The Problem With Cosmopolitanism

Mathias Risse reviews Gillian Brock and Harry Brighouse (eds.), The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism, in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Much has been written on global justice, and new contributions should now take that into account to advance the debate. To illustrate, one position that has by now been well-articulated is that the state is not the exclusive domain of legitimacy. To make progress on the normative status of the state one needs to go beyond that conclusion, lest the reader is left wondering what has been accomplished at all. For instance, [David] Held introduces principles capturing cosmopolitan values and two “meta-principles” from which to argue for them (“autonomy” and “impartialist reasoning”). He concludes that the state “withers away,” a view Held qualifies by saying that what his argument delivers is merely that “states would no longer be regarded as the sole centers of legitimate power within their borders” (p 26). What do we learn? [Allen] Buchanan refutes the view that it is permissible to determine foreign policy exclusively by national interest. He is self-conscious about offering such a refutation since he regards arguments to that effect as obvious (delivered by any form of recognition of human rights), and seems to think the interesting question is to explain why the refuted view persists. (This is a well-reasoned article, but one perhaps better placed in Foreign Policy, to find its appropriate audience.) So what Buchanan rightly finds obvious, given the state of the philosophical literature, Held derives from an elaborate argument. Again, at this stage of the discussion about the legitimacy of states we need more detail to find value in the conclusion that states are not the sole centers of legitimacy.

Tan argues that what he considers cosmopolitan justice and national allegiances can be reconciled. He discusses two objections, one mentioned above. The other is “that the subordination of nationality to cosmopolitan justice fails sufficiently to accommodate people’s national allegiances” (p 166). The response is that it follows from an extension of our common understanding of justice to the global context, “that the . . . priority of (nationally) impartial justice over national allegiances derives necessarily from the purpose and concept of justice” (p 169). However, Miller convincingly argues that “cosmopolitan respect” is consistent with “patriotic concern.” He offers two arguments for thus combining cosmopolitanism and patriotism. “The first is an argument from excessive costs in lost social trust, the second an argument from the need to provide compatriots with adequate incentives to obey the laws on helps to create” (p 134). Or consider other contributions: Blake (2001), Nagel (2005), and Risse (2006), all of which argue that there is something normatively peculiar about shared citizenship in a manner that turns on the particular kind of coerciveness exercised by states, but also acknowledge duties to those who do not belong to the state, duties easily captured by basic respect. So not much is gained from arguing that, on conceptual grounds, some general standpoint of global justice has priority over national allegiances. This is consistent with arguing that that global standpoint delivers the conclusion that individuals ought to acknowledge far-reaching duties to compatriots.