A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Four

To undo the concentration of power in the state, to foster democratisation and to benefit human rights Pogge theorises a curious ‘vertical dispersal’ of power. Not only does such a vertical dispersal already exist in government (federal, state and local), there are a range of government and non-government organisations.

Pogge’s understanding of the state is flawed. He compares the state with a game and ‘the ideal’ of a ‘level playing field.’33 The analysis of Marx and Engels exposed the state as the tool of the capitalist class, the purpose of which is, contrary to Pogge’s view, to ‘bend – or bias – the rules’ and to make the ‘field’ consistently ‘uneven’. The state is not a neutral structure.34

In defence of the state with regard to his global resource tax, Pogge gave the example of the suppression of the slave trade, writing ‘States do sometimes act for moral reasons.’35 Not only does his example echo the position of the United States capitalist class regarding its attack on Iraq – ‘We got nothing out of it’ – the reasons why states act are economic and geo-political, in the interests of their dominant class, never moral. Claims of morality are their first justification.

The position of the British capitalist class regarding the suppression of slavery was essentially the same as that of the rising capitalist class in the United States on the ‘liberation’ of slaves as a result of their Civil War – slavery had become an impediment to the development of capitalism. It had become more economical, more profitable for workers to be ‘free’ than in chains.

Benhabib’s writing on the state is much more grounded than Pogge’s. She points to the ‘epochal’ devolution of the state’s considerable powers, as a consequence of globalised capital, and the dangers this poses to its citizens.

Exemplifying my position that the state is the tool of the capitalist class, she writes that ‘in some cases, the state disburses its own jurisdiction to private agencies in order to escape the territorial control of popular legislators. …The fraying of the social contract and the dismantling of sovereignty suggest that the transcendence of the nation-state is occurring hardly in the direction of cosmopolitanism but more in the direction of the privatisation and corporatisation of sovereignty.’36 A very negative but very thoughtful note for a cosmopolitan to end their book on.

Part four/to be continued…


33. Thomas W. Pogge, ‘The Bounds of Nationalism’, in: Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms, Polity Press, 2008, pp. 124-151, 127ff.

34. ‘By the mere fact that it is a class and no longer an estate, the bourgeoisie is forced to organise itself no longer locally, but nationally, and to give a general form to its mean average interest. Through the emancipation of private property from the community, the State has become a separate entity, beside and outside civil society; but it is nothing more than the form of organisation which the bourgeoisie necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests. …Since the State is the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests, and in which the whole civil society of an epoch is epitomised, it follows that the State mediates in the formation of all common institutions and that the institutions receive a political form. Hence the illusion that law is based on the will, and indeed on the will divorced from its real basis – on free will. Similarly, justice is in its turn reduced to the actual laws.’ K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, pp. 77-78. Pogge wrote ‘While my portrait of the noble team player may not, then, be typical of much that goes on in sport today, it nevertheless has, I believe, the kind of reality that matters here. It really is our widely held ideal by reference to which we still judge our athletes. And drawing on it is therefore appropriate to elucidate the political use of the “level playing field” metaphor.’, Pogge, ‘The Bounds of Nationalism’, op. cit., 128.

35. ‘there would still be the further question whether our governments could be moved to introduce and comply with such institutions. I think that an affirmative answer to this question can be supported by some historical evidence. Perhaps the most dramatic such evidence is provided by the suppression of the slave trade in the nineteenth century. Great Britain was in the forefront of these efforts, actively enforcing a ban on the entire maritime slave trade irrespective of a vessel’s ownership, registration, port of origin, or destination. Britain bore the entire cost of its enforcement efforts and could not hope to gain significant benefits from it – in fact, Britain bore additional opportunity costs in the form of lost trade, especially with Latin America. States do sometimes act for moral reasons.’, Pogge, ‘An Egalitarian Law of Peoples’, op. cit., 222.

36. ‘Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations – Reply to Commentators’ in Another Cosmopolitanism, op. cit., pp. 176-177.

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