The first session, on rooted cosmopolitanisms, was based on
texts by philosopher Martha Nussbaum and sociologist Bryan Turner.
Cosmopolitanism is perhaps most frequently used to describe the flows
of people and goods between geographically remote regions. Following
this usage, a ‘cosmopolitan’ is someone who moves with facility between
different regions or cultures. However, the term cosmopolitan is also
used with an ethical force. In this sense, it is the idea that ethical
considerations ought not be limited by geographical boundaries. An
ethical cosmopolitan claims that all persons are equally significant
moral beings, no matter where they are located or where they have come
from. On this view, any ethical attachment for members of one’s own
ethnic group or nation or religion is exercised at the expense of
This is a position that Nussbaum has defended before.
However, in the paper we discussed in the reading group, ’Toward
a globally sensitive patriotism‘ (paywall), she argues that although
the classical conception of cosmopolitanism, which appeals to reason
alone, is right and desirable, it is in incapable of motivating people
and cannot therefore be the basis of an effective politics. What local,
particularistic accounts can provide, which cosmopolitanism, she says,
cannot, is a rich background of historical events, experiences of
landscapes and particular personalities that can play effectively on the
Nussbaum distinguishes between two forms of love of country. One
form, which she calls patriotism, is focused on leading the subject to
think beyond the self to the good of something greater. Though it
entails particularistic attachments that can come at the cost of global
obligations, Nussbaum believes that patriotism is compatible with
cosmopolitanism and that through its repertoire of local, historically
rich narratives it is capable of evoking altruistic feelings that can be
extended beyond the nation. She gives several examples of patriotic
rhetoric that she believes achieves this goal of harnessing the horse of
visceral attachment to the particular to the carriage of tolerance and
compassion. These include speeches by Martin Luther King and Gandhi,
The other form of love of country Nussbaum calls nationalism, this is
based on exclusion of others, and works with shame and disgust.
Nationalism in this sense is incompatible with cosmopolitanism.
Turner’s paper, ’Cosmopolitan
Virtue‘ (paywall) addresses the problem of human rights. Human
rights are problematic for a number of reasons, including that their
advocates can provide no grounds on which the obligations that must
correspond to rights (i.e. the obligation not to encroach on rights, the
obligation to redress the denial of rights, and so on) might be based.
Turner aims to rescue rights by proposing a cosmopolitan virtue which
would form the basis of such obligations.
Like Nussbaum, Turner thinks that a reason-only approach would prove
ineffective, writing, ‘The idea of global citizenship is probably too
abstract and vague to carry conviction and commitment’ (p. 49). The
solution he proposes harks back to an idea of citizenship that predates
the modern nation-state: ‘…citizenship was originally a product of
Renaissance humanism, in which the ascending order of the state and the
horizontal ordering of citizenship contrasted with the descending theme
of the Church and its hierarchical order of institutionalized grace…
This tradition of citizenship became linked to the norms of civility,
civilization and civil society.’ Becoming a citizen in this sense was a
matter of cultivating virtues, a matter of education or formation. The
virtues were universal ones, but they were learnt in a particular form
and in relation to specific political institutions and traditions. This
is the kind of cosmopolitan virtue that Turner thinks can provide the
obligation that is missing from human rights theory, a virtue that is
based in specific attachments and can therefore command people’s
emotions, but which is aimed at universal goods and avoids exclusion.
The virtues he has in mind emerge as conditions of political debate and
trade, but extend from politeness to care for the other.
Turner also makes a number of other interesting points, in particular
in relation to the universality of the rejection of suffering (a
questionable idea, I think), and about the relation between
cosmopolitanism and irony, but I won’t go into those here.
In terms of the question of ethical conversations across borders, I
think the most interesting aspects of these papers are:
1. The combination of empirical and rationalist approaches. Both
Nussbaum and Turner are committed to a universalist ethics that they see
as being based on reason, but argue that for practical reasons this must
be combined with contingent ethical forms that are necessarily local and
historical. One can imagine other thinkers arriving in the same place
from the opposite direction: a commitment to an empirical approach to
ethics based on actual custom and precedent, a commitment that needs to
be laid aside in international contexts in favour of a first-principles
approach because there is an insufficient body of shared custom among
parties who transact at that level.
2. Their arguments raise the question of the spatial relationship of
global ethics and local ethics. Is the cosmopolitan to conceive of
global ethics (i) as being beyond space, something that applies at all
times and in all places where moral persons happen to be, (ii) as being
related to the planet earth as a place, just as local ethics are related
to local places, or (iii) in relation to cosmopolitan spaces such as
international cities, pilgrimage sites, universities and so on, where
citizens of a number of different local polities meet and rub along
together? Neither author really answers this question, though Turner
does talk about the importance of cosmopolitan cities in the development
of cosmopolitan virtue, especially in relation to the ironic detachment
from one’s own tradition that he sees as essential to cosmopolitanism.
Perhaps the aim of Nussbaum’s patriotism is to lead from (i) to (ii)?
Perhaps that would depend on the emergence of prominent participatory
political institutions at the global level. Will the increasing
importance of international cities lead from (i) to (iii), or from (iii)
to (ii)? This issue — the location of the global — is relevant to any
scheme that attempts to connect local and universal ethical
Nussbaum, M. 2011. Patriotism and
cosmopolitanism. In The Cosmopolitanism Reader (eds) D. Held & G. W. Brown, 155–178.
Nussbaum, M. 2008. Toward a globally
sensitive patriotism. Daedalus137, 78–93.
Turner, B. 2002. Cosmopolitan Virtue,
Globalization and Patriotism. Theory, Culture &