The Oasis Reporters
February 14, 2022
By Theo Horesh
“Global Citizenship” was a hot topic at a Zoom meeting which was held on Sunday, February 13 at 12:30pm Mountain Time/7:30pm Greenwich Time. Here was the prelude.
Cosmopolitanism is the identification of oneself as a citizen of the world with moral commitments to the whole of humanity.
The idea dates back at least as far as the Ancient Greek Diogenes almost two-and-a-half millennia ago, and the tradition includes such celebrated thinkers as Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Hugo Grotius, and Immanuel Kant.
Meanwhile, contemporary cosmopolitans like Martha Nussbaum, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Peter Singer, Jurgen Habermas, and Ulrich Beck have updated the tradition to account for the increasing pace of globalization and our increasing exposure to people and events on the other side of the world.
The commitments entailed by global citizenship today are likely to be stronger and more salient than those of ancient cosmopolitans. Meanwhile, the experience of global citizenship is more likely to be tied to a multitude of global institutions, like global trade, a global assembly of nations, humanitarianism, peacekeeping, development aid, and statebuilding.
Global institutions now reach deep into the governance of our lives and worlds and all the more so for people living in poor and broken states. Cosmopolitanism is a western philosophical tradition, but majorities of people in countries the world over now identify themselves as global citizens. And a majority of people in several poor countries like India and the Philippines actually identify more strongly as global citizens than as members of their own nations. Hence, the common criticism that cosmopolitanism is an imperial ideology can only persist by masking the voices of the global poor.
People living in poorer and more broken states are more likely to make use of human rights and humanitarian institutions, and they are commonly the greatest beneficiaries of cosmopolitan moral commitments.
They also often speak more languages and live in more cultures, while their families are dispersed across a wider array of states, than people born into developed democracies.
They are also more likely than not the peacekeepers sent into broken states and the Secretaries General of the United Nations overseeing their actions.
Yet, with no global state with which to identify, and no clear set of moral injunctions to commit to, the meaning of global citizenship is not altogether clear. It is often said that citizenship is as much a responsibility as it is a privilege. Yet, the idea that citizens are burdened with special responsibilities to the state has become something of an anachronism.
Apart from paying taxes and abiding by its laws, most people in most states have few if any responsibilities they are expected to fulfill to their fellow compatriots.
Rather, the moral responsibilities with which most of us are burdened are those we bear to friends and family, fellow community members and the people affected by our consumer choices.
In this way, global moral commitments represent a sort of outer circle of moral concern. The idea that cosmopolitanism entails a series of commitments that might be envisioned in the form of ever wider circles of moral concern is ancient.
But our commitments to people in the widest circles, living on the other side of the world, are more likely to be more visible to us today, and our actions are more likely to touch them more deeply.
Yet, our commitments to people on the other side of the planet don’t tend to represent the outer circles of moral concern today. People who limit their carbon emissions typically do so for yet-to-be-born future generations.
Meanwhile, most of us experience some sense of moral commitment to non-human life, and many experience some vague sense of commitment to the earth itself.
While this may be part of the experience of global citizenship, which is in the spirit of ancient cosmopolitanism, it is also something that is in many ways new.
The climate ethicist Stephen Gardner points out that climate change forces us to grapple with commitments to people on the other side of the planet, future generations, and non-human life.
However, as he points out, moral thinking in each of these areas is poorly developed.
It is much the same with a range of environmental challenges like overpopulation, deforestation, desertification, and food security; and the same might be said for nuclear proliferation.
Still, the cosmopolitan tradition might ground our moral reasoning around these challenges, and it provides a basis for them that is rooted in an historically grounded identity.
The problem is that a sense of global citizenship that is not closely bound to global institutions is likely to result in a divergent set of global commitments. It is likely to lead to a range of insoluble global collective action problems, for the people advocating global action will lack the means through which to act.
And it is likely to diverge into a set of global moral commitments ranging from neoliberalism to environmentalism, ecumenical spirituality to humanitarianism. And it is for just these reasons that a sense of global citizenship can be so extensive and yet so lacking in power.
Hassan Damluji, who joined in the Zoom discussion, argues that globalists can learn a lot from nationalists, for nationalists managed to take national identities that sometimes did not even exist in the nineteenth century and harnessed them in the service of strong moral commitments to the nation.
Yet, as I argue in Convergence: The Globalization of Mind, the world is far more vast than any given country, and it is for this reason harder to comprehend.
In confronting a world of troubles, it is difficult not to fall back on abstractions. So, even if globalists can forge a more representative body of nations and implement a global wealth tax— two of several solutions Damluji suggests for grounding our sense of global citizenship—the challenge of deepening our identification with the whole of humanity remains.
Still, as Immanuel Kant noted, the earth is a clearly demarcated interconnected sphere, and membership in it is harder to dispute than that of any given state, whose boundaries and basis of national identity often changes from one generation to the next.
In this way, the sense of global citizenship is rooted in our common humanity, and in so doing frees up cosmopolitans to experience their own full humanity. Still, the question of how this cashes out in our moral commitments and conceptualization of membership remains.
Theo Horesh is the author of
Convergence: The Globalization of Mind.
He lives in Colorado, USA.