A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Seven

Legutko wrote regarding Pogge’s project for global reform that there is a ‘global regime’ and that Marxism is the best-known theory to explain its birth and existence, the traces of which theory ‘are easily identifiable’ in Pogge’s writing.57

Legutko writes ‘Whether Marxism as such can be reconciled with moral cosmopolitanism is a complex issue…I see no obvious reason why some aspects of this philosophy could not be so incorporated.’ He then gave three reasons for why this is not possible (?!):

i) that the existing institutional framework of this ‘deliberate human construction’ (the ‘global regime’) with its intended consequences, explained by Marxism and required by Pogge, can be removed and replaced.

What Marx identified and explicated was the unwilled base of this framework with its unintended consequences, how this base was reflected in the framework built on it, that any modification of that structure will not ‘get rid of’ its base and that the contradictions inherent in this base will instead result in the overthrow of that mode of production, taking its institutional framework and all its associated conscious intentions with it – ‘a step (Legutko writes) which, understandably, Pogge does not seem inclined to take.’

ii) moral cosmopolitanism ‘is primarily an ethical position, useful for the criticism of existing institutions (Pogge’s writing exemplifies this). Marx looked far deeper than and beyond criticism of existing institutions

iii) the Marxist interpretation contradicts ‘the initial message of moral cosmopolitanism (which ran from the Stoics through Kant), which was that of prudence and caution (my italics) in political restructuring’.

Benhabib’s recognition of the relationship between solidarity, integration and socioeconomic equality bears not only on proximate but distant others – particularly with regard to justice, rights and global poverty. She is correct to argue that redistribution and true recognition go hand in hand. But such theorising must inevitably lead to the global mode of production and the class relations structured on it.

For theorising about our care for distant others to be truly worthwhile it must be bound to material reality at every point, to how material reality functions. Cosmopolitan philosophy does not do this – it calls for institutional solutions within an economic structure based not on care but on exploitation, on a lack of care for others.

In failing to address the class nature of capitalism, such theorising undoes the bonds of consciousness and reason from their material base and positions the former two as primary to the latter. In so doing, it idealises the future.58

Cosmopolitan philosophy is the product of non-dialectical reason – it fails to show an understanding of the necessity of contradiction and change – both in reason and in the world (of which reason is a reflection), where they manifest as inevitable difference.

In my critique of cosmopolitanism it has been my purpose to assert that any theorising done regarding our care for ‘distant others’ should be done on a material basis – and having considered cosmopolitan philosophy from this perspective I have concluded that it cannot genuinely function as as vehicle for one’s concern for distant others. That is the task of internationalism.



57. Ryszard Legutko, ‘Cosmopolitans and communitarians: A commentary’ in Chris Brown, Ed., Political Restructuring in Europe: Ethical Perspectives, Routledge, London, 2001, 230-31

58. ‘“The politician,” Rawls writes, “looks to the next election, the statesman to the next generation, and philosophy to the indefinite future.” Our task as philosophers requires that we try to imagine new, better political structures and different, better moral sentiments.’, Pogge, ‘An Egalitarian Law of Peoples’, op. cit., 224.

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