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The Cosmopolitan Illusion

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Is it wrong to teach our children to be patriotic? Or may we teach them to be a little patriotic, provided that we also teach them to value and respect the cultures of others? Should they be encouraged to be loyal to their own nation, or should they be taught that they are citizens of the world before all else?

These are the questions that were addressed in the justly celebrated essay “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism” by Martha Nussbaum, and her answer was that education should actively encourage “the very old ideal of the cosmopolitan, the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world.”1

The significance of the cosmopolitan ideal in contemporary American education is obvious at every level. At its most topical, it is illustrated by the course of Islamic studies that John Walker was encouraged to pursue in his Marin County high school, almost entirely to the exclusion of the once mandatory courses in American history and the subject quaintly known as civics. Indeed, a look at the curriculum of modern public education demonstrates a core emphasis on precisely those subjects that do not require an undue prejudice toward, or interest in, one’s own culture, if it happens to be American.

But what is the basic justification for the notion that American education should promote the cosmopolitan ideal? And, indeed, that it should promote this ideal even if it is at the expense of less inclusive ideals such as patriotism?

At the beginning of her essay, Nussbaum sketches an answer. If we are going to stop short of full-fledged cosmopolitanism and choose to promote patriotic values instead, then what is to keep us from descending to increasingly narrower and ever more exclusive categories of allegiance, such as our particular class or race or region or trade association? Or, as Nussbaum puts it, “nationalism and ethnocentric particularism are not alien to one another, but akin” — so that “to give support to nationalist sentiments subverts, ultimately, even the values that hold a nation together.”

But there is an immediate problem with this argument. For if Nussbaum is making a historical claim, the record runs counter to it. The rise of both German and Italian nationalism in the nineteenth century was accompanied by a struggle against all those less inclusive forms of particularism — regional, linguistic, cultural, religious, and ethnic — that had kept both of these nations so politically backward. In fact, it could be argued that the point of nationalism was precisely to dissolve the hold that lesser forms of group loyalty had traditionally imposed on the human mind by subsuming these lesser loyalties under an allegiance to the larger community.

It is possible, however, to recast Nussbaum’s argument as one that is not historical, but logical, in which case it can be stated roughly as follows: If your first loyalty should be to your own group, then why arbitrarily make this group the one represented by your country? Why not direct your primary allegiance to your own particular tribe or kinship group? After all, if the mere accident of belonging to such and such a group is to be the basis of your moral allegiance, then what makes your country a more logical choice than your sect or tribe or even your family? Where do you draw the line?

The point of this argument should be obvious: There is only one nonarbitrary point at which such a line may be drawn, and that is at the community of all the human beings on the planet. This is the only group that cannot be challenged as being merely accidental in the sense that you might have been born into one nation rather than another, or one sect rather than another, or one tribe rather than another. In other words, while we are accidentally white or black, Christian or Muslim, Anglophone or Francophone, Indian or Swiss, we are all essentially and necessarily human beings, and this is something that remains no matter how much we abstract from the contingencies of our incidentality.

This is by far the strongest statement of the cosmopolitan ideal that can be made, and yet it is not the one with which Nussbaum initially chooses to make her case. Instead she elects to “trace cosmopolitanism to its origins, in the process recovering some excellent arguments that originally motivated it as an educational project.” Let us follow her example as well, if only in order to review some of these arguments.


Cosmopolitans and cynics

As nussbaum correctly observes, the word “cosmopolitan” goes back to the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who, upon being asked to give the name of the city-state in which he had been brought up, responded with the remark that he was a citizen of the world.

Nussbaum is quite correct in her assertion that, in making this claim, Diogenes was refusing “to be defined by his local origins and local group memberships, so central to the image of a conventional Greek male.” But what is not so convincing is her claim that Diogenes, in identifying himself as a cosmopolitan, was thereby insisting “on defining himself in terms of more universal aspirations and concerns.” In fact, a review of the other anecdotes that have come down to us concerning the life of Diogenes should be sufficient to dispel such an anachronistic importation of our own Enlightenment-derived categories back into a world that would have found them alien and incomprehensible. Indeed, even in our own time it would be difficult to find someone who better illustrated Rousseau’s famous dictum that the cosmopolitan is a man who claims to love humanity in order to avoid having to tolerate his neighbors.

Rather than being an expression of universalist aspirations, Diogenes’s “cosmopolitanism” can be understood as the flip side of his fundamental cynicism. The Greek word from which we derive “cynicism” is cynos, which simply means dog. The term “cynic,” as used both by Diogenes and by his detractors, had no trace of its modern significance, and certainly did not mean a man who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. Rather, the cynic was the man who, abjuring the artificial constraints imposed by social custom, decides to model his standard of conduct on the natural way of life of a dog. If a dog does not need luxury to live, then neither does the cynic. If the dog can wander the streets and sleep in a tub, then so can — and did — Diogenes (and much worse, if ancient gossip is to be trusted).

But the logically consistent cynic — which Diogenes undoubtedly was — does not stop here, but proceeds to apply the same hyper-naturalistic principle to ethical obligations as well, especially the all-compelling ethical obligation that virtually every Greek felt toward the community that had educated and reared him — the very ethical obligation, it must be remembered, that Socrates felt he owed even to the city that had condemned him to death, and that he uses as his justification in the Crito for refusing his friends’ offer of escape.

Would a dog have behaved like Socrates? Obviously not; nor, presumably, would have Diogenes, had he been confronted with the same choice. Just as the dog had no ethical obligations to the city he was scavenging, so too the cynic had no ethical obligations to whatever spot chanced to provide him with a temporary place of rest and sustenance.

But this, rather than being a rejection of ethnocentric particularism, as Nussbaum wishes to regard it, is simply a rejection of ethical obligation altogether; and that is what explains the true significance of Diogenes’s use of the term “cosmopolitan.” Diogenes consents to be a citizen only of a nonexistent and purely ideal community simply because there is never any danger that such an abstract entity will make a concrete demand on him. The world asks nothing from him; he owes it nothing in return. It is hard to imagine an ethical outlook that is more at odds with the educational project Nussbaum has in mind.


The Roman answer

Despite its problematic origins in Diogenes’s quip — for that is what it was — the word “cosmopolitan” resumes its conceptual life in the mind of the Roman stoics, who used the term to express a new sense of mankind’s dimension that had emerged, not thanks to Greek philosophy, but to Roman military conquest. Because the Roman imperium stretched across the known world, those who ruled it were called upon to deal with all manner of non-Roman peoples — outlandish savages and barbarians, the Greeks would have called them. But being called upon to rule and being able to rule successfully are two quite different tasks; while many have attempted it, few have succeeded for more than a hiccup of time, and none quite like Rome.

Why? This is something of a mystery, though there is one clue to it, and that is the story Livy tells of Rome’s first great spurt of growth. The Romans, he said, being then few in number, threw their underpopulated city open to all the outcasts and misfits in the surrounding regions — to all who had nowhere else to go, but who nonetheless managed to work together. Though “nonetheless” is not quite the word, for the miracle was not that this riffraff managed to work and cooperate together — the miracle is that they taught other people how to do the same thing.

The paradox here is only apparent. Families and kin can clearly work well together, but the source of their cohesion is simultaneously the source of their weakness: Either one is a member of the family or the tribe or else one is not. If not, you never will be, and you know it. But this law does not apply to societies in which the primary unit is a group able to work together — a team, and not the family. This, according to Livy’s account, is how we are to understand the secret of Rome’s initial rise to greatness: It was made up of people who could work together precisely because family could not and did not matter to them. This meant that they were free to organize and cooperate without the structural tensions that arise when there are a number of different families, each vying for positions of prestige, prominence, and power, and leading in their contentious train all sorts of juvenile rabble-rousers.

Perhaps a myth, but a profound one, for it encapsulates the Roman principle of the supremacy of patria over family. What other culture has passed on a story of a man ordering the execution of his two sons because they had dared to try to seize supreme power and thereby turn Rome into the antithesis of a team, a tyranny? And this, without question, was the steady drumbeat of Roman pedagogical legend, the unquestioned primacy of one’s ethical obligation to the team, the origin of the specifically Western concept of patriotism.

The logic of the team is radically different from the logic of the family. Whereas the family divides between insider and outsider, the team divides between adept and neophyte, the latter division permitting a democracy of opportunity to those who master the skills required for the work of the team. No one born outside the family can work his way into it, but anyone may join a team and rise to the top. And that is why societies that espouse the team principle are societies that are passionately defended by those who live in them — they allow anyone the opportunity to create his own position for himself, independent of ties of blood and kinship and all other purely inherited forms of ethnocentric particularism.

The Roman ideal of cosmopolitanism was in fact the natural perspective of men who had been brought up to govern and administer a world empire as opposed to a Greek city-state, a nomadic caravan, or a village in Scythia. Nor should this cause surprise — all imperial societies find it in their interest to promote the ideal of cosmopolitan values, by which they mean that of the dominant culture, in contradiction to the clearly inferior local values of those on the outskirts of the world. Ibn Khaldun, when he introduced the ethnocentric particularistic concept of “group feeling” into his basic category of historical analysis, was fighting the tendency toward cosmopolitanism that was by then dominant in the Arab empire of which he was himself a functionary. In short, by a strange dialectical miracle, out of the intensity of Roman patriotism arose the sublimity of the cosmopolitan ideal that Nussbaum recommends as America’s proper educational project.


The limits of recognition

Let us now examine how we are to visualize fulfillment of this cosmopolitan ideal. Nussbaum advises us to follow the stoics and to “think of ourselves not 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 follows the extended family; then, in order, one’s neighbors or local group, one’s fellow city-dwellers, one’s fellow countrymen — and we can easily add to this list groupings based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender and sexual identities. Outside all these circles is the largest one, that of humanity as a whole.” The aim of cosmopolitan education, she writes, is to get the student “to recognize humanity wherever she encounters it, undeterred by traits that are strange to her, and be eager to understand humanity in its ‘strange’ guises. She must learn enough about the different to recognize common aims, aspirations, and values, and enough about these common ends to see how variously they are instantiated in many cultures and many histories.”

Throughout this statement, and indeed throughout the essay, Nussbaum takes it as a given that in recognizing humanity wherever the student finds it, the student will get along peacefully and harmoniously with the other human being whose aims and aspirations she has recognized. In our world, this is often the case. But there is a problem here, and it may be seen at once if you simply imagine two people who have exactly the same aims, the same aspirations, and the same values. Imagine, furthermore, that they each recognize that the other one also shares the same values. Does this mutual recognition imply that the two of them cannot possibly be at each other’s throats?

Obviously not. Not only may they be in conflict, but the conflict may in fact arise precisely because they share common aims and aspirations, such as the wish to marry one and the same woman or the desire to occupy one and the same piece of land. Such conflicts arise not because the contending parties fail to recognize the aims and aspirations of their antagonists, but precisely because they are fully cognizant of those aims and aspirations. Yet, if this is the case, then it is not at all clear how an education that stresses the commonality of aims and aspirations will act to bring about a greater sense of fraternity. For example, French students after the Franco-Prussian War were perfectly aware that the French and the Germans had exactly the same aims and aspirations in respect of those regions of France that had been annexed by Germany as part of the latter’s reparation demands. Did this improve relations between the two countries? Clearly not.

This kind of conflict might best be called structural antagonism, and it reveals a profound ambiguity in the cosmopolitan ideal. It is not enough to share the same values and ideals and aims and aspirations in order to share an allegiance to the same community. Due to structural antagonism, it is quite possible for there to be two communities absolutely identical in all their most cherished values — and yet, at the same time, locked in a fatal and irreconcilable struggle with each other precisely because they do share the same values but do not share a higher value of living in peace.

This means that in order to decide which of two communities should be the target of your allegiance, it is not enough merely to consult the list of the respective communities’ values, since these values may well be identical in the abstract, differing only in the direction of their concrete application. And this is a serious problem for anyone who wishes to promote the cosmopolitan ideal as an educational project, for in a case of a conflict between two communities, both of which are demanding the individual’s allegiance, even the most sincere willingness to recognize the humanity of both sides does nothing to solve the problem of which side to give your loyalty and allegiance — and, indeed, by a very deep paradox, the more willing we are to recognize this common humanity, the more difficult it is to arrive at a decision.

Perhaps there is a way out of this dilemma through the application of the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number: In the case of any conflict between communities bidding for one’s allegiance, you should ally with the community that represents the more inclusive grouping of human beings. By this argument, it is obvious that the community of all the human beings on the planet would trump any less inclusive community, whether this be one’s nation or any other more particularistic grouping of which you are a member.

Alas, this won’t do. In a time of conflict, the act of choosing the more inclusive group implies the rejection of the less inclusive group. What justifies the cosmopolitan ideal, after all, is precisely its unconditional inclusiveness. Hence, if you begin to define all the human beings in the world in some peculiar way that eliminates from the reckoning any specific set of human beings, then you have abandoned the cosmopolitan ideal. What the cosmopolitan finds wrong about chauvinism is not the object of the blind attachment, but its partial and systematically exclusive character. One is either a citizen of the whole world or one is not. It is an illusion to think that one can get any closer to this goal by merely renouncing in advance any possible loyalty to one’s own nation in the event of future conflict.

The only way out of this dilemma is to redefine the cosmopolitan ideal as allegiance to whatever is objectively in the best interest of the community of all human beings on the planet. But this yields the same paradox that has invariably dogged utilitarianism in its efforts to define the greatest good of the greatest number. If, on one hand, we try to determine the greatest good simply by asking everyone what is his own personal greatest good, we are sure to get some conflicting answers and, hence, we are back to the problem of one partial community in conflict with another partial community. But if, on the other hand, we are asking about what is objectively in everyone’s best interest, quite regardless of what anyone actually happens to think is in his best interest, then such a determination could in principle be made by a small elite or even by an individual, provided of course that they were in the right.

Yet, even if one swallows this bitter pill and accepts this consequence, with its implicit concession to the dictatorship of a cultural vanguard or educational elite, the central dilemma remains unchanged — the problem of a minority that disagrees and is excluded. The problem is that genuine, objective interests have come into conflict with each other. In such cases, the cosmopolitan ideal is itself no more effective as a means of unifying the different sides than is the patriotic ideal in times of civil war.


Behind the veil of ignorance

This leaves one last hope for the cosmopolitan ideal. It is one that Nussbaum touches upon only tangentially in her essay, although, I would submit, it is in fact the true foundation of the cosmopolitan ideal that she espouses, namely the “veil of ignorance” John Rawls postulated in his celebrated A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). Nussbaum writes:

The accident of where one is born is just that, an accident; any human being might have been born in any nation. . . . We should not allow differences of nationality or class or ethnic membership or even gender to erect barriers between us and our fellow human beings. We should recognize humanity whenever it occurs, and give its fundamental ingredients, reason and moral capacity, our first allegiance and respect. . . . The ideal of the world citizen is in this way the ancestor and source of Kant’s idea of the “kingdom of ends,” and has a similar function in inspiring and regulating moral and political conduct. One should always behave so as to treat with equal respect the dignity of reason and moral choice in every human being.

In point of fact, the cosmopolitan ideal as presented by Nussbaum may best be conceptualized as the “globalization” of the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. What Rawls applied to any political community, Nussbaum wishes to apply to the world at large.

There is, of course, nothing wrong in making this move; in fact, I would argue that it is the one and only possible way of defending the cosmopolitan ideal against the criticisms made in the previous sections. The reason for this can be put quite simply: What wreaked havoc with the utilitarian formulation of the cosmopolitan ideal was the mere possibility of a genuine objective conflict between two or more different groupings of humanity, one in which the various claims and aspirations of any one of these respective sides could not be satisfied without thwarting the claims and aspirations of one of the other sides. Take, for example, the situation at the outbreak of the American Civil War. The Confederacy aspired to complete independence from the United States of America; the North aspired to retain the original Union intact. This was a genuine conflict in the sense that both sides could see no way to satisfy both sets of aspirations — it was, once again, a case of unavoidable structural antagonism.

Or was it? Certainly one must grant that to both sides it seemed very much as if there were an inevitable and genuinely tragic conflict between them, and one that it was impossible to resolve without violence. But why was this so? Was it because of the nature of things? Or was it because the human beings who were party to the conflict simply failed to act rationally?

What if this failure could be remedied? What if human beings could be made to act rationally, so as to avoid all possible thought of violent conflict? Can rationality conquer the various forms of structural antagonism that have always plagued the human race and which have made the cause of peace so precarious?

It is in answering this question that we come across the true origins of Nussbaum’s educational ideal. It is a variation of the Enlightenment belief in the power of education to transform and improve mankind’s natural state — a staple theme of the Scottish, English, American, French, and German forms of Enlightenment as well as a personal faith shared equally by Kant, Adam Smith, Rousseau, Bentham, Diderot, and every philosophe down to the last.

Education would be for all mankind what it had been for these individual men — a liberation from the fetters of custom and the narrowness of provincial life. Education would open the world and would make men become more and more alike. Each would develop, as prescribed by Adam Smith in his The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), a disinterested spectator to observe his every emotional move, for the purpose of assuring impartial fairness in his interaction with his fellows.

The enlightened rationality that would result from the widespread dissemination of such moral education would be the vehicle by which men and women would learn to avoid precisely those conflicts that had so long haunted the human race. Their enlightened rationality would permit them to see that, at bottom, they all had precisely the same objective interests and that any quarrel between them could arise only due to a failure on the part of one or both parties to grasp their enlightened self-interest. The purpose of education, in this view, was to teach human beings to internalize a code of rational conduct by which they could automatically make whatever mutual adjustments to each other that might be required in order to keep transient differences of opinion or interests from evolving into open conflict, with the possibility of violence and social instability inherent in such conflicts.

But if education was a necessary means to achieve a state in which people could amiably settle their differences, then clearly the educational process itself would have to be designed with this end in view. It could not be just any kind of education, but one that aimed at producing men and women who would behave like rational cosmopolitans, to use the term employed by Kant in this connection.

Yet, as we have already seen, an education that emphasizes the similarity of people’s aims and aspirations is pointless if those aims and aspirations are structurally antagonistic to the aims and aspirations of one’s own group. Jean Renoir’s magnificent film about camaraderie in World War i, The Grand Illusion (1937), begins with a moving scene in which two French aviators are the guests of honor at a lunch hosted by the very German aviators who have just shot them down. Here is a classic instance of the mutual recognition of common aims and aspirations by two opposing sides. And yet, despite the very genuine admiration that each opponent has for the honor and courage of his opposite number, both are perfectly aware that they are on different sides and that, when called upon, they will kill each other for their country.

The rational cosmopolitan must be able to avoid getting into precisely the kinds of conflicts that are brought about by all such structural antagonisms between human groups — those brought about by race, sect, creed, national identity, ethnic identity, and all the other forms of difference that divide. And this means that none of these lesser group identities can be allowed to interfere with the cultivation of one’s universal humanity through enlightened rationality.

But what is our universal humanity? In what does it consist? What features does it have? Purely negative ones. It is whatever is left when all the accidents of our birth are removed. Or, to put it in terms familiar to readers of Rawls, whatever is separate and distinct from our rational humanity must go behind the veil of ignorance whenever we are called upon to act like a rational cosmopolitan.

Everything else is an accident, as Nussbaum has argued. For if the country of our birth is an accident, then so is our class or our profession or race. And this means that if people are going to transcend the problem of structural antagonism, they must learn not to define themselves — individually and collectively — in terms of any of the structures that create antagonism between individuals, since otherwise there will always be conflicts. But there is a problem here. For it turns out that human beings, if left alone — or even worse, to their own parents — will revert to precisely the kind of ethnocentric particularism that it is the duty of the cosmopolitan ideal to extirpate. And this has some profound consequences.

For the Greeks, the purpose of education concerned the transmission of the traditional values and ethos of the community carrying it out. That is why the Greeks always maintained that the best education was to be raised in a good community — because with such an education you simply picked up, without noticing it, the civic ethos that was embodied in the daily practices of those with whom you interacted. But this must emphatically be rejected if we are to be faithful to the cosmopolitan ideal. In order to construct rational cosmopolitans, the children in our care must not be permitted to fall under the impression that they have any special or particular ethical obligation to the society or the sect or even the family that gave them shelter when they were helpless — not because the rational cosmopolitan is hardhearted, but simply because all such obligation is dangerous because of its potential for conflict with one’s universal obligations.

If there is something a little chilling in this vision, we must understand the source of this chill. It arises from the nature of the moral law itself, as interpreted by Kant: Moral autonomy is demonstrated not by our ability to set our own unique goals and ends, but, on the contrary, by our ability to renounce them. For Kant, the moral agent is the person who acts as if he were legislating the moral laws that would be binding on all human beings — indeed all rational creatures — in general, and who then insists that he himself submit to this same moral law. The agent that does the commanding is not our own peculiarly colorful individuality, but the generic and universal Reason that represents our higher self — a Reason that is identical from person to person.

This is the principle upon which Kant based what he dubbed “philosophy’s chiliastic expectations” of a universal world order in which all men would live in harmony, equally able to fulfill their highest potential — the Golden Age that from this period on would begin to lie in mankind’s future rather than his past. The people who would one day be produced by the transformative experience of enlightened education would all be distinguished by their capacity to act as disinterested spectators in their own affairs and those of others and who would, by virtue of their disinterestedness, be able to avoid all possible conflict long in advance of its arising.


The particularity of cosmopolitanism

Unlike the modern liberal who exalts in the freedom of the individual to select his goals, Kant permits only the freedom of Universal Reason. But, as we have seen, this freedom turns out to be the higher self’s freedom to dictate universally binding moral duties to the lower self, so that the end product is not a flourishing of the personal and the eccentric, but, on the contrary, an eradication of it to the extent that it is incompatible with Universal Reason. According to Kant, we are only demonstrating moral autonomy when we are doing exactly what all other people would do in our place under the same circumstances.

But that is precisely why Kant believes that rational cosmopolitans can actually exist. Because they do, and because Kant was one of them himself. And if Kant can be this way, it must be possible, in principle, that we can one day all be like that as well, our internal ethical motors operating in synchronization with those of others through an elaborate clockwork mechanism that assures a rational solution to any possible conflict between the paths down which our ethical motors take us.

And what is so bad about that, after all? It was how Kant had lived himself, as the story makes clear of the neighbors who set their watch by the time he passed their doorstep on his daily walk about Königsberg.

But this clashes terribly with the liberal concept of autonomy that is embodied in Isaiah Berlin’s idea of negative liberty — the kind of Do Your Own Thing and Follow Your Bliss liberty that John Stuart Mill made famous in his essay On Liberty (1859), and certainly a vitally important part of the liberal tradition to which cosmopolitans subscribe. Certainly no one who shares Nussbaum’s principles would be willing to tolerate the idea of a perpetually peaceful world community harmonized at the price of becoming an anthill.

Indeed, for liberal cosmopolitanism, liberal autonomy is the right that trumps all others, the formula that justifies an assault against oppressive conventional values in the larger community — including in cases where the larger community falls far short of the world community and more closely resembles a village or even a homestead. And therein lies the contradiction. On the one hand, liberal autonomy is opposed in principle to the conformity imposed by the conventions of any community of which it is a part and wishes to challenge it constantly. On the other hand, it espouses the ideal of an allegiance to a community made up not merely of one’s neighbors, but of men and women from all over the world. It wants no part of the community at hand, but rushes to pledge fealty to a community that can be found nowhere.

In the Confessions, Rousseau writes about the pacific and cosmopolitan idealism of the Abbé de St. Pierre, whose works on his various projects for perpetual peace he had earlier edited, as follows:

This singular man, an honor to his age and his kind — the only man perhaps since the human race has existed, who has had no other passion than that of reason — nevertheless wandered from one error to another in all his systems, in his desire to make men like himself, instead of taking them as they are, and as they will continue to be. He labored for imaginary beings, while believing that he was working for his contemporaries. (Book ix)

And here is the pathos of the rational cosmopolitan. Often, in his own life, he is a model of reason and virtue. But these admirable qualities are themselves a source of temptation — temptation that takes the form of the will to recreate the human race in one’s own superior image. What better way to indulge this temptation than to take control of the educational system of a whole nation?

The rational cosmopolitan, believing firmly that he and his fellow rational cosmopolitans possess reason such that no reasonable person would disagree with them, and insisting that their own values are the truly universal ones, is thereby armed to do battle against the obscurantism of those who are not equally enlightened — and this means, in actual practice, against the values of those ordinary people who wish to pass those values on to their own children. Almost invariably, such values are one and all particularistic, local, traditional, parochial, arbitrary. What right do parents have to pass on such blindly acquired values to their own children? The answer the rational cosmopolitan gives is emphatic and clear: none whatsoever.

This explains why control of the child’s education must be entrusted only to those who are pledged to teach them the ideals of rational cosmopolitanism — a conviction that permits the spontaneously generated and transmitted traditions of ordinary men and women to be summarily dismissed as the product of manufactured consent, to use Noam Chomsky’s telling phrase. On this view, non-cosmopolitans are incapable of coming to choose their own values and ideals. Thus whatever values they claim to have are merely the values imposed on them by their wicked and self-interested puppet masters — the capitalist class or some other ideologically suitable villain.

For those who subscribe to this view, the “manufacture of consent” metaphor gives them a clear conscience to undertake the wholesale reeducation of the deluded masses in order to get them to see their true good, which — no surprise — can be secured only by following the dictates of their intellectual superiors, whose capacity to think independently is proven by their rejection of all traditional and local values and their adoption of the ideal of rational cosmopolitanism.

The irony is that the educational project that involves pushing the cosmopolitan ideal at the expense of the particularistic ideals turns out, in practice, to be simply yet another particularism — though that of an intellectual sect, and not of a nation or a religion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the practical and concrete application of the cosmopolitans’ prescriptions for educating the children of everyday Americans. For the moment I begin to teach my values to your children and request that you stop teaching your own children yours, I have descended from the world of the ideal and the universal onto the terra firma of the local and the particular. It is now my agenda against yours, and for me to claim privilege because my values bear the mere label “cosmopolitan” is nonsense — unless, of course, I am willing to delude myself into thinking that I speak for the community of all human beings, of which you are no longer even allowed to be a member.

The moment the noble vision of the cosmopolitan ideal is instantiated in a specific recommendation, or policy, or curriculum, it thereby loses any claim to represent what is universally desired by people, and becomes a bone of contention — just another value among many.

In fact, the whole attempt to frame the question as a choice between patriotism and cosmopolitanism turns out to be illusory, because it assumes that one may have an undivided allegiance to the community of all human beings on the planet, when in fact this is impossible as long as human beings are capable of dividing themselves into two conflicting camps — and it makes no difference what constitutes the source of the structural antagonism embodied in this conflict. Indeed, a cosmopolitanism that can clash with patriotism, such as Nussbaum envisions, is, for that very reason, no longer a genuine cosmopolitanism. It no longer speaks for those who remain loyal to their own country, and hence becomes a merely sectarian ideology — and hardly the universal and all-encompassing faith that it aspired to be.

In fact, one can go farther. On deeper reflection, the preference for the label “cosmopolitan” over the label “patriotic” may well constitute a danger to the very values of the Enlightenment to which people like the Abbé de St. Pierre and Martha Nussbaum are so obviously committed. As the example of Rome suggests, it may well be that patriotism, by some strange dialectical necessity, is the indispensable prerequisite of constructing a higher and more universal perspective than the one given by one’s family, or one’s tribe, or one’s creed, or one’s race. Patriotism, in short, may be the only reliable means by which the human race can be led to transcend those lesser forms of structural antagonism that Nussbaum so rightly decries — those associated with ethnic and racial as well as tribal and sectarian divisions.

In which case the proper question to ask is not whether we choose patriotism or cosmopolitanism, but what kind of patriotism and what kind of cosmopolitanism should we choose between? The Soviet-sponsored Comintern frequently pushed an agenda that seemed remarkably cosmopolitan but was in fact simply an ideological smoke screen to forward Soviet expansionist ambitions. Americans, on the other hand, have the peculiar habit of using patriotic arguments to advance values that are genuinely enlightened by the standards of both Martha Nussbaum and the Abbé de St. Pierre: The creation of nato, the implementation of the Marshall Plan, and the occupation of Japan were all achievements carried out under the pretext of advancing American interests — which they certainly did — and yet all were precisely the kind of activities that would have been undertaken by the rational cosmopolitan as envisioned by Kant.

And yet we must not forget Rousseau’s insight. For while there may be defects in the counsel of men like the Abbé de St. Pierre — and women like Martha Nussbaum — let us not be deceived. The world is a vastly better place because it contains people whose only fault is the desire to make all people as good and reasonable as they themselves are. Yet it is precisely because they are so valuable that such rare souls must learn to communicate with those myriad human beings who are so unlike themselves, and whose passions are often quite different from those who are passionate only about reason.

1 Martha Nussbaum, “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,” Boston Review 19:5 (October-November 1994). The essay is currently in print in Martha Nussbaum (author) and Joshua Cohen, ed., For Love of Country? (Beacon Press, 2002).