Here Is Humanity! III: What's a Cosmopolitan? Research Time, 14/09/2016

Probably the last post in this series. 
- Here’s the beginning, about the idealism that underpins any dedication to politics.
- And the first proper part, about the challenge idealism faces from cynical, realistic (and accurate) conceptions of violent human nature.
- And the previous part, where I defend the dream of the European Union as humanity’s largest ever experiment to change human nature.
• • •
A book like We, The People of Europe? is profoundly optimistic. Etienne Balibar believes in the power of humanity to change its morals and ethics – our entire character. He argues that our political institutions can be important tools in this process. 

Because our institutions can facilitate human action on a massive scale, they can train us in new habits. New kinds of socializing, which produce new kinds of society and new frameworks of human nature. 

The symbology works so well. The dream is dying.
These huge-scale institutional experiments are incredibly expensive. Their problems and failures can cause disaster. In the EU’s case, there are two failings bringing this utopian institution down. 

One got all the press last year, as the European Central Bank forced the Greek government and people to accept an austerity plan that plunged many thousands into poverty. All the maintain the monetary integrity of the Euro currency and other financial securities of the EU. 

The other problem I wrote about yesterday. The migrant crisis from the Syrian civil war has fuelled a resurgence of violent nationalism that shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. 

Racist politics, even the national socialist model promoted by Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, are coming to dominate Europe along the vectors of many different member countries – France, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Holland, and Poland.* Even the famously liberal Sweden faces the rise of a radical nationalist party.

* Respectively: The National Front, UKIP and Brexit, Pegida, Jobbik and the ruling Fidesz party, the Party for Freedom, and the Law and Justice party.

The European Union was supposed to have inspired a cosmopolitan sensibility in Europe, where national divisions were forgotten in favour of a common diverse humanity. That’s the idealism behind freedom of movement – making it just as easy for a Pole to get a job in Britain or Italy as in Poland. 

Everyone would interact with everyone else so regularly that national origin would become just as unimportant as in Canada’s multicultural cities. What were once cruel stereotypes become jokes and gags, while we welcome everyone for the variety their heritage brings to our lives. 

But it calcified into a dull bureaucracy before that vision had an opportunity to settle in to the cultures of all Europe. And the shock of the migrant crisis ruined that dream’s last chances. 

I have quite a few friends in Britain who I connect with regularly on Twitter. They’re all humanities researchers and Doctor Who fans, so we have a pretty progressive bent. I remember when the Brexit vote went down, many lamented the result. One shattered reaction was partly a joke, but also profound moment – a little death of a romantic dream.

Balibar's book We, the People of Europe offered an
insightful critique of the problems that would tear the EU
apart within only a couple of decades. He left it up to us
to figure out the solutions in detail. But his work was
still important and necessary to fight nationalism.
Know your enemy.
She could never go find work in France and meet some boy who’d be the love of her life. Lands that had been at war for centuries had become, for one young woman, a place to dream of love. Yes, it was romantic and naive, but it was also a beautiful vision. It spoke to the real possibility of a cosmopolitan community.

But – if I can get back to my own ongoing research for this book of philosophy – Balibar’s own essays don’t offer much vision as to what this cosmopolitan new European would be. Only that the everyday cosmopolitan is the cultural counter-force to the nationalism he could see when it was a small spark instead of the convulsive danger it’s become.

One part of understanding what a cosmopolitan person could be led me to choose Cosmopolitanism as the next book in my research. It’s been on my shelf for literally years, so I finally decided to get around to it. 

Since one of my former colleagues at McMaster used to work with Appiah at Princeton, my professional connection gives the book a curious atmosphere to me. Also the fact that this former colleague told me that Appiah prefers being called Anthony to Kwame.

When I read through that book, I’m also thinking about how Appiah’s ideas appear in comparison to my last two years of life in such a genuinely cosmopolitan city as Toronto. Daily life here offers a fertile ground for philosophical thinking about what a post-national identity would be. 

Thinking never stops.

No comments:

Post a Comment