email

View Comments

Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism

By Joel Rosenthal | Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs | July 18, 2009

CREDIT: Peter Ladd (CC).

This Bob Jones Memorial Lecture was delivered at the 2009 International Affairs Conference, held on Star Island, Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire.

Let me begin with a simple claim. We live today in a globalized world that challenges us morally. While globalization may be a fuzzy concept, globalization is indeed something very real, something we can see and measure, and it is certainly a force that shapes our choices and expectations. Globalization challenges us in terms of our identity, our responsibilities, and our ways of thinking about government and accountability.

Intense flows of capital, of information, of people, and of pollution raise profound issues of human concern and human values. Just think of the money you hold in your hand and the air that you breathe. Think of the clothes you wear and the food you eat. If you do not understand these basic goods as in some way connected to the global economy and the global environment, you are missing an essential fact.

Let me give you a familiar narrative of globalization. Here is how Noah Bopp, the director of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership, makes this point about our deep connection to global forces. He hands each of his students a piece of chocolate—usually a Hershey's Kiss or a Milky Way bar. His first question: Where does this chocolate come from? The answer: the world's greatest cocoa producer is the Ivory Coast (followed by Ghana, Indonesia, and Nigeria). Cocoa and other food products frequently come from far away, under-developed places. His second question: How did this chocolate get here? Answer: It was harvested on farms with varying labor standards. Some of these labor standards would be familiar and acceptable to us, but others would reveal practices including child labor, and still others would seem exploitive, perhaps even approaching slave-labor practices. Finally, the chocolate needs to be transported across the ocean, subject to trade rules, tariffs, and taxes before it is available to buy. So, question three: Who makes these economic arrangements and rules? Answer: legislators (official representatives of governments) and lobbyists (representatives of industry, labor, and other interest groups). When these rules are decided, some benefit and some pay. As you can see, there is a lot that has to happen before you eat that piece of chocolate. Many choices are made. And many of these choices are connected to the global economy.

Ethics is a systematic reflection on choices. Ethics is the response to Socrates first question: How should one live? It is about the values and standards we use to stake our claims and make our judgments. Of course the first target of our analysis is the individual: single actors making decisions. But ethics is also about structures. Ethical inquiry empowers us to evaluate morally the social arrangements and institutions that define the contexts within which we make choices. In the example I just gave, we can evaluate individual choices about chocolate production and consumption; but we can also evaluate the arrangements that produce the range of choices available to us.

Let me give you a scenario as example of this expansive view of ethics. It goes like this: "My mother is sick. I cannot afford medicine. So I steal the medicine from a pharmacy that will not even know it is gone. Is stealing the medicine in this circumstance the right thing or the wrong thing to do?" Well, we can discuss this case in terms of my individual actions, whether I am a thief and villain, a rescuer and a hero, or both. Ethical questions are frequently raised as dilemmas like this. In many situations, there is a genuine need to choose between two competing and compelling claims, and ethical reasoning can help to sort these out. But my point here is that we can also expand the inquiry to ask a broader question beyond just the narrow question of whether to steal or not to steal. We can also ask: What kind of community denies medicine to sick people who cannot afford it? Is there something unfair or unethical about this system?

Peter Singer is one of the best known contemporary philosophers to challenge us to think this way. In his new book The Life You Can Save, Singer reminds us of our essential connection to those who share our planet and how our choices affect both our individual moral standing and our capacity to shape our collective arrangements in a morally desirable way. Here is how Singer describes our situation (this is a direct quote taken from his website):

If we could easily save the life of a child, we would. For example, if we saw a child in danger of drowning in a shallow pond, and all we had to do to save the child was wade into the pond, and pull him out, we would do so. The fact that we would get wet, or ruin a good pair of shoes, doesn't really count when it comes to saving a child's life.

UNICEF, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, estimates that about 27,000 children die every day from preventable, poverty-related causes. [This is happening on our watch!] Yet at the same time almost a billion people live very comfortable lives, with money to spare for many things that are not at all necessary. (You are not sure if you are in that category? When did you last spend money on something to drink, when drinkable water was available for nothing? If the answer is "within the past week" then you are spending money on luxuries while children die from malnutrition or diseases that we know how to prevent or cure.)

The Life You Can Save—both the book and this websiteseek to change this. If everyone who can afford to contribute to reducing extreme poverty were to give a modest proportion of their income to effective organizations fighting extreme poverty, the problem could be solved. It wouldn't take a huge sacrifice.

Singer's view is not without controversy and it has many critics. As you can see, he emphasizes individual action and agency as a first step toward systemic reform. But I raise this argument with you now to make a larger point. Singer's argument rests on the idea that a "planetary focus" is necessary given the observable integration of global systems that define our social lives. You and I are connected to every child in the world according to Singer. As such, he argues, "all humans, even all sentient beings, should be the basic unit of concern for our ethical thinking."

Singer's argument is, at its root, cosmopolitan. The word "cosmopolitan" means, literally, "citizen of the world." As a philosophical position it makes strong claims for the equal regard and the equal moral worth of every human being.

Making the case for cosmopolitanism, Martha Nussbaum invokes the ancient Greek and Stoic idea of concentric circles. In her lead essay of her edited book, For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism, she describes cosmopolitanism like this: "The first circle encircles the self, the next takes in the immediate family, then follows the extended family, then, in order, neighbors or local groups, fellow city dwellers, and fellow countrymenand we can easily add to the list groupings based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender, or sexual identities. Outside all of these circles is the largest one, humanity as a whole. Our task as citizens of the world will be to 'draw the circles somehow toward the center' (Hierocles 1st to 2nd century CE)."

For cosmopolitans, humanity itself serves as the ultimate reference point. This is not to say that cosmopolitans neglect local needs; in fact, as Nussbaum herself writes, "Politics, like child care, will be poorly done if each thinks herself equally responsible for all, rather than giving the immediate surroundings special attention and care. To give one's own sphere special care is justifiable in universalist terms." In this way, "our loyalty to humankind does not deprive us of the capacity to care for people closer by." In other words, it is good for everyone that we rescue the child drowning in front of us first; it is good for everyone that parents take care of their own children first and give them special attention and care; and it is good for everyone that homeowners take good care of their own homes first, and so on. But this special attention to those to whom we are most immediately connected does not absolve us of an approach that holds at its core the strong moral argument in favor of the equal regard for all human beings.

In explaining cosmopolitanism, Nussbaum does not negate patriotism; but she does emphasize its limits and questions the strength and intensity of its moral claims. The problem with patriotism, according to Nussbaum, is that it often creates arbitrary boundaries that skew our priorities. It tends to blind us to other important connections.

Patriotic sentiments do not necessarily disagree with the ends of cosmopolitanism, but priorities nearly always differ. A patriotic perspective prioritizes national interests first, and it anchors those interests and values in a specific time and place. A patriotic perspective questions cosmopolitanism principally because of its thinness. As Benjamin Barber writes, "we live in this particular neighborhood, that block, that valley, that seashore, this family. Our attachments start parochially and then grow outward. To bypass them in favor of an immediate cosmopolitanism is to end up nowhere." For some like Barber, universal human values are best served by enhancing local attachments and local communities.

Standard philosophical discussions of cosmopolitanism usually pit cosmopolitanism against communitarianism. In this comparison, cosmopolitans emphasize universal values while communitarians emphasize particular circumstances and commitments. Cosmopolitans emphasize equal regard for all human beings while communitarians argue that the rights and duties of individuals are determined by membership and identity within a given community. Cosmopolitans seek out and celebrate shared human values while communitarians remain skeptical of moral claims that exceed immediate personal connection, local authority, and fixed boundaries.

I think that pitting cosmopolitanism against patriotism in this way can be a false choice. And this is the major point in this talk that I wish to test with you. Anthony Appiah uses the terms "cosmopolitan patriots" and "rooted cosmopolitans" to make this point. He writes, "the cosmopolitan patriot can entertain the possibility of a world in which everyone is a rooted cosmopolitan, attached to a home of his or her own, with its own cultural peculiarities [and] taking pleasure from the presence of other, different places that are home to other different people." Or to put it slightly differently, our commitment to humanity can be expressed through our great pride in our own local customs and folkways, with simultaneous appreciation of the rich customs and folkways of others.

The great paradox of patriotic sentiment, it seems to me, is that it is so personal and particular and also so common and universal. It seems to me quite possible to find one's way to an embrace of all humanity through one's love of his or her homeland. After all, the most common experiences we have are our attachments to family, to friends, to place, to region and to country. By committing to our own, we can recognize and appreciate the similar commitments of others. We love Star Island. Others love Aspen. Our particular love can help us appreciate the loyal attachments that others have to their people and their special places.

This idea is expressed by Isaiah Berlin in his reflections on the idea of pluralism. Pluralism, it seems to me, captures this sense of a thin universalism that is recognizable across the patchwork of cultures that are so different in color, shape, and form. Commenting on the German philosopher J.G. Herder, Berlin writes: "[Herder] believed that the desire to belong to a culture, something that united a group or a province or a nation, was a basic human need, as deep as the desire for food or drink or liberty; and that this need to belong to a community where you understood what others said, where you could move freely, where you had emotional as well as economic, social, and political bonds, was the basis of developed, mature, human life. Herder was not a relativist, though he was often so described: he believed there were basic human goals and rules of behavior, but that they took wholly different forms in different cultures, and that consequently, while there may have been analogies, similarities, which made one culture intelligible to another, cultures were not to be confused with each other—mankind was not one but many, and the answers to the questions were many, though there may be some central essence to them which was one and the same."

Communitarians argue that ethics flourish within an enclosed space, within defined relationships. Michael Walzer calls these relationships "thick." By thick relationships he means relationships between those who share history, culture, and community. By thin relationships, he means those who have no direct connection, distant strangers who live within other communities. Ethics is usually discussed in terms of agents or actors working within boundaries, in thick relationships.

Now here is where things get really interesting. The reality of globalization is that old relationships and boundaries seem up for grabs. Globalization raises many ambiguities now about basic concepts of identity and responsibility. To whom are we really connected today and what difference do these connections make?

It is this gray area between "thick" and "thin" relationships that I want to explore with you in the rest of this talk. My sense is that these distinctions are less obvious than they used to be.

Identity

Is there a world community as cosmopolitans suggest? If so, what experiences hold it together? Peter Singer's work is a brave attempt to change conventional views on these questions. He wants us to understand that, first, moral commitments extend to the least well-off wherever they are and whatever the nature of our connection to them might be; and second, that our identity should be shaped by our responses to these least well-off. In his book One World: The Ethics of Globalization, Singer challenges the conventional thick/thin distinction. He writes: "If the group to which we must justify ourselves is the tribe or nation, then our morality is likely to be tribal or nationalistic. If however, the revolution in communications has created a global audience, then we might feel the need to justify our behavior to the whole world." Basing our identity on the thin, two-dimensional images delivered to us by the global media make a weak argument, but still, Singer makes a strong bid for a sense of meaningful global connection through the shared images made ubiquitous by the internet, real time satellite television, and new technologies ranging from Google Earth to Twitter.

Singer's work has been criticized by realists for its emphasis on mere perception and for its palliative quality. Giving to the poor may have short term effects and make us feel better, but in reality, the realists argue, the nature of our relationship stays the same and root problems are not solved. Realists contend that cosmopolitan arguments of this type have led to band-aid approaches to humanitarianism; and despite the best of intentions, these approaches may be doing as much harm as good. For all of Singer's good intentions, they conclude, the charity and aid approach may be enabling exploitive conditions to continue by not forcing genuine systemic change.

The notion of world community as a moral construct has been well rehearsed for generations, and not even the common threat of atomic and nuclear weapons, and more recently, the threat of global warming, has given it much traction. Realists continue to point to two essential weaknesses. Global problems almost always come down to collective action problems; we have the problem of many hands, that is, there are no direct, assigned, and enforceable responsibilities; we have free riders and reduced incentives for actors to take on responsibilities. Related to this we also have the problem of interests; many global issues seem too distant to be considered of primary interest; hence they are put to the side. Is there any way out of this? I believe there is.

Amartya Sen takes a very different tack, offering a new approach. He focuses on the concept of global identity that would bring with it a sense of global responsibility. Sen describes identity as "social capital"—"a sense of belonging that can be a resource." The key to Sen's insight here, however, is that each of us does not possess just one identity. Each of us holds multiple identities. We don't belong to one group; we belong to many. "A person's citizenship, residence, geographic origin, gender, class, politics, profession, employment, food habits, sports interests, taste in music, social commitments, et cetera, makes us a member of a variety of groups. Each of these collectivities, to which this person simultaneously belongs, gives her a particular identity. None of them can be taken to be the person's only identity or singular membership category."

According to Sen, the error in much conventional thinking about identity is the assumption of "singular identification." The values and allegiances we hold are as multiple and varied as these identities. These values and allegiances affect our actions in tangible ways. Consider an example like the following. A single individual could say: I am a British. I am a Muslim. I am a woman. I am a professor. I am a feminist. Clearly, there are many sets of values in play in an example like this. Claims of national loyalty, religious obligation, professional codes of conduct, and solidarity around an issue of social justice and concern might all come into play. This is the way life is actually lived, isn't it?

Sen shows us that identity is such a powerful motivator that it should be considered central to our social and political analysis. As an example of this power, he relates the story of the Hindu-Muslim riots in India in the 1940s which he witnessed "through the eyes of a bewildered child." Massive identity shifts followed divisive politics. Because of political turmoil and manipulation, he says, "A great many person's identities as Indians, as Sub-continentals, as Asians, or as members of the human race, seemed to give way suddenly to sectarian identification with Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities. The carnage that followed had much to do with the elementary herd behavior by which people were made to 'discover' their newly belligerent identities, without subjecting the process to critical examination. The same people were suddenly different." The same people were suddenly different. How many times have we seen this? In recent years, ethnic wars were inflamed as Yugoslavs become Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. Rwandans became Tutsis and Hutus. On the brighter side, we have also seen identities evolve in peaceful ways. The centuries-old blood rivalries of Europe have evolved into a European Union, complete with common flag and passport. The same people can become different in positive ways, just as maps can change along with the political arrangements that these changes represent.

Sen's goal is to get us to see the positive side of identity formation and multiple identities. Sen argues that "we have substantial freedoms regarding the priority to give to the various identities that we have." In other words, identity can be a choice.

Picking up on Sen's sense of opportunity, I think of cosmopolitan claims less in terms of global community and more in terms of the universal aspects of my various personal identities. I am a citizen, yes—so of course I can ask myself, what can I do for my country? But I can also ask myself, what can I do for both my country and for the world? I am also a consumer, and an advocate, and a professional. I belong to various networks that touch upon global and universal concerns. Perhaps the best way to activate my cosmopolitan sensibilities, such as they are, is through these multiple channels that make up my identity. In Walzer's terms, these are my "thick" relationships. Maybe the best way to serve "thin" claims (to those distant) is through activating my "thick" relationships (those close in) in the direction of a cosmopolitan sensibility.

Responsibility

How then do we take this still very abstract idea and put it into practice? Let's think in terms of our responsibilities. If, as cosmopolitans claim, that every human being has a right to equal moral worth, then how might we think of our duties toward them. Clearly, we cannot feasibly provide equal treatment—so then, what is the alternative?

Perhaps it is helpful for us to think individually and collectively about "perfect" and "imperfect" duties. Perfect duties are direct assignments—these are the things that we consider imperative personal obligations for which we bear direct responsibility. So, and an example would be, I have an obligation not to torture. This is a perfect duty: it is my direct responsibility. But I could also say, I have an obligation not to allow torture to happen; I have a duty not to allow the conditions of torture to prevail. This is not my sole obligation and it is not directly assigned, but it is nevertheless a duty for which I have some responsibility.

A standard example for making this point might be something like the famous case of Kitty Genovese. Kitty Genovese was a twenty-eight year old woman who lived in Kew Gardens, Queens in 1964. One night on her way home, she was stabbed several times and left to die. Her case became infamous because it was alleged that 38 people passed her by as she lay bleeding in the street. No one helped her. Presumably, each passer-by thought someone else would help; and each didn't want to get involved. Whatever the precise details, this scenario helps to make the point about perfect and imperfect duties. We all share the basic duty not to kill. Yet we also share the duty not to allow the conditions of harm, and when harm is done, to mitigate the negative effects of it.

In looking at the forces of globalization today, we see several obvious cases of harm where both our direct and indirect participation in the mitigation of harms seems inevitable. We have already discussed poverty. Yet clearly issues of environmental protection, financial management, labor exploitation, and ongoing human rights catastrophes and genocides need to be addressed in ways that speak to our perfect and imperfect duties.

Important debates are to be had about priorities. Some argue that we ought to give priority to those harms in which we are most directly implicated. So for example, we ought to provide economic relief to those in the United States who could benefit from a substantial upgrade in standard of living. Or we ought to consider more carefully those who we may harm directly through our purchases of chocolate or clothing or coffee. Others, like Peter Singer, continue to argue for helping the least well-off no matter what our connection to them might be. Singer argues that efficiency dictates this priority: since we can't help everyone, we ought to help those worst off. Period.

It seems to me that arguments of this type are a luxury. They are the result of a battle already won, between people who recognize the obligations of the sort I have described. My concern today is with those who are not sensitized to the concept of moral obligation or who willfully ignore it. The current financial crisis is a good example of this lack of sensitivity, awareness, and concern for basic duties. The crisis was precipitated by a collapse of individual ethics as well as a systemic failure of responsibility. It seems to me that the crisis is not a product of error or the lack of expert knowledge. Basic economic and banking rules are known. The crisis is failure of will on some levels, and of systemic rot on others.

In the current financial crisis we see both bad actors and good, all acting within a system that had rotted at its core. In some ways, the experience of the crisis is similar to the familiar, perhaps overused story about the frog and the pot of water. We know that if a frog jumps into a pot of water that is boiling hot, he jumps out—no harm done. But if the frog starts out in the pot, all comfortable, and then the pot is slowly brought to a boil, he will stay put enjoying the warmth, not realizing any danger until it is too late. The water will boil and he will die.*

Ethics really begins with awareness and sensitivity to our responsibilities. These responsibilities are both personal and systemic, close in and far away, "thick" and "thin." It seems to me that one response to the problems we are looking at—global problems like poverty, genocide, and environmental degradation—is to raise consciousness (awareness), and to use our various identities and capacities to change the organizations of which we are a part. We will not make much progress until we conceive of our interests in terms of global responsibilities. We will not make progress until we realize that our self-interests imply the performance of both perfect and imperfect duties. In some ways, we are all like the auditor looking at worrisome trends before the meltdown in the credit markets, or the FEMA director before hurricane Katrina. It is up to us to do our own small part; yet it is also up to us to see our decisions in light of the systems and institutions within which we live. If we don't speak up and act, we are like the frog who is content for awhile in his warm water, not knowing he is about to boil.

Finally, just one more point about responsibility. As a realist, I am sensitive to the limits of what we can be responsible for. What I want to argue is that there are moral claims that are universal, even if we do not agree upon specifics. We do not have a specific global consensus on human rights practices (especially when it comes to issues like gender rights and labor rights, for example). Yet we do recognize abstract principles as universally valid (for example, the right to life as expressed in anti-genocide conventions and the aspirations to be free from fear and from want). While we cannot possibly be responsible for deciding and delivering on what is maximally good, perhaps we can work harder at deciding and delivering on what is minimally due. The maximal good can probably only be relevant within a given "thick" community. But perhaps what is minimally due can be relevant to something as "thin" and vague as a global community. (And here again I am thinking about the basic norms around global concerns such as poverty, genocide, and environmental preservation.)

Governance/America

In this final section of my talk, I would like to bring the conversation home, to America. I have already made the point that it might be a category mistake or at least self-limiting to think in narrow terms about our identity as Americans. Surely for many of us, our patriotic sentiments are strong, meaning we recognize the moral claims of our citizenship. But we also act in capacities beyond our identity as American citizens. Our businesses, religious institutions, advocacy organizations, and professional networks have global reach and significant power. Our capacity to stand for cosmopolitan values and action within these structures is also significant.

As Americans we have a strong tradition of enlightened self-interest that speaks to this capacity and opportunity. America's national identity is itself a paradox: it is a blend of universalism and particularism, patriotism and cosmopolitanism. Why? Because America's founding was based on universalist principles. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…" To be an American patriot today is to be, in some sense, a cosmopolitan.

This is not to say that there are not titanic struggles over "what America owes the world." But it is to say that the United States has always had within its DNA the appeal above local community and nation, the appeal above government itself—an appeal to natural law, the creator, or in other words, the cosmopolitan commitment to reason and equal justice for all.

American history shows us examples of American-style patriotism and cosmopolitanism in ascendance. The theme of American exceptionalism is spun out in two varieties: the Promised Land and the Crusader State. Historian Walter McDougall, in his book of this title, gives us the two main narratives of America's role in the world; the first being a new Jerusalem in a new world, the city on the hill free from the corruption of the old world, and meant to avoid entangling alliances and crusades to remake the world. The second is the Wilsonian vision of the United States as vindicator, as the champion of democracy and human rights, and the engine of progressive change around the world. McDougall makes the point that both traditions are very much with us, deep in the American grain.

As a realist with a traditional notion of national interest, McDougall argues that a certain type of trouble begins when the focus of U.S. foreign policy shifts to making the world a better place. Since the end of World War II, he has noticed a drift to what he calls "global meliorism," the proposition that "morality enjoins the United States to help others emulate it, and that the success of the American experiment itself ultimately depends on other nations escaping from death and depression."

Global meliorism is a dangerous proposition, according to McDougall. Left unchecked, it is an open-ended commitment to make the world democratic. It involves economic development, environmental preservation, and the guarantee of rights worldwide. The problem with these desirable goals is that they are impossible to achieve, and in fact, from an ethical perspective, the pursuit of them may do more harm than good. The pursuit of those interests should be accomplished in ways that are true to American principles and ideals, but the goal of the United States should remain the promotion of American interests, not the improvement of mankind globally. In short, McDougall fails to see many of America's meliorist efforts as in America's enlightened self-interest. Instead, he sees something close to an arrogant crusade.

I see things a bit differently. My view is that remedies to global challenges such as environmental degradation and poverty are today less about meliorism and its romantic dreams to improve the world and more about pragmatism and sustainability. It is becoming harder and harder, if not impossible, to separate the interests of others from our own interests. The pragmatic thing to do—and the ethical thing to do—is to recognize that our interests are tied up with the interests of others in new and potentially creative ways. Foreign affairs do not have to be a zero-sum game. And this is a trend to be embraced and leveraged rather than avoided.

Now with this said, there is one more important lesson to be extracted from realism that reminds us of limitations and cautions us about expectations. McDougall puts it this way: "Do not to confuse ethics or morality with the quest for purity." As a realist myself, I think this is an essential point, not be underestimated. Ethics and morality properly conceived should be interest-sensitive, aware of its limits, and based on non-perfectionist expectations. Ethics, like politics, is built on the understanding that life is full of impurities and competing claims. Sometimes, the best we can do is find ways to live with irreconcilable differences.

The theme of America's quest for purity is well documented. In early 1977, historian James Chace wrote a New York Times Sunday Magazine article titled "How Moral Can We Get?" In it, he discusses the dangers of President Carter's newly announced human rights policy. "Innocence is not always admirable," he writes, "experience is achieved at great cost." The innocent can do great harm despite good intentions. We have many examples from literature making this point. Chace reminds us of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "The Birthmark." In it, the scientist Aylmer cannot abide the single, small facial blemish that mars the beauty of his wife:

The mark itself is in the shape of a small red hand against her pale skin, a symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death. These very characteristics are, of course, the signs of mortality. But Aylmer cannot accept them. In an attempt to enforce man's control over nature, he gives his wife a potion he has invented to remove the flaw. The experiment appears to succeed, for the birthmark fades away. Her beauty is perfect. But she is dead. Thus, the quest for perfection ends in death.

This theme is echoed in Philip Roth's novel, The Human Stain, which purports to reflect on American society at the end of the twentieth century. Roth writes that the essence of being human is that "we leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error…there is no other way to be here." For Roth, it is the fantasy of purity that is dangerous. We must build our ethics on the realization of our imperfections.

One of the most effective expressions of the problem of innocence theme is Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American. Greene's portrayal of the young idealistic CIA man in Vietnam—just out of college, fresh with crew cut, textbook knowledge, and a firm ideology—is really no match for the experienced natives. A more sober assessment of Vietnam, complete with more experience and less lofty expectations, might have produced a more moral course. For Greene, like McDougall, Chace, and other realists, it is the temptation to crusade that is to be avoided, as well as the illusion that the United States can be all things to all people. Morality must be anchored to interest and power. Without those anchors, morality is apt to damage.

So as we think about cosmopolitan concerns, I suggest that we be vigilant about remaining humble in our expectations and alert to our own hypocrisy. The cosmopolitan patriotism I have been suggesting is rooted in enlightened self-interest and is aware of its limits. It asks that we consider our self-interests in relation to others; it asks that we constantly remind ourselves that we do not live alone and unconnected.

I believe it is unhealthy, unsustainable, and ultimately not in our own personal, professional, and national interests, to think that our self-interests can be fulfilled without considering the broad moral challenges of globalization. While we cannot and should not presume to redeem the world as either individuals or as a nation, surely we can see our own self-interests as formed in many important ways by our evolving relationship to the rest of the world.

Finally, in addition to this realist argument, I would also suggest that a cosmopolitan patriot view can be aesthetically pleasing and an interesting approach to life. I think this idea is best expressed by T.S. Eliot in "Little Gidding," the final poem in his Four Quartets. I grew up just a few miles down the coast, just south of here in Marblehead. Eliot had spent part of his boyhood in Gloucester on Cape Ann, which is almost visible from here on a clear day. Reflecting on it later in his life, he made sense of his attachment to place and his urge to explore further. He wrote of his life's adventure:

We will not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time

As I travel the world myself, I see a good lesson here. We each carry our attachments with us, and we gain perspective by our encounters with others. When we return home from our travels, we are the same, but different. Certain local facts remain unchanged, but we now can see them as part of something common and universal.

I am satisfied with Michael Walzer's conclusion that a moral world is not the same as a world in which everyone acts with perfect ethical result. This is not possible. However, it is possible to have a world in which the idea of morality is central to decision making. Morals define the language that articulates our actions, and actions are justified or rebuked on moral grounds. If we can create a world where identity, empathy, responsibility, and humility are taken seriously, we have created a way of looking at the world that makes peaceful coexistence more possible. These values and way-of-life give us a plan of action so that we can act for common humanity while participating deeply in our own little patch of territory, on our own island, and in our own communities.

* CORRECTION: It has since been noted that frogs have "critical thermal maxima" and will attempt to flee hot water whether it is already boiling or heated slowly. [BACK TO TEXT]

Creative Commons License
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Please read our usage policy.

Read More: Ethics, Globalization, United States, Americas, Global

blog comments powered by Disqus

Site Search

Global Research Engine

This search includes our Core Network partners.

Join Our Mailing Lists

The Journal

varietal-attraction