A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Three

The cosmopolitan wonders what is valuable and common to all – that can be recognised by all as valuable. The answer is not reason or ‘reasonableness’ but our humanity itself – one’s need and care for others, one’s sociability. It is not reason or theory that should underlie a care and regard for others but a care and a regard for others stands as the foundation, by itself.

The materialist recognises that, quoting Milstein, ‘the cosmopolitan is above all concerned with the unavoidable confrontation of difference on the global stage. …the starting point for reflection on cosmopolitanism is not unity but heterogeneity…It thus concerns humanity not as a mere idea but as an empirical set of interacting participants who must learn to coexist simultaneously.’23

One’s care and regard for others – one’s humanity – is the basis for the acceptance of, embracing of difference, uncertainty and change, the recognition that in reasoning about and acting on these are the tools for interpersonal and personal development and for the deepening of our knowledge of the world.

Rather than presenting others with reasons or reasonability that is followable and requiring reasons of others in turn, the materialist seeks out difference and welcomes the incorporation of that difference in his or her perspective.

These unities of difference will contribute to the development of a richer, more meaningful social fabric. In her theorising on ‘the Scarf Affair’ in France Benhabib wrote ‘the girls themselves and their supporters, in the Muslim community and elsewhere, have to learn to give a justification of their actions with “good reasons in the public sphere.” In claiming respect and equal treatment for their religious beliefs, they have to clarify how they intend to treat the beliefs of others from different religions, and how, in effect, they would institutionalise the separation of religion and the state within Islamic tradition.’24

A materialist would welcome the girls and require nothing of them other than that they contribute productively to the society they have chosen to become members of. The influence will naturally flow in both directions, enriching French and human culture. Those in Western culture would do well to reflect on the debt they owe to Islamic scholarship.

Benhabib herself adds ‘The constitution of “we, the people” is a far more fluid, contentious, contested and dynamic process than either Rawlsian liberals or decline-of-citizenship theorists would have us believe. …The presence of others who do not share the dominant culture’s memories and morals poses a challenge to the democratic legislatures to re-articulate the meaning of democratic universalism. Far from leading to the disintegration of the culture of democracy, such challenges reveal the depth and the breadth of the culture of democracy.’25

Cosmopolitan philosophers, with their focus on individuals,26 fail to understand and address class relations in capitalist societies. This is well exemplified in their treatment of the state which is frequently regarded as a neutral framework, as something that ‘we’ might use for cosmopolitan purposes.

Sandel wrote that ‘the rights based self finds expression in the ideal of the state as a neutral framework.’27 Nagel believes that the legal framework is under collective control and subject to social justice, that the state makes demands on the citizens or the citizens make demands on each other via its mechanisms – he does not consider that the capitalist class makes demands of the citizens, using its state mechanisms, with the assistance of its ideology.28

Pogge well exemplifies key problems of cosmopolitan philosophy. At the beginning of World Poverty and Human Rights he dismissed Marx’s account of the ‘causal factors that influence how our social world and moral values interact with each other (as) rather too neat.’29 He further exemplified his hostility to economic analysis and to mouthpieces who pose as disinterested in ‘Real World Justice’.30

Yet Pogge himself fails to understand capitalism and how it functions. He writes that ‘the rules governing economic transactions…are the most important causal determinants of the incidence and depth of severe poverty and of the human rights deficit more generally.’31 and ‘the rules structuring the world economy have a profound impact on the global economic distribution’.32

What is the most important causal determinant of global poverty, the human rights deficit not to mention global economic distribution is the dynamic of capitalism – unwilled, beneath rules and without conscious intention. No amount of rules on behalf of the capitalist class can ultimately deny that dynamic – as World War I, World War II, the Great Depression and the current Global Financial Crisis have shown.

Part three/to be continued…

Notes

23. Brian Milstein, “Kantian Cosmopolitanism beyond ‘Perpetual Peace’: Commercium, Critique, and the Cosmopolitan Problematic”, European Journal of Philosophy, pp. 1-20, pp. 2-3. (forthcoming); published online 11.11.10

24. BenHabib, Another Cosmopolitanism, op. cit., 57

25. Ibid., 68, 69

26. Rawls’ is on ‘peoples’

27. Michael J. Sandel, ‘Morality and the Liberal Ideal’, in Michael Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2005, pp. 147-55, 153

28. ‘the broader legal framework…is subject to collective authority and justification and therefore to principles of social justice…In short, the state makes unique demands on the will of its members – or the members make unique demands on one another through the institutions of the state’, Thomas Nagel, ‘The Problem of Global Justice’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Spring, 2005), pp. 113-147, 130

29. Thomas W. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2008, 4

30. ‘While economists like to present themselves as disinterested scientists, they function today more typically as ideologists for our political and economic ‘‘elites’’ – much like most theologians did in an earlier age.’ Thomas W. Pogge, ‘Real World Justice’, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9 No. 1-2, 2005, pp. 29-53, 30

31. Thomas W. Pogge, ‘Recognised and Violated by International Law: The Human Rights of the Global Poor’, Leiden Journal of International Law, 18, 2005, pp. 717-745, 742

32. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, op. cit., 122

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s