Jeffrey J. Williams interviews Bruce Robbins over at the LA Review of Books:
JEFFREY J. WILLIAMS: Your new book, The Beneficiary, looks at an uncomfortable side of cosmopolitanism, underscoring that though we might criticize capitalism, we’re beneficiaries of it too. It’s a bookend to your last book,Perpetual War, which looks at globalization from the standpoint of the victims, instead of looking from the standpoint of those who benefit. Can you talk about that more?
BRUCE ROBBINS: As cosmopolitanism has caught on, a lot of people have decided that it is a banner they can march behind. I’ve of course been pleased, but also a little uneasy because the version of cosmopolitanism is sometimes not strenuous enough. It’s something that people can claim on the cheap. I have always been haunted by the ancient Greek normative sense that your cosmopolitan commitment has to prove itself in difficult moments, when the power of your community is being usurped and you’re being asked to go along with it, so it’s not always so easy or convenient.
Perpetual War was a moment when I said, if you’re not willing to detach yourself from your nation when it is making a war that you consider unjust, then you really can’t use the word cosmopolitanism appropriately. It’s not going to be comfortable to say I am detaching myself from my community when that community is sending men and women into harm’s way in a foreign place. People may spit on you, or worse. We don’t want to forget the more strenuous version of cosmopolitanism that involves detachment from military adventurism or war.
But at some point I realized it’s not just military entanglement that would define that more strenuous version of cosmopolitanism; it’s also the question of the economic well-being of people who are far away from you and belong to other countries.