identify and
communicate with not-yet-internationalist fellow citizens. We lose the lived
sense of commonality that allows us to argue that, indeed, the best way
for us together to "celebrate" (as Rorty says) our country is
to encourage it to live up to its highest ideals of equality, justice, and
compassion for those beyond its borders. Such a loss may indeed be the fate
of some international human rights activists, relief workers, and other
true internationalists; and it may be a loss from which the world community
benefits. But the possible costs of such exclusive internationalism reveal
the need for other persons, no less devoted to the welfare of strangers,
to operate in much more local venues. Both Rorty and Nussbaum overstate
the conflict here. With only some exceptions, a strengthened internationalism
and enlightened civic patriotism are largely compatible with one another.
Nussbaum is importantly right to note an incoherence in a purely national
multiculturalism, such as informs Sheldon Hackney's otherwise admirable
call for a national conversation on civic values.1 Fortunately, the actual
effect of the current wave of multiculturalism in education, at both college
and pre-college levels, has so far been to foster (though still too minimally)
both a stronger international focus and a more ethnically-inclusive sense
of American life.
Nussbaum's talk of "primary allegiance" is misleading in this
regard. She is of course right that a central educational and civic task
is to strengthen all Americans' allegiance to "the community of human
beings in the entire world." But we are enmeshed in our local communities
and nations too. The important issue is the substance of all these allegiances,
both local and international. Setting priorities in situations of conflict
is a secondary matter. What do we see as the object of our attachment when
we love our neighborhood, our city, our country? Is it a rich collective
life, with expansive and pluralistic sensibilities? Or is it narrow, anti-immigrant,
ethnically exclusive, Not-In-My-Backyard, chauvinistic -- more concerned
with keeping "the other" out than with the genuine welfare of
those in the community in question?
Nor does internationalism and a rejection of patriotism and other particularisms
guarantee a devotion to the universal good. After all, the international
corporate executive may regard himself as the ultimate cosmopolitan. He
is more comfortable with, and more conversant with, the people of the world
and their problems than are 99% of the US population. So it is not only
local but international attachments as well that leave room for choices
and struggles between expansive and chauvinistic interpretations.
In the main, we need not choose between internationalism and morally-informed
particularisms (including patriotism), in either our education or our political
commitments. Both are necessary. Indeed, without both the peoples of the
world are in for an increasingly dismal time.
1 See, e.g., Sheldon Hackney, "Toward a National Conversation,"
The Responsive Community, summer 1994, p. 4 10
From Part to Whole
Against all forms of nationalism and ethnocentrism, Martha Nussbaum challenges
us to take seriously, in education as in politics, the cosmopolitan ideal
that grants equal respect to all. She illuminates both what is most persuasive
in this ideal and the questions it inevitably raises in practice.
Few would disagree with her call for children to "learn a good deal
more than is frequently the case about the rest of the world in which they
live, about India and Bolivia and Nigeria and Norway and their histories,
problems, and comparative successes[.]"
I can attest to the expansion of interests and concern that such an education
can bring, having grown up in four richly diverse societies and relished
moving from a narrowly oriented Swedish school to the International School
in Geneva, with its ethos of internationalism and of respect for cultural
and other differences. But I have also seen the aimlessness, and, indeed,
the debilitating sense of being an exile everywhere among many young people
brought up in international contexts without any prior culturally rooted
And so I would ask of Nussbaum: must the education she has in mind -- inviting
children to view themselves primarily as citizens of the world -- instruct
them to regard all claims to national or other identity as "morally
irrelevant"? In that case, why should we, as she urges, spend more
time on our nation's history and politics? Why not conclude, with the 18th
century political theorist, William Godwin, that if two persons are drowning
and one is a relative of yours, then kinship (or, presumably, nationality)
should make no difference in your decision as to whom to try to rescue first?
The metaphor which Nussbaum cites from Hierocles, of concentric circles
of human concern and allegiance, speaks to the necessary tensions between
what we owe people inside and outside the many interlocking groups in which
we find ourselves. It is a metaphor long used to urge us to stretch our
concern outward from the narrowest personal confines toward the needs of
outsiders, strangers, all of humanity, and sometimes also of animals, as
Peter Singer holds in The Expanding Circle. But more often, it has been
invoked to convey a contrasting view: that of "my station and its duties,"
according to which our allegiances are dependent on our situation and role
in life and cannot be overridden by obligations to humanity at large.
From each of the two perspectives, the risks of misjudgment, abuses, even
idolatry on the part of holders of the other perspective are seen as considerable.
Nussbaum has rightly pointed to the evils that we witness in so many parts
of the world in the name of loyalty to kin, ethnic group, and nation, and
to the harm done by moral hypocrites who use only the language of universalizability.
Dickens immortalizes such hypocrites in the person of Mr. Pecksniff, in
Martin Chuzzlewit, who cheated his fellow humans with gusto even as he intoned
the language of universal love. Sometimes what is at issue is, rather, "inner
hypocrisy." Marcus Aurelius's inspiring reflections on cosmopolitanism,
equality, and the love of one's fellow human beings did not prevent him
from overseeing intensified persecution of Christians voicing those very
From whatever perspective we view the image of the concentric circles, it
speaks to our ambivalence about the conflicting calls on our concern and
on our sense of responsibility. Certain distinctions ought indisputably
to be morally irrelevant: thus the wrongfulness of taking an innocent human
life should not depend on that person's nationality. Other distinctions,
such as those concerning special responsibilities toward children we have
brought into the world or of citizenship, do carry legitimate weight for
most people, as Nussbaum points out.
But whose obligation is it to protect rights, such as those not to be killed
or tortured, when violated by others abroad? And at what cost? These are
questions that many cosmopolitan and non cosmopolitan thinkers and human
rights activists find equally bewildering today.
An additional distinction to which the concentric circles metaphor lends
itself concerns the direction in which learning should go. Is it better
to begin at the outer edges and to move inward? To move back and forth between
the two? Or to begin with the inner circles and to move outward? Alexander
Pope wrote, in "An Essay on Man":
God loves from Whole to Parts: but human soul
Must rise from Individual to the Whole.
Self love but serves the virtuous mind to wake,
As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake;
The centre mov'd, a circle strait succeeds,
Another still, and still another spreads,
Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace,
His country next, and next all human race,
/. . . /
Pope's interpretation of how we learn to reach beyond the innermost circles
is persuasive, and worth taking into account in teaching. Having learned
to move "from individual to the whole," one can then shift back
and forth between the circles in debating and working out one's stance with
respect to interlocking identities, loyalties, and obligations. The same
is true of our collective debates. From such a point of view, there is nothing
wrong with pride in, and love for, members of one's family, one's friends,
or one's native or chosen community, region, religion, or culture. Such
pride need not blind one to problems among one's own, nor involve exceptionalism
or disparagement of others. Without learning to understand the uniqueness
of cultures, beginning with one's own, it may well be impossible fully to
honor both human distinctiveness and the shared humanity central to cosmopolitanism.
Pluralism in One Country
Fortunately, as Professor Nussbaum points out, we all have many identities
at the same time, so there is no necessary conflict between the moral obligations
of national citizenship and of world citizenship. I am delighted that she
has chosen to tackle the thorny issues of cosmopolitanism: are national
boundaries really irrelevant in determining one's moral obligations; what
precisely are "the substantive universal values of justice and right;"
indeed, can any conception of universal justice escape being culture bound,
and can it achieve a global consensus among the world's people who will
view it through the prisms of their own cultures?
I certainly agree that it is better for everyone everywhere to know more
about the world and the other people in it, and we should all be aware of
ourselves not only as part of humanity but as part of life on earth in an
expanding universe. At the same time, I suspect that there is some position
between a bland and undefined universal goodness on the one hand and a murderous
nationalism on the other. That territory seems interesting to me and also
extremely important, so I will help the National Endowment for the Humanities
pursue its conversation about what it means to be an American and about
what values we need to share in our pluralistic country in order to make
democracy work. One might even argue that if we cannot make cultural pluralism
work within a single country -- especially a country like the United States
with powerful universal values of liberty and equality shaping the civic
sense as well as the legal structure of obligations and expectations --
then the chances for cosmopolitanism are not very good. I nevertheless wish
Professor Nussbaum every success in her important quest, and I hope to have
her blessing in mine.
Asking the Right Questions:
Martha Nussbaum Responds
I viewed my essay as a contribution to what should become an ongoing discussion
in America about cosmopolitanism and education, and I am happy to see the
vigor of the debate it has provoked. The replies are impressive in their
diversity and quality. I am grateful to all those who responded; many of
their points have force. These brief comments should be regarded less as
a conclusion than as a series of points in a continuing debate.
A few general features of the replies trouble me: the failure of almost
all to say anything concrete about any tradition or part of the world other
than our own; some assertions that American patriotism and constitutionalism
are special, unaccompanied by concrete reflection about any other tradition;
the failure of any of the 29 authors to mention the European Community,
even when discussing the prospects for transnational deliberation. I shall
return to these concerns as I address the most prominent issues.
Many of the replies also seem to me to make an exaggerated distinction between
patriotism and cosmopolitanism, characterizing cosmopolitanism as devoid
of love and particular attachment, and suggesting that the cosmopolitan
must disparage all types of patriotism. I attempted to characterize cosmopolitanism
in a way that showed the large and legitimate place that it can give to
local affiliations, within the constraints imposed by our awareness of our
complex affiliations with other humans with whom we share both abilities
and needs. Even in education, my primary focus, I argued that a curriculum
for world citizenship may legitimately spend a disproportionately large
time equipping pupils to function as citizens of their own nation, since
much, though by no means all, of their activity as world citizens will be
undertaken within the framework of the nation. I disparage the sort of patriotism
that remains satisfied with ignorance about the rest of the world, and also
the kind that cultivates the feeling that my country is better than others
just because it is mine. To be sure, many varieties of patriotism do not
have these features, and it is therefore wrong to infer from my argument
that I disparage patriotism of all sorts.
But I can best approach the essays by addressing a number of the more specific
worries they expressed, first about the cosmopolitan ideal (points 1, 2,
and 3), then about my approach to patriotism (points 4 and 5); then I shall
make some observations about the Stoics (6), and conclude with a question
about transnational obligation (7).
1. Ideal and Reality. Yes, I am depicting an ideal. Like the Stoics, I believe
that human nature poses no intrinsic barrier to achieving that ideal. Of
course, there are many worldly and practical barriers, and learned psychological
barriers as well. But my topic is education, and it seems appropriate for
education to hold up to young citizens an exacting ideal, so that, as Plato
put it, they can look to that ideal and live as if they were citizens of
that city. (Kant's Kingdom of Ends has a similar function in promoting the
improvement of moral and political practice.) Even if we fall short, we
can make tremendous improvements in young people's knowledge of and moral
sensitivity to the situations of others who live at a distance.
2. No World Government. True, there is no world government. There is, however,
the fascinating case of the European Community, where the cultivation of
broader ties of concern in politics, commerce, and education has not eradicated
local attachments, but has in many respects helped them to flourish. More
pertinent to our thinking about education in America, there are scores of
international deliberations on issues of importance -- the population conference
in Cairo ; meetings on ecology, pollution, agriculture, women's rights;
programs connected with the International Year of the Family. Such transnational
deliberations will become more numerous and more urgent. (Even success in
business increasingly requires transnational deliberation.)
My proposal is above all a proposal about education. What I am asking is
that we think, in shaping curricula, of the goal of producing citizens who
can be informed and duly concerned participants in these debates. This will
require changes in our conception of the requisite information for citizenship,
and in the values we choose to promote as essential to good citizenship.
We cannot assume that our own central values are also the ones best suited
to world deliberation, though they might be.
3. Getting the Universal Right. But how do we identify the universal values
of world citizenship among the many local values we encounter? No task is
more difficult than balancing sensitivity to many local traditions against
the perception of common human needs and capabilities. On the one hand,
we want to admit that we may have much to learn from what we find elsewhere;
on the other hand, frequently justice and human sympathy should lead us
to criticize what we see. I have tried to answer these tough questions elsewhere
(for example, my essays in a forthcoming volume, Women, Culture, and Development,
ed. Nussbaum and J. Glover, Oxford 1995); and Judith Butler's eloquent statement
shows the type of process I would favor.
4. Is America Special? Several of the essays write vividly of the special
characteristics of American patriotism and the American founding, arguing
that we conceive of patriotism as wedded to cosmopolitanism in a special
way. I did not deny this; in fact, I avoided saying anything at all about
it one way or the other, since unraveling the many strands in the Founding
was not the task in which I was engaged. I do believe that Stoic ideals
played a substantial role in the Founding, though I have no idea how special
it therefore is, since I know unfortunately little about the constitutional
traditions of other nations. But American nationalism is rarely understood
today as entailing obligations to other nations, even the obligation of
learning a lot about them and being sensitive to their concerns. So I would
like to recall our tradition to what is, arguably, an important aspect of
5. Patriotism, Emotion, and Political Strategy. I agree with a point made
in several essays: the connection of general moral concerns with memories
of intimate association gives these concerns a special power. The question,
however, is: with what force should our schools seek to invest such ties?
We could portray them as specially our own, and as the sources of our more
general aspirations, without regarding them as in any way prior to or better
than the more cosmopolitan attachments; I suggested that we view our own
children as specially our own in some such way. To give another example,
I intensely love the English language. I know that whatever motivates me
as a writer, and whatever I can say as a writer, is bound up with the special
properties of English. But I don't think that English is better than any
other language just because it is mine, and I don't think that I should
esteem the interests of English-speaking people ahead of other interests.
I know that any human might have been brought up in any linguistic community,
that the linguistic community of one's birth is in that sense an accident,
and that we share a general linguistic capability that is the basis of our
mutual respect in matters of language. (This does not mean that I would
want to replace the plurality of languages with Esperanto. I would not.)
The general notion of being human hardly lacks emotional resonance, as tragic
dramas that cross large gulfs of place and time readily show us. Moreover,
I would agree with Robert Pinsky that particular love of concrete aspects
of the distant should remain a big part of the way in which we draw students
from the local toward the distant.
Partly on account of their motivational force, appeals to patriotism can
be strategically valuable. Charles Taylor is right that we frequently have
no choice but to mobilize people at this level. And yet, even here, there
are two ways of proceeding: the way that appeals to the nation as an end
in itself, and the way that appeals to values that are admirable in their
own right, though they happen also to be enshrined in the history of the
nation. Lincoln was extremely skilled in making the second sort of appeal
-- as in the Gettysburg Address, where the American nation is identified
by its dedication to a general human ideal. That, to me, is a mark of his
greatness as a national leader. To Benjamin Barber, whose account of America
I found moving, I add that this is also what I find wonderful about Whitman
as a poet: again and again, he sees Americans as men and women deep of soul,
on their way to death, and praises America for addressing common human needs
for freedom and flourishing. "I am he attesting sympathy," he
writes, on behalf of America; and I should like America to realize more
completely the embracing sympathy for human difference and sameness that
his imagination exemplifies.
6. The Stoics. Nathan Glazer is correct that the Empire was an impetus for
Roman Stoics to think in cosmopolitan terms; but the idea of the world citizen
was already elaborated by the Greek Stoics, who had no such preparation.
To Anne Norton I can say that the Stoics were the boldest sex-egalitarians
known in antiquity. The ideal cities of the Greek Stoics included equal
citizenship for women, and even unisex clothing. Roman Stoics were more
constrained in what they could advocate practically, but they still strongly
defended the capacity of women for full virtue, the equal education of girls
and boys, and the higher education of women. They also attacked the sexual
double standard. Hipparchia is an example of shocking sex-equality, and
she chooses that over riches. (Norton is unfair to Tagore too: for Nikhil
is the first prominent male in his region to let his wife out of purdah,
and he insists on giving her a higher education. Ironically, she first prefers
to subordinate herself to Sandip, viewing her husband's ideas as odd.)
I am very sorry that Harvey Mansfield did not take this occasion seriously
enough to do even the most minimal research on the history of Stoicism.
In addition to the primary texts, there are many excellent books that could
have given him an accurate view of Stoic ideas about the relationship between
philosophy and politics -- including Malcolm Schofield's The Stoic Idea
of the City (Cambridge 1991), Miriam Griffin's Seneca: A Philosopher in
Politics (Oxford 1976), and Griffin's study "Philosophy, Politics,
and Politicians at Rome," in M. Griffin and J. Barnes, ed., Philosophia
Togata (Oxford 1989). Briefly, it is wrong to suppose that the Stoic doctrine
of the worthlessness of external things led to a lack of interest in politics.
There are surely deep tensions in their thought on this point, but that
is another matter. The Greek Stoics proposed an ideal city; Roman Stoics
Seneca (regent of the Empire under Nero) and Marcus, himself emperor, viewed
their Stoicism as integral to their practice of politics, even if they did
not always enact Stoic views with perfect consistency. Seneca's On Anger,
implicitly addressed to the Emperor Claudius, and On Mercy, explicitly addressed
to Nero, give advice on such matters as military motivation, capital punishment,
and sentencing. Furthermore, the anti-imperial conspiracies of Thrasea Paetus
and Piso traced their republican ideals to Stoic notions of self-government.
Pace Mansfield, Stoics did care about hunger -- in general, about the provision
to all of "the first things of nature," which can be achieved
by a combination of personal prudence and benevolence. They cared intensely
about women's equality. They cared about marriage -- Greek Stoics proposing
its abolition, Roman Stoics redesigning it as a partnership for the common
good. I am not aware of any writings on abortion, since that was so generally
accepted in the ancient world, but Musonius Rufus did attack the practice
of infanticide, leading the way for centuries of Christian teaching. Above
all, they cared passionately about liberal education, my primary theme.
They did focus on internal change of passion and thought: but they thought
that these changes -- for example, getting people to care less about money
and status -- would have big political consequences. In that sense they
might be said to have discovered that "the personal is political,"
that desires are formed by society and a reformation of desire can in turn
Above all, the Stoics are no elitists, separating "the philosopher"
from the many. It is difficult to become good, but it does not require any
natural endowment that is not the common property of all humans. They were
dead set against hierarchy in philosophy and in education. As Seneca says,
contrasting Stoics with Epicureans, "We are not under a king: each
one claims his own freedom" (Moral Epistles, 33.4). Elsewhere, he defines
liberal education as the education that can make each student truly free
and self-commanding (Moral Epistles, 88).
Were Stoics pessimists, as Rachel Hadas says? Surely the Roman Stoics saw
vividly the obstacles life presents to our moral goodness. They continually
stressed the difficulties of progress, though they held that human nature
is not bad in itself or by birth, but corrupted by social and worldly conditions.
This being so, education can in principle, though with difficulty, cure
its diseases -- diseases not just of knowledge but also of passion. We may
reasonably wish for and work for this cure. Anger can be extirpated, fear
removed, even though this may require the patient effort of each day of
7. Our Obligations to Others. When we think as world citizens, but also
as citizens of nations, what will we decide about our obligations? Several
of the papers ask tough and urgent questions. My focus in the piece was
on the formation of citizens who could be intelligent participants in debates
about those questions; I did not want to prejudge how the debate should
come out, though I do have views about that. Let's now begin that debate.