A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Six

Pogge correctly states that ‘democracy may take many forms’49 and Caney argues a most important point, that ‘it is of vital importance to explore traditions of thought other than those prevalent in the west.’

The rapid rise of hundreds of millions into a middle class in China, pressing increasingly on both the constraints and the potential of their one-party state of 1.3 billion, in my belief, will present a new model for the world in distributive justice and economic and human rights, but whatever develops there will certainly be very different from the outdated Western model.

One can, however, construct wish-lists to one’s heart’s content50 but, and going beyond Nagel’s position – that ‘we should keep in mind that political power is rarely created as a result of demands for legitimacy’51 – political power is a reflection of economic relations, and whatever determinations are made at the political level (including the recognition of rights and justice) will ultimately be constrained and shaped by those unwilled contradictions between the forces of production and the relations of production.

Nussbaum expresses a very negative perception regarding the future of cosmopolitanism52 and in this, she is by no means alone. Held and Benhabib write similarly.53 Yet Benhabib also makes an excellent point on the basis of ‘Europe’s lumpen proletariat

‘As European social democracy has shrunk in the last decades under the impact of global economic competition, the costs of German unification and the dislocations caused by the common Euro-market, these groups have become subject not only to continuous discrimination but also to socioeconomic cutbacks and increasing unemployment. In the current context, it is desirable to find a language of universalistic solidarity which also would be a language of integration (my italics) through socioeconomic equality rather than that of assimilation through denial of difference. Redistribution and recognition struggles need to go hand in hand. This process may move the liberal nation toward the more democratic kind of cosmopolitanism that I have proposed in these lectures.’54

Benhabib recognises the need not merely for institutional reform but a thorough-going redistribution towards socio-economic equality, and the potential for rights, democracy and justice thereby. But this could never happen to any significant degree under capitalism because, at its core, as I have processed earlier, is the necessity of exploitation – nationally and globally.

Brown warns of the problems facing Europe and notes ‘just how important it is to understand the deeper forces and issues (my italics) brought to the surface by the processes of political restructuring currently under way in Europe.’55 It is my understanding of these underlying forces and that their primacy must be recognised in any considerations regarding rights, democracy and justice that I have been arguing for in this essay.56

Part six/to be continued…


49. ‘The human right to political participation also leaves room for a wide variety, hence regional diversity, of decision-making procedures – direct or representative, with or without political parties, and so on. Democracy may take many forms.’, Pogge, ‘Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty’ op. cit., 69

50. ‘Once we think about present human misery in global terms, other reforms come readily to mind’ Pogge, ‘The Bounds of Nationalism’, op. cit., 148

51. Nagel, ‘The Problem of Global Justice’ op. cit., 145

52. ‘One must acknowledge that we do not see a triumph for cosmopolitanism right now in the United States, which seems increasingly indifferent to cosmopolitan goals and increasingly given over to a style of politics that does not focus on recognising the equal humanity of the alien and the other; which seems increasingly hostile, too, to the intellectuals whom Kant saw as crucial to the production of such an enlightenment. …Nor is it only in America that cosmopolitanism seems to be in grave jeopardy. The state of things in very many parts of the world gives reason for pessimism’, Martha C. Nussbaum, ‘Kant and Cosmopolitanism’, The Cosmopolitan Reader, op. cit., pp. 27-44, 41

53. ‘For many, it is already “apocalypse now”; for the rest of us it may well be “apocalypse soon” unless our governance arrangements can meet the tests of solidarity, justice, democracy and effectiveness.’ David Held, ‘Reframing Global Governance: Apocalypse Soon or Reform!’, ibid., pp. 293-311, 311; ‘This is the truth behind contemporary theories of empire: the flight of power from the control of popular jurisdiction. …The interlocking of democratic iteration struggles within a global civil society and the creation of solidarities beyond borders, including a universal right of hospitality that recognises the other as a potential co-citizen, anticipate another cosmopolitanism – a cosmopolitanism to come.’ Benhabib, ‘Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations – Reply to Commentators’, op. cit., 177

54. Benhabib, ‘Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations – Reply to Commentators’ op. cit., 175

55. Chris Brown, Ed., Political Restructuring in Europe: Ethical Perspectives, Routledge, London, 2001, 3

56. Held writes ‘The deep drivers of this process (i.e. globalisation) will be operative for the foreseeable future’. For him they are the changing infrastructure of global communications, the development of global markets, the pressure of migration, the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a new type and form of global civil society. Held, ‘Reframing Global Governance: Apocalypse Soon or Reform!’, op. cit., pp. 296-297

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