cosmopolitanism and its discontents


It is unlikely that anyone has ever confused a page of Thomas Friedman’s with one of Immanuel Kant’s, but between them it is possible to triangulate a prevailing sensibility of the past two decades. Call it managerial cosmopolitanism. It celebrates the idea of a global civil society, with the states cooperating to play their proper (limited) role as guardians of public order and good business practices. The hospitality that each nation extends to visiting foreign traders grows ever wider and deeper; generalized, it becomes the most irenic of principles. And so there emerges on the horizon of the imaginable future something like a world republic, with liberty and frequent-flier miles for all. Admittedly, that last clause owes more to Friedman than to the Königsberg homebody. But the sense that an emergent mode of governance is always already implicit within the routine conduct of international trade was there in Kant’s own popular writings. And with this came a Timesman-like spirit of acquiescence. Fostering cosmopolitanism—precisely by adapting to it—is the duty of the wise burgher.

more from Scott McLemee at Bookforum here.